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Volume 21 No. 22
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AT&T dipping toes into esports, plans more

AT&T took a modest step into esports at this month’s E3 video game conference in Los Angeles, putting its logo on the ESL Arena, where an “Arena of Valor” competition played out, and running a nearby showcase of its coming 5G connectivity technology.

 

AT&T’s sponsorship head, Shizuka Suzuki
Photo: AT&T

The AT&T footprint was dwarfed by larger displays on the sprawling Los Angeles Convention Center floor, and the mobile title “Arena of Valor” attracted a small audience. But more is coming from the telecom giant, said Shizuka Suzuki, assistant vice president of corporate sponsorships.

  

“Are we looking at other opportunities? Yes, absolutely,” Suzuki said during an interview outside the convention hall.

 

AT&T follows two other competitors into esports in its deal with third-party tournament operator ESL, which has given it category exclusivity and the title “official mobile gaming partner.”

 

First came Boost Mobile, which signed a one-year deal with ELeague last fall, and T-Mobile, which has deals with Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League and member team Houston Outlaws, and also activated aggressively at E3.

 

But AT&T’s historical willingness to spend in traditional sports and its growing clout — Suzuki spoke just moments before AT&T won legal approval to acquire Time Warner — puts it near the top of the most-watched brands in the growing space.

 

Like many other marketers before her, Suzuki said esports and gaming offers AT&T a path to an under-reached audience that isn’t seeing the brand in traditional sports.

 

“More recently we’ve been looking at our whole portfolio mix, [asking] does it represent who we are, where we want to go and who we will be?” said Suzuki, who replaced Ryan Luckey as AT&T’s top sponsorship executive last November. Luckey is now in corporate brand marketing. “And I think as we look at that, to us, it was evident there’s this other group we were missing.”

 

Suzuki was circumspect about what other properties in esports AT&T is considering, but she noted that ESL — which organizes online and in-person tournaments under license from publishers — won its first serious sponsorship because of its experience and operation of major tournaments that often cap off weeks of preliminary tournaments.

 

“They put on these tournaments and events, and we really talk about focusing on the passion point for the fans, and there’s such buildup,” Suzuki said. “Fans have been waiting for so long and it builds up to that moment.”

 

AT&T has broad rights to promote its wide range of businesses in the ESL sponsorship, but is focusing on its mobile connectivity first, Suzuki said. Elite professional circuits in mobile games have not taken off in the U.S., but AT&T believes it can gain equity in the space by emphasizing its role in facilitating mobile gaming as technology improves.

 

Later this year, the brand will activate at the ESL One New York event in September and the Intel Extreme Masters event in November. Wasserman handles AT&T’s overall sponsorship strategy, and The Marketing Arm works on activation.

For more coverage of the business of esports, visit our partners, esportsobserver.com.