Creating an International Presence for Your Brand

Sep 13, 2021
min read

Jin Oh, Former President of Worldwide Publishing at Riot Games, on how the company used a hyper-local approach to successfully create an international presence.

Often, video game companies are most successful in regions or the country closest to their headquarters. Despite this, many companies know that their global ambitions are more important than where they started. Although some companies have a difficult time with successful international expansion, Riot Games, for example, has experienced tremendous success in all parts of the world.

Riot’s global reach is deep-rooted in its mission “to be the most player-focused game company in the world.” One of the many goals of this mission is to serve players in the best way possible wherever they are, even though the company is based in Los Angeles. Riot recognizes that while players share a common passion for unique experiences, they are different everywhere in the world. They speak different languages, but they also have different cultures and preferences on how they want to experience games.

As such, the strategy from the very beginning was to focus on a hyper-local approach. Taking this approach means that Riot caters to the uniqueness of each of the regions that it services. To be truly global, the company found that two factors need to be true. First, it has to be crystal clear what the respective headquarters owns and what the local offices own. Usually, conflicts arise because of the lack of clarity around ownership. Second, the local offices must be empowered to make decisions that are best for the respective markets.

To do this effectively, in every market the company entered, it empowered the local team to make the best decisions for the market. First, the company provided them with clear guidelines as to what they own and do not own. Then, within what they owned, the teams were empowered to make decisions without going through the over-the-ocean approval process with those who may not understand the local markets—doing this allowed Riot to reach each audience with a clear and concise understanding of the market.

Although Riot empowered each local office to market, promote, and publish appropriately for their respective needs, the company knew that some parts of the game had to be the same everywhere in the world. For example, the character, skins, map, and gameplay had to be the same. A primary reason these aspects of the game remained the same no matter where you were in the world was for consistency. The Global Marketing Team in Los Angeles developed each character’s positioning and created the marketing assets. Still, one local office could promote a PC Cafe, and another could work with its local influencers.

A great example of this is something I recently wrote about in a Story regarding Latin America (LATAM). As soccer is mainly popular in the region, the Riot LATAM team wanted to see if they could find a way to blend the passion for soccer with a new sport. So, the team reached out to Chivas, the second largest soccer club in Mexico. Ultimately, they collaborated on a joint five-part video series chronicling the creation of a VALORANT esports team. This did exceptionally well because the local team knew the region and knew what their players wanted.

Another example of the hyper-local approach having enormous success was in Korea. When the Riot team in Korea decided to team up with a popular rapper to launch the third set of new characters and content for Riot’s strategy game, Teamfight Tactics, it became a viral internet sensation across TikTok and Youtube. Somebody even created a website dedicated to an iconic phrase in the song. The song was even played during a major esports event in Korea and became a rallying cry across teams, no matter who the fans were rooting for. You can read more about that story as well.

I also recently wrote about the hyper-local approach in a region Riot calls “MENA” (Middle East/North Africa). The Riot team there can weave together experiences that draw inspiration from many sources within the region. For example, the team put together a music video for VALORANT as part of Eid, the final day of Ramadan celebrations. They made sure it included multiple languages and featured local mainstream artists from each of three major subregions. By pulling different artists from different regions in one video, it appealed to a larger audience. By being a part of the local community, these international teams found a way to successfully meet players where they were already spending their time.

As a result, Riot has a large fanbase in every corner of the world. Furthermore, the hyper-local model also allows Riot to hire and retain the top local talent in every region it has a presence.

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