Wot I Learned: League Of Legends Q&A

Dustin Beck - a man with a strong backdrop

On the eve of the biggest event in the League of Legends calendar – the World Championship finals – Riot were in the mood for a Q&A. To that end, founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck took to a little stage in Seoul’s World Cup Stadium, alongside Vice President of eSports Dustin Beck. They were sitting on metal stools holding mics, so I was vaguely wondering whether there would be an announcement like “Well, this eSports stuff is great and all but we’ve decided to form a boyband.”

That didn’t happen, more’s the pity. They also didn’t use the term “esport-thlete” for pro gamers. Seriously. What’s it going to take to get that one into common parlance? In fairness, despite the aforementioned shortcomings they did say a fair bit about the direction they’re hoping to take LoL over the coming year – particularly the competitive side of things. I’ve pulled out some of the themes and highlights for your consideration below and also added in a few bits and bobs from my own brainbone.

The International Scene

There was a lot of emphasis on joining up the various professional League scenes from different regions. To that end 2015 should feature more tournaments which have an international focus – the ones mentioned were a top team All Star-style event in May, and a more irreverent tournament during next year’s off-season. Riot’s own localised teams are in “heavy planning mode” with regards to season 5, although none of the details on that front are ready for sharing so there might be some info on that level at a later date. In terms of an official international league, it’s something Riot consider frequently but there are no plans at present because “it’s not necessarily viable for teams in different corners of the planet to meet on a regular basis logistically”.

See?

There was a related question about regional imbalance and whether Riot would be tweaking anything to affect or perhaps temper Korean team dominance. The response was essentially “no”, but it came with an observation that “we’re also seeing more players from Korea – and internationally – cross-pollinate other leagues.” Essentially, as players move around they take a certain amount of regional expertise and meta knowledge with them.

Given the meta changes over time that might become less and less useful in terms of offering an insider perspective but it can offer valuable insight as well as broadening the team’s contacts (which can also help with arranging scrims). Relatedly, Riot recently introduced a global policy to prevent teams from a region being entirely populated by players from overseas. For EU and NA regions this means a residency requirement where three of the starting five players have to have been residents in that region for at least two years (well, 24 months out of the prior 36).

It's safe to say that fans are enthusiastic about the international events

Visa Shenanigans

If you’ll cast your mind back to when the LCS had a live event in Wembley earlier this year, you’ll probably remember that one team – Gambit Gaming – had massive visa issues due to the late notice of the event. As a result they ended up fielding a team composed almost entirely of substitutes for those games. It was a frustrating experience, and one that Riot says it has learned from. Next season’s events are thus being planned months in advance to avoid the same situation happening again. I’m mentioning that here partly because the Gambit issue was the only bum note in an otherwise really positive and enjoyable event, and partly because the response touched on the development of eSports as a recognised professional activity in the same vein as sports:

“The visa situation differs from country to county. As more and more governments like the US government start to recognise esports athletes with special visa status it will also make these types of challenge far less common.”

League Of Ladies

The subject of female players’ access to competitive League of Legends and problematic views of women as players expressed by other eSports organisations came up in questions. Riot’s response was that “It’s just a matter of time before there’s either all-female teams or very successful female pros”. The company isn’t looking at ways to actively facilitate anything on that front, which implies they want to treat eSports as purely a meritocracy. They’re relying on expanding the game’s general audience and playerbase to add more women to the pool of potential professional players.

I don’t think there are easy answers here, but for me it comes down to a problem of access points and codified behaviours. It’s about general ways in which women (and minority groups) can be disadvantaged in terms of their options for joining in or feeling welcome. I don’t think simply increasing the volume of the playerbase will deal with those underlying issues, as it presumably wouldn’t affect the overall ratio of female to male players. It also doesn’t directly address any of the structural or access-based problems – sponsor or marketing approaches when it comes to depicting women, economic disadvantages which can affect access to gaming PCs, problems with organising practice matches with other teams and so on. Riot’s statement is predicated on the assumption that the situation will change organically; that it’s not the company’s responsibility to expedite or facilitate that process.

