Heading into League of Legends’ ninth competitive season, fans of the game’s European league were already expecting some new faces. The league’s matches would now include some freshly added characters like the shape-changing Neeko and chain-wielding Sylas. Even the league itself was receiving a fresh coat of paint, dropping a couple letters from the old name EU LCS to become simply the LEC. But new characters and a new acronym weren’t the only change greeting Europe’s LEC viewers. A new partner also featured prominently in the broadcast: Kia Motors.
The Korean car manufacturer joins other big-name sponsors of the LEC like hardware companies Logitech and Alienware, as well as energy company Shell. Additionally, Kia joins a couple other automotive brands who have sponsored individual teams within the LEC—Renault with Team Vitality and Audi with Origen.
This LEC partnership will be Kia’s first attempt to break into the esports market. In their official press release, Kia CMO Yong Won Cho compared the sponsorship to its existing ties to traditional sports. He then expressed the company’s desire to “demonstrate how Kia supports the lives and lifestyles of a younger generation of digital natives.”
Kia’s collaboration began with a commercial short called “Ready to Play.” The ad, which debuted on YouTube a week before the LEC season started, embraces the LEC’s reputation for harboring charismatic and even wacky personalities in its caster and analyst teams. In the video, longtime play-by-play caster Trevor “Quickshot” Henry gathers the rest of the team while driving a sporty Kia Stinger—a car that appeared in a Super Bowl ad the year before.
Kia Motors also filmed a series of short films featuring top European squad Fnatic, which played in the League of Legends World Championship last year. Using the hashtag #Drivingyourgame, the films include Fnatic players answering various questions inside a Kia vehicle.
Both ad campaigns show a good understanding of the LEC. Many LEC viewers associate the broadcast with the lighthearted jokes and skits put on by its commentary crew. The video fits in snugly with the other promo videos the LEC made leading up to the season, which showed the casters invading players’ personal spaces because of their excitement for the upcoming games.
The #Drivingyourgame films highlight the European league’s recent triumph in sending a team to the World Finals. After a long drought of Finals appearances (the last being Fnatic as well in 2011), LEC viewers share a collective sense of pride in Fnatic’s accomplishments last year.
Sometimes brands that aren’t directly related to gaming encounter suspicion from esports fans at first, as was the case with Mercedes Benz and the Dota 2 community. However, Kia’s partnership appears to be landing well with the LEC fan base. On Reddit, some fans have commented on their love for “Ready to Play” and the growing number of automotive companies in the space.
The LEC recently joined its American counterpart, the LCS, with a franchise approach to which teams are included in the league. This replaces the old relegation-based model, which allowed surprising new teams like Misfits or the Unicorns of Love to soar into prominence. However, relegations also let some popular teams like Origen drop out of the league after a disappointing season. Many fans are excited to see Origen back in the LEC this year after the franchise bought its spot back.
With the move to franchises, teams will stay in the spotlight even after a poor showing in 2019. The addition of revenue sharing should also increase the stability of the league as a whole. It will be interesting to see if more new brands like Kia continue to show up in the LEC as a result.