What a wild roller coaster ride 2022 has been. We’ve seen industry-defining deals and industry-shattering cancellations, creating new narratives and merging existing ones.
Looking at the top partnership stories of 2022, it’s clear how hard it was to narrow down a list to ten, but without further ado, here’s Esports Insider’s pick for the top industry sponsorship and partnership news of the year.
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Mastercard and Riot Games extend global League of Legends partnership
Photo Credit: Mastercard/Riot Games via Twitter
Less so in the fourth quarter, but the first three quarters of the year were chock-full of big mainstream multinational brand names getting into esports.
We’ve chosen Mastercard’s wide-ranging partnership with Riot Games to represent this because of the sheer breadth and scope of their collaboration. The multi-year deal will see Mastercard remain an official sponsor of the League of Legends World Championship, Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) and All-Star event. The deal also includes sponsorship of the opening ceremonies of the events.
However, there is no shortage of examples of partnerships of this pedigree: there are 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 a few.
TSM suspends major $210 million naming rights deal with FTX
(ESI illustration) Credit: TSM FTX
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 fire of ailing crypto exchange FTX, which filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 11. FURIA announced its $3.2m (~£2.7m) sponsorship with the exchange the next day, and by November 16 TSM had also terminated its 10-year, $210m (~ £148m) suspended for naming rights.
TSM’s FTX partnership was the largest esports partnership ever publicly announced, so naturally its cancellation shocked the industry. Blockchain has been the hot topic in 2022, but as FTX fallouts continue and a crypto winter is in full swing, blockchain sponsorships are suddenly on shaky ground.
Numerous other eSports organizations have had or have major sponsorship deals with crypto exchanges; Cloud9 partners with Blockchain.com, Fnatic with Crypto.com, FACEIT with WhiteBIT, and MIBR with Bybit.
FaZe Clan and Disney announce a year-long apparel collaboration
Photo credit: FaZe Clan
2022 will also go down in history as the year of diversification. Esports companies from around the world have dabbled in new ventures and new revenue streams to break the reliance on pure competition, which hasn’t proven to be as profitable as investors had hoped.
Arguably one of the leaders in this regard, FaZe Clan bills itself as a lifestyle and gaming organization with an outsized emphasis on merchandise, content, and, well, just about everything except esports. The apparel partnership with Disney is an example of the diversification that will be the focus through 2022.
The Collegiate Rocket League expands into Mexico and renews Nissan sponsorship for the 2022-23 season
Photo credit: Rocket League Esports/Nissan
As expected, College Space had an eventful year. We chose the Collegiate Rocket League – which has also partnered with European tournament organizers to bring their collegiate league to Europe – and signed Nissan as title sponsor to represent that.
Intel’s association with the UK’s national esports organization, National Student Esports, because it’s such a long-standing and cornerstone partnership, at least on the UK scene.
There’s plenty to choose from here though, including the PlayFly and Generation Esports deal, Intel’s long-standing lead partnership with National Student Esports, sponsors of the Collegiate Esports Commissioner’s Cup, and more.
All was not well, however – Riot Games ended its partnership with North American high school esports platform PlayVS after widespread backlash over its exclusivity deals and controversial business practices.
All VALORANT Champions Tour partner teams featured by Riot Games
Photo credit: Riot Games
In September, Riot Games announced its much-anticipated roster of partner teams for its new partially franchised league format due to debut next year, with many expected names but also some surprising absences.
Partner teams will receive a permanent spot in the new VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT), alongside some spots available for open qualifiers. The league is a boost for teams that made it because, unlike previous examples of esports franchising, there was no buy-in fee and VCT teams will also receive annual stipends from the league.
Version1 signs multi-year deal with eFuse
Photo credit: Version1 / eFuse
Similar to the above, revenue sharing for in-game items is an exciting new prospect for budget-strapped eSports organizations. Publishers are slowly but surely letting teams get into the lucrative business of selling in-game items.
We chose this partnership – Version1 in partnership 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, whose revenue is split between organizations and the developer, can now be branded with partner logos, giving teams new inventory, visibility and authentic new activation opportunities for sponsors.
Riot Games appoints Lil Nas X as “President” of League of Legends
Photo credit: Lil Nas X
One of the most notable collaborations of the year was rapper Lil Nas X’s collaboration with Riot Games. The rapper has been crowned “President of League of Legends” (or self-declared, according to the hilarious promo video). He also appeared at the World Cup and co-designed an in-game skin.
It was a prime example of esports’ pop culture currency, Riot’s affinity for great content, and the willingness of mainstream names to jump into esports.
Similarly, Snoop Dogg joined FaZe Clan earlier this year as an ambassador and content creator, notably carrying a FaZe Clan chain on stage at the Super Bowl.
The 2022 Commonwealth Games will host an esports championship for pilots
Photo credits: Global Esports Federation, Commonwealth Esports Championships
This year has seen a significant increase in regional, national, and even international government activity in esports. Notably, eSports was launched as a pilot event at the 2022 Commonwealth Games via a partnership with the Global Esports Federation, which drew a lot of attention from governments around the world scrambling to create national teams for eSports.
Other government-related partnership deals include the US Army’s extension of its contract with Complexity Gaming and the West Midlands’ partnership with the Global Esports Federation.
These partnerships underscore the growing state involvement in sport. They come in a year when Saudi Arabia unveiled far-reaching, ambitious multi-billion dollar esports plans and the European Union voted to support, recognize and fund their domestic esports industry.
Gen.G and Mobil 1 launch Rocket League teams for men and women
Photo credit: Gen.G
The eSports ecosystems for women have been strengthened throughout 2022, most notably in VALORANT via VCT Game Changers, but also in League of Legends, CS:GO and Rocket League. In the highlighted partnership, Gen.G has created a men’s and women’s Rocket League team in collaboration with Mobil1. Gen.G eventually won the RLCS Fall Split Major.
They weren’t the only ones either; Guild Esports formed a similar partnership with Sky focused on their all-female Rocket League team.
The examples stand not only for the expansion of women-only esports competitions, but also for the increasingly sustainable and viable commercial structure behind these tournaments.
Korean-American artist Jay Park has been appointed as an advisor to Gen.G Music and Entertainment
(ESI illustration) Credit: Gen.G
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the intersection of sports and music in 2022, as advocated by Jay Park in association with Gen.G. Music and esports share a natural affinity, and we’ve seen stakeholders from around the world announce music-related projects as a result.
K-pop group THE BOYZ has collaborated with T1 on a Worlds 2022 anthem, Giants Gaming has teamed up with record label Sony Music Spain and, speaking of record labels, have G2 Esports, Fnatic, Galaxy Racer and PUBG Mobile all established their own.
Jake is a features and trending news editor for Esports Insider. He has been part of the ESI team since early 2021 and is interested in politics, education and sustainability in sport.