Riot Shifts John Needham into Esports Operations Leadership

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  • Needham is replacing the co-heads of esports at Riot
  • Riot continues to be bullish and focus on region-specific expansion
  • Viewership for the esports contest grows as well

Riot Games remains bullish about esports prospects while streamlining its internal structure with the most recent shift of John Needham as head of competitive video gaming within the company.

Riot Continues to Streamline Esports

Riot Games has appointed a new Head of League of Legends Esports in the face of John Needham amid a quick internal shift. The Co-Heads, Jarred Kennedy and Whalen Rozelle will take other leadership positions within the company moving forward.

Needham first joined the company in 2017 and his most recent responsibilities included overseeing both the LoL European Championship (LEC) and LoL Championship Series (LCS). He is not new to gaming companies, having worked in some important industry names, including Microsoft and Lionhead Studios famous for Fable and Black and White.

2018 World Championship Finals at the Incheon Munhak Stadium in Incheon, South Korea, on 3 November 2018.
2018 World Championship Finals at the Incheon Munhak Stadium in Incheon, South Korea, on 3 November 2018.

Needham will be tasked with boosting Riot’s esports efforts regionally, focusing on local competitions and overseeing the major competitive events for Riot to date, including the World Championship, Mid-Season Invitational, and understandably the All-Star Event.

Commenting on the shift, Riot CEO Nicolo Laurent highlighted the importance of the game as an esports and the company’s ambitions to turn LoL into a multi-decade competitive product:

LoL is an esports phenomenon, thanks in large part to the leadership, drive, and vision of Jarred and Whalen, and we’re now confident that we are well on our way to becoming a multi-decade, multi-generational sport. We plan to provide our players, teams, partners, and fans with even more high-impact, amazing League of Legends experiences.”

A Rapid Expansion of Esports Operations

Rozelle and Kennedy have been instrumental in consolidating Riot Games as an esports company and establishing the new format. Their results have led to 13 leagues around the world in which 100 professional teams compete.

The professional scene has expanded to feature over 800 players and viewership hit nearly 100 million for the 2018 World Championship. Events have been held all over the globe, and in particular:

  • Incheon Munhak Stadium, South Korea – 2018 World Championship Finals
  • Beijing National Stadium, aka “the Bird’s Nest”, China- 2017 World Championship Finals
  • Los Angeles’ Staples Center, U.S.– 2016 World Championship Finals
  • New York City’s Madison Square Garden, U.S. – 2016 World Championship Semifinals

Needham has used the occasion to point out about the rapid development of competitive video gaming and comparing it to traditional sports. The rapid timeline for esports has made it possible for Riot Games to be particularly bullish about their own esports bid.

“With player experience guiding us as it does all of Riot, we are building a global, sustainable ecosystem for players, teams, partners, and fans alike,” he added.

Today, Riot Games’ esports efforts have added dozens of high-profile investors, including Alienware, Kia, Logitech, DXRacer, Beko, Red Bull, and Foot Locker. Prior to Riot, John worked at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Cryptic Studios, and Microsoft Xbox.

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