There's been a ratcheting of tensions between Riot Games and the League of Legends community recently, which we covered in-depth in this piece on the rise of #LCSForever. In the midst of all that, a related controversy has arisen: HTC Esports has dropped a pointed hint on Facebook that it may pull its LCS sponsorships if Riot doesn't loosen up marketing restrictions on how it uses players it funds.
The statement was made in response to this comment in the Reddit thread discussing the conversation between Marc “Tryndamere” Merrill and Andy “Reginald” Dinh. A redditor asked about a promotional video Team SoloMid had created for HTC, which Riot demanded be taken down. RiotMagus responded to the question by saying it wasn't actually an HTC promo at all, but an advertisement for somebody else's VR game.
“Regardless of whether HTC organized this or not, it's a tactic [sic] advertisement for another game,” RiotMagus wrote. “This is against LCS rules because LCS isn't a platform for other game companies to advertise on—yes, this means there's a category that teams don't have access to but for any sport, letting quasi competitors advertise on the league doesn't make sense.”
HTC Esports sees the situation very differently. “As we examine the landscape of advertising in the LCS community, we find ourselves at an impasse. If Riot does not want us making videos that feature our sponsored players playing other games, we do not have many options for showcasing our products. In addition, the /r/leagueoflegends subreddit mods do not accept any of our original video advertisements, including videos as well produced as 'Retirement Home,' or others that prominently feature our sponsored players. Sponsors are now very limited in what we can do to market our brand and products while still supporting the League of Legends scene,” it wrote.
“As one of the first major non-endemic sponsors in the West, we believe we have helped pioneer marketing in esports, and we’ve loved every second of it,” it continued. “But with less avenues for advertisement in League of Legends, stemming from the restrictions on the teams and players, restrictions on the subreddit, and the lack of available marketing opportunities at competitions, it is becoming difficult to justify our investments into the scene.”
The message ends with an olive branch extended, as HTC expresses hope for “clear and reasonable guidelines” on marketing and “a solution that will benefit all parties involved.” But it's clear that HTC Esports is unsatisfied with the status quo, and its decision to express that dissatisfaction publicly, here and now, isn't likely to be coincidental. Riot may be resistant to change, but if sponsors joins teams and owners under the #LCSForever banner, or form something similar of their own, it may have no choice but to consider their demands more seriously, and sooner than might have been expected.