Gamescom 2013 – LoL, Interview with Whalen Rozelle, Director of e-Sports

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We sat down with Whalen Rozelle, Director of e-Sports at Riot Games to talk about the e-Sports scene of League of Legends.

Hey guys my name is Whalen Rozelle the Director of eSports at Riot Games.

<Q>. How would you describe League of Legends?

I’d say, and  I’m a bit biased being the eSports guy, but its MOBA, Mobile Online Battle Arena, and it’s a five on five PvP competition where players control a champion and they play in Summoners Rift, which is our map. And the objective is to destroy the enemies’ nexus before you lose yours.

<Q>. What’s the relation between league of Legends and e-Sports?

Yeh absolutely, I think that League of Legends has been kind of designed with competitive eSports in mind, because it has a lot of the elements that traditional eSports has, right? It’s 5 on 5 competitions, it’s a team game, which leads to a lot of interesting dynamics when you’re having eSports. The map doesn’t really change, the rules get tweaks, new champions added, but ultimately the core game is pure, but every game is different which is what’s really fun about playing or even watching. The competitors change, the champions change, and the strategy and tactics evolve over time. We think that eSports is a really cool way that players can engage with League of Legends. We think it’s fun to play and really fun to watch. The reason we’re doing eSports is really because of our players, they told us through watching season one, watching season two, that they enjoy watching. So true to fashion we listen to our players and say “let’s just keep going bigger and better every year”, so in season three we’ve really been focused on turning eSports into something that can last for decades and laying the foundation of Leagues across the world. In our case in North America and Europe, the LCS, League of Legends Champion Series, and we’re evolving the format from something that is around tournaments every once in a while to a league, to a season, and we think that this is the best way for eSports fans to be fans. It’s way easier when you know your team is playing every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. You can tune in and get a high quality broadcast and it’s something that is fun to watch. I’m a sports fan, a lot of people in these eSports teams are sports fans, and I can tell you every Sunday, because I’m an NFL fan, what I’m doing. We want to make it so that eSports fans have that same sort of feeling so that they know what they’re doing on Thursday , Friday, they want to watch the LCS; that’s our goal and that’s what we’re trying to get to.

<Q>. Are you going to increase the number of possible bans?

That’s a great question. It’s a question that comes up a lot. You know it’s interesting because it’s something that’s not just eSports, it’s a design question, and we actually have a cool relationship with our design team and our live design time. And we’re constantly asking ourselves that question. In the past I think we’ve said publicly, I think Zillion has said publicly, it’s not something that we want to do at the moment, but we constantly ask ourselves that question and if we think that it’s good for the game and good for eSports, we’ll do it, but If it’s not good for the game and not good for eSports then we won’t do it. So, right now there are no plans to, but we’re always thinking about it.

<Q>. Do you have any advice for players who desire to become pro?

That’s another cool question, and it’s something that we want to make very clear to people, we think it’s important to have what we call an “aspirational path”. I grew up playing sports and I knew exactly even though there’s no chance I could be a professional athlete, I knew what I had to do to be a professional athlete, and we think the more people know how to become a pro, the more they can respect the fact that it’s very difficult to become a pro and how hard it is to be a professional eSports athlete. Right now it would be my recommendation to A – play a lot *laughs*, and B – find a team, join a team and make a ranked team because right now the way that you can get into the LCS, the most direct way, is to play in ranked games, get your team up to the challenger level. We have this cool league system that we launched in season three, and the top league is challenger, and once you get to challenger you get the chance to participate in a bunch of challenger tournaments, one of which is at GamesCom right now. We have a four challenger team, some of the best semi-pro players out there, and if you win a bunch of challenger tournaments you’ll get an invitation to play in the promotion tournament and in that tournament you can play against the bottom LCS teams, so the bottom LCS teams have to sort of defend their right to stay in the LCS and that’s where you can basically become pro. So that’s the step by step directions of how to go pro.

<Q>. What’s the secret of success of League of Legends?

