How Using a Hyper-Local Approach Led to International Success

Based on the incredible growth of Riot Games

Many companies have global ambitions but struggle to break out of the region where they started. This is especially true for video game businesses, but Riot Games was successful where so many others weren’t.

It’s all down to our strategy.

As its former head of Worldwide Publishing, I know first-hand that the global reach is rooted in its mission “to be the most player-focused game company in the world.” Riot recognizes that although the company is based in Los Angeles, players are different everywhere and bonded by a passion for unique experiences.

They speak different languages, but they also have different cultures and preferences on how they want to experience games. We achieved our success by taking a hyper-local approach, which meant we could cater to the uniqueness of the region that we serve.

Riot Games knew that some parts of the game had to be the same everywhere, thus it was important to establish clear boundaries between what the Riot headquarters owned versus the local office. For example, the character, skins, map, and gameplay had to be the same. The Global Marketing Team in Los Angeles developed each character’s positioning and created the marketing assets that would be used globally.

The primary reason these aspects of the game remained the same no matter where you were was for consistency. We wanted the players on the other side of the world to still feel like they were playing the same game. Still, we had to consider the hyper-local strategy.

Outside of Los Angeles, we gave the local offices flexibility to cater to their specific market. We understood that the local team would make the best decisions for their region. So, the company provided them with clear guidelines as to what they own and do not own. Then, within what they owned, the teams were able to make decisions without going through the over-the-ocean approval process — doing this allowed Riot to reach each audience with a clear and concise understanding of the market.

A great example of this is what happened in our Latin America (LATAM) region. As soccer is the most popular sport 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 I worked with the Riot team in Korea, they decided to team up with a famous 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.

In a region Riot calls “MENA” (Middle East/North Africa), 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. In addition, by being a part of the local community, these international teams found a way to 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.

So, how can you apply these ideas to your business?

It is important to clearly define what needs to be consistent around the world and what needs to be localized.
Within what needs to be localized, empower the local team. Your local teams know their market better than anyone else, and giving them some execution freedom may lead to long-term success in those regions.
The company’s international structure and processes should be based on the mission.

How Using a Hyper-Local Approach Led to International Success was originally published in Entrepreneur’s Handbook on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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