Riot Games has named John Needham its new global head of League of Legends esports, putting him in charge of the world’s most popular competitive video game and its 13 professional leagues.
The current co-heads of esports, Jarred Kennedy and Whalen Rozelle, will remain with the company in other leadership positions.
Needham previously helped oversee LoL’s top-level leagues in Europe and North America. Clubs from those regions have had breakthrough success in the past year in a game long dominated by South Korean and Chinese teams. Europe’s G2 Esports recently beat North America’s Team Liquid to win the Mid-Season Invitational, the first time teams from those regions met in the final of a major, international LoL event since 2011.
Among Needham’s chief accomplishments was a rebranding of the Legends European Championship league that helped land a number of key sponsorships—a priority for the company that has acknowledged concerns over revenues despite its massive popularity.
“We are currently in the middle of our ninth season with League of Legends esports, and when we look at the timelines under which traditional sports have evolved, over many decades if not centuries, we’re extremely bullish on what we’re creating,” Needham said. “At Riot Games, we believe that we’re well ahead of the curve and that esports are still only in their infancy.
“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. We’re honored to be considered leaders in the esports space and believe it’s part of our responsibility to help shepherd it forward by investing in the right ideas, events and structure to help this sport reach its full potential.”
Rozelle and Kennedy have overseen the past three world championships, growing the elite competitive scene to over 100 pro teams with more than 800 players. Last year’s world championship drew nearly 100 million viewers, on par with that of this year’s Super Bowl.