[Interview] Meet Jin Yae-won, the global PD of the LCK

 

Jin Yae-won is the LCK global production PD in Riot Korea. From managing the global casters, the contents that penetrate through Korea to the global fans go through her. Even during Worlds or the recent Mid-Season Cup, she is one of the busiest people in the scene. Although the LCK’s position isn’t as high as before, the league is trying to reach out to the global community more than ever. It’s the busiest time for Yae-won.

 

Last 16th, we met up with Yae-won at LoL Park where it was quite busy preparing for the summer season. While talking to her, we were able to see her responsibility of being the bridge between the LCK and global fans. Starting as a passionate gamer, from an LCK fan waiting in line to get tickets to the leader of LCK’s globalization, let’s see what Rioter Jin Yae-won had to say.

 


 

Hi! Nice to meet you. Can you introduce yourself?

 

Hello, I’m Jin Yae-won, the global PD of LCK.



What do you mainly do?

 

I basically do everything related to the LCK global production. From producing the LCK English broadcast to managing the global casters. Another part of my job is to coordinate the process of sending the LCK broadcast the partners around the world so that it can be translated to Chinese, French, etc. Other than that, I’m responsible for making contents during international competitions as well.



Since you mentioned the global casters, how did Wadid take part in the global casting team? Was it his idea or Riot’s?

 

In the spring season, one of the global casters, Egym, wasn’t able to come to Korea. At that time, Wadid filled in about twice, saving the day. The reaction was really wild, since he has experience as a player and knows the balance between the Korean and western culture. There hadn’t been anyone among the casters that could deliver the Korean culture and sentiment and Wadid did that perfectly. Obviously, since it’s his first time, it wouldn’t be perfect, but he tries hard to improve through his feedback. We really liked it when he filled in, so we asked him and he said OK.



How did you first start doing this job?

 

Should I say it was destiny? (Laughs) Before I started this job, I was completing my doctoral degree and working on my thesis. It was about esports. I hadn’t thought of working in a company again when I heard that there was such a position. I didn’t have much information, but I gathered my records and sent in a resume right away that night. I thought this was something I must do.

 

 

What was the biggest reason you decided to work here?

 

Previously, I was a game planner/analyzer in NC Soft. I participated in developing Guild War 2 or WildStar. I thought that I understood foreign gamers through doing that work. I was also interested in how the media environment would change in the future while studying about the media culture. My original major was on movie production. So with these experiences, I gained confidence and thought I would be able to create a meaningful value.

 

I loved gaming as well. I played League of Legends in the NA server and was a hardcore MMORPG user. I used be one of the top rankers in Aion, going into battle with dozens of guild members. Now, there aren’t any new popular MMORPG games… League of Legends is the only game to rely on.

 

My tier isn’t that high, since I’m quite old now. I used to be in gold, now I’m silver… But I understand the game a lot better (Laughs). Recently, I’ve been enjoying Teamfight Tactics. I’ve been in platinum for a while.



You’ve should have done a lot of things here. What was the most memorable?

 

The most memorable work I did was probably my first content, The Pog State. I had the content go up to the ninth episode without causing an issue. The reaction was alright as well. There were many viewers scattered around the world, and I wanted to create the first content that all those viewers can enjoy together. I put a lot of thought into it from last July and started it early this year and was able to cover a lot of stories in the LCK that the audience wants.

 

More than the video, we hit 1st often on the Apple podcast rankings. Recently, we hit 1st in the Korean podcast ranking and got to 12th in USA’s rankings. Other than that, it was ranked high in many other countries as well. That made me think we reached that goal of having many viewers around the world see this content, so it’s really meaningful. If the fans can smile through our content at least once, that’s when I feel my work was worthwhile.



As you said, you would put a lot of thought when you introduce LCK content to the global fans or when working on a project. What’s the number one priority when you work?

 

Since esports is still developing, there still are parts where it’s in disorder. It’s all to help the esports culture move forward, so we approach very carefully. When we shoot for three hours, it usually gets edited to about one hour. For example, we want our fans to watch and listen to our content and think through our information, but there are times when our panel’s opinions are too strong.

 

When we had a survey globally, the viewers’ ages were younger than I thought, so I had to think more about how to create content that both the original viewers and the younger generation that are new to esports can enjoy together. In the future, I’ll be trying to interact and communicate better.



The coronavirus also affected the esports industry. What has changed the most?

 

A lot of things changed with the coronavirus. The LCS is having remote broadcast and we did as well. The pandemic changed many things for us. There were many technological challenges for us and the viewers were probably affected as well. Through the coronavirus, the esports industry has mostly improved. Compared to traditional sports, it’s fortunate that the esports environment can be maintained.

 

There’s a lot more work, though, so it wasn’t easy. Production needs to have many people gather, so there was risks we needed to take that wasn’t visible to the audience. Still, moving on with the league and giving fans content to enjoy was important so I kept working with a mask on. Because of the mask, I got skin issues. (Laughs)

 

 

How did the Mid-Season Cup come to be? Many fans think everything started from Joe Marsh, but I heard that you were planning it before he mentioned it.

 

That’s right. We had discussed it from quite a while ago and this was just the proper opportunity. Although we had been discussing it from long ago, when to have the tournament held wasn’t decided. When this year’s MSI was canceled, we wanted to give the fans something to enjoy during the long offseason and this idea was the best answer to present. There were technological challenges such as raising the ping artificially. Many of us thought, ‘Can we do this?’ but we all worked hard and made it possible.



I think you would take into measure foreign league productions when you create content. What do you consider the most?

