2023 in esports was dominated by concerns surrounding sustainability. Esports revenues are dwarfed by costs for many companies, and there is a growing understanding that the industry must become less dependent on sponsorship revenue. An economic downturn where brands tightened advertising budgets also put pressure on esports companies to diversify.
Nonetheless, 2023 saw a slate of high-profile partnerships and brand sponsorship deals with some of the world’s largest brands. We saw deals from leading car manufacturers (Mercedes, Porsche, KIA), payment services (Mastercard), fashion brands (H&M, Ralph Lauren), food brands and chains (Unilever, Burger King, McDonalds), tech and communication companies (Sky, EE) and more.
Read on to find what Esports Insider has named the biggest and most notable esports sponsorship and partnership deals of 2023.
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In March, British esports organisation EXCEL ESPORTS (now GIANTX) announced a large-scale partnership with British bank HSBC UK.
HSBC became the official financial partner of the esports organisation. The deal centres on financial education, acting as EXCEL’s financial health provider. It is a high-profile sponsorship for the organisation, and fairly unique in the sense that not many banks have launched esports partnership strategies.
On a related note, however, games publisher Riot Games and financial company Mastercard expanded their multi-year global esports partnership into VALORANT. As a result, Mastercard now supports global events in the VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT), in addition to League of Legends esports.
Mastercard has been a strong supporter of League of Legends esports since 2018. The company currently sponsors prominent regional leagues such as the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), as well as its Brazilian, European and Northern counterparts. The expansion to VALORANT represents a commitment to Riot Games’ ecosystem for Mastercard.
In October, German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz was announced as an official sponsor of the League of Legends World Championship 2023.
Mercedes became the official automotive partner for the event for the fourth year in a row, and included a new campaign centred around the event. Mercedes-Benz also secured a partnership in May with Korean esports organisation T1.
Mercedes was one of several major car manufacturers that activated in esports in 2023. Others included Porsche and FaZe Clan announcing a multi-year partnership in January, KIA signing as a sponsor of the LEC for 2023 in January too, and more recently BMW Group Middle East partnering with Nigma Galaxy.
North American esports organisation Complexity Gaming renewed its partnership with the US Army for a fifth consecutive year in April.
The two parties said they’d collaborate on Soldier Shakedown 5, a multi-title esports tournament for active-duty service members. The US army comes in as a long-time and high-profile partner for Complexity, though the US army’s involvement in esports has drawn criticism from some quarters.
Complexity wasn’t the only one who partnered with the US Army. The Collegiate Esports Commissioners Cup (CECC) also ran a tournament with the US Army, and the Army National Guard partnered with the KC Pioneers.
In September, Major fast food chain McDonald’s and shampoo brand Head & Shoulders came on as partners for Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League Singapore (MPL SG), amongst others.
McDonald’s and developer MOONTON said they’d award buyers of a certain menu item with in-game rewards during the MPL SG season, alongside delivery discount promo codes. Meanwhile, Head & Shoulders would create two new designs for its shampoo bottles in Singapore, featuring characters from Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.
McDonald’s has activated in North America in the past but this was a first in Singapore, a reflection of impressive growth and increasing commercial viability of esports in smaller esports markets.
Tournament organiser BLAST partnered with Absolut Vodka, Ballantine’s Scotch, and Jameson Irish Whiskey — spirit brands owned by Pernod Ricard — in April ahead of the BLAST.tv Paris Major.
It marked the first esports partnerships for the brands Beer brands such as Bud Light and Heineken have already entered the esports industry, but this partnership is one of the first times a whiskey and vodka brand partnered with a high-profile esports brand.
Shortly after the Pernod Ricard deal, G2 Esports landed a partnership with Jägermeister. The deals reflect the growing involvement of alcohol sponsorships in esports as the market ages up.
While some companies were ready to accept alcoholic brand partners, others are playing it safer. Riot Games’ flagship EMEA league, the LEC, partnered with non-alcoholic beer brand Desperados 0.0% as a national partner in January.
As a national partner, the beer brand was integrated into the LEC German broadcast through a range of content. Desperados 0.0% was also active in the broadcast’s Twitch chat by providing offers and competitions.
In a similar vein, Riot’s VCT Americas VALORANT league partnered with Heineken 0.0 in March to see the non-alcoholic brand become an official beer partner.
