esports Events And Updates

2020 League of Legends

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2020 League of Legends World Championship aims to break esports attendance records

PARIS -- One day after a sold-out 2019 League of Legends World Championship at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris, Riot Games, the creator of League of Legends, has a single message for the fans.

Next year's world championship in China, its 10th, won't be only the biggest esports event of all time but aims to be one of the biggest sporting events in history.

"The big info you gotta know for next year [is] we're going bananas," Nicolo Laurent, CEO of Riot Games, told ESPN at the company offices in Paris.

The 2019 tournament spanned over a month and was hosted by three cities: Berlin for the group stages, Madrid for the quarterfinals and semifinals and Paris for the final. In 2020, Riot Games will double that number to six cities in China and will include the same number of teams and a consistent timeframe for the overall event. This will break the record for the number of cities hosting games at a world championship. (The previous record was four.)

"We built a remote broadcast center outside of Shanghai that can handle five simultaneous streams from across China," John Needham, global head of League of Legends for Riot Games, said. "So we're going to leverage this infrastructure that Leo [Lin, head of Riot Games China] and Tencent invested in to do the biggest spectacle that you've seen in esports and one of the biggest in sports, frankly."

In 2017, Riot Games broke the record for a paid audience at an esports event with 45,000 fans at the National Stadium in Beijing.

South Korean teams SK Telecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy faced off in that 2017 final, making it a show for the ages, with scalpers outside the stadium selling floor seats for over $1,000. And though the National Stadium held a capacity of 80,000, the configuration of the stage blocked off almost half of the available seats.

For their return to the largest League of Legends market in 2020, they want to outdo themselves by holding the final at Shanghai Stadium, which seats more than 56,000. Riot Games will change the stage structure to pack as many fans as possible into the stadium to watch what it hopes will be the biggest sporting event in Shanghai in 2020.

Instead of having the stage face toward one side of the stadium, the 2020 setup will be akin to layouts inside the indoor arenas shown in 2019 final, where the players and stage area in the center of the stadium with fans wrapped around them.

"We're working hard for next year so you can fill all the seats [in Shanghai]," Laurent said. "We're working hard to make it so that it's all-around viewing. ... We know there is going to be demand, so you're going to have this all-around experience."

Aside from the final itself, Riot Games is also already working on how to top its opening ceremony. In Paris, it debuted hologram-like technology during the musical production. In less than 24 hours, the music video "Giants," produced by Riot Games and performed during the opening ceremony, has been viewed over 5 million times on YouTube. Music and production value have become staples for Riot Games, and like everything else in 2020, it already has ideas on how to go bigger.

"We've started earlier than we ever have on planning out the [worlds] music," Needham said. "We want the 10th [world championship] to be a really special moment for everyone."

After breaking esports records left and right with its world championships over the past few years, with 99.6 million people tuning in for 2018 final (in which China's Invictus Gaming defeated Europe's Fnatic), Riot Games wants to make its marquee event more than a simple tournament. With the 2020 edition, it's aiming to blend competition, fandom, gaming, and entertainment into something never seen in live production.

"It's not just esports, it's a cultural moment," Lin said.

"Also, we hope it's not just one month -- we want to have a celebration and a warm-up throughout the year. Fans don't need another 12 months to feel the hype [of worlds]. We can start in January, February, I don't know. But we want to make it a longer period than we can celebrate, bring the hype and bring the best moments step by step with the players. So be patient, we'll come back soon."

eSports Tournaments League Of Legend

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How the League of Legends World Championship became the Super Bowl of esports

LOS ANGELES — There is no faster-growing sport than esports, and there is no bigger esports tournament than the League of Legends World Championship.

The run-up to this year’s finals in Paris has already garnered all-time highs in viewership, netting just under 4 million concurrent viewers for the league’s second semifinal match, making it the most watched esports event in history, per Esports Charts. The 2019 final, featuring Europe’s G2 Esports and China’s FunPlus Phoenix, has the potential to eclipse that mark.

