The news of a deal between Riot Games and MLB subsidiary AM Tech (Advanced Media Tech) for a multimedia broadcast streaming app, leaked by anonymous sources to esports pundit Richard Lewis, makes it seem like League of Legends is ready to swing for big-time broadcasting. But AM Tech shouldn’t be conflated with its parent company MLB—we aren’t going to see the Rift on baseball channels anytime soon.
That doesn’t make this rumor any less important. In fact, this deal would affect the very infrastructure of Riot’s esports broadcasts and how fans will experience them. So what does it mean for Riot, and potentially esports as a whole then?
First, it’s important to clarify what MLB Advanced Media, and specifically AM Tech is, because conflating MLB as a whole with this service it offers makes it more difficult to understand the implications of the talks.
Riot would be only the latest group to approach AM Tech for these resources
Like many other major sports companies, MLB has an array of internal resources thanks to baseball doing the tango with American culture for over a century. Even if baseball wasn’t the first live sport on television, it certainly is one of the biggest markets for live sports. Their internal infrastructure matches their history: they’ve set up broadcast infrastructure in stadiums, created multimedia broadcasting opportunities, offered exclusive ticketed streams and events, tracked data about viewership, advertised to markets, and so on.
Given baseball is only a seasonal sport, it only makes sense to reach out and offer some of these services to other large companies to build on their own resume and keep income flowing. This is what AM Tech does, providing streaming services, infrastructure and media consulting to companies such as WWE, HBO, and PGA. Disney recently purchased a third of the company, taking ownership in a move that mostly benefits its subsidiary ESPN. Riot would be only the latest group to approach AM Tech for these resources.
There are points within the document brought up by Richard Lewis about a new variety of streams that may be offered during tournaments. Better infrastructure means that the company can afford to run more offbeat streams. At Worlds this year, Riot hosted a more approachable “new viewer” stream to explain basic mechanics and strategies of the game, as well as a player versus player stream that focused on a particular matchup. With this expansion, we could be seeing even more. A potential mobile app is planned to keep fans updated on current matches, which could overshadow third-party publications that have been moving into this field. MLB AM Tech also appears to be ready to take on advertising and data details, while Riot handles front-end ticketing systems and customer service.
But the biggest feature of the deal, of course, would be the standalone streaming services directly offered to viewers. The proposed broadcasting app would available on a range of platforms from Chromecast to iOS and more. It would involve their own engagement tools for fans that play the game; for instance, users may be able to link their applications to the app. The best parallel for such a feature would be the Steam linking feature on Twitch, where players can spectate certain tournaments and receive in-game items.
Though there’s currently no discussion of exclusive streaming rights, this could presage a gradual break-up with Twitch, the primary and largest esports streaming platform. It’s worth noting that Twitch has a near-monopoly in their own field, but the site is mostly free, with a breadth of watching options, including mobile, Chromecast, and console apps. Riot also utilizes YouTube Live, but less viewers are present, and adblockers are savvy to the Google-owned platform. The recent controversy over monetization may mean the company plans to lean towards an approach that prioritizes income. After all, an investment is expected to beget a return, and AM Tech is a big investment given its current clientele of streaming companies.
Ultimately, we can’t be sure of what the deal means right now, nor what the final product will be. What we can understand, though, is that with such a massive deal in the talks, Riot is trying to prove that they’re their own big deal—and they want as much of your attention as they can get.
(Writer’s note on sources: Riot Games declined to comment. A company source was made aware of talks between the two parties some time ago, but lacked further details. Richard Lewis is the sole source at the moment of these particular details.)