The 2022 League of Legends World Championship nears its conclusion. Ahead of the grand final between T1 and DRX, a few Riot Games executives held a press conference in San Francisco for the on-site and online press. Hosted by David Higdon, Riot Games’ Global Head of Communications in Esports, the press conference featured:
- Nicolo Laurent, CEO of Riot Games;
- John Needham, President of Esports at Riot Games;
- Naz Aletaha, Global Head of League of Legends Esports;
- Jeremy Lee, Executive Producer of League of Legends.
The questions have been sorted per topic.
The future of League of Legends
Q: League of Legends is an ever-growing game, it’s changing itself. Do you think about things that could spice up the genre itself, or the game itself? Something new?
Lee: We see League of Legends as a multi-generational game. So, not a game that you will play and enjoy today, but a game that you’ll play and enjoy hopefully for a long period of time as well as have new players come in. Whether you’re a fan of the esport, grinding the ranked ladder, or playing some games with your friends in ARAM: it’s really critical that we continue to evolve as a game to meet modern expectations. To surprise and delight players. Meet players where they’re at. There are things that we’re working on now that I’m excited about—that we’re not gonna talk about today—that are coming in the next few years that will push League of Legends forward.
“We are committed and we continue to be committed to staffing with a lot of focus on ensuring that the game quality improves.”Jeremy Lee
Q: The message that we get from Riot Games is that you want League to be a [multi-] generational sport. There has been consistent feedback—and statistics showed—that League itself has plateaued. That there is too much of a learning curve. In addition, we have been seeing frequent bugs and pauses that have crept into the competition. Earlier, T1 Faker said that the longevity of the sport will be decided by whether those pauses and bugs can be fixed in a long-term period. Does Riot have a long-term roadmap to make sure that the growth of the League scene has not plateaued and that it will continue to grow?
Lee: Yes, we talk about League being multi-generational. It’s really not just words. The way that we invest in League of Legends as a company is consistent and it’s a large investment. Not just for today, but for the future. As player needs change, as they evolve, as new players coming into the game are asking for something a little bit different, or for long-term players that are asking to maybe slow down on the new champions, there is a lot of work ahead of us. But that’s what we’re here to do. That’s our commitment, to keep trying. In regards to bugs, this is something we talk a lot about. It’s a bit of the reality to have a game as a sport. There are bugs that inevitably come into play. We do our best to capture those and make sure that pro teams know anything that’s outstanding that they can anticipate or work around. Fingers crossed nothing happens with this Worlds edition. [Laughs] We are committed and we continue to be committed to staffing with a lot of focus on ensuring that the game quality improves. Over the course of this year, we’ve made a lot of improvements to our game service and quality.
League of Legends Esports formats
Q: Last year, you both got pummeled repeatedly with questions about format changes. At the time, you said you were looking into it. So, one year later: are format changes coming?
Aletaha: The short answer to your question is yes, format changes are coming. When we heard the feedback last year, we took this season to really dive into it, to really start to assess what parts of the format were working and what parts could use improvements. We were working with our regional teams around the world to beat up what these formats can and should be. I won’t go into exactly what those should be or will be today, here. We will announce that by the start of the season. But I’m excited to say that new formats are coming for both MSI and for Worlds, starting in 2023.
Needham: I’d only add that a lot of the conversation has been around Double Elimination versus Single Elimination. We do think that Double Elimination is great for qualifying the best teams into our biggest tournaments. But at the end of the day, Worlds is one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. All the biggest sporting events on the planet have Single Elimination as a core part of their tournament. At least from Knockout [Stage] forward, we will be continuing with Single Elimination. That puts the stakes at the very highest level. We believe that’s important for a tournament as big and important as Worlds.
“All the biggest sporting events on the planet have Single Elimination as a core part of their tournament. At least from Knockout [Stage] forward, we will be continuing with Single Elimination.”John Needham
Q: There are so many fans that really liked Rift Rivals, this kind of competition that we can see different teams compete with each other. So, could we maybe see more of these tournaments in the future?