As is typical for Worlds, the Nov. 10 event is sold out. It will be preceded by a Friday ceremony at the Eiffel Tower featuring the work of Louis Vuitton and a pre-match performance Sunday featuring world famous musicians. It will be the culmination of a project for which planning began last November. And it is of a size and scale that was inconceivable to those who worked on the original event eight years ago, one held inside a conference hall in Sweden.

Now an international cultural touchstone for hundreds of millions of young people, the idea of hosting a tournament was a matter of debate within the Riot Games less than a decade ago, when it was a nascent company in Los Angeles founded by a couple of college buddies.

“Most people were very skeptical about esports, including a lot of people inside the company,” Riot Games Co-Founder Marc Merrill said in an interview with The Washington Post, recalling that he was met with “chuckles” when he would bring up the idea of competitive play. “That was something I remember very acutely.”

League of Legends, the multiplayer online battle arena game, had been on the market for about two years and had already built a strong community of players around its free-to-play model. However it lacked a full competitive experience until the introduction of ranked play and draft mode in mid-2010. Merrill said there were only a “handful” of people at Riot who believed in the future of competitive play, but that core group quickly expanded as data points began to suggest the company might be sitting on a viewership geyser.

The first major test for their concept came in 2011, at what is considered the first Worlds tournament. The event was hosted by Dreamhack at a convention center in Jönköping, Sweden. Gamers brought their own computers, networked them together and competed in front of thousands of fans. However, it was very much an open question as to whether people would tune in to watch outside the walls of the convention center.

“At the time, League of Legends was a big game but it [was just] another game alongside many other games at these multigame weekend conventions," Riot’s Esports Director Whalen Rozelle said.

The result? Hundreds of thousands watched online.

“We were blown away by the response, by how many people wanted to tune into the action,” said Merrill.

That same year, Justin.tv launched Twitch, a gaming-centric, live-streamed video site that sought to capitalize on the millions of people who were already watching gaming content on their site. [Editor’s note: Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.] This platform allowed a relatively accessible and convenient way for mass audiences to watch esports without mainstream media buy-in or support.

Finding backing from mainstream outlets proved challenging given the game’s complexities, which some first-time viewers have difficulty deciphering. In League, two teams of five players try to destroy each other’s base. The game features over 140 characters, called champions, each with different abilities. For those who can follow it, the game lends itself to exciting viewing moments. A famous one in Worlds lore was when player Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martinez’s champion, was one hit away from being killed but managed to evade opponents and win the day.

That was also a dynamic the league’s founders experienced early on as the tournament’s expansion produced some potentially devastating growing pains.

Panic and pain

On the strength of what they saw in Sweden, Riot decided to bring competitions in-house, developing the League Championship Series in 2012 and running the league itself. The goal, Merrill said, was to build the architecture to enable League to “be a real sport,” complete with a regular schedule, teams and salaries for players. Salaries for starters in North America now average $350,000.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How would we rethink this?’" said Rozelle, who was hired in 2012 to develop esports for the company and is related to Pete Rozelle, the NFL’s former commissioner. "The core of it was, ‘Okay, we’re fans of sports, we’re fans of video games and we’re fans of esports. What are the best things that we can pull from all three things?'”

Their ideas manifested in the Season 2 Worlds event, the initial rounds of which were held in a courtyard outside the Staples Center, home of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and the NHL’s Kings. It drew passionate fans, many of whom came sporting homemade costumes of characters from the game. It was another key moment for Riot, which had created the event from scratch. By all accounts the first matches had gone well. But then, in the middle of a quarterfinals match, the game stalled due to an Internet connectivity issue.

“Your heart sinks so low," Merrill said. "You’re instantly going into the worst case assumptions.”

Merrill recalled a “moment of panic, followed by the pain and knowledge that this is really bad, followed by the motivation to move forward and do the right thing.”

Rozelle, who was in the broadcast truck when it happened, put it more bluntly, “Holy s---, I can’t believe this is happening,” he remembers thinking. “It just breaks your heart.”

