For the past four years, dozens of professional gaming teams from across the world have gathered to compete in the League of Legends world championship for glory, a gargantuan winner's cup, and $1 million U.S. This year, though, things are going to be slightly different.
Riot Games, the studio behind League of Legends franchise, has banned G2A, a popular online marketplace for video game software keys, from sponsoring teams competing in this year's LoL world championships. Riot claims that G2A has been selling game keys obtained illegally, effectively cutting into Riot's profits.
In the past, G2A has been one of the most prolific sponsors of teams and gaming competitions in the eSports space. This year, G2A was one of the Electronic Sports League Frankfurt's largest returning sponsors, and last year the company backed at least half a dozen different teams competing in different competition.
Last year the Riot World Championships were watched by over 27 million people. People that G2A won't be able to advertise to anymore during the competition.
Riot also suspects that G2A was selling access to fully buffed out accounts, meaning that new players could instantaneously enter into higher-ranked League games, which is strictly forbidden. As Destructoid points out, this has been a serious problem plaguing the game's players in the past, and so it only makes sense that Riot would want to shut it down.
"We've already formally banned them as a sponsor as of September 18th, and have no plans to reconsider the decision at this time," Riot developer relations manager J. Eckert posted to a LoL subreddit. "This was NOT a decision we made lightly, and came after many weeks of back and fourth conversations with G2A to find a resolution, which we were not able to reach an agreement on."
In order to understand why that's such a big blow to G2A, you have to understand the culture and community that's sprung up around LoL.
While League of Legends can be enjoyed alone, the game was designed to be played as a massively multiplayer online battle simulator. In LoL, players summon "champions" meant to duke it out in highly-strategic real-time fights. Being skilled at the game requires equal parts natural skill and a fair amount of technical training.
The nature of the game has turned League of Legends into one of the most popular titles on the competitive gaming circuit, which is an integral part of the multi-million dollar eSports industry. The people who compete in League of Legends tournaments aren't just fighting for titles and chump change, they're participating in high-profile events that sponsors, like G2A, would love to be able to advertise at.
While G2A still has other revenue streams at their disposal, Eckert was careful to point out that Riot was aware and sensitive to the effect that the ban could have on competitors' ability to participate in the tournament later this month.
"We do not at all enjoy affecting the income of the teams, but the LCS rules include guidelines specifically against this sort of thing," said Eckert. "We did however keep teams in the loop during the process in an attempt to avoid any surprises."
We've reached out to G2A for comment on the banning and will update this post if and when we receive word.