I spent the best part of a week in Los Angeles at the League of Legends [official site] All-Star Event. It featured fan-selected rosters of players, each assigned to either Team Ice or Team Fire, competing in a selection of silly and serious game modes. There were plenty of fun moments and cool plays, particularly if you're already familiar with the esports scene – you'd expect that, as after all, it's an event intended as fan service. but overall it felt like an event struggling to find a clear identity. I have two suggestions for how to improve it but FIRST a little context.
Peeks at Reddit threads over the weekend suggested that viewers didn't know how seriously they should be taking the rivalry, sometimes reading jokey elevations of the NA/EU rivalry as serious or hurtful, even unprofessional. That seemed odd to me because on-site at least the intention for it to be light hearted was clearer but it underscores that sense of confusion as to the purpose of the All-Star.
As I understand it, the point of the All-Star was to be a playful take on the pro scene. Players would be more at liberty to fool around or show off their personalities, their silly side, unencumbered by the weight of a million dollar competition and the prospect of sponsorship and continued employment. It was also supposed to have a genuine competitive element to give the games focus and to sell associated Team Fire and Team Ice bits and bobs.
But I couldn't really find an underlying reason to latch onto and invest in the event. I was investing in particular players or matches but that was on an individual level. I loved watching kaSing play in the 1v1 matches because he seemed so baffled by his wins. They were upsets but not upsetting. Actually, they were genuinely funny. I loved watching Froggen too because he was actively willing to troll his opponents while still showing his skill. Both players were on Team Ice, as were the rest of the EU lineup. I guess that made me "Team Ice"? I mean, I guess if Team Ice won then I would get a point boost next season that I could maybe put towards unlocking a champion or something…?
The stakes of the competition were confused and pretty minimal. Maybe other people would be more bothered about the point boost but it didn't do anything for me. I tried being Team Ice for a while but it felt silly. I kept finding myself being pleased for one of the three Fire teams. I watch a lot of EU LCS so I'm familiar with those guys and their stories, it makes it easier to feel like they're yours and to root for them. But being part of Team Ice meant the super-familiar faces were joined by five LPL players (that's China's pro scene) and the International Wildcards from CIS. Chinese LoL is the big pro scene with which I'm least familiar and the CIS players seemed lovely but are almost entirely unknown to me. So the majority of Team Ice were either strangers or players I only know from the early stages of Worlds or the Mid Season Invitational. There was no bond there to exploit or to really anchor my interest on one side. That meant my affections would vaguely meander about depending on the match.
That brings me to my first suggestion:
1. Make it philanthropic
To create a stake worth fighting for but not something which would put business pressure on the players during what is supposed to be their off season, I think Riot should have made the prize a charitable donation of some sort. It's something I'd find easier to root for and a demonstration of giving back to the community.
I'm not sure exactly how that would manifest because charitable giving can be a really personal and touchy subject. I hate when businesses hold charity money to ransom. "We'll give a certain amount up to this much if you spend x" is bullshit. I think what I'm leaning towards at the moment is maybe having the number of points a team earns representing the amount of thousands Riot will contribute to charities of those regions' choice. Fire earned 1075 points so imagine if that had meant $1,075,000 across a bunch of charitable organisations, perhaps things with a gaming-for-good element.
I didn't know if that would have affected players' willingness to mess around so perhaps you'd need to link up to that somehow – have viewers able to make donations by using a player or a team's hashtag and link entertaining play to fundraising. Maybe tap that into the Fire and Ice bundles you could buy as microtransactions and have a portion of the proceeds bulk out the donations too?
Like I say, I don't know how it would work exactly and I appreciate the potential for upset if you put a foot wrong but I think the All-Star needed to be less about a small personal gain as a reward and more about uniting the players and viewers behind doing something cool and awesome, maybe using that to incentivise even more playfulness and positivity.
As for that second suggestion:
2. Involve the fans onstage
For a fan service event I think the All-Star could have gone a lot further in terms of getting the audience involved. Mostly the fan side of thing was watching and voting and, if you were at the event in person, meet and greets with some of the players and personalities. I think that there should have been ways they could have been involved in some of the game modes.
The first idea I had was that by picking up Fire or Ice stuff in-game players would be put into a draw for a trip to the All-Star. The trip would include being able to go on-stage as one half of a tandem team with a pro player. Tandem was the mode where one person was in charge of the mouse and the other worked the keyboard. Being able to put a fan on stage next to one of the world-famous pros would have been a pretty great prize, I think.
Another way of approaching it would have having a mode where a pro could coach a player plucked from the audience and the pros would gain points based on how well their protégés did (or how many skillshots or something). They would be standing next to the player, able to give advice in real-time too. I'm not sure if that would be fun to watch but I think it could be if you set it up right.The International 5 did something where it debuted 10v10 mode and had half the players be plucked from the audience.
My other idea for fan involvement was, instead of having the plays for each region be pro player moments that viewers could vote for, maybe giving that slot to amateurs who could submit their own hero moments. I would have loved to see a montage of fantastic plays – or even just silly, entertaining ones – from any player.
What I'm trying to say here is that the All-Star Event is an opportunity to flag up the fun and awesome side of the game and its community. Using it to do some actual good in the form of giving, and to really connect the pro scene and the amateurs by putting them on the same stage somehow would have elevated the All-Star from a slightly confused bit of fan service to a celebration of the community.