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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Image credit: Mastercard / Riot Games via Twitter
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.
(ESI Illustration) Image 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 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.
Image credit: FaZe Clan
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.
Image credit: Rocket League Esports / Nissan
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 to Europe — signing Nissan as a title sponsor to represent that.
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.
Image credit: Riot Games
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.
Image credit: Version1 / eFuse
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 increasingly 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.
Image credit: Lil Nas X
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.
Image credit: Global Esports Federation, Commonwealth Esports Championships
Image credit: Gen.G
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.
The examples represent not just the expansion of women-only esports competitions, but also the increasingly sustainable and viable commercial structure behind these tournaments.
(ESI Illustration) Image credit: Gen.G
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 announce music-related projects as a result.
Jake is Esports Insider’s Features and Trending News Editor. Part of the ESI team since early 2021, he’s interested in politics, education and sustainability in esports.