Aletaha: We’re big fans of Rift Rivals too. What we didn’t love about Rift Rivals, I’d say, is that there weren’t enough stakes. We’re looking at our full season and our full calendar. This is gonna be a one to two-year process for us, but we really see a lot of opportunity to optimize. We’re in our twelfth season now. It’s given us a lot of information to look at and say, “What’s working, what’s not? What do we want to add? What do we want to change?” I think, starting next year with new global event formats, and then as we look to 2024, a re-formatted season structure would open up the space in our calendar to add some more cross-regional events or global events. Ideally, we apply some stakes to those to make them even more exciting.
Q: A lot of players don’t have a tournament to play since August. The same goes for Valorant. How do you see this big hole and the calendar for a lot of teams and players?
Aletaha: It’s something that we want to look at, you know? Again, to use the Champions Queue example, that’s something that we’re really interested in from the esports side, working with the game team to expand that opportunity to more regions. I think not only is it a great tool for practice to give those players really highly competitive experiences, I think it’s really entertaining for fans to watch as well. It is something that is important to us and that we want to be looking at.
Lee: We talk a lot about what Clash could look like as an experience that could be part of this larger sports ecosystem. It’s not currently integrated very well, so we’re looking at some options there.
Improving the LCS
Q: We in North America are still waiting for our first opportunity to even compete in the finals. What is it going to take for North America to be able to close that gap, and to be able to compete on that level?
Aletaha: We want to see NA rise up too. We get the question a lot, “Do we want parity between regions?” I think you want to see regions rise and fall, like in any sport. You want to see that ebb and flow. You want to see the Cinderella stories. We’ve seen that, throughout our sport. Whether it was an SEA team that was really strong, Korea, or China, and now we’re back into this era of LCK domination, I think, which is exciting to see. We want to work on NA. I think the NA region has taken some really positive steps. I think Champions Queue is one of those, right? It’s really starting to get in there, providing the tools and systems for pros to get really high-quality practice. I think developmental leagues are really important for that sort of development as well. So, when we look to Europe, I think that’s something that they’ve done really well with the ERL system. They have eleven leagues that they’re operating there. That’s 900 players who are competing. The experience that you get from that just makes those players even more competitive when they reach the LEC or whatever league they go to. Those are some of the things that we’re gonna be looking at doing in the future to help NA, and frankly all of our regional leagues, continue to hone their competitiveness.
Laurent: If I may add, I would invite to turn the question, and instead of saying, “Why region X is not performing,” in this case NA, ask, “Why are Korea and China performing?” I don’t Korea is stronger by nature. I think Korea is just ahead. Korea was developing an esports ecosystem fifteen years ago. There were 100.000 people watching StarCraft on the beaches of Busan a long time ago. PC bangs have been organizing tournaments all the time. OGN was rising for years. I think Korea is just ahead. We’re just at the beginning of the sport. If you look at other sports that have been lasting for decades, you see the same thing. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if things change a lot. But that’s probably not gonna be in a couple of years. That’s probably gonna be in a couple of decades. But that’s ok, we’ll be there!
“I wouldn’t be surprised if things change a lot. But that’s probably not gonna be in a couple of years. That’s probably gonna be in a couple of decades.”Nicolo Laurent
Q: By many metrics, League of Legends has declined somewhat in interest as a sport and a game in North America. Many in the esports community hoped having Worlds this year would revitalize interest in the game. What are your impressions of the impact Worlds has had on North American interest this year? And what is Riot doing to maintain interest from the region?
Aletaha: I think Worlds coming back to NA and Worlds in general… It’s such a culturally resonant moment for the entire League of Legends community. We’re excited that we’re here in North America for the first time since 2016. It’s in the North American community’s backyard, it’s a favorable timezone for them. We’re still collecting the viewership [data] throughout Worlds, but last weekend, through the semifinals, we did see our English viewership increase year over year. So, we are seeing some really positive trends, really positive sentiment coming from North America. We look to keep that momentum going, I’d say, coming off this event and going into the 2023 season. But really positive signs coming from this Worlds, I’d say.
Laurent: The player base hasn’t really moved. I think the LCS has had ups and downs and we’re working on stuff. We’ve seen similar stuff in the past with other leagues. The LEC you, John [Needham], rebooted a few years ago and we’re working on stuff for the LCS. But the core base hasn’t moved much.