Wonder who these guys are cheering for

Welcome To The Jungle

An area where Riot is taking a more active role is in tinkering with the game itself. “We always want to see metas change and evolve and players be able to express themselves strategically,” was how they put it. To that end Season 5 is expected to bring some big changes, particularly in terms of how the jungle works. At the moment you can see a lot of the potential tweaks in the Public Beta Environment – camps giving extra rewards if you use Smite, increased base difficulty of jungling, big changes to what you get for killing Baron and Dragon.

According to Riot, “The goal is to provide more ways for the players to express themselves strategically. Part of that involves making more champions more viable. The jungle champion pool has been really narrow. We want to see a broader range of junglers in the mix and give those junglers more strategic choices to really make the jungle one of the most strategic roles in all of League in terms of itemisation and thinking through play.”

Overall it sounds like Riot aren’t worried about the general viability of their champions, though. “It’s a thrill to see strange combinations – Hecarim mid, Poppy carry, Riven jungle. Even if there are champions that are rarely played a very large percentage of the champion pool is viable. But oftentimes it come with risks or tradeoffs where players or teams don’t feel as comfortable busting out those champions except in rare circumstances. Like the famous game five Heimerdinger push strat that happened a couple of years ago in Korea.

“It’s not a goal for us to have every champion be constantly viable for competitive play because we like having the deep hard tradeoffs that certain wacky champs bring to the game, even if they’re rarely seen in competitive play.”

Boyband, I'm telling you

Branding Upon Branding

Lastly, I was interested in their response to a question about corporate sponsorship. Essentially, pro gaming teams often include the name of their sponsors in the name of their team, so was Riot concerned about this getting out of hand? Samsung White and NaJin White Shield are two examples here. According to Brandon Beck, “There are potentially challenges associated with that. Making team names longer or potentially trivialising organisations. I think ultimately we want the most tasteful and best long term solution for the sports and sponsors. I think the sponsors would be on board with [that]. It’s an open question and something we’re trying to wrap our heads around.”

It’s not a definitive response at all, but it implies that Riot is keeping an eye on the naming situation. For me that’s important because the team name is part of a continuous team identity and sponsors shouldn’t generally be an overwhelming part of that as they can get switched around. Teams also have multiple sponsors so there would be a danger of the situation escalating and team names getting clogged up with a string of brand names.

13 Comments

  1. Stevostin says:

    “It’s just a matter of time before there’s either all-female teams or very successful female pros”

    Never happened in another game but one can hope. My father & mother were both top of the game in national chess competition so that’s how I’ve been introduced to this oddity (my mother did way better than my father professionnally, it’s not a vertical contest). Oddity being : no matter the game, how physical or how mental, you’re always forced into two categories between man and women. At least AFAIK, but if someon knows better I’d be interested to learn about it.

    Making a female championship should be the logical step IMHO . Once there is one it will be time to check how it can perform against male team an see if things have changed. Do one revolution at a time, and that’s esport being big. Once this is solid in the landscape give a try to mixed championship.

    • unkind says:

      “A female championship”… why? This isn’t a football or something, they technically have no disadvantages. Female gamers/teams can play right now, they just need to be good enough.

      I’ll tell you what an “all female championship” does, I witnessed it at “miss quake-con” for years. It results in 1 woman, or a team of them, becoming scrub tier, beating out the other extremely weak female teams/players and collecting easy money. Causing the quake community to disrespect them a great deal, obviously.

      If you ever want female gamers to be on equal footing in most people’s eyes skill-wise, they need to compete with the males, whom they are completely equal to in terms of gaming skill ceiling/capacity.

      tldr gender segregation with gaming is absolutely ridiculous.

      • nmarebfly says:

        Female only leagues serve to bring the best female players out of the woodwork and into the spotlight. Right now, breaking into the pro scene is an incredibly tough proposition even if you’re really really good — because there’s a teamplay barrier where individual skill matters less. Practice in tournament settings is really the thing you need at that point, and right now there’s a chicken and egg problem. Noone thinks that women have gameplay disadvantages when it comes to playing games or competing with guys, but they do have social and structural disadvantages in spades.

