Midway through last weekend’s League of Legends Worlds quarter finals at Wembley, I sat down with Jason Yeh, Riot’s Head of European Esports, for a chat about League of Legends, London, and what Riot is doing to encourage new players to go pro.
PCG: Here we are in Wembley. How do you think it’s going so far?
Jason Yeh: I think it’s going awesome. Going to different capital cities around Europe is exciting because there’s a slightly different flavour in each city. The fans are all League players, but how they cheer and the atmosphere they create in the arena is different. We were here last June for an LCS event, but it’s cool to come back with international teams. It’s exciting to be able to see these teams from all over the world competing against each other, and the matches have been pretty great so far.
PCG: How are the fans finding it? Are London fans different to the fans in France and Germany you’ve seen over the past year?
JY: Doing LCS briefly here last year… we just felt that if we were going to do Worlds in Europe, one of the stops had to be in London. The fans here love the teams and following the storylines, rooting for the underdogs. It’s not too dissimilar from football or other sports. People follow the teams that they love.
PCG: There aren’t too many British professional players around at the moment. Is there anything Riot can do to change that? Do you think having Worlds here will help things?
JY: We’re trying to do more as a company for people in Europe to encourage and foster teams at a country level throughout the region. We want to first lay the groundwork and growing them from things like the 4 Nations tournament we had last year, getting them into the Challenger Series. Having a clearer path will help players understand where they’re headed.
PCG: How about in North America? There were high hopes, particularly for CLG, but none of the teams made it out of groups.
JY: All 16 of the teams at Worlds were good teams. A couple things going one way or the other and Cloud 9 might be here, CLG might be here. Even Pain Gaming were pretty close to potentially making it out of groups. But I think North America has the foundation, it has good infrastructure with the teams and owners. I think they’ve been a little more active than Europe in trying to bring in international talent, although Europe is doing that a bit more now as well. But I’m very confident that NA will continue to develop.
PCG: Some analysts have said that one reason behind NA not performing as well is that it’s hard for them to scrim against top teams because of the huge distances.
JY: There’s a lot of theorycrafting about why other regions are stronger. I was reading an article about the value of solo queue, and how important it is for broadening your strategy and improving your mechanics, and how that’s different from the US to China, Korea and Taiwan. There are different things pro teams have as tools to become better. But as the South American teams get stronger, there will be more opportunities for them to play North American teams and both get better from that.
PCG: There have been so many champions picked so far at Worlds. How important is balancing the game, and how hard is it to keep so many champions viable?
JY: Yeah, I think like 70 or 71 so far. Speaking from my perspective, I’ve been working at the company for just over six and a half years… back when we first launched the game there were fewer than 40 champions, and now we’re at 100+. The idea of balancing champions for professional play versus for the overall player base is a challenge, because the professional level is the top 0.1% of players. For the most part we try to maintain general balance across a range of champion types. As the metas evolve you see different professional teams and individual players figure out how they can adapt their play style to it. Being a professional League team is not just about mastering one play style, it’s about being the best at adapting to multiple.
PCG: League is constantly changing. Are you happy with where the game is at the moment?
JY: The game at any given time has different things that we can tweak. From a competitor standpoint, we view the offseason as a time when we have more flexibility to make more changes. In terms of adding new items or changing how things work is something we do to keep the gameplay fresh and encourage the professionals to adapt and evolve their own play style. Depending on the time of year, we will either concentrate on a few bigger changes or look at smaller stuff.
PCG: How about from a viewing perspective? You’ve got the BBC deal for the quarter finals, is that something you’re looking to expand upon in the future?
JY: The BBC is a great example of an awesome partner that has a lot of experience creating and broadcasting all types of content. So if we can find partners like that to get excited about eSports, that’s something that we’re definitely looking to do. Particularly in Europe… In Germany where I live right now, most people watch football in German even though everyone understands English. So we’re looking at opportunities to create better experiences for fans in their own language.
PCG: Let’s talk about London a bit, since we’re here. How have you found it so far?
JY: London is an awesome city to be in. In the UK in general we’re seeing a lot more excitement in competition across all levels. I think the UK is the country in Europe that has the most inter-university team play. We’re trying to do more to figure out how to develop the tier that’s just below Challenger Series in the UK. Given the excitement in eSports… whether it’s LCS or giving people more reasons to watch and make eSports a part of their life, or for aspiring pros to be able to play more regularly I think the UK is definitely an important market for us.
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