What a wild roller coaster of a year 2022 has been. We’ve seen industry-defining deals and industry-shaking cancellations, spawning new narratives and the confluence of existing ones.
Looking at the top partnership stories of 2022 it became apparent how hard of a list it was to narrow down to ten, but without further ado, here is Esports Insider’s pick for the industry’s most important sponsorship and partnership news of the year.
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Less so Q4, but the first three quarters of the year were chock-full of major multinational mainstream brand names activating in esports.
We’ve chosen Mastercard’s expansive partnership with Riot Games to represent that due to the sheer breadth and scale of their work together. The multi-year deal sees Mastercard remain an official sponsor of the League of Legends World Championship, the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) and the All-Star event. The deal also includes sponsorship of the events’ opening ceremonies.
There’s no shortage of examples of partnerships of this pedigree, though: there’s FaZe Clan’s deals with the NFL and McDonalds USA, Fnatic’s BMW partnership, and Team Liquid’s naming rights partnership with Honda to name but a few.
The rise and fall of the cryptocurrency sector has been one of the defining trends of 2022. By far the biggest news here was the crash and burn of beleaguered crypto exchange FTX, which filed for bankruptcy on November 11th. FURIA cancelled its $3.2m (~£2.7m) sponsorship with the exchange the next day, and by November 16th TSM had suspended its 10-year, $210m (~£148m) naming rights partnership deal too.
TSM’s FTX partnership was the largest ever publicly disclosed partnership in esports, so its cancellation naturally rocked the industry. Blockchain was the hot topic coming into 2022, but as the FTX fallout continues and a crypto winter enters full swing, blockchain sponsorships are suddenly sitting on shaky ground.
Numerous other esports organisations had or have major sponsorship deals with crypto exchanges; Cloud9 is partnered with Blockchain.com, Fnatic with Crypto.com, FACEIT with WhiteBIT and MIBR with Bybit.
2022 will also go down as the year for diversification. Esports companies far and wide dabbled with new ventures and branched out into new revenue streams in an effort to shake a dependance on pure competition, which has not proved as profitable as investors had hoped.
FaZe Clan is arguably one of the leaders in this respect, styling itself a lifestyle and gaming organisation and having an outsized emphasis on merchandise, content and, well, almost anything but esports. Its apparel partnership with Disney is an example of the diversification that’s come to be central to 2022.
The collegiate space had an expectedly eventful year. We’ve chosen Collegiate Rocket League — which also partnered with European tournament organisers to bring its collegiate league international — signing Nissan as a title sponsor to represent that.
It’s also worth mentioning Intel’s collaboration with UK national esports body National Student Esports because it’s a such a long-running and cornerstone partnership, at least in the UK scene.
However, there’s plenty of others to choose from here, including PlayFly and Generation Esports’ deal, Collegiate Esports Commissioner’s Cup sponsors, and many more.
It wasn’t all good though — Riot Games ended its partnership with North American high school esports platform PlayVS after widespread backlash over its exclusivity deals and controversial business practices.
In September, Riot Games announced its highly anticipated list of partner teams for its new semi-franchised league format set to debut next year, with many expected names but also some surprising absentees.
Partner teams receive a permanent slot in the new VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT), alongside a few slots available for open qualification. The league is a boost for teams that made it because, unlike previous examples of franchising in esports, there was no buy-in fee, and VCT teams are also set to receive annual stipends from the league.
On a similar note to the above, in-game item revenue sharing is an exciting new prospect for cash-strapped esports organisations. Publishers are slowly but surely letting teams get in on the lucrative business of in-game item sales.
We chose this partnership — Version1 partnering with eFuse — because it was the first to be announced since Rocket League developer Psyonix started allowing commercial partner branding on its in-game items. The in-game esports items, revenue from which is split between organisations and the developer, are now able to have partner logos on, offering teams new inventory, exposure and authentic new activation opportunities for sponsors.
One of the year’s most notable collaborations was rapper Lil Nas X teaming up with Riot Games. The rapper was crowned (or declared himself, according to the hilarious promo video) ‘President of League of Legends’. He also performed at the World Championship and co-designed an in-game skin.
It was a prime example of esports’ pop cultural currency, Riot’s affinity for great content, and the willingness of mainstream names to cross over into esports.
In a very similar vein, earlier in the year Snoop Dogg joined FaZe Clan as an ambassador and content creator, and notably wore a FaZe clan chain on stage at the Super Bowl.
This year saw a marked increase in regional, national and even international government activity in esports. Notably, esports was featured as a pilot event in the 2022 Commonwealth Games via a partnership with the Global Esports Federation, attracting much mainstream attention from governments across the world, who scrambled to put together national teams for esports.
Other government-related partnership deals include the US Army expanding its deal with Complexity Gaming, and the West Midlands partnering with the Global Esports Federation.
These partnerships highlight growing government involvement in esports. They come in a year when Saudi Arabia unveiled sweeping, ambitious, multi-billion dollar esports plans, and the European Union voted for support, recognition and funding of its domestic esports industry.
Women’s esports ecosystems strengthened across 2022, particularly in VALORANT via VCT Game Changers, but also League of Legends, CS:GO and Rocket League. In the partnership highlighted, Gen.G created a men’s and women’s Rocket League team in collaboration with Mobil1. Gen.G ended up winning the RLCS Fall Split Major.
They weren’t the only ones, either; Guild Esports struck a similar partnership with Sky focusing on their female Rocket League team.
The examples represent not just the expansion of women-only esports competitions, but also the increasingly sustainable and viable commercial structure behind these tournaments.
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the crossover of esports and music in 2022, as represented by Jay Park collaborating with Gen.G. Music and esports share a natural affinity, and we’ve seen stakeholders across the industry announce music-related projects as a result.
K-pop group THE BOYZ collaborated with T1 on a Worlds 2022 anthem, Giants Gaming partnered with record label Sony Music Spain and — speaking of record labels — G2 Esports, Fnatic, Galaxy Racer and PUBG Mobile all started their own.