The world is different place now, and thus, so is our entertainment. When kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up, the surveyed answers are vastly different than they used to be. Kids once dreamed of being astronauts, actors and movie directors. The internet age has changed these viewpoints to more self disciplined, and technology dependent aspirations like YouTube stars, travel bloggers, and with the advent of video games, Millenials sought to create their own pieces of entertainment, while Generation Z grew up watching other people play video games, both casually and professionally, and in the dawn of the Esports boom. Major League Gaming was growing steadily with Counterstrike, Call of Duty and Halo competitive play, but they were only the beginning, as the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) title League of Legends, after nearly a decade in players’ hands, has helped bolster the activity of watching people professionally play out of the obscure roots in Starcraft and into the big leagues on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube.
Esports have redefined competitive entertainment, and dream jobs, for future generations, creating a professional sports-like environment for players and fans to enjoy. As one of the pioneers in this arena, Riot Games with their unstoppable game League of Legends, also runs their Esports leagues. Every year since 2014, they have a worldwide tournament called Worlds, where the best professional teams from around the world compete to win the Championship.
We recently spoke with Riot Games’ head of Esports, Chris Hopper, about this year’s tournament, how you can become a pro, creating a more inclusive gaming environment for women in the wake of a recent Kotaku article on the matter, and more.
Jon Espino, TYF Staff Writer: The League of Legends World Championship is going on right now in South Korea, right?
Chris Hopper, Head of Esports and Riot Games: Yep, it’s a tournament that started in 2014 stemming from the 14 pro regions around the world. We’re getting down to the best teams in the world. It’s incredibly exciting because it’s really one of the first times all year that you get to see players from every region competing against each other. You get to see great upsets, you get to see star players. For any fan of competitive League, this is the holiday season where you’re going to get the most memorable plays for the rest of the year.
Jon: How are players chosen to compete or be part of the teams?
Chris: It’s really up to the teams themselves. Riot [Games] holds no responsibility with teams over signing players or picking players. So, it’s really up to the teams who they want on their team, and offer them contracts and negotiate those deals with them. Each player has to make the decision on whether they want to play, just like every team needs to make the decision on what players they want to offer. Really like the way any NBA teams would decide what players they sign. It’s pretty similar to pro sports in that regard.
I’m sure you get this all the time but are there any plans to make League of Legends available on other consoles?
CH: Not at this time, but I’ll never say never on behalf of our game development team. Certainly, nothing that I’m aware of.
.@Mastercard will be joining us for the 2018 World Championship Finals! Check out https://t.co/UXg2SoWdcI to see all the priceless experiences taking place at Incheon Munhak Stadium #Worlds2018 pic.twitter.com/lZlx9kDMwc
— lolesports (@lolesports) October 20, 2018
After almost a decade, how does League of Legends remain the juggernaut that it is with so many other freemium games out there like Fortnite and Overwatch?
Chris: When you think about Fortnite or Overwatch, they’re each different genres. Largely, League has been able to stay at the top of the pack in MOBA’s thanks to our game development and game balancing team. These guys have been putting out patches every 2 weeks for the past 10 years. They’ve been keeping the game fresh and have been able to update the game in a way that makes it compelling not only for players but also for viewers of the Esport. You have that continuous improvement in the game.
Worlds 2013: Quarterfinals, 1-2 vs. FNC
Worlds 2014: Quarterfinals, 1-3 vs. SSB
Worlds 2015: Group Stage, 3-3
Worlds 2016: Quarterfinals, 0-3 vs. SSG
Worlds 2017: Quarterfinals, 2-3 vs. WE#Worlds2018: SEMIFINALS#RISE pic.twitter.com/KDMWBNue48
— lolesports (@lolesports) October 21, 2018
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting out or has just started out?
Chris: Keep playing. The way that you’re going to get noticed is by playing a ton and playing well. That takes a lot of dedication and a lot of discipline. When you look at these guys playing on the pro level, they’re putting in similar time commitments to what NBA players are putting in on their practice schedule. These guys are athletes and you have to approach it with a similar mindset. This can’t be a game, it has to be a sport, and a sport becomes a job. You have to approach it with a love for it, but also a dedication.
Since that Kotaku piece came out about sexism at Riot Games, the company has implemented several steps to change the internal culture. How has that translated into your department?
Chris: It was never really about any specific department at Riot. I think the issues represented were ones that were across Riot. Every department has been part of the effort to continue to grow and improve. Riot is committed to growing across those measures. It hasn’t impacted Esports any more or less than any department.
I looked on the LoL roster and there are few to no female pros. I know you said that it’s up to the teams to pick them, but what can be done to improve this?
Chris: There have been female pros in the past. The key here is to understand, it’s not that there’s a dearth of female talent there, but for various reasons, they’re not necessarily interested in playing professionally. The key for us is to find out from a team perspective, how can we make this a more welcoming and inclusive space for those top female players. One of the big changes is that a lot of teams are moving away from the gaming house model. It used to be that teams would bring in 17, 18, 19-year-old kids and essentially were replicating a dorm experience where they would pack them all in together and they would play together.
Sort of like a frat house experience?
Chris: A little bit, but it was that initial socialization. It was easier to watch over them and they could have a cook in the house to make sure they were eating right. They could govern the situation much more easily. It was born out of a period of lesser maturity on the player’s part. Now, the average player is 21 or 22, has been playing for several years and on salary so they can afford their own apartment. I think by bifurcating the work and living space, it’s going to create a situation that’s much more attractive to female players because now they are able to have their own personal life outside of their workspace. I think that steps like that, that teams are working towards, will end up making this a much more welcoming space for female players.
Jon: Since the tragic shooting in Jacksonville over a month ago, what new precautions have been put into place to prevent that kind of thing from happening at future events?
Chris: Obviously, our hearts and minds went out to those affected by the tragedy in Jacksonville. It was a horrific incident. From the start, when we’ve been building out our Esport, everyone’s security has been of paramount importance. Since we’ve had an audience at our Esports events, we’ve had massive security like metal detectors and undercover security. Since that’s happened, we’ve taken another opportunity to review our security protocols and we’ve been able to implement some small changes.
Jon: The thing I love about League of Legends is that everyone starts off the same as equals. I haven’t played in years, but I’m very attracted to the fact that I can go back to playing and not be at a disadvantage.
Chris: It’s one of the great aspects of Esports is that it’s so easily aspirational. I can watch a football game and watch Aaron Rodgers throw a 60-yard touchdown pass, but there’s no way I can go out to my backyard and throw that same pass. But, I can watch a pro League game and practice and try something new in the game. I think that’s one of the greatest links to the Esports part of the game.
Don’t forget to stay tuned to the upcoming semi-finals to see who will compete in the championship!