With concerns around protecting minors considering the average age of esports fans, sponsorships from non-alcoholic brands are a clever way of reaching a desirable target audience while avoiding some of the complexities involved in advertising alcohol brands.
North American esports organisation 100 Thieves announced a partnership with sandwich chain Subway in May.
Subway became the Official Sandwich of the LA-based organisation and the marquee sponsor its LCS League of Legends team, alongside other team jersey logo placements.
The two parties collaborated to overhaul the team’s California training facility ahead of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) Summer Split. The LCS is the top-flight League of Legends league in the US and Canada.
Subway continues to expand its presence within the esports industry. In May, the chain joined forces with German esports organisation Berlin International Gaming (BIG) to host a community CS:GO tournament for the German esports market. Subway is also a major sponsor of British esports organisation Guild Esports, with whom it recently relaunched its Talent Series.
In June, esports tournament organiser IO Esports and platform operator Epulze secured a partnership with fashion brand H&M for Dota 2’s Bali Major.
The partnership saw H&M provide outfits for on-screen talent and panel members during the event. The brand also had a giveaway in which fans in Singapore and the Philippines can win VIP tickets to the competition.
H&M is the latest in a line of fashion brands active in esports. G2 Esports, together with its partner Ralph Lauren, launched a co-branded apparel collection in July.
League of Legends and VALORANT developer Riot Games announced in July a significant three-year collegiate partnership with esports company GGTech Entertainment for its North American ecosystem.
GGTech is now Riot Games’ official provider of its North American collegiate programme. Notably, this includes the College League of Legends and College VALORANT competitive season.
Riot Games states that the new three-year partnership aimed to create a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all of its college activations across CLOL, College VALORANT, its college club programme and additional programmes.
More broadly, 2023 was a successful year for collegiate esports, and the education space more broadly. New esports courses and training facilities are launching constantly as educational institutions are increasingly noticing the benefits of leveraging esports — meaning more and more partnerships in this space.
In August, Spanish esports organisation Giants Gaming (now GIANTX) partnered with Spanish regional government Junta de Andalucía to promote the tourist destination during VALORANT Champions 2023.
Giants’ players wore Andalucía branding on their jerseys during the event in Los Angeles. Moreover, the two parties said they’d work together on digital and in-person activations throughout the year.
This is not the first time the Spanish organisation has partnered with a regional tourist destination to help promote Spanish tourism abroad. Earlier this year, Giants partnered with Costa del Sol, a Spanish tourist region, and featured its branding on their jerseys. Costa del Sol is actually located in the province of Andalucía.
Moreover, Riot Games also partnered with Junta de Andalucía in August to promote the region of Andalucía during VALORANT Champions.
Esports can bring distinct economic benefits to destinations, which destinations and tourism organisations are increasingly catching on to.
UK-based esports organisation Guild Esports expanded its existing multi-million-pound sponsorship deal with telecommunications company Sky in September.
Guild Esports said it would receive an increased sponsorship fee for the second and third years of its three-year deal with Sky, which was first announced in September 2022.
As part of the deal, Sky’s ‘Sky Glass’ streaming TV has become the Official Television partner of the organisation as a result of the expansion. In addition, the Sky Glass brand and its streaming TVs will feature within the organisation’s London headquarters.
Alongside equipping Guild Esports’ headquarters with Sky Glass devices, Sky invested a ‘six-figure’ sum to refurbish the Sky Guild Gaming Centre. The venue, which is currently used by the organisation’s players to practise, will feature improved branding and upgraded facilities for players, coaching staff and content creators.
Since partnering in 2022, Sky and Guild Esports have collaborated on various initiatives. The ‘No Room for Abuse‘ campaign highlighted verbal abuse women gamers face, meanwhile, the ‘Sweat Box’ tournament revealed Guild’s expansion into Street Fighter.
Plenty of other telecommunications companies are getting involved in esports too. Mobile esports organisation Tribe Gaming secured a multi-year AT&T partnership, while Virgin Media supported Irish football’s esports programme, and EE continues to support EXCEL (now GIANTX).
In April, European esports organisation G2 Esports announced a partnership with North American comic book publisher DC Comics.
The deal saw G2 Esports and DC Comics join forces to create a range of themed limited-edition apparel and products, using the DC Comics universe to create activations around League of Legends events.
The first apparel collection, inspired by The Joker, included a themed jersey worn by G2 Esports’ League of Legends team at the upcoming Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) tournament taking place in London from May 2nd until May 21st.