How Riot Games plans to evolve eSports in 2013

Let pro players give direct feedback to the design team

Rozelle: "The design team is extremely open to feedback. They look for feedback from all kinds of places, and one of those places is pro players. We brought a bunch of pro players to Riot HQ to work with the designers. They got a chance to sneak a peek and try everything out and give feedback to the designers. There's a constant feedback cycle that they were able to take advantage of."

Beck: "It's cool that we have this opportunity to get these guys' feedback. They understand the game as well as anyone. They're playing so many games. They understand the intricacies of the game on so many different levels. Getting their feedback was super valuable. We're going to have a great feedback loop during the season to get their thoughts on everything we're doing. It's been a cool by-product of what we're doing."

Rozelle: "They're completely bought into eSports as well. They're watching every week and sending us feedback on how eSports can get better. It's a really good partnership... We do take everything they give us with a little grain of salt."

Build up the drama

Beck: "One thing we're laser-focused on is that we're going to start to bring out the personal pieces on players and on teams. I don't know if you saw our story on [the pro team] Curse or what we did for Ocelote [SK Gaming's AP carry], but we're investing a ton into that. It's hard to get a sense for who these guys are when they're playing in front of a monitor and talking to their team and focused on the game. When we're able to focus on these guys outside of the game, that's what's going to be compelling. That's going to be the cool thing. Like when you see Ocelote actually supporting his family with League of Legends. Things like that. Those human interest pieces are what's going to get fans attached to certain players and certain teams.

"We also like drama, too. I don't know if you saw the tournament last week, but a player on M5 did a pretty unsportsmanlike gesture towards the Korean team. It generates that drama. You like that in sports. Ron Artest is a bad boy, but a lot of people love him. Granted, he's gone over the line a couple of times, but that kind of stuff is fun. Rivalries are fun. Rivalries don't really exist that much right now. There's CLG and M5. Those guys don't really like each other. But now that these teams are going to be playing consistently over the course of a 10-week period, rivalries are going to start to be established. That's really exciting for us."

Rozelle: "Especially playing around in the established structure that we have, with trades and free agency. You're going to see more things like the CLG/Curse thing, where Curse is the ex-CLG members and they have that grudge match, coming back and fighting it out at PAX. You're going to see a lot more of that. Our focus on storytelling and narrative is only going to enhance the fact that we'll have that awesome experience."

Learn from real sports

Beck: "We're all sports junkies on the eSports team. It's one of the requirements to join the team. We've been able to look at a lot of structures. Promotion and relegation doesn't exist in the NBA, but it does in European soccer, so we took that. There's a lot of things that each sport does well that we're able to cherry-pick from. We're in a unique position where we get to build this league from scratch. It's been cool crafting that. We're not reinventing the wheel here. We're looking to other sports for cues on how to do this. It's been fundamentally helpful in getting this thing going."

Rozelle: "Yeah. They've had hundreds of years combined to get their act together. We might as well take advantage of their experience."

Beck: "It's fun. We wish we had an extra year of time to do it, but… [laughs]... We're learning as we go. We brought on these big producers from the NFL and the Olympics, so they're bringing a ton of experience into the live broadcasts. We have so many people on-site at the battle arena—from our office side, from our IT side, from our events team—and we suspect that each week is going to be a learning and growing experience. It's a learn-as-you-grow type of thing."

Rozelle: "You can see an example from day three of the world playoffs to the world finals even. There was only a week in between the two, but we saw the evolution there about how we learned from building up a stage, or setting up the venue. Just having all of our Is dotted and Ts crossed and making sure that we're paying as much attention to detail as possible."

Beck: "It's going to be challenging, because eSports is unique from other sports in that it's so dependent on technology. Streaming is not a mature platform, or not as mature as broadcast television or cable. The audience is depending on people running an online game. With the world championships we brought in a server that we developed, and we're using that in the battle arena. We're going to do everything we can to look forward and navigate around potential land mines. If we hit one, we'll learn from it and never make the same mistake twice."

Evolve the metagame

Beck: "One nuance that we're weaving into our regular scene is that they're going to be single-game matches now, as opposed to best-of three or best-of-five. The playoffs will have the same format of best-of-three and best-of-five, just like the NBA does, but these single-game matches are going to be pretty impactful. You're going to see new strategies. Teams are going to have to scout one another. It's going to add a whole new element now that they're single-game matches. It also helps people do appointment-based viewing. It's hard to plan on catching a second best-of-three match because you don't know if the prior one is going two games or three games. "

Rozelle: "I hope [we'll see more experimental team compositions]. For the fans and for the people watching, that makes it fun and interesting. For the players it'll drive the meta-game. If you follow the eSports scene, you'll know that North America gets a bad rap for not innovating in the scene. I think our pro players are ready to take on that challenge and evolve the game from there. We're hoping to see that. It'll be exciting and fun to watch."

Beck: "It's cool, too, seeing these different meta-games evolve in the different territories that we have. I hate comparing it to chess, because I don't really like chess, but there are different strategies in different regions. Americans are more defensive, Russians are more aggressive. You see these different strategies evolving in each of these territories. It makes an even like an all-star game or a world championship that much more compelling."