The League of Legends Season 2 World Finals kick off today in Southern California, with 12 of the best teams from around the world battling it out for $2,000,000. Teams such as North American's SoloMid, Europe's Moscow 5, and Korea's Azubu Frost have worked all year to get to this point: a chance to win it all. Much like what was seen with Valve's The International 2 broadcast for DOTA 2, the finals will be available via 24 streams through Twitch.tv and Own3d.tv in 13 languages, so that fans of all players, teams, and nations can experience the action live.
GameSpot sat down with Riot VP of eSports Dustin Beck, brother of CEO Brandon Beck, to discuss his excitement for the finals, and Riot's expectations for what the company hopes to achieve. The discussion also delves into what the future holds for Riot in Season 3, and the potential for exclusivity agreements to impact the eSports ecosystem as a whole.
The Season 2 finals sold out in such a short period of time. Was this expected? How long did it take for all tickets to be taken?
We were certainly optimistic, but fans blew our expectations out of the water. Tickets for all three days of the playoffs sold out within hours. We actually ended up restructuring some of our event plans to fit more people in, so we were able to release more tickets. The finals took around four days to completely sell out.
Why the decision to split the finals over two weekends?
We’re really looking for the best possible viewership and fan experience around League of Legends eSports. Think about how the NBA, NFL, and other mainstream sports organizations run their playoffs. Their post-season is paced in a way that builds tension and allows for amazing stories and moments to emerge. With the Regional events around the world, followed by the Playoffs and Finals for the World Championship, we’re aiming to deliver a similar crescendo as the level of competition and anticipation gets higher and higher.
What is one aspect of the finals that you'd like to hit a home run in, besides the event going well overall?
Live and broadcast viewer experience, hands down. That’s something we’re trying hard to level up, and we hope it pays out for the audience.
Weeks ago, GameSpot was given information from a number of sources that said at PAX, professional team organizations were told about exclusivity agreements with other Action RTS/MOBA games, such as DOTA 2. Organizations with League of Legends teams would not be allowed to pick up DOTA 2 teams, and organizations with DOTA 2 squads could not utilize League of Legends teams. A few days after PAX, after some community uproar, Riot stated this was not the case and organizations are able to do as they like regarding other games. Was this going to be the original policy heading into Season 3? When was the decision made to change this policy, and why the change?
This rumor was the result of some miscommunication to a few teams. It was never policy. We require the specific team rosters--you know, the actual pro League players on each team--to commit to the Championship Series if they wish to participate, but not the team brands.
There's been a good amount of heated discussion around this topic since it surfaced from multiple communities including LoL's. Has all of it had any impression on Riot regarding exclusivity terms around DOTA 2/other MOBA titles? Could more aspects change along the way before next year?
Besides what we’ve officially announced about our Season 3 plans, there isn’t that much set in stone. We’re aiming to build the best environment for teams and players at multiple levels of competition, and the best viewership experience for fans that we can. The exact details are being finalized.
What is the business relationship/partnership between Riot and the teams qualified in Season 3, for those teams that are under established organizations already (Dignitas, CLG)? Does Riot go to the players directly, or management?
We work through team management. It’s very much modeled after traditional pro sports leagues; players are signed to teams, teams are signed to the Championship Series.
For those players who already have contracts with teams, such as Dignitas and SK, will they now have two contracts? Or do you work with the team owners to restructure the current agreement? What capacity do teams sign with Riot for the Championship Series?
Teams have a ton of autonomy. Our requirements of players are going to be pretty straightforward, and amount mainly to what I mentioned before. And like a lot of the finer details, we’re continuing our discussions with organizations and players before we formalize the legalese.
What does Riot require of the teams and players that sign the contract to be salaried players? What restrictions are placed on them? What are they expected to do?
Teams will be required to participate in regularly scheduled events, and they’ll be committed to the Championship Series throughout the entire season. These teams are going to be busy as hell with the pace of the regular season, and so we want to ensure they’re 100 percent committed to practicing, preparing, and bringing their A-game to these events. We’ll also be asking that teams give back to the community, like any good pro sports team should.
Could you estimate the time schedule for the regular season? Total length/games per week?
For the most part, we’ll have three days of competition per week during the regular season. Before Season 3 starts, we’ll announce the first split of the regular season schedule, so you’ll know, for instance, that in week 6, CLG.eu will be playing Moscow 5 on Wednesday night. We’ll have more details on the full length of the season closer to the start.
In terms of giving back, will we see things like NFL60 and NBA Cares to give back to the community?
Yes--we’re still working on the details, but it’s in our blood at Riot to give back to the community and we think our pro players feel the same way and believe they have the same responsibility.
"It’s in our blood at Riot to give back to the community and we think our pro players feel the same way and believe they have the same responsibility."
Are there exclusivity agreements set in place with different organizations regarding not running concurrent DOTA/MOBA titles at the same time? Do you see this as basic business?
Anybody could strike a deal with a league that includes a period of exclusivity. This is great for the leagues because it means they’re in high demand. And why wouldn’t they be? MLG, ESL, and IPL put on great events. Of course we want League of Legends to be in the spotlight at these events. Part of the rationale for these kinds of contracts is that it gives us the ability to have a greater influence on the spectator experience to better meet fan expectations.