Left without any other options, they decided to restart the match. Then the game stalled again. After several hours of trying to resolve it, the technical issue remained. Brandon Beck, who founded Riot alongside Merrill, went out on stage, apologized, and offered those in attendance $25 of in-game currency along with free merchandise and pizza. The crowd erupted in joy.

With their customers satiated, Riot ultimately resolved the technical problem by creating offline servers and adding satellite Internet backup options, which they deployed at the finals, held at Galen Center, home to the University of Southern California’s basketball teams.

“It was us growing up quickly, when it came to live event production and knowing that you can’t rely on your planning to always go well,” said Rozelle.

Merrill said that Season 2′s World Championship was a huge inflection point for the community, which further validated their belief that live esports events could take root and succeed in North America, and beyond.

“It felt like a borderline religious experience, being in that arena,” said Merrill of the finals at the Galen Center, owing to the excitement generated by enthusiastic crowds, orchestral music, and the overall celebration of League.

It also brought a mandate to spend more money.

‘No one is going to do this for us’

By 2013, Riot set its sights higher, taking the event inside the Staples Center, utilizing a seating configuration the building used for concerts. The event sold out in an hour, according to Forbes.

Rozelle said the Staples Center staff was initially confused about the nature of the event, thinking that thousands of people were coming to play video games. It took mutual connections to assuage concerns about Riot’s bona fides and the event they planned to hold, according to Rozelle.

Just as they scaled up their live event, they also worked to professionalize their broadcast product. At the 2013 Worlds, 32 million people watched at least part of the broadcast via Twitch. While those figures are not a one-to-one comparable to TV’s Nielsen ratings, the mass global audience did show how live-streamed esports can stack up favorably against linear programming.

From a production standpoint, Riot found that endemic companies were busy with their own programs and “not so interested” in League, according to Merrill. Traditional sports-related outlets and companies simply did not understand the concept of esports. That made it clear what their next challenge would be.

“We have to go build the expertise and do this ourselves, because no one is going to do this for us, or help solve the problems,” Merrill said.

Riot was able to hire some people with expertise, such as Ariel Horn, who had experience with the NFL and Olympics, but by and large the company relied on itself to determine what a competitive esports league should look like and then develop the know-how to execute their plans.

Traditional outlets have since come around with more than 30 television and digital platforms having aired events in 13 different languages, including ESPN and SYFY.

The move to South Korea for the 2014 final was a natural one for Riot. League’s early success was due in large part to engagement from Korean gamers, who also provided a sense of legitimacy to the esports league in its early days. South Korea is a mecca of esports, where televised tournaments have taken place for more than 15 years.

Signaling how big Worlds had become, it was hosted at the Seoul World Cup Stadium. The headline performer was Imagine Dragons.

In 2015 and 2016, the championship continued its global tour, moving to Berlin and then back to Los Angeles.

A global league with global challenges

Riot has staged these large scale events with a small core team — between six and seven people, all of whom have other responsibilities at the company — throughout the year, according to Adam Mackasek, who has worked on the company’s global events since 2014. The team can expand to around 50 people, between employees and contractors, closer to event dates. Mackasek said planning for Worlds begins the day after the current year’s event ends. Logistics present challenge enough, but those are complicated further by having a global league that features international competitions.

“Geopolitics plays a big role,” Rozelle said. “We have competitors coming from everywhere and one of the challenges is getting people from everywhere to places that they may not have great government affiliations.”

Rozelle said Riot is able to lean on Chinese conglomerate Tencent, which owns Riot Games, for matters concerning the Chinese government, and will find more informal routes to lobby officials in the U.S. “Maybe somebody knows a congressman or a senator and we have to reach out and try to get visas," Rozelle said.

Once players and fans arrive, a different set of challenges arise, as Riot has to find ways to engage with, close to literally, the entire world, informing and entertaining millions with vastly different backgrounds and interests.

“We reach a generation that’s very hard to reach in traditional channels these days,” said John Needham, global head of esports at Riot. “We are the next big sport, the next big wave in sports.”

For the last few years, Riot has tried to push the envelope for its live experience, rivaling events such as the Olympics — and arguably exceeding the World Cup and Super Bowl, with its technological innovation and production value.

