AT&T dives in to esports with ESL mobile sponsorship

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AT&T INC. is quickly becoming one of the larger sponsors of video game competitions with the announcement Monday it’s backing a new amateur mobile gaming tournament.

The company will be the founding sponsor of the ESL Mobile Open, which kicks off its first season March 18. Any player who wants to join can enter the tournaments, which feature the titles PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Clash of Clans and Asphalt 9: Legends. Winners will compete in finals later this year with a $330,000 prize pool.

Esports, where contestants play video games in front of live and online audiences, is drawing some of the largest names in corporate advertising including Intel Corp., Coca-Cola Co. and Mercedes-Benz AG. Overall corporate sponsorships of esports competitions are expected to climb 34% to $457 million this year, according to the researcher Newzoo.

AT&T, which backed its first video game tournaments in June, has since promoted the Razer, a phone popular with gamers, and sponsored Cloud9, a Los Angeles-based esports team.

The competitions allow the second-largest US wireless carrier to reach a young, tech-savvy audience with a lifetime of telecom and entertainment spending ahead of them, according to Shiz Suzuki, assistant vice president of sponsorships and experiential marketing for Dallas-based AT&T.

Future partnerships may include hosting meet-and-greets with esports stars at AT&T wireless stores and promoting games published by its recently acquired Warner Media business at the tournaments.

Mobile is the fastest-growing category of video games, thanks in part to titles like Fortnite that can be played on any device. The emerging nature of the business poses challenges, such as whether contestants should sit or stand when playing games on a stage, and where to best put cameras to capture the action.

“You’ll see us experimenting a lot,” Yvette Martinez-Rea, chief executive officer of ESL’s North America unit, said in an interview. “It’s very much evolving week over week.”

ESL is majority owned by Stockholm-based Modern Times Group. — Bloomberg