Coca-Cola is clearly the leader when it comes to mainstream soft drinks involved in eSports. The company partnered with Riot Games on the League of Legends Championship Series and even helped with the creation of the minor league Challenger Series. With the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI taking place May 7-10 in Tallahassee, Florida, Coke will be part of the event that will feature teams from Europe, North America, China, and Korea facing each other under the same roof. Matt Wolf, Coca-Cola’s global head of gaming, talks about the LCS and its expanding eSports initiative in this exclusive interview.

Matt Wolf, Coca-Cola's global head of gamingMatt Wolf, Coca-Cola’s Global Head of Gaming

What did you learn from last year’s partnership with Riot Games on League of Legends?

We learned that it works. Working with a powerful gaming brand and something that has the stratospheric lift that eSports has is really good for Coca-Cola marketing communications. We’re continuing to double down on eSports and gaming in general.

How will Coke be a part of the League of Legends Mid Season Invitational in Tallahassee, Florida in May?

ESports is special and like traditional sports you can play it, watch it live or watch streaming. We love to create experiential and trial programs with Coca-Cola. At MSI we’ll do the same type of program that we used at the World Championship in Korea last fall. We’ll have a physical structure, but we’ll try a couple of new things.  We know what fans love to express themselves through cheer boards and meet the pros. So it will be more of the same but bigger, iterative real-time marketing. We’re evolving with each of these events. You’ll see some new things and some things that previously worked. We’re never totally satisfied.

What did you learn from your first year in the Challenger Series?

We’re still involved in the LCS. We learned that no matter how we activate, as long as it’s authentic messaging and we’re being timely and bringing value, we have a great platform to build on. What you’ll see with how we’re evolving around this space is that we’ll continue what we had success with and we’re scaling. With LCS and everything we’re doing around it, it’s a more scaled approach. That gives our markets the ability to tap into the value of this in ways we can keep fans engaged and happy. We’ll offer the entire gamut of options from various broadcasts and experiential elements. We’re continuing to scale and create more opportunities.

How has the @CokeESports social media audience grown?

We have over 249,000 followers on @CokeESports. It’s hard to explain how substantial and incredible the growth has been. We work closely with Twitter because it gives us a close one-to-one relationship with people who follow us and we can communicate quickly with that audience. The response by players and fans has been positive. We use it to announce new programs and initiatives like renewing LCS and the Cinemark movie theater deal for viewing parties. It’s been a very strong bright spot. It’s an interesting byproduct as it relates to Riot and eSports in general. Fans are very social. Twitter can be a tenuous form of communication, but we continue to create messaging and content that ultimately is about positivity and celebration of eSports. I read responses very carefully, and when fans respond it makes all of this work worthwhile.

Coke recently released a commercial painting a positive message around social media in movie theaters. Do you see the possibility of eSports becoming the subject of a Coke commercial in the future?

I think the answer is yes, and I think a company like Coke with how we tell stories, the way we tell them, we have an opportunity to bring a strong voice and tell stories like that. We can shine a more positive light on gaming as a whole, and eSports is a great avenue to do that with because everybody is watching it. Given the teen Millennial market that’s important to companies, that quality storytelling and socially conscious message it can bring to tell the eSports story, or tell a unique eSports story and bring it to a platform like digital streaming would be interesting.

What opportunities is Coke exploring outside of League of Legends?

Riot Games is a valued partner of ours and League of Legends is a cornerstone of our strategy. But we activated with Blizzard’s Hearthstone and McDonald’s and did an event last December in Austin, TX with the developers in the dining room. Austin was a pilot Fireside Gathering with Jason Chayes and other Blizzard developers. It was interesting because Jason got emotional with fans who had showed up to play the game, drink Coke and talk to the developers. We’ll continue to look at that program, and other eSports games that are complementary. I’m constantly looking at complementary partnerships, and hope to put that strategy in motion across a few different games. Riot wants the growth of eSports and its global acceptance as a form of entertainment. Any time we go in with a new idea they know we do it as well as we can and they’re supportive of us. We’re going to be selective and these partnerships will be carefully orchestrated. We’ll choose wisely to make sure we’re leaning to an organic experience.

Are there other opportunities in eSports for Coke?

At the end of last year we did a Game-a-thon at our Atlanta headquarters on Twitch. It was a four-and-a-half hour game-a-thon for charity. It was an awesome way of building our relationship with gamers at our headquarters. Our employees got to see the world of eSports in a studio setting that we built in our lobby. Everyone got to see our building and celebrate eSports and competition between these personalities. We want to continue working with Twitch and I’m excited about doing it again. We set the table pretty well.