In 2017, the World Championship in China saw an augmented reality dragon flying through the stadium and last year’s event in Korea featured an entire augmented reality K-Pop vocal group called K/DA perform alongside its real-world vocalists. The group’s Spotify page shows more than 101 million plays for their song “POP/STARS.”

“We did the [augmented reality] dragon in 2017, and so I was like. ‘Oh how can we push that a little further?'" said Toa Dunn, head of music at Riot. “And I said, ‘Imagine, instead of just a dragon, four members of pop band.' And even that, we had to learn how to do that."

Hundreds of millions of viewers are expected to watch at least part of this year’s World Championship in Paris, in addition to the sold-out crowd at AccorHotels Arena. The spectator experience in France will include a fan village next to the Paris City Hall, complete with player meet-and-greets, demos of pro gaming setups, customized videos, scavenger hunts and a speaker series.

Despite overseeing the most-watched esports event in the world, Merrill said he and his team are still getting used to their role in the culture.

“People have tried to make fun of me constantly,” Merrill said of his love of gaming. “We’re so focused or heads-down in our own little world that we are sort of nervous to go broader. ... Are people still going to be mean to us? And isn’t that cool when that doesn’t happen?”

The increased scope and popularity of the league has also brought new sets of concerns, particularly when current events creep into the picture. Just as the NFL struggled to find the balance between the freedom of its players to protest over the past several years, esports has had to handle a similar incident when a player in the Activision Blizzard-run Hearthstone league, spoke out in support of Hong Kong protesters and was punished. The incident sparked an awkward back and forth between Blizzard and outraged players, some of whom threatened to boycott the company.

“We’re going to try to be as agnostic as possible,” said Needham.

To a degree, the incident will serve as the backdrop to Sunday’s next installment of the World Championship, which will pit European-based G2 against China’s FunPlus Phoenix. It may also serve as a prelude to 2020, when the World Championship will return to China.

“We don’t think about geopolitical realities in any specific area of the world, as much as we just focus on delivering a great experience in game and with our sport," Needham said.

Wow eSports Crowdfunding

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Competitors, Influencers Express Concerns with Crowdfunding for WoW Esports Events at Blizzcon

  • Kelvin “Snutz” Nguyen said that Blizzard used deceptive language in its crowdfunding efforts for World of Warcraft esports.
  • Blizzard confirmed to competitors that it was not contributing $500K USD to the Arena World Championship and Mythic Dungeon Invitational prize pool.
  • The news came following successful sales of in-game cosmetics meant to crowdfund the prize pools.

Cloud9 World of Warcraft player Kelvin “Snutz” Nguyen spoke out about what he perceived to be deceptive language by Blizzard Entertainment regarding the crowdfunding efforts that the developer used to build prize pools for the Arena World Championship and Mythic Dungeon Invitational set for this weekend at BlizzCon.

In a blog post earlier this week, Blizzard announced that the prize pool for each event would be $330K (totaling $660K) thanks to crowdfunding efforts. Since March, Blizzard has been selling an in-game toy for World of Warcraft with the intent of using 25% of the proceeds to help fund the prize pool of the WoW’s year-end esports competitions, similar to the way that Dota 2 crowdfunds The International.

In the official Blizzard post from March, the developer stated that the two events had a “guaranteed minimum prize pool of $500,000,” or $250K for each event.

“For a limited time, every purchase of the Transmorpher Beacon or Lion’s Pride and Horde’s Might Fireworks, 25% of the proceeds will contribute toward the year’s finals LAN event prize pool,” the post stated. “Your support will help take the WoW esports prize pool to the next level.”

Because of the wording in Blizzard’s initial blog post, many competitors, including Nguyen were under the impression that the base prize pool for the event of $500K was going to be Blizzard’s contribution to prizing and that any proceeds from toy sales would be added onto that.

At a player meeting earlier this week, Nguyen said that players were informed of the prize pool, and when they inquired about it, they were told that because 25% of the proceeds from the toy sales exceeded the base prize pool of $500K that Blizzard would not contribute any money to prizing.

