Behind every great production stands a team of hard-working people. Quite literally so, in the case of Yulia "Yuli" Morozova. The Russian-born referee has been standing guard behind Europe's greatest League of Legends players for years. But what else does a referee at the League of Legends European Championship do? And how do you even become a referee at the LEC? Yuli joined us in an interview to explain everything about her job.
Welcome Yuli! Let's start at the beginning: how long have you been a referee now, and how did you get started?
I've been a referee since 2015, so five years now. It's been a long time. *laughs* It was quite lucky, how I got involved. Back then the LEC—or EU LCS, I suppose—had just moved to Berlin. I was just attending as a regular viewer, but when I saw Riot Games employees I thought that it couldn't hurt to take a chance and ask if they needed help. I told them: "I imagine you still are looking for people, and if you need help: I live nearby. I'd be happy to help with whatever you need." Thankfully they did need people!
I thought that moment was the best chance to take. If not now, then when? One of my mottos in life is: If you don't try, you won't know. I didn't start as a referee though. I started at the entrance area, welcoming the guests, taking their bags and jackets. I did that for a week or two until someone approached me and asked me: "Hey, we're looking for somebody who can look after the players. You've been doing a good job here, so would you like to do that?" I said yes, and I've been a referee ever since.
Can you run me through the average day for you, when you have to be a referee at the LEC?
So, today [Friday] I arrived at 4:30 pm. We generally arrive quite long before the show starts. Then we have a briefing, mixed with lunch. While we eat together we talk about what the day will look like, which bugs might occur in the game, other things we need to look out for et cetera. It's a friendly, chatty atmosphere, but it's still a working environment. Then we'll set up the stage for the first two teams that are playing by preparing their keyboards and mice—that's also part of what a referee does.
Then we'll wait for the players to enter the stage. We scan the players before they go on stage because they're not allowed to take any electronic devices on stage. It's similar to what they do at the airport. We have one of those scanners. *laughs* Once the players enter the stage we have about fifteen minutes—thirty for the first game—to prepare the players. They go into a custom game and check their settings, their volume, the lighting et cetera. If something isn't working, we're the first person they can come to.
"I feel pretty comfortable even if the situation is stressful. I know that I have the tools to handle the situation."
You mention that you're also in charge of getting players' equipment ready on stage. Is there a big cabinet backstage with all players' keyboards and mice?
Exactly! We have a cabinet for every single team. They have these really fancy stickers on them with the team logo. There we have what all the players, including substitutions, use. Every mouse, every keyboard. Plus, we have backups for every single keyboard and mouse, in case something isn't working.
Outside of match days, how involved are you and the other referees with the LEC?
As a referee, you're not really involved outside of the show. We just come here on match days, which is two days a week. We are contractors from a different company that works with Riot. We're here for referee work, and that's about it. Our head referee is a Rioter, so if there is any feedback needed we'll talk about it in our Whatsapp group together.
So the referees have their own club in the LEC? *laughs*
We're best friends! We have three referees currently. I've been working here since 2015, and the other two are friends of mine who I recommended for the job. If you're in this esports/gaming space, of course you also play games. If my friend has been playing this game, knows a lot about it, has been following esports and knows the players, of course I can recommend them. We play League together quite a lot.
You must have picked up a lot of League of Legends knowledge from listening to the players' chat in the last five years.
Yeah! Especially when they warm up, during the transition times. They'll try out combos and such. They'll also talk to one another about things they have discovered. They'll say: "Oh this is OP right now!" So I get a lot of information input. Especially when it comes to mechanically challenging, combo-heavy champions, like Irelia or Akali, I'll watch the players and learn new things. Sometimes you'll see them do something you didn't know was possible and think: "Oh my god, I can do that too!" You can also pick up things like that by watching their streams or Pro View, of course.
As referees, how good do you have to be at League of Legends?
Well, you have to have a certain amount of game knowledge to be able to do the job. Obviously, we're not at the pro level. The highest rank we have is Diamond II. Having a high rank is not a requirement. You just have to understand the game, so you can understand what's happening and know how to react.
During the match, you listen to the voice comms of the team you're monitoring. Every now and then we get a taste of the funny things players say during the match. But since you've been here for five years, you must have heard many hilarious moments.
Yeah. I'm often asked what the most fun moment was, but I can never quite pinpoint it. There are so many fun moments. When you've done this for five years, you have fun listening to pretty much every team. There are some moments that stand out. One that comes to mind now is with Rekkles and Hylissang. They were playing against G2. Fnatic was losing and everybody was on the edge of their seats. I remember that Hylissang was playing Rakan, and that they were base-racing. Rekkles was screaming at Hylissang: "Hylie please finish the game! Hylie please! Hylie please!" The moment was so exciting. Those close moments are always the most fun to listen to. But there have been so many others.
Is it ever difficult to keep your composure when something's really tense or funny?
Well, if I want to laugh I can laugh. Our headphones are on 'push to talk' so even if I laugh, nobody is going to hear it. Everybody has noise-canceling headsets. Even if I speak, the players don't hear it. And the audience is very far away, so they wouldn't hear it. I'm not very limited in the way I can react, so if I'm enjoying something I'll laugh.
There are many fun moments, but sometimes there's something that goes wrong. Have there been very stressful moments in your career?
Because I've been doing it for this long, I feel pretty comfortable even if the situation is stressful. I know that I have the tools to handle the situation. Also, I'm not the only person working there. There are so many people behind the stage that I can talk to if something is troublesome. I'm never very worried.
Sometimes there are technical issues, which you can't predict, and you have to solve them as fast as possible. I think we're really good at that. Over the years we've gotten extremely good at solving problems quickly. I can't remember something that was particularly difficult to deal with. Sometimes the players can be little divas, but that's ok. I really like them, so I know how to deal with them. I know how they tick. Overall it's a really fun job.
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.