League of Legends eSports: Focus On the Human Factor (from 2013)

Mar 22, 2016 by

wearelcs2

A piece from 2013 blending commentary and an interview I conducted at E3 about the changes to League of Legends’ League Championship Series (LCS), and how those changes emphasize the human factor, and represent a reliable, relatable new system that intended to further focus global regional competition on the fans. Originally published on RTSGuru.com in 2013 (but freshly edited).

For League of Legends, it’s showtime again. The League Championship Series started up again last week. The day before competition began once more for the first time since LoL All-Stars in Shanghai in May, I was at E3 and got to chat with Whalen “Magus” Rozelle, the Senior eSports Manager at Riot, about how Season 3 is different than previous championship years, and some of the philosophies behind those changes, as eSports grows along with its potential.

It’s about telling stories.

Riot went back to the drawing board and made some significant changes for Season 3, including the structure of the championships, but with an eye ahead on growth and a format that could do a couple of key things – grow with the game and audience, as well as work with a global model. With LoL the most played online game in the world right now, getting things to work on that massive scale has to appeal to a lot of people, and ultimately, the structure of what Riot is doing relies on the human factor. That means not just investing in global infrastructure for tournaments but appealing to many of the factors that bring people to watch physical sports, with emphasis on people’s interest in other people’s stories.

Season 3 also brought a few stabilizing factors. Teams going pro is a reality now, and those teams need an income and more are looking at living together.  Riot helped with “a formal structure with established teams – the pro teams—making sure those teams had a stable income  so those teams could focus on being the best pros they could be,” as well as creating a competitive structure that would allow new teams to come onto the scene and develop. “And we already see this in the structure in Korea and Southeast Asia with the GPL and  the League of Legends Pro League coming out in China.”

Ultimately, though, it’s all about the people. Both the audience and the competitors.

“[What] we wanted to do is to focus on storytelling broadcast narrative, and really delivering a viewing experience more akin to traditional sports. Like your college game day or a Monday Night Football.” So the new structure is predictable, and there’s a familiarity to returning to watch each week.“We want to create a league worthy of planning your time around, ” hence drawing from many aspects of physical sports as well as sports broadcasts. “If you’re an eSports fan, we want you to go ‘Well, I know what I’m doing on Thursdays and Fridays because the LCS is on.” The numbers on streams show that this is indeed working, and the creation of the LoLeSports.com website has also helped connect fans.

They’ve gone ahead to produce packages and a reliable format.  As someone who has been watching sports ever since she was a little girl, they are creating a similar environment, even though the competition is in a completely different space. They’ve hired feature producers that have worked on Olympics clips and NFL and know how to convey this kind of narrative when it comes to a sports audience.

Aside from a predictable schedule with segments, the real heart is on the people. Team spirit is great, but it’s only one piece of that narrative. “Telling these stories that eSports fans can connect and latch onto” in other words. The audience might not be as good as the pros, but by highlighting the stories and that human factor, everyone can find something to relate to. Rozelle gave an example of the Chaox and WildTurtle stories when it came to TSM duing the spring.

They have been doing this also to bring a more relatable experience to eSports and hopefully get those casual fans or those just curious who might be inclined to watch or play to give it a shot. By focusing on who these players are and what their goals, dreams, conflicts, and even training methods are, it creates an entry point for observers, both new and seasoned.

One of the best stories out of the Spring was how some of these newer teams were able to rise and gain confidence. Teams like Vulcun and GGU (now Team Coast),  and watching them grow as the season progressed. On the esports site, the polls under each match would shift throughout the season. You’d start with new teams hitting maybe 20% in their favor and all these lopsided votes, where by the end of the spring you’d see more leveling out as these teams were able to make their way in the competition as well as gain lots of new fans. Now, these teams have fans backing them and some new faces are coming up once again. It just shows the dedication and growth that can happen in this system.

The system is working, as the attention over spring showed, but they still want to go bigger and better. They’re pretty happy with how they’ve accomplished their goals so far but there’s still more work to do as well as more tweaks and more to come on the way.

With the arrival of summer competition, the news of the World Championships location and dates are coming this month. Competition heats up since it’s not just about getting into and staying in the LCS (though there are definitely new faces this season), but about looking further out toward a championship.

And once those details are released, both fans and players will still be focused on Summer, but there’s no doubt mentally, that both will be peeking past and wondering who will be taking it all. And thanks to the new system, we probably know the players involved just a little bit better, even if we have been following for a couple of years.

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Assassin’s Creed: Unity Reveals What’s Valuable

Jun 11, 2014 by

Assassin’s Creed: Unity Reveals What’s Valuable

Ubisoft has the work of nine studios behind Assassin’s Creed: Unity, but that isn’t enough to include any female characters. The game is set around the time of the French Revolution, and that period was no stranger to women working to help bring about change and even as famous assassins. The game will also feature co-op multiplayer, but you won’t find women there either.

Personally, artistic vision is something that I respect. So I’m not looking for people to start shoehorning in token women or minorities anywhere. One of the reasons people that care about diversity talk about diversity is for visibility’s sake. If people are visible, and in your everyday life, maybe it won’t take a stretch of the imagination in order to include diverse characters and portrayals from the start by default. For now, engaging in discourse is one tool that technology allows us.

While it is arguably true that games with female protagonists sell fewer copies, they’re also granted less marketing support. So it’s a little bit of a ‘chicken or egg’ scenario. Since a studio must balance profitability with creativity, it’s easier to simply keep pumping out games starring men. Even in the face of approaching gender parity when it comes to gamer demographics and the demographics of game buyers, these things continue to repeat themselves.

What struck me about the Ubisoft position was not that it happened with Assassin’s Creed (it’s nothing new for the franchise), but how insensitive the remark came off in the response. “It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production,” tech director James Therien told Videogamer “A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes [inaudible]. It would have doubled the work on those things. And I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision”. The message comes off as ‘men are default – women are part of an optional “feature list”‘.

Therien went on to insist this was not a decision based on “philosophy or choice” and that the team really wanted to include some women. Yes, it’s “a reality of game development” that some features get cut, plots dropped, work trimmed to fit deadlines, and other forms of scaling back. I’m not calling any of this malicious or a deliberately exclusionary decision. It was likely a simple business decision as stated, yet one which shows what is valuable to the studio. Not for the first time and likely not for the last.

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A Few Random E3 Thoughts

Jun 10, 2014 by

grim-fandango

Yesterday, while in the shower, I got to thinking about games and said to myself “I wish Disney would let Tim Schaefer have the rights to re-release Grim Fandango so I can have the chance to play it.” Then, while watching Sony’s E3 press conference stream, I admit my eyes widened at the news that that re-release is a go. I wish that weren’t a mere coincidence and were, instead, a superpower I had. Think to myself, “I really want someone to give me a new car so I can drive it,” then wait for the evening to find a shiny new vehicle.

Still a very pleasant gaming surprise and I look forward to finally getting the chance to sit down and play it.

The best part of watching the stream was watching it with my boyfriend, because even when something is less than interesting or starts to drag, his humor is a real gift.

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