At the beginning of the year, Blizzard announced plans to revamp its WoW esports efforts by increasing prize pools with the use of crowdfunding, as well as supporting events throughout the year with two seasons of competition for both the Arena World Championship and Mythic Dungeon Invitational.

In a tweet earlier this week, Nguyen explained that Blizzard made approximately $2.6M in sales for the crowdfunding toy, but only increased the AWC prize pool by $50K.

Prior to the addition of crowdfunding this year, Blizzard contributed $250-280K in prizing per year for the Arena World Championship event at BlizzCon. The Mythic Dungeon Invitational, was started in 2017 with a global finals that had a $100K prize pool.

Following Nguyen’s tweet, WoW’s most-watched influencer on Twitch Zack “Asmongold” (last name unknown) brought the competitor onto his stream to discuss the situation as a number of his viewers brought the news to his attention.

“It’s not even about the amount. I don’t compete in WoW for the money,” Nguyen said. “They didn’t put it in their blog post for obvious reasons, but they gave me permission to Tweet what I want, and I’m allowed to take my stance on things. Hopefully, they come out with confirmation and stuff, but it’s a little ridiculous.”

Asmongold added to the conversation expressing an equal amount of disappointment and even went as far as to analyze Blizzard’s original post from March to explain his feelings.

“I know this is really granular, and it’s not the only definition of ‘contribute,’ but ‘contribute’ is a word that implies a shared responsibility,” Asmongold said. “I would feel that if I was using the word ‘contribute’ that I was working with Blizzard contribute to this, not necessarily funding it directly. … It’s an example of language that leads people to deceive themselves.”

Asmongold said that he believes that Blizzard should have at the very least been more transparent with their intentions for the prize pool. When crowdfunding plans were announced both Asmongold and Nguyen supported the efforts by promoting them to their followers, and Asmongold even purchased the in-game product himself.

“I defended (the 25% mark for toy proceeds),” Asmongold said. “That’s industry standard. Dota does the same (expletive) thing.”

Nguyen took Asmongold’s reference to Dota 2’s crowdfunding for The International as an opportunity to interject by expressing what he believes that tournament does correctly with its prize pool.

For The International, Dota 2’s developer Valve provides a base prize pool of $1.6M. From there crowdfunding efforts only add to the prize pool amount with this year’s contributions reaching $32.73M for a total prize pool of $34.33M.

“It’s not like Dota takes that away if (crowdfunding) does really well, which it does. They just add it on top of what they make from the crowdfunding,” Nguyen said.

The Esports Observer has reached out to Blizzard Entertainment for comment and will update this article should they respond.

 

The World’s First Dedicated Esports Racing Arena Is Coming to Miami

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Miami is the first venue for a planned series of multi-purpose esports arenas worldwide.

The world’s first dedicated esports racing facility is coming to Miami courtesy of Millennial Esports Corp, and the company says it won’t be the last one. In fact, according to president and CEO Darren Cox, it will be “the first of many locates around the world.” “These centers will hold major local and international competitions, be used for both amateur and professional driver training and also stage major corporate events,” he said in Thursday’s announcement.

Esports is having a moment: Streaming is up 41% from last year alone and esports streamers like Ninja are bona fide celebrities with hefty online followings. Millennial Esports is pushing to “professionalize global esports racing competition” with the 12,000 square-foot arena, according to the announcement. It will feature 30 racing simulators that can be raced on individually, linked with other rigs in the building or globally networked. There will also be a full-sized full-motion simulator like the ones used by major professional race teams.

The company has secured $2.8 million in private construction financing to complete the build-out. Millennial Esports has a controlling stake in specialist racing simulator constructor Allinsports and the arena is the continuation of a joint plan launched in August.

“Creating our first arena is an important step in Millennial Esports’ goal of taking esports racing to an entirely new level,” Cox said. “Allinsports already have a driver training simulator facility in Miami, but our new arena will take esports racing to an entirely new level. Esports is the fastest growing sport in the world, but the racing genre of esports is ready to take a massive leap.”