Riot Games’ eSports press conference: League of Legends is of the people, by the people, for the people
On October 3rd, I had the opportunity to attend Riot Games' press conference on the topic of eSports. Co-founders Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill, and eSports VP Dustin Beck spoke about where League of Legends grew out of and the direction it is headed. While it can’t be denied that League of Legends had been phenomenally successful, the mere fact that they sold out the Staples Center of Los Angeles for a video game championship speaks powerfully about the steam this game has picked up since 2009. People from all around the world have come to California to watch the top two teams in the world battle it out for the Summoner’s Cup. If that’s not enough, millions of viewers will be tuning in worldwide.
Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill were University of Southern California students with high aspirations. As gamers themelves, they wanted to create something to do with eSports. 15 years ago, the duo originally desired to develop an eSport company -- a professional gaming league. They knew that video games were taking on a vast competitive scene with games like StarCraft and Quake. Brandon and Marc had the foresight to see this growing trend and thought: if this feels like sports, then it would benefit form more structure in competitive play. Brandon mused, “Why couldn’t we enroll in intermural StarCraft like we could in intermural basketball? Professional organized eSports is something that gamers wanted.”
This philosophy has been the engrained in Riot Games’ decree since the beginning. Since Brandon and Marc were gamers who wanted a stronger eSports scene, they were convinced other competitive gamers wanted the same exact thing. Riot Games was developed to be focused on and driven by eSports. In the words of Dustin Beck, “Riot is a player-driven company. We’ve gone all in with eSports because this is what our players all across the world have asked for… it’s what they deserve.” This concept on paper seems so elementary, but when you pull back and look at the big picture, it’s genius.
Think about the model of League of Legends. It is a free-to-play game, available worldwide and it’s competitive. As the game picks up more and more players, there are more and more voices giving their opinion on what they want to see more of. While pre-existing eSports organizations were doing their jobs just fine, Riot wanted more. Why should eSports be separated from other more traditional sports? Why can’t eSports be sports?
As LoL grew, Riot pushed to give eSports coverage on par with that of what you’d expect out of traditional sports found on stations like ESPN. If the fan base wants to see professionals play, let them watch the matches, make leagues of the best players around the world, make these teams face each other in an easy-to-spectate manner, give them shout-casters and make live entertainment events. In giving the fans what they want, Riot has created an entire eSports culture based around the desires of those who have passion for their game. Instead of telling their fan base what they should like, they built the system beside them bridging desire and development.
Having all of your content and media in a digital format has surprising benefits that make the need for television absolutely obsolete. League of Legends is an online-only game, so why not make all the content online only as well? If a baseball game is on television, it is on at a specific time on a specific channel. Unless you record it, you can only get highlights on ESPN or local news later. Instead, Riot streams all live matches so players can watch them as they happen; as soon as the match ends, a VOD (Video on Demand) is made where fans can watch it in HD for free. On top of all this, viewers have options of different providers to watch the game on in sixteen different languages. This is the equivalent to that same baseball game mentioned earlier being on about four different channels with closed captioning for numerous languages.
Streaming doesn’t stop there, though; the concept of streaming is something unique to eSports. Pro players stream their everyday matches as a way to both reach out to their fan base and make revenue. Through these streams, the pros can have conversations with their fans, give them tips, and virtually hang out with them. No traditional sport allows for this. There is no place on the internet where you can watch Kobe Bryant practice every day, where he talks to his fans live and builds individual relationships with him. If your argument is Bryant is a huge superstar and LoL athletes aren’t, the League of Legends All-Star Game had over 45 million votes. Over four million of those votes alone were for China’s, Team WE’s player, Misaya -- far more votes than Kobe received for the NBA all-star game.
Last year, Brandon Beck spoke strongly about how League of Legends was becoming a sport. The tone of the press conference this year seemed to speak more of League of Legends evolving past what traditional sports are. Once you develop a game that coincides with the desires of fans and eSports aficionados, you’re on to something huge. Now add in the availability, the worldwide sensation, and the simplicity of spectating, and you’ve developed a phenomenon. This still isn’t enough for Riot, as they're looking to improve and make everything generally better. After tonight when the Season 3 Championship ends, it doesn’t mean Riot gets a breather. They are already looking to make lots of tweaks for Season 4 and to make it the best experience possible for players and spectators. Although there isn’t a specific date yet, Season 4 is said to start in January of 2014.