Riot Games Shows US Colleges How Easy It Is To Prioritize Responsibility

Written By Derek Helling on March 16, 2023
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On Wednesday, esports powerhouse Riot Games reaffirmed that teams participating in its Valorant esports tournaments are not allowed to accept gambling companies as sponsors. It’s a simple act of governance that prioritizes responsibility while protecting revenue streams.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan, who created the “Just Say No” campaign in the mid-1980s to combat drug abuse, must be smiling down upon Riot’s decision. Riot’s policy is also one that governing bodies for college athletics across the United States should mimic, although that’s unlikely to happen.

As states weigh legislation that could ban colleges and universities forming sports betting and other gambling partnerships, those institutions have an opportunity to make such statutes unnecessary. Their track record for making the right choice in the face of their lust for wealth is quite weak, though.

Riot Games refutes policy change report

On Wednesday, Esporkolik reported that Riot Games was considering removing a prohibition on Valorant teams partnering with gambling companies. Mere hours later, George Geddes of Dot Esports shared a statement from Riot contradicting that claim.

“While there has been no change in the current policy regarding approved team sponsor categories, we will continue to evaluate all opportunities that deliver safe, secure, and meaningful experiences that best support the growth of our esports ecosystem globally. Riot remains committed to investing in opportunities that ensure the integrity of all our esports, enable great experiences for fans, and unlock revenue streams for our teams.”

Geddes mentions that several Valorant team owners “said they were aware Riot is open to the policy change, but it remains unlikely.” Riot alluded to the reasons in its statement. Safety and the fan experience.

Valorant teams don’t just field competitors that are too young to legally gamble in most of the United States. The fan base for those competitors and teams also tend to skew younger than 18 or 21. Thus, letting Valorant teams put gambling companies on display would effectively equate to advertising gambling to minors if not using minors in that marketing as well.

It’s possible that Riot could change its mind at any time. Riot is not maintaining this policy out of pure altruism. It’s a business decision.

Policy change could run afoul of international regulations

Esports at this level are global competitions. Many governments across the world have been cracking down on gambling marketing. While many such regulations exist in Europe and could soon become even more restrictive, the same is happening in the US.

New York legislators have discussed prohibiting marketing on college campuses. A bill to do just that is live in the Maryland legislature. Laws that make using minors in gambling ads or tailoring such advertising explicitly to minors are universal in US states with regulated gambling.

By maintaining this restriction, Riot avoids potential prosecution on those terms. It also avoids offending any of its current fans. Dot Esports also reported that Valorant fans reacted poorly to Esporkolik‘s initial report.

Thus, Riot shows that responsibility is good for business. Governing bodies in US college athletics should take note. Their notepads will probably remain empty, however.

Why such a ban in college athletics is unlikely

In the US college sports industry, there is little uniformity. Almost the only issue that NCAA D1 member institutions will unite on comprehensively is working to maintain their chattel economy. Nothing motivates governing bodies in college athletics to take unified action like athletes possibly gaining some power in their relationships with the institutions.

Governing bodies in college sports concern themselves with growing and protecting revenue mainly. Trifling matters like athlete safety, ensuring that coaches don’t have sexual abuse convictions on their records, and sponsorship rules, not so much. Those matters all get left to individual institutions to “police themselves” on.

To some degree, the governing bodies have gotten involved themselves. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference announced Tipico as the official sports betting partner for its conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments earlier this month.

Other individual institutions, like Colorado, LSU, and Maryland have formed their own gambling partnerships. To date, neither the conferences they belong to nor the NCAA has even flirted with restricting such sponsorships. It’s unfortunate given the similarities between the situation for college sports and esports.

How the situations mirror each other

While college athletes generally tend to be at least 18 years of age, most are younger than 21. That especially applies to those who play men’s basketball, football and women’s basketball. In the same vein, most esports competitors tend to be in their early 20s if not younger.

College sports fans tend to be more diverse in age than esports fans. However, the built-in fan bases – the student bodies at large – are of the same age demographics as the athletes. To a large extent, the concerns are the same about advertising gambling to esports fans and college sports fans.

Collegiate governing bodies have never engaged in telling their members that they have to turn down money, though. So far, FanDuel has been the only major online gambling company to voluntarily eschew sponsoring college athletic programs.

While the gambling companies bare some responsibility in this situation as well, they aren’t governing the actual sport. Riot has shown how to do that effectively by banning gambling sponsorships. If governing bodies in college athletics were concerned with anything more than championing unfettered greed, they would make Nancy proud and just say no.

Photo by AP Photo/Bob Daugherty/PlayUSA
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

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