After growing LoL Esports into the world’s largest esport, Needham steps up to unify, introduce, and evolve Riot Games’ esports titles globally
Riot Games announced the promotion of esports and gaming executive John Needham to the role of President, Esports. In this elevated position within Riot Games, Needham will lead the organization under which all of Riot’s esports titles and operations will now be unified.
After two-plus years as Riot’s Global Head of Esports following his previous roles as Managing Director of Europe and Head of the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), Needham will helm the world’s most successful and sustainable collection of esports.
“As we head into 2022, we’re placing our biggest bets yet on esports to deliver the most connected, immersive experiences for the millions of players worldwide who love our games,” said Nicolo Laurent, CEO of Riot Games. “John Needham’s leadership and vision for our esports business has helped us grow our fandom exponentially over the past few years. It’s why I’m excited to formalize a major division at Riot Games, with John reporting directly into me, to support and drive our big, bold swings that make it even better to be a player.”
The promotion elevates Needham to be one of the senior most executives within Riot Games, now reporting into Laurent along with Riot’s four other presidents: Shauna Spenley, President, Entertainment; Scott Gelb, President, Games; Ryan Crosby, President, Publishing; and Dylan Jadeja, President, Enterprise.
Within Needham’s governance will be 11-year old industry pioneer League of Legends Esports (LoL Esports), the rising FPS esport VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT), Wild Rift Esports (which concludes its first global tournament on Sunday), and multiple other games under a new Organized Play umbrella at Riot Games (Teamfight Tactics, aka TFT; Legends of Runeterra, aka LoR; and future games).
“Riot Games has led the explosive growth of esports over the past decade, and I’m proud to be part of the team charged with establishing our portfolio as a foundation for the future of sports,” said Needham. “Esports embodies Riot’s mission to inspire the most meaningful and lasting player experiences.
“By further professionalizing our sports, innovating and focusing on sustainability and competitive integrity, and making esports at Riot Games inclusive to all, we will thrive together with new and existing fans. We also will create additional value for our partners and plan to set the highest player-driven standards for competitive gaming well into the next decade.”
The new Riot Games esports structure being established by Needham has been informed by a combination of traditional sports leagues and governing bodies as well as Riot’s company-wide goal to innovate around and ultimately define the future of gaming. Needham plans to bring a new strategic and operational focus across the multiple sports and leagues, extend Riot’s esports’ impact into complementary entertainment and gaming categories, and create and shape viewing and content platforms for the future growth of its esports audience.
To that end, Needham recently green-lit a multi-million initiative known as Project Stryker, an innovative initiative to increase capacity of Riot’s esports content and events with a centralized broadcast model anchored by Remote Broadcast Centers (RBCs) strategically located around the world. Three years in the making, these RBCs will increase capacity for Riot Esports content and events while lowering operating costs, ensuring top-tier quality and consistency across all esports productions, and built for scale as the volume of Riot’s live esports broadcasts continues to grow. The first center will come online in Dublin, Ireland, in early 2022.
To also help him achieve Riot Games esports’ mission to bring joy to billions of fans around the world, Needham recently promoted several key executives to new positions and has begun a search for a new Global Head of Organized Play:
- Whalen Rozelle to Head of Global Esports Operations*;
- Naz Aletaha to Global Head of LoL Esports;
- Leo Faria to Global Head of Wild Rift Esports.
*Rozelle will maintain his role overseeing the VALORANT Champions Tour until a replacement is identified and hired
Riot Games’ esports, with 2021 Worlds behind it and the inaugural VALORANT Champions set to kick off in Berlin in December, has seen growing audience demand as well as the need to establish an umbrella structure for brands eager to tap into this rapidly growing global sports category. To date, Riot’s global esports partner roster includes Mastercard, Verizon, Mercedes-Benz, Bose, Unilever, Red Bull, Spotify, Bose, Louis Vuitton, YouTube, Twitch, Cisco, Amazon, Coca-Cola, and State Farm. Red Bull, Verizon and SecretLab are among the first global partners to support multiple titles or events within Riot’s esports portfolio, an opportunity that will be more readily available in the years ahead.
John Needham serves as the President, Esports at Riot Games, overseeing League of Legends Esports, VALORANT Champions Tour and Wild Rift Esports global international events and driving the overall vision for esports at Riot Games worldwide. John is responsible for shaping and defining an accessible, modern sports entertainment property for a multi-generational fanbase, while creating a strong sustainable business ecosystem that attracts top-tier sponsors and investors.
Under his leadership, the sport of League of Legends has experienced rapid maturation with continued investment in infrastructure and broadcast capabilities needed for long-term growth, digital products, and measurement standards (e.g. AMA). LoL Esports’ two major international events — The World Championship and Mid-Season Invitational — have hit record viewership and seen incredible growth in fan engagement and value, with some of the most recognizable global brands signing partnerships.
Needham joined Riot in 2017 as the Managing Director of Europe and North America. During his time in that position, he led the rebranding of the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), which included the move to a long-term partnership model with 10 teams and an influx of new partnerships including Kia, Logitech, Red Bull, and Foot Locker.
Needham is an accomplished senior-level executive with a demonstrated history of results. He has developed high-performing teams, departments, and studios through his ability to communicate, motivate, and align teams from across different regions and cultures.
Prior to Riot, John served as Partner, Microsoft where he worked on Hololens experiences, 3DCreation, Microsoft Casual Games, and Age of Empires. He previously served as Microsoft’s Studio Head of Lionhead where he transitioned Lionhead from a traditional console developer to a games-as-a-service studio. In that role, he also launched Fable Anniversary, Warface, and Quantum Break. John also has held leadership positions at Cryptic Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Telemundo, Gazillion Entertainment, and Sony Online Entertainment.