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.
Yesterday, we brought you Part 1 of our interview with Nick, where we discussed North American and Korean differences in culture and strategy, PC bangs, HotshotGG stepping down from CLG, and LoL as more of an actual sport than an eSport.
In Part 2 of our interview, 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.
Lance: Do you ever turn on ESPN and hear the LoL LCS song ("Silver Scrapes" by Danny McCarthy) and think 'Oh my god, we got on ESPN!' Because that happens to me all the time.
Nick: Is it the exact song?
Lance: The exact song!
Nick: Interesting, okay. I didn't know that. See I don't watch ESPN because I'm a nerd (laughs).
Andrew: As far as LoL becoming more like a sport, we've mentioned HotshotGG coaching, there are managers and sponsors. It seems like it's picking up more things we associate with traditional sports. Like last year, everyone got really excited when a ward was killed. There's a culture building. Do you think that'll continue snowballing?
Nick: Absolutely. We're seeing advancements of that in Asia first. Like in traditional sports like the NFL you have offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams – entire coaching staffs built around particular things. We're actually seeing similar things in Asia League of Legends. They have scouts. So you'll have a manager that manages the business relations of the team, you'll have a coach, you'll have two or three scouts that literally all they do is watch their opponents and scout the games.
Like when Misaya, the Chinese player from Team WE, when he goes to dodge a skillshot, his tendency is to go down. And so these are things that they will pinpoint and it's evolving, and we're actually seeing this carry over. NA and EU are starting to build this up too, I believe. Cloud 9 just hired Alex Penn and he's going to be a scout for them; specifically, he's going to be scouting not the NA/EU teams, but the Asian teams because in terms of meta and strategy, most people recognize them as ahead of NA/EU teams. So, it's happening. Five, ten years, wherever we're at, there could be insanely huge rosters of coaching staff and scouts.
Lance: As far as the LCS is concerned, this was the first year of it. I'm sure it's been a learning experience as you've figured out what works and what doesn't work. What do you think needs to be changed in the structure or format of it, and what do you think is working the best?
Nick: In terms of the positives, I think the regularity is really good for the sport. Consistent programming and the fact that it's high quality; it's entertaining to watch but it's also easy to watch and easily digestible, instead of worrying if it's going to crash and burn. There are a lot of things that could happen with an online tournament and low production quality.
I think the buy-in from the players; the players are loving it and it really trickles down into the community, because they're really blowing it up – even more than we could – because they're so well-connected to the community. As a result, I think it's growing because of how well the players are relating to it and the regularity.
In terms of where we can grow, there's been a lot of talk about what happens below the LCS level, because a lot of teams are concerned. For the sake of competitiveness, we have the ability to go in and out of the league, and I think to a certain extent we need to maintain that to ensure that teams are not complacent. But what's below the LCS level? Like the semi-pro and challenger level, where is there to fall down to? And that's sort of what we're addressing right now. Where are we going to take that? Like the minor leagues, essentially; what do the minor leagues look like? Is there a clear, visible path into the LCS? And right now that's a little clouded.
Photo Courtesy: League of Legends
Lance: It's kind of like soccer, what you're describing.
Nick: Yeah, it is a little bit like soccer. But at least soccer has these tiers and you can build up these tiers like a pro league in Europe. But right now, it's like you play ranked 5's, and then you can get invited to a tournament or something like that. We're really looking to flesh that out and make it a lot more visible. And when you do that, the people below that level will appreciate it more. Like, I know what it takes when I'm a little leaguer to get into Major League Baseball. Because I know how hard it is, I appreciate the pro players that much more. And we're trying to create that and get to that point too.
Andrew: Do you think there will be a point where every established team has a feeder team specifically to them?
Nick: That's something that we can discuss. I think we're seeing similar things to that, like Curse Academy has a B-team, where they're like, 'okay, you're on the B-team and once we move someone off the roster then we'll bring someone up.' We saw that with Rhux for a while. And so, I think we could get to that point. But then the issue there is there are some limitations, like you can't have two teams. And it doesn't necessarily do the best for the teams to take their star player away; it really hurts the integrity of the teams. So these are all things that we're thinking about, and that's one option we'll probably explore to see if it could work.
Andrew: One question I feel like I have to ask is do you have any plans for next-gen consoles?
Nick: I can't comment on that, unfortunately. I'm an eSports guy, haha.
Lance: One last question, then. Do you think the loss of the IGN Pro League has hurt or helped the LCS?
Nick: I think it left a giant hole for the amateur level play. Of course I am very biased as I worked there and had a large hand in the strategy. We did a lot of integration into the LCS. We were one of the paths and ran a lot of tournaments consistently throughout the week. When all that was taken away, it was like 'okay, now what is there left?' And there wasn't a whole lot. We saw actually a big drop-off in online tournaments, which is really unfortunate, and we're making strides to bring that back and make sure we have that stuff. But I think as a whole it hurt the community, and we're still trying to figure out ways to fill those holes of how do we help our online tournaments and competitive scene.
I'd like to thank Nick Allen for taking the time out of his busy schedule to sit and talk with us. You can follow Nick Allen on Twitter @RiotNickAllen.