        A gender-biased feeder tournament is sort of similar to a regionally-locked one — it allows players from a particular scene a chance to experience high level play in an environment of peers. To choose an arbitrary example, why is it not ridiculous to say something like ‘this tournament is only open to Canadians’ but people take issue with ‘this tournament is only open to women’? It’s not like Canadians have a gameplay disadvantage when it comes to competing with teams from other nationalities. Women don’t either, but focusing a tournament on just them makes it easier for the cream to get to the top.

        Also — It encourages women to play in general. Being an actual esports pro (especially in a team game like LoL or Dota) is a LOT of work and involves a pretty immense about of personal sacrifice and practice time. Since the scene is almost entirely male-dominated, it’s rare that a woman will make the active choice to beat themselves against that particular wall in lieu of finding a more reliable job. Smaller female leagues make it a much more viable proposition.

        • unkind says:

          “Social and Structural disadvantages in spades” aka they won’t practice 8+ hours a day to become amazing because women typically never prioritise gaming that much. And you suggest rewarding people like this with cash tournaments. You know people with autism also have social and structural disadvantages lets give them a league of legends cash tournament too.

          Look at Magic the Gathering. There are top/nearly top female pros that dominate all the time. They don’t need hand holding bullshit. Videogamers are no different.

          • nmarebfly says:

            I believe that having a cash tournament would make it far more likely that some female players WILL practice 8 hours a day. That’s the whole point.

            I wouldn’t have an issue with an autism-only tournament either, except that it would be ripe for ridicule from jerks. For the players themselves, it would probably be a great experience.

        • Captchist says:

          Just wanted to say how much I appreciated the thought and depth you went into here. Some great points well made without judgement.

  2. NelsonMinar says:

    Disappointing answer about bringing in women. There’s already 27M people playing LoL, and several hundred playing at the top professional level. How many more do they think we need before one of them is magically a woman?

    Riot could start by setting the tone. A woman caster in their production would be a huge help; Sjokz is great but is only acting as the hostess, put a woman on the microphone during games. And maybe do some features on women players, in the Challenger ranks if nothing else. (The feature on MEyeA talking about his being gay could be a model.) I also think that a women-only league would be great; it works for chess. But Riot’s got problems in general supporting feeder leagues so I’m not sure they’re in a position to tackle creating yet another.

    Was this Q&A recorded or reported on more? I’d love to hear exactly what their response to the question was.

    • pepperfez says:

      The weird thing to me is that, as a non-LoL player, most of the writing I see on it is by women; surely there are more than enough potential female commentators.

      • Melody says:

        That’s less and less true as you get into it. I’ve seen that world from the inside for about a month (my articles were pretty successful for a nobody!), there were some female journos but like me they were pretty much unknown to most, and 95% of the famous ones are men. OnGamers, the most important website for LoL related news by far, is all men, at least as far as the people who appear on the outside (faces, voices, names on articles) with one exception: the Chinese scene is mostly snobbed, underviewed and underappreciated in the West, and the two public personalities most closely associated with it are women (Kelsey Moser and Ryanne Mohr). Then there is a famous woman who is fluent in both English and Korean (Susie Kim) and as he mentioned, Sjokz. That’s pretty much all the women *truly* involved in LoL and are actually known in the community that I can think of.

        On a side note, in a reddit thread about one of my articles someone asked me, completely out of the blue, if I was a woman, or girl, I can’t remembered the exact word. Luckily by the time they asked that question, the thread was buried and no one followed up on it, but the tone definitely wasn’t pleasing. I can only imagine what the reaction to being trans would be, and I’m not sure I want to imagine that, considering the amount of harassment I saw directed at personalities who are “just” gay.

  3. IonTichy says:

    on a side note: Dustin Beck looks like Teemo

  4. iRaphi says:

    does anyone recognize the headset this guy in picture uses?

    • CptPlanet says:

      I think’s it’s a Plantronics Gamecom Commander (Plantronics is the official provider of LCS headsets)