I’ll admit it, I was nervous when Paramount+ announced that it would be making Players, a mockumentary centred on Riot Games’ League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). Could Hollywood translate the culture and ethos of esports to a broader audience, and keep it entertaining?
In June of 2022, my fears melted away.
Directors Tony Yacenda and Dan Perault’s goal for the series was to be so authentic to esports that viewers are kept guessing whether it’s fact or fiction. By design, the line between mockumentary and documentary isn’t immediatley clear to an audience unfamiliar with League of Legends esports.
Riot played a major role in ensuring that the details were captured correctly, and perhaps more consequentially, lent credibility to the production by helping to close the brand licensing deals needed to make the world of Players feel authentic.
Through nine episodes, over 150 brands and logos make appearances on the show. In all likelihood, Riot, the teams, and brands involved in Players participated in the most valuable brand exposure deal in esports history, and yet no one is talking about it.
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Brands as tools for immersion
It all began with Panera Bread. Yacenda and Perrault had their first experience with brand licensing on their previous hit Netflix show, American Vandal. The two wanted to feature security footage from the restaurant’s bathroom to prove that the main suspect of their true crime parody was defecating at the time of the crime (spray painting phallic symbols on teachers’ cars).
When Panera Bread and several other restaurants turned them down, they learned just how difficult it was to get companies to sign off on having their brands featured in off-colour situations.
The two eventually pivoted away from a brand deal on American Vandal, but both Yacenda and Perrault knew that they would have to find a way to make licensing agreements work for Players.
According to Stacy Jones, Founder and CEO of product placement agency Hollywood Branded, “the goal of a director is to make their show feel like an extension of the real world. It’s disruptive if you see a can of beer in a show that’s just labelled ‘beer.’ It just takes you out of the story.”
As a result, brands were essential to making Players immersive. The production used logo placements on team jerseys, desks littered with drinks and wrappers and shout-outs within the narrative to make the world of Players mirror its real-world counterpart.
Yaceda’s and Perrault’s shared philosophy on brand integrations was to write the joke first, and get approval from the brand second.