Riot Games Names John Needham as Global Lead of LoL Esports; Jarred Kennedy, Whalen Rozelle Transition to New Roles

Riot Games announced a new Global Head of LoL Esports, John Needham. The current co-Heads of Esports, Jarred Kennedy and Whalen Rozelle, who have overseen record-setting growth for our sport, will remain at Riot Games in new leadership positions.

“Riot’s aspirations are growing, and we are moving three of our proven leaders to accomplish even bigger things, on games, and beyond games,” said Riot Games CEO Nicolo Laurent. “John’s global experience, track record with our regional esports leagues, and true passion for gaming will accelerate the evolution of League of Legends into one of the leading sports and entertainment properties in the world. LoL is an esports phenomenon, thanks in large part to the leadership, drive, and vision of Jarred and Whalen, and we’re now confident that we are well on our way to becoming a multi-decade, multi-generational sport. We plan to provide our players, teams, partners, and fans with even more high-impact, amazing League of Legends experiences.”

Kennedy will lead a division focused on building and operating new businesses for Riot Games, and will also assume responsibility for Riot’s strategic partnerships, while Rozelle will be leading new esports initiatives across the organization.

Under their leadership, esports expanded to 13 leagues around the world, all globally integrated through major events. These leagues include the LCS in North America, the recently rebranded LEC in Europe, and leagues in Korea and China. Rozelle and Kennedy oversaw the last three World Championships, introduced the franchising (long-term partnership) model in North America now used by multiple leagues globally, and recently launched digital features that aim to enhance the fan experience and generate even more revenue for teams and leagues.

Riot Games’ leagues now feature more than 100 teams, all with their own unique identities and brands made up of more than 800 professional players. The 2018 League of Legends World Championship was broadcast live in 19 different languages and attracted 99.6 million unique viewers for the Finals. Viewership of the regular season last year averaged 90 million hours-watched live, week-over-week worldwide. Additionally, Riot Games and League of Legends esports continue to create experiences, such as the 2018 World Championship anthem Rise and K/DA – the K-Pop group debuted at the same event.

Over the past several years, World Championships were held at the following incredible venues:

  • Incheon Munhak Stadium, South Korea – 2018 World Championship Finals
  • Beijing National Stadium, aka “the Bird’s Nest”- 2017 World Championship Finals
  • Los Angeles’ Staples Center – 2016 World Championship Finals
  • New York City’s Madison Square Garden – 2016 World Championship Semifinals

Needham now will drive the vision for international sport and help increase the impact of the company’s unique regional leagues. He also will lead development of major events like The World Championship, Mid-Season Invitational, and All-Star Event. Combining his passion for esports and experience with media and gaming, Needham is the ideal candidate to accelerate the growth of League of Legends esports.

“We are currently in the middle of our ninth season with League of Legends esports, and when we look at the timelines under which traditional sports have evolved, over many decades if not centuries, we’re extremely bullish on what we’re creating,” said Needham. “At Riot Games, we believe that we’re well ahead of the curve and that esports are still only in their infancy. With player experience guiding us as it does all of Riot, we are building a global, sustainable ecosystem for players, teams, partners, and fans alike. We’re honored to be considered leaders in the esports space and believe it’s part of our responsibility to help shepherd it forward by investing in the right ideas, events, and structure to help this sport reach its full potential.”

Needham has been with Riot since 2017 and most recently served as the Managing Director of Europe and North America. Many esports fans might be familiar with the results of his work through the rebranded and revitalized League of Legends European Championship (LEC), which this year moved to a long-term partnership model with 10 teams, and introduced multiple new sponsors such as Alienware, Kia, Logitech, DXRacer, Beko, Red Bull, and Foot Locker. Prior to Riot, Needham worked at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Cryptic Studios, and Microsoft Xbox.

He is a Taric support main in League of Legends, a fan of the NFL (Oakland Raiders) and NBA (Boston Celtics), and an avid follower of esports since the early 2000s when he attended live Starcraft events in South Korea.