During our time at E3, Andrew Clouther and myself (Lance Liebl) had a lengthy conversation with Nick Allen, eSports Manager for Riot Games. While Andrew and I are huge fans of League of Legends and kind of just like to hang out and talk with Riot employees — like most fans like to do — our time with Nick was very informational.
We talked about the North American mindset and gaming culture compared to Korea, HotshotGG stepping down as top laner for CLG, League of Legends growing as an eSport, the goal to become more mainstream like real sports, rosters and coaching staffs, and so much more.
This is Part 1 of a two-part interview. Stay tuned for Part 2.
Lance: Have you guys ever considered putting an ad in-between matches during your LCS broadcasts?
Nick Allen: Honestly, it's an afterthought to making sure the broadcast is super clean and super good. We do work directly with sponsors outside the realm of playing ads on Twitch or whatever streaming service you're using. But that's not our goal, to be making tons of money from this. It's really to give focus to the players and fans, and offer the best possible broadcast. Interrupting it with an ad can be pretty disjointing to the overall show we're putting on.
Lance: That's what kind of surprises me, though. Companies never really think like that.
Nick: Well, Riot is very player-focused, right? And we don't necessarily see that as a player-focused way of launching something. It might, I mean… yeah, that's where we're at right now.
Andrew: When you are streaming a tournament, how many different translations do you have going at a time?
Nick: Oh man, a lot. I couldn't get you the exact number, but everything from Portuguese to French to Russian.
Lance: So do you have numerous shoutcasters?
Nick: Well, not necessarily in our studio where it's happening. We send out a feed to our offices around the world and then they'll do some sort of regionally based language casting. We're continuing to grow, and as we see a need in the players and fans in these regions as 'well, actually not a lot of us speak English or don't fall into these specific regions,' we'll continue to escalate that into more and more languages.
Lance: What do you see as the main reason why North Korea is owning North America? Is it a certain strategy?
Nick: That's a really good question. I think it has a lot to do with the culture there. The government has a lot more buy-in to eSports as a whole. They has KeSPA, which is the Korea eSports Association, and it's literally a government-run division. So there's a lot more support there from a structural approach. When you have such a government buy-in, it leads to a lot more cultural acceptance. Cultural acceptance leads to a more widespread acceptance of eSports and competitive video games, and it's seen as an actual career path. And they have festivals and that sort of thing. I think we'll get there in North America, but we're definitely not there yet. But I think that started in '98 or '99, so we're looking at 14 or 15 years of this thing being developed. I think we're close, but we're not there yet.
Lance: We can't catch up to them just yet…
Nick: Well, I think the competitive nature of NA and EU LCS and the promotion relegation actually has really leveled up the competition in those regions because the players are forced to play their heart out, otherwise they have a chance of getting knocked down and out of the LCS. That actually has really leveled up the skill in these regions and will continue to do so.
Andrew: There's no comfort zone.
Nick: Yeah, there is no comfort zone, and I think that's a good thing.
Andrew: Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Korean style more of a social thing, while here in the West we're online and talking and everything, but it's more of a personal thing? Like, we don't go out and have social interactions with each other while we do it.
Nick: Well, the PC bang culture is massive in Korea, so it's a social experience to go out and game. I've actually heard that there's considerably less home computers in Korea – everyone has mobile phones and tablets and that sort of thing – but the home PC is more rare than it is in the United States. So to effectively go and use a computer is to go to a PC bang and have a social interaction. And that's there paradigm. It's not an isolated thing. It's also a PC culture, not a console culture. Consoles are generally very individualized, like two, three or four people. So it's just a different paradigm over there of how they do PC gaming.
Photo Courtesy: TeamDignitas.net
Lance: Every time you see a video or pictures, it's like 40 people in a room…
Nick: Yeah, and they're smoking because you can smoke in there.
Lance: Yeah, it's very '80s.
Nick: I was just in Korea – I stopped in after the All-star Game – and played some games at the PC bang, and it's just a different atmosphere. People are yelling, and people are standing around watching, pointing and talking about the game. There's a culture of competitiveness that goes alongside the culture of PC bang.
Lance: For a while, North American teams and players were going over there and playing on Korean servers against their players. With their focus on LCS now, how has that changed and do you think it's hurting NA players?
Nick: Well, I think that was done, not out of necessity, but it was a good opportunity for these teams to go over there. They thought at the time 'could we play among the best in the world?' Even at that time the Korean server was pretty young, but they were already beating a lot of the NA/EU teams, so early on they started getting really good. So they saw that and were 'we're gonna go play the best in the world' and it also gives you more access to the Chinese teams too. They saw it as an opportunity to grow in skill and have a national representation in Korea. The CLG documentary just came out and they talk about how that affected them – they lost a lot of fans because they weren't as public-facing. It was at a cost. And now that we have the NA LCS there is a regular schedule of games, there's more consistency and there isn't such a need to go find that consistency elsewhere, which is what they found in Korea.
Lance: Speaking of CLG, HotshotGG stepped down from being the Top Laner for them not too long ago. How closely do you follow each team?
Nick: Oh very closely. I know them all personally. As I hang out with these guys every day at the studio and conversing with them about what's going in their lives or issues, there is an attachment. And these are big life decisions. It's not necessarily the decisions themselves, but the fact that they're making these huge life decisions, that everyone on the eSports team is like 'wow, this is a big thing and we recognize that. We can relate.'
Photo Courtesy: Forbes.com
Lance: How do you think HotShotGG stepping down and getting into coaching will affect CLG moving forward?
Nick: There's a bigger picture of needing strong coaching now to get to the point where the Koreans and Asian teams are in general. I think in that regard it's a good move for him. He put a lot of thought into it.
I'm not a strong enough player to say strategically if this was a good move, but I know there's a lot of thought put into it, and it was a big decision. But I think in the end as we move towards coaching and needing good role models on the teams that Hotshot is a great person for that.
Andrew: I went to the World Championship for last season and the meetings beforehand. The emphasis of Brandon Beck's speech was about how you guys want to make LoL more of an actual sport than just an eSport. What are your thoughts on how it's progressed towards that this year?
Nick: I think we're continuing to make strides to make this widely accepted in mainstream culture. I think these guys are athletes in every sense. It's not physical capacity; it's mental capacity. You play 10 hours of League of Legends and you are exhausted at the end of the day, especially at the highest level where you're constantly thinking about strategy. And when you have that sort of physical and mental buy-in – even the physical aspect is pretty complex too – you are exhausted, and you are an athlete. You're using your body and your mind to perform. A lot of people say e-athlete and that sort of thing, but they're athletes in every sense. I think as people recognize that as time goes it, it'll continue to grow and be accepted as this bigger thing.
Check back for Part 2 of the interview tomorrow! We discuss how pro coach staffs are emerging, what's worked and what hasn't in the LCS, feeder teams and the effect of losing the IGN Pro League.