League of Legends developer Riot Games says Sam Bankman-Fried’s affiliation with the game is hurting the company’s image (via Molly White). In a filing in FTX’s bankruptcy case, Riot Games asks the court to terminate its League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) sponsorship deal with the collapsed crypto exchange, citing irreversible “reputational harm.”
Bankman-Fried’s love for gaming entered the spotlight following the fall of FTX, and he became notorious for playing League of Legends (and other games) during meetings. In a now-deleted profile of Bankman-Fried posted by venture capital company Sequoia, FTX head of product Ramnik Arora recalls when he was even playing League of Legends during their first meeting with the firm over Zoom.
The former billionaire hasn’t been shy about his interest in League of Legends, either (even though he’s self-admittedly bad at the game). He wrote about playing League in a lengthy thread on Twitter posted last year, saying: “I play a lot more than you’d expect from someone who routinely trades off sleep vs work. Why? Well, there’s one answer, which is the obvious one. The single most universal thing about LoL is that everyone who plays it says they wish they didn’t.”
At the time, all this probably seemed like good publicity for Riot Games, which announced a seven-year deal with FTX to sponsor its LCS circuit. But now that FTX’s crypto empire has crumbled, and Bankman-Fried’s been charged with fraud and money laundering, Riot Games is looking to sever any remaining ties with the exchange, which it says its “image and reputation to its customer base” are “inextricably linked” to.
“Images of Mr. Bankman-Fried playing League of Legends were displayed alongside text describing his cavalier attitude towards investor meetings and irresponsibility with corporate funds,” the filing reads. “These images created a public narrative that Mr. Bankman-Fried’s interest in League of Legends, once relatable and human, was now reckless and juvenile.”
According to the filing, FTX still owes Riot Games $6.25 million for the time it spent as an LCS sponsor in 2022, but that will increase to $12.875 million next year. These payments will “escalate each year through 2028,” bringing the deal’s total value up to around $96 million. In addition to allegedly experiencing damage to its brand, Riot says it wants to end the deal now so it can replace FTX with yet another crypto sponsor for the 2023 season.
“The reputational harm inflicted upon Riot cannot be undone,” the filing reads. “FTX cannot go back in time and put in place corporate controls for the safekeeping of customer funds that have in the public eye now been absconded.”
Other organizations sponsored by FTX were quick to drop the exchange’s branding following its collapse. Professional esports group Team SoloMid (TSM), which once went by TSM FTX as part of a sponsorship deal, stripped “FTX” from its name last month, while the Miami Heat already started searching for a new sponsor for its FTX Arena. Even Mercedes’ Formula 1 team suspended its deal with the company and took FTX’s logo off of its vehicles.
Correction, December 19th, 5:33PM ET: A previous version of the article incorrectly named Neeraj Arora as a co-founder of Sequoia Capital and mistakenly stated that he was included in a profile about Bankman-Fried. The person named in the profile was actually FTX head of product Ramnik Arora. We regret the error.