Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

gaminggamingauthorSeth Schiesel and Shakeel HashimNoneWant to better understand the $150 billion gaming industry? Get our newsletter every Tuesday.03807ace1f
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Power

How a Facebook post about George Floyd threatened a Verizon deal with 'League of Legends'

Verizon will pitch 5G to gamers — but only after Riot Games dealt with an executive who posted about Floyd's "criminal lifestyle."

video games on screens in a pc cafe

On any given day, League of Legends attracts more than 8 million concurrent players.

Photo: Courtesy of Riot Games

Verizon announced Friday that it has struck a long-term partnership deal with the professional North American league for League of Legends, the world's most popular esport — an announcement delayed for a day by the fraught corporate politics surrounding the killing of George Floyd.

Verizon and League of Legends publisher Riot Games originally planned to unveil their partnership Thursday morning, a day before the North American league's summer kickoff; executives for both companies briefed Protocol on the deal on Wednesday under an agreement that Protocol would break the news exclusively Wednesday night.

But Verizon postponed the announcement just hours before Protocol's original article was to be published after learning that Ron Johnson, then Riot's global head of consumer products, had shared an image in a Facebook post that complained that "the media and the left" had turned Floyd into a "martyr" despite his criminal record. As Vice News reported, Johnson added his own comments alongside the image: "This is no reason to condone his killing by the officer at all, which still needs to be investigated as a potential crime. It is a learning opportunity for people (and your kids) to teach that this type of criminal lifestyle never results in good things happening to you or those around you."

By Thursday morning — when the League of Legends announcement was supposed to have been made — it was clear that Verizon would not move forward with the deal unless and until Riot resolved the matter decisively. Late Thursday night, a Riot spokesperson told Protocol that Johnson was no longer employed at the company.

"The sentiment expressed in the image in question is abhorrent and runs directly counter to our values and our belief that addressing systemic racism requires immediate societal change, something that we're committed to working toward," the spokesperson said, noting that Riot had already committed $1 million to "areas where we can make an impact," plus $10 million more for "founders underrepresented in the games industry."

With that, Verizon announced the partnership Friday, just hours before the beginning of the summer league.

The deal includes a marketing relationship and also a far-reaching agreement for Verizon to deploy some of its most advanced networking systems to help make competitive video games more responsive and enjoyable. The technology aspects of the deal will include both terrestrial fiber-optic technologies and also wireless 5G innovations as Verizon deploys 5G over the coming years.

For Verizon, the Riot deal is just one part of a larger strategic decision to emphasize the $160 billion video game business as an industry vertical ripe for buying and showcasing its latest advanced communications services. Verizon has had a technology and marketing relationship with Google's Stadia cloud gaming service since January.

Roughly two-thirds of American adults regularly play some form of video game, and gamers are already the most important segment for the high end of the consumer PC business, from Nvidia's top video cards to specialty computer makers like Maingear and Falcon Northwest.

For Verizon's core consumer home communications business, targeting gamers makes sense because gamers can certainly appreciate and pay for the low latency and high speed of a Fios fiber-optic connection.

Meanwhile, advanced technical improvements can be an important selling point for games. For example, Riot is already seeing professional esports players flock to its new shooter Valorant partly because that game uses servers that are more responsive than earlier generations.

Wireless, Verizon's other main business pillar, plays an important role in the huge mobile games sector (which is a bit less than half of the overall game business), but the value of 5G remains murky for games, gamers and game publishers. So partnering with Riot and League of Legends to demonstrate 5G gives Verizon a chance to show off for millions of the world's pickiest and most lucrative consumers.

"Verizon has always been about the network, and what's going to be more important to the network in the future than the speed, capacity and power for gamers?" Rob McQueen, Verizon's head of strategic partnerships, told Protocol Wednesday, before the announcement was delayed. "So we're excited about expanding into esports and competitive esports, but really it's a holistic look at the ecosystem of gaming. Riot, being who they are, are a great partner to hit multiple parts of that ecosystem."

On the marketing and advertising side of the deal, Verizon will become the official 5G wireless and networking service partner for League of Legends' professional North American esports league, called the Championship Series, or LCS. The game's world championship in Paris last year attracted more than 100 million viewers, including a peak of 44 million concurrent live viewers. The league's summer season begins Friday. On any given day, League of Legends attracts more than 8 million concurrent players.

"Verizon is fully committed to gaming and esports and are a perfect partner for us," Matt Archambault, Riot's head of North American partnerships and business development, said in an interview with Protocol Wednesday. "The telecom and 5G elements of this relationship are extremely intriguing for us because they will deliver a far better experience for our viewers, for our players and for the league itself."

Riot is owned by Tencent, the Chinese media and gaming leviathan, but Tencent's corporate nationality does not appear to present obvious difficulties for the Verizon relationship. Tencent does not produce significant telecommunications gear and is not one of the prohibited Chinese communications equipment vendors that will soon be barred from contractors for the United States government. Verizon and its predecessor companies including Bell Atlantic and GTE have long been major communications providers for the American government and military. It is highly unlikely that any of those companies have ever used any Chinese communications equipment in an operational network.

This post was updated with additional information when Verizon announced its deal Friday.

Power

Google wants to (try to) make Google Glass cool again

Also this week: savvy virtual assistants, surveillance without violating people's privacy, and more patents from Big Tech.

Is making these cool even possible?

Image: Google

This week was so full of fun patent applications that I didn't know where to start. We've got a throwback to 2013, a virtual assistant that knows when I've stopped talking, and headphones that can determine a user's hearing abilities.

But as always, remember that the big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future

Keep Reading Show less
Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

As President of Alibaba Group, I am often asked, "What is Alibaba doing in the U.S.?"

In fact, most people are not aware we have a business in the U.S. because we are not a U.S. consumer-facing service that people use every day – nor do we want to be. Our consumers – nearly 900 million of them – are located in China.

Keep Reading Show less
J. Michael Evans
Michael Evans leads and executes Alibaba Group's international strategy for globalizing the company and expanding its businesses outside of China.

Does Elon Musk make Tesla tech?

Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?

You know what's not tech and is a car company? Volkswagen.

Image: Tesla/Protocol

From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.

The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?

Keep Reading Show less
Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.
Protocol | Workplace

Apple isn’t the only tech company spooked by the delta variant

Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.

Apple and at least two other Silicon Valley companies have decided to delay their reopenings in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty

Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Both ServiceNow and Pure Storage opted to push back their September return-to-office dates last week, telling employees they can work remotely until at least the end of the year. Other companies may decide to exercise more caution given the current trends.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Workplace

Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

But a new survey, shared exclusively with Protocol, finds that among parents who kept their jobs through the pandemic, people who hold more senior positions are actually more likely to say they faced discrimination at work than their lower-level colleagues.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Latest Stories