At First-Ever E3 Keynote, Verizon Expands Partnerships With Riot, EA, Dignitas, Team Liquid, and Cxmmunity – The Esports Observer

At its E3 press conference on Monday, Verizon announced new initiatives and expanded partnerships with Riot Games, EA, Dignitas, Team Liquid, and Cxmmunity. At the first-ever E3 keynote for the telecommunications company, it revealed expansions of existing partnerships, several of which will promote bringing more women and people of color into esports.

Financial terms of these new partnerships were not disclosed.

Yvette Martinez-Rea, VP of sponsorships and partnerships at Verizon, spoke to The Esports Observer on Friday about the deals being announced during its E3 2021 press event. Martinez-Rea joined Verizon in October of 2020, after spending five years at ESL North America as its CEO and COO.

“Verizon is a leading sports and entertainment sponsor with our deals in those spaces. And over the last 18 months to two years (long before I got here), they started to expand the portfolio to gaming and esports,” she said. “I came here with the understanding that gaming is an emerging space, and that the gaming audience, whether they are avid or casual, provide an incredible opportunity for a company like Verizon given that they tend to be digitally native, have a high degree of savviness technologically, and require the best connectivity.”

Martinez-Rea added technology combined with gaming assets has the power to “transform the future” for gamers and gaming if you have the right partner that shares the same philosophy and vision.

Verizon Valorant Champions Tour Game Changers

First, Verizon announced that it has partnered with Riot Games to promote and include women and marginalized groups within the esports community. Verizon will work with Riot in an expanded program launching this fall – the Verizon Valorant Champions Tour Game Changers. The expansion to the program will provide training and mentoring to female esports casters, along with tools they will need to grow in their careers. Verizon VCT Game Changers will also continue to provide competitive opportunities for women through top-tier tournaments, offer prizes to top-performing teams, and will be supported by broadcasts produced by Riot Games. 

A year ago, Verizon announced a multi-year partnership with Riot Games to serve as the official 5G partner of the LCS. In March, it announced an expansion of its initial deal, becoming the official 5G wireless and network service partner for both League of Legends and Valorant.

Reflecting on the experiences she had during her five-year stint at ESL, Martinez-Rea shared that “I learned a lot about women who were trying to break into the space as professionals, whether those are casters, players, or people who just want to work in the industry. And so one of the things that attracted me to Verizon is that it is a company that’s very much committed to making a real impact in various areas of society, including diversity and inclusion. One of the things that we looked at as we were engaging with different partners is where can we apply our investment and our focus to try to create that opportunity to learn.” 

Verizon Game Forward Scholarship

Also happening this fall, the company will launch the Verizon Game Forward Scholarship with the help of esports community group Cxmmunity. Verizon will allot $1M USD for the scholarship program, which will help women at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) gain degrees in technology, with an emphasis on working in the video games and esports industry. Verizon will hand out five scholarships each to five HBCUs: Delaware State University, Dillard University, Howard University, Morgan State University, and Texas Southern University. The 25 scholarship recipients will also be guaranteed internships at top tech and gaming companies, including Verizon and its partners.

In addition, some of the funding will go towards creating tech centers on the campuses of participating HBCUs, which will be accessible to the entire school. The scholarship recipients will also receive access to the Verizon 5G Gaming Center at the 5G Lab in Los Angeles, to take part in and learn from the work being done there related to gaming and esports. Cxmmunity will work with Verizon to help to develop scholarship criteria, select qualified student recipients, and manage logistics to install the tech centers at the five HBCUs. 

“The part of this that I am most excited about is that, in addition to the scholarship funds, we actually are going to ensure that the women that go through this program are actually going to take part in internships to get an opportunity with Verizon, our publishing partners, and other gaming companies,” she said. “I think one of the things that happens often is you go to school for something, but unless you actually have contacts in a company or an organization, it’s really hard to break through, get a job, and have people help you out. It’s really important to me that we tied scholarships to this. So we are not just giving out scholarships and then saying ‘good luck getting your resume in somewhere.’ We will make sure these folks are connected and have opportunities to build their networks.”

The Verizon Game Forward Scholarship is an expansion of the Future Fund, a $5M fund launched in 2020 to champion new and emerging female talent across entertainment and technology. 

In March, Verizon was named the foundational and first sponsor and official 5G partner of the HBCU Esports League, which is facilitated by Cxmmunity. Last year, Twitch partnered with Cxmmunity to bring HBCU competitions to the streaming platform. 

Team Liquid’s Broad Partnership With Verizon 

Verizon also announced an “innovation partnership” with esports organization Team Liquid that will “reimagine fan engagement around the gaming industry’s biggest moments.” 

Verizon will become Team Liquid’s official 5G partner and be featured across the organization’s pro athlete jerseys. Both companies will also collaborate on developing new technology aimed at advancing Team Liquid’s “business efforts and fan offerings,” beginning with the installation of several 5G-powered streaming pods at the organization’s North American training facility. 

Verizon will also provide a consultant to help with Team Liquid’s recently launched Diversity & Inclusion Task Force.

Other initiatives that the two companies will work on, include a collaboration between Verizon and Team Liquid’s 1UP Studios to produce original content utilizing new Verizon brand ambassadors including WNBA star and content creator Aerial Powers, Fortnite content creators Alixxa and Scoped, League of Legends pro CoreJJ, Valorant pro Mendo, and variety streamer 72hrs.

“I love Team Liquid, I’ve been a Liquid fan for a long time, and I have a lot of admiration for them and how they have run their organization, how they have navigated and matured with the space. I think they were one of the first to really understand the complexity and sophistication of working with major brands, they are very tech-forward, and they are just lovely to work with,” Martinez-Rea said when asked about choosing the organization for this partnership. “While I actually was not part of creating the shortlist of who was going to be that partner, when I saw them on there they were my first choice.”

Dignitas NFTs

Verizon also announced that it is partnering with esports organization Dignitas to beta launch a Dignitas NFT experience. Beginning Monday, 100 fans who engage with Dignitas on their social channels will be selected to receive NFT holograms of the organization’s women’s FPS team. The NFTs can be viewed in augmented reality, allowing Dignitas fans to walk around the NFT and even snap photos of them with their favorite player’s hologram to share. Following the Game Changers tournament (June 24-27), these NFTs will be digitally signed by the players. Dignitas Collectibles are available exclusively on Verizon’s beta NFT platform. These collectibles are currently experience-based and cannot be traded or sold.  

In January of 2020, Verizon and Dignitas partnered to launch a 5G esports training facility, the Verizon 5G Gaming Center, in Verizon’s 5G Lab in Los Angeles. It serves as the HQ of its League of Legends team. In October of 2020, Verizon signed a multi-year partnership with several Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment owned assets – the Prudential Center, the NHL team the New Jersey Devils, and Dignitas – to build out 5G in the venue and a “5G gaming center” within the esports organization’s East Coast studio adjacent to the Prudential Center.

EA and Madden NFL Mobile

Finally, Verizon has partnered with EA to help the game publisher utilize Verizon 5G technology to explore and develop solutions that will improve and enhance player experiences in EA Sports Madden NFL Mobile. EA will use the 5G labs in LA to test and optimize the game’s gameplay.

“Madden is an iconic and powerful title that has a long and wonderful history, and as it’s moving to mobile, we looked at the opportunities to bring our network, our solutions together with them to make the gameplay even more robust, and help them with some of the challenges that they had as they were moving on to 5G mobile platforms with the title. So that’s very much oriented around ‘how do we take our assets, our strengths, and combine it with theirs and deliver something that makes it better for them.’” 

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