I don’t think it’s that much of a secret, I think one of the reasons why people think that we’re a good eSport is because we listen to our players and we give them an eSports experience that is fun and exciting. I think that’s not so much of a secret to success, but if anything that’s our “secret”, that we focus on players first, we listen to our players, they engage with us on Reddit, on Twitter, on our forums, and ultimately they’re who we serve. “We answer to our players” is our thing at Riot and the same thing with eSports. A great example of this is in the off season, this has been the first year of LCS, and in the off season we’re gonna go back and see what worked and what didn’t work, and we’ll get all the feedback all our players have told us and we’re gonna kind of evolve our format and go bigger and go better. So I guess if that’s a secret sauce, that’s the formula, it’s a lot of hard work and you know, just being open minded and trying to look forward and make everything better.

<Q>. What are the next big events in the League of legends e-Sports scene?

Absolutely. So right now at GamesCom there’s a couple of tournaments going on that are pretty important for sort of the big narrative and the big picture. We have the international wildcard tournament, which is essentially having the best team from Latin America, Brazil, Russia, Turkey and Oceania competing for a chance to go to the World Championship. Then you have the six best EU-LCS teams competing for three spots in the World Championship, and right now we’re at a point what we like to call the Road to Worlds. Where we have tournaments all across the world with teams trying to make it to the World Championships, starting September 15th in Los Angeles, and all of that is gonna be a fourteen team tournament, it’s gonna be really exciting, and they’re essentially gonna crown the World Champion for this year. The finals’ gonna happen in the Staple Center, which I’m personal incredibly excited about, because it’s very symbolic of what we’re trying to do with eSports. You think eSports is something that’s incredibly exciting and fun to watch, but really hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, we think we’re really trying to push it towards more like a traditional sport. I’m, hoping that in a few years that it’s so big that people won’t be surprised that it’s in the Staples Center. We just think that’s really what people should be looking out for, if you’re an eSports fan, or if you haven’t gotten into it yet, I would highly recommend checking out the World Championship just because it’s an eleven day tournament and it’s gonna be some of the highest quality play and it should be really fun to watch.

<Q> What’s your personal opinion on the current scene?

I watch a lot of eSports, and I have actually a number of favourite teams across each scene, so its tough to say one particular team that’s my favourite team, in North America Cloud 9 is a big favourite for a lot of people. It’s cool to see them coming onto the stage, it’s like a great story where they failed to qualify in North America to begin with, and then they could fight halfway through and they’ve been crushing the competition. But you also have like a lot of cool stories in Europe where a similar thing happened with Lemondogs coming onto the scene. The Europe story has been fascinating because the first place to eighth place has been very close all season and we have a four way tie for second place at the end of the season. I think that it’s not so much I have a favourite team, because I watch so many different scenes, I just love any team that innovates, tries new things and is willing to take a risk because I think that’s the coolest part of eSports for me personally, it’s seeing how our pros who are so good they evolve the game, they do things that I’ve never thought about, and as a player I look to them to adapt my own play style. A good example is like in season two Froggen, who is on Evil Geniuses now, had some amazing Anivia play and inspired me to play Anivia, so I think that’s one of the cool things about eSports is that not only fun to watch and is exciting, but it’s also a way that all players who play League of Legends can look to them to get better at their own game. Which ultimately is a competitive game, we all wanna get better, we all like to win, I’m a competitive guy, so I look at eSports in that way as well.

<Q>. Would you like to add something?

Yeh, I think the main thing is just I wanna thank the players for watching. I have a really fun job and it’s because of you guys and you guys let me do something that I really love to do and all of us on the eSports team are living the dream by doing this for you guys. Please do check out the World Championships because I think that it’s something that is bigger and better than anything we’ve done before and then tell us, give us feedback on what you like, what you don’t like, because we look to you guys to kinda make this thing special for you. So let us know on Twitter, Eeddit and our forums what you think about eSports and we’ll make sure it’s bigger and better for you next year.