In the Forbes interview and press release, it's made to seem that although you would keep relationships with leagues such as MLG, ESL, and IPL, that they would become the 'minor leagues' of sorts. Will league's have restrictions on what they can do next year during Riot's Season 3?
The Challenger Circuit, which is comprised of those leagues, continues to be vitally important in Season 3. 'Minor leagues' is definitely the wrong way to characterize it. In fact, prize money at these events is going to getting bigger. It’s more similar to how soccer is structured in many countries, with a Series A and a Series B. There’s relegation between the two series at regular intervals throughout each season, ensuring that the best teams are in the top league. It’ll work the same for the relationship between the Challenger Circuit and Championship Series.
Would teams in Season 3 be able to go to MLG, IPL, ESL events? Are they able to choose which ones? Or is this a collaboration between Riot and the team itself? What if the Dignitas owner wants to send them, but Riot does not?
For every Challenger Circuit (IEM, IPL, and MLG) event held during the regular season, we’ll be holding our Championship Series matches live at those events. This’ll help drive home the connection between the two leagues. Also, during the upcoming off-season, Championship Series teams will have the chance to participate in those events.
Is it safe to say that Riot are the ones putting up most of the funding of the events for IEM, IPL, and MLG?
Riot, sponsors, and the leagues themselves support these events.
There's said to be an increase in prize money from Season 2 to Season 3. Could you say how substantial of an increase it will be?
We’re not ready to talk numbers, but Riot’s overall commitment to Season 3--from salaries, to live events, to prize money--is significantly larger than Season 2.
Is the amount high enough, all things considered, where pro LoL players would potentially be the highest paid eSports players per year of all time?
Maybe. Our goal is to make sure that League of Legends is a viable career path for pros, and not just a gamble, and we’re more concerned with that than being ‘the highest-paying eSport.’
Could more be said about the Arena being made in the Los Angeles? Is it already being built? When we could expect it to be completed?
Lots of ink is still drying, so we’re hesitant to talk more specifics until after Season 2 concludes. Ultimately, we saw a need for a live venue where weekly regular season matches could take place. So we’re building an arena.
Are there Arenas being built in Europe and Asia?
Long term, yes. Short term, we’re still working on plans with our international partners.
Many of the announcements made around Season 3 including location of the Arena, player contracts, and even the name of the circuit itself, are very reminiscent of the Championship Gaming Series. Recently you hired on Jason Katz, one of top people involved in the league at the time. How influential was that league, and what Jason has brought on, to how you envision Season 3 to be?
Honestly, we’re not looking to CGS for inspiration; we’re looking to mainstream traditional sports to inform what League of Legends eSports could become. The similarities between our Season 3 pro league and the CGS end at regularly scheduled weekly matches. There are a bunch of differences: chiefly, Riot’s the game publisher as well as the eSports organization. We view eSports as a core feature of League of Legends, and so we’re all-in on supporting it. We’re not beholden to investors or sponsors to deliver the quality of entertainment and competition we’re building towards. We’re only beholden to our players and fans.
The eSports Valencia Congress occurred last weekend with several representatives from different leagues, teams, and games, and the discussion of a 'governing body' has been brought up. Although Riot was not present, Riot is in a unique position as a publisher to bring in teams, players, production, casters, and other necessities in-house, something no other league has ever been able to do. Do you feel that the publisher's are truly the only ones that are able to bring things together, as owners of the IP? If some type of independent governing body was attempted to assemble in the future for multiple games, would Riot have to be involved?
We watched the Valencia event as much as we could, but we unfortunately couldn’t be there since we were in the home stretch of planning our Super Bowl. Publishers like Riot are definitely in a unique position to support eSports in a way it really hasn’t been supported in the past. But we’re optimistic that the added attention we believe we’re going to bring to eSports as a whole will help bolster the entire ecosystem, including leagues, teams, and other organizations. We’re certainly not opposed to being involved in such an association
Is Riot worried on how things are set up now, that these moves would hurt the overall ecosystem of eSports, including many of the long-running independent teams that risk losing their players?
The Championship Series is undeniably a good thing for those long-running independent teams. We’ll be paying them salaries, connecting them with sponsors, and giving them an extremely high level of visibility in Season 3. Those organizations, if they build competitive League of Legends teams, stand to benefit immensely in terms of fan awareness and brand value. Remember, some of the top League of Legends teams--like CLG and TSM--are just those kinds of independent teams, born from the early League of Legends scene. They’re doing just fine.
Ultimately, we feel our commitment to eSports is great for the whole industry. The rise in production quality, spectator experience and overall legitimacy of the sport will resonate beyond League of Legends to any serious competitive game.
The action RTS/MOBA/whatever it's called genre has been very competitive with some of the biggest developers in the world including yourself, Valve, Blizzard, etc. The communities have been rather hostile towards each other however, seemingly moreso than other rivalries in history such as Quake vs Counter-Strike. Has it gone too far, or is it just competition?
Haters gonna hate. But seriously, I think what you’re talking about is the same type of friction we’ve always seen between fans of rival consoles, games, sports franchises, and so on. It’s just like Xbox vs. PlayStation. In our view, it’s pretty awesome that so many big and respected game companies are getting behind eSports.