General Worlds questions
Q: League of Legends has flourished for over a decade and we have new champions and new superstars. But this year’s Worlds, we have Faker versus Deft, two players with long histories. What are your thoughts about this and what message does this bring to the gamers and the users?
Aletaha: I don’t think we could have a better story here in the final. Faker versus Deft. Faker the G.O.A.T. [Greatest Of All Time] versus the Cinderella story, the underdogs. We’ve never had a team that started in the Play-Ins make it all the way to the final. I think it’s an incredible story. I think these two teams have fought so hard to get here. They both have so much on the line. It’s great to see. Faker is a legend. I think we’re all excited to see him take the stage and to further establish his legacy.
Q: Over the last few years we had the pandemic, which made things very difficult. This is one of the first years that [Worlds] has come back in full fashion. How important was it to bring it back this year and were there any lessons learned from the pandemic to evolve Worlds as a whole?
Needham: The pandemic was very hard to throw live events during, honestly. I think it really highlighted one of the powers of our sport. We are a digital sport and we did not stop during the pandemic. We learned a lot about how to run remote tournaments. We learned a lot about logistics at events and how to keep them safe for our players. All those lessons we are gonna carry forward in everything that we do around our events for League of Legends. But I’ll tell you, it is so great to have fans back in their seats screaming their lungs out for our sport. That is everything to us. This year has just been amazing. To feel that energy and to feel all that positivity from our fans, coming to watch our events.
“I don’t think we could have a better story here in the final. Faker versus Deft. Faker the G.O.A.T. [Greatest Of All Time] versus the Cinderella story, the underdogs.”Naz Aletaha
Q: When deciding on the venue, what stood out about Chase Center in particular? Are there any activations you’re particularly excited for fans to engage with this weekend?
Aletaha: I think it’s tough to beat Chase Center, a brand-new, state-of-the-art arena. I think everybody here is familiar with the spectacle that we aim to put on with the Worlds final. Having an arena as technically advanced as Chase just unlocks us in really exciting ways. That was a driving factor in choosing Chase. It’s amazing to be here in San Francisco, of course. The last time we were in San Fran was for our Group Stage in 2016. So, iconic city, iconic venue, we’re really thrilled. In terms of the activations, there are so many great things that are gonna be happening in that fan village. I hope everybody here has a chance to go out and check it out. I’ve been seeing Tweets about MasterCard doing coffee and cookies, I think we’ll have OfflineTV there on stage… There are a number of activations and we’re really hoping that fans can have the opportunity in all things Worlds and celebrate the best that League of Legends has to offer.
Arcane’s influence on League of Legends
Q: How big of an impact have efforts like Arcane had on the game League of Legends itself? Did it bring new players back, or was there a huge influx of new accounts?
Laurent: Arcane was viewed by a ton of people. I don’t think we’ve announced the numbers, so I might get yelled at by the CEO if I show the numbers, but a lot of people. It’s the most-viewed animation show by far and large. A lot of non-gamers watched the show. The question is if they became League of Legends players. [Laughs] The answer is no. League of Legends is not a casual game. It’s not like I watched the tv show and now I know how to play Jinx. That’s not how it works. But what it did for us, is that it did bring back a lot of old players. We have like 700 million or 800 million people who have played League of Legends over the last twelve years. Of course, they came back to League of Legends after Arcane, so that’s a lot. It also made a lot of League of Legends players proud to share their love for the IP with their surroundings. That meant a lot for us. I’ve been a big gamer forever and sometimes I wanted to share my love for games with my family, with my friends. With other games, sometimes there’d be a movie and [I’d say], “Just go watch it!” but then [afterwards] I was like, “Oh, no, don’t watch it.” With Arcane, I was able to do that. Long story short, I think we engaged a lot of sparkles for our audience. It brought old players back in the game, but it didn’t bring new players. That was not the goal and that’s ok.
Aletaha: As a Jinx main, I can confirm that Arcane did not make me better at playing Jinx, but it was awesome. [Laughs]
Lee: We also saw the play rate for [champions like] Jinx, Vi, and Viktor shoot through the roof, which was really cool to see. I think players were really inspired by what they saw in Arcane.
Higdon: Last but not least, I think it was the first time my wife ever said it was cool what I did. [Laughs]