 

We watch almost all the content the foreign league productions make and think how we can be different. If there’s something unique that the LCS or LEC have, we thought a lot about what the LCK has that is distinguished from the others. There isn’t that much content yet, so we’ve been keeping an eye on more things and thinking what would be better. It’s probably the same situation in the LPL as well. They also made a podcast recently, and I’m kind of proud that ours is doing a bit better (Laughs).



Compared to the past, the position the LCK has in the international scene has declined. Has anything changed in the global department?

 

The number of viewers wasn’t affected at all. The LCK has its own unique characteristics and history. Apart from the past, it has its own style. The fans are still very interested. There are areas that are completely different from other leagues and I’m thankful that the fans recognize that.

 

Global viewers often get affected by the casters’ styles. They consider each league as the same esports and just think that the casters are different. In that matter, the casters are doing really great and that could be one of the reasons that the number of viewers wasn’t affected at all.



How do you feel about the LCK’s position as a LoL fan?

 

Terr… Terrible (Laughs). But we can’t always be in first place and there are always opportunities in critical situations. If there were things the LCK was doing well, there are parts where we lack. Those areas can seem bigger in this era where the meta is changing rapidly. It could be a chance the LCK can improve more… And I have high expectations for this summer.

 

 

LCK will be franchised starting next year. How would the franchising affect global production?

 

With franchising, many things will become more systematic. Each team will consider the foreign market more importantly and this would make the global LCK broadcast more important. So we need to improve more and it’ll be positive if we can deliver better content to the viewers.



Korean and western cultures are clearly quite different. What’s difficult and what’s interesting about that difference?

 

It’s quite different, right? The memes differ from region to region, and there are a LOT. I’ve always been a gamer so I always thought that I know the memes in communities quite well, but there are so many that are generated from the Korean and English communities. If I monitor the memes in the English communities for a few days, it’s hard to follow the Korean ones. All I could do is work harder and get familiar with the memes.

 

On the other hand, there are memes that are hot regardless of the region. Everyone enjoyed the ‘DUDUDUNGA’ which was popular around the world as much as it was popular in Korea. Also, since we share the same space as the global casters, it’s rather easier to deliver the cultural differences in the game. For example, the expression, ‘Fasting Senna’ wasn’t used in the English environment. But as the LCK global casters started using it, it became global. It was quite interesting to watch the Korean style expression move on globally.



What are the pros and cons of doing this job?

 

The biggest advantage is that the environment is I’m doing what I like and that there are colleagues that are very likable. Another advantage would be that I can always see the players that I like.

 

On the other hand… The work-life balance isn’t guaranteed. Since the esports matches are mainly during the evening, it’s difficult to meet up with friends. It’s kind of working seven days a week since we have five days broadcast and I make content during the other two days. The casters are mostly active from night to dawn so I get contacted at that time often as well. The biggest disadvantage would be that there aren’t any days that I can properly rest, but that’s something I should bear doing what I really enjoy. Isn’t it similar with the journalists? I believe it would be similar if not worse (Laughs).

 

It’s a relatively new industry so I can’t follow others’ steps and I don’t have any strategies not to fail. So there are many trials and errors; everything takes a lot of time.

 

 

What does it mean to you working at Riot as a League of Legends fan?

 

Before I started to work here, I often went through a lot to buy tickets to watch the games at the scene. The fantasies I had back then are now real life. That’s the most positive thing. (There should be counter effects of doing what you really like as well.) I had a huge slump in my former job because of that in my former job. After I overcame that slump, I think I’ve learned to find the balance of doing what I enjoy. If I work too hard since I like it, I could get sick of it, so I did several other things to balance it out.



How did you overcome that slump?

 

I used to work at a production for movies or TV shows. As I went to graduate school, I was fascinated with game production. Back then, there weren’t any proper laws regarding it and games were considered negatively. So my parents and friends all hoped I would just have a taste of the industry and get out.

 

I participated in a huge MMORPG project that hundreds of people participated in, so I thought there wasn’t much I could do alone to make a difference. There was too much time left until launch, and I thought it could go back to square one at any time. I got to think, ‘Do I really need to work this hard?’

 

As the development went on, I went to PAX East in Boston and met up with the users at a small bar. There, a middle-aged gentleman came who was an alpha tester. He already knew some of the developers. When he saw me, he asked who I was and the developer introduced me that I came from the headquarters in Korea and that I make the game flow better, that the battle experience in the 3-6-9 levels was changed by me. Hearing that, the gentleman suddenly held my hand and told me with tearful eyes, “Thank you”.

 

He was a man living in the countryside in the US and had been suffering from depression. One day, he came across this game and gained the courage to continue to live this world as he watched the game world progress. He said that he saved up to fly to Boston to participate in this event and express his gratitude to the developers. When I was back in the hotel after listening to what he had to say, I really cried a lot. I felt that I shouldn’t have been skeptical about myself participating in the development. Meeting that person was a big turning point in my life.



What is your goal or dream?

 

I’d like to do something better for gamers and give something to enjoy for as long as possible. That’s one of the reasons I took the doctoral course. The academic world tries to understand gamers but doesn’t speak for them much, so I’d like to do that as well. If I’m able to do so, I would be able to think that my life is really meaningful.

 

I’ve grown up as a gamer and luckily, I’m at a job that I really know how to enjoy. I want to spread the happiness I gained in that process.



Thank you so much for this interview. Do you have anything to say to the readers?

 

We’ve been preparing many things in thought of what we can do to enjoy the LCK together with worldwide fans. There should be a lot of things that we lack, but I’ll be very thankful if you stay interested and watch our content. Both the Korean fans and global fans have the same passion towards the LCK, so I hope there are more chances everyone could go together. Please give us feedback on what we lack. We’ll be doing our best.

 

 

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