The LEC is going through a phase of rejuvenation and reinvention. Three years into the franchise, new analysts, interviewers, and casters are being introduced to the broadcast, digging into the talent pool of the LPL and European Regional Leagues (ERL). While the increased variety of talent adds interesting new dynamics to the broadcast, it also brings new struggles behind the scenes. Casting is an incredibly competitive field. No matter how well they get along on and off the broadcast, ultimately they’re all trying to get their time in front of the camera.
Riot Games, with their monopoly on large League of Legends tournaments, is the arbiter deciding which casters get the opportunity to prove themselves. Playing that role while juggling several interests has proven to be a difficult task. In the offseason, Marc “Caedrel” Lamont hinted in several Tweets that he might not be returning to the LEC broadcast. Long-time host Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere also posted that her negotiations were unresolved at the start of the year, resulting in her missing out on the first four weeks of the Spring Split. Christy “Ender” Frierson left the LEC in 2021 after he expressed his interest in casting VALORANT, but was allegedly told he couldn’t combine the two. Now, Riot’s rules have changed and several people, including Ender, have made appearances on the LEC as well as European VALORANT tournaments.
Riot in clash with seasoned talent
The environment Riot Games harbored for LEC talent also came under severe scrutiny this year. In January, former LEC analyst and color caster Indiana “Froskurinn” Black accused the LEC of nepotism, bullying, sexism, and leaving her unpaid for six months. Riot Games did not publicly comment on the allegations, despite having said to be committed to improving the workplace environment after the company was exposed for creating a workplace environment rampant with problems.
During the final weekend of the 2022 LEC Spring Split playoffs, Head of Esports for League of Legends EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) Maximilian Schmidt spoke to Inven Global’s Tom Matthiesen. They discussed the workload for casters in the LEC, the complexity of juggling multiple interests with talent, and the allegations made by Froskurinn.
We've seen a lot of new talent in the LEC recently. Nymaera, Dagda... How do you feel about these new faces showing up?
I think it's awesome. I think it's incredible to actually see as much of a diverse cast and as much of a diverse production as we can achieve, honestly. It allowed us to get some incredible new angles. Dagda is incredibly experienced, obviously, and brings a lot of knowledge from the LPL. Nymaera knows a lot about the ERL ecosystem. That, I think, is incredible to add to the existing staff that we already have for the LEC. I think they've also had a fantastic start, I have to say.
"We don't want people working six days a week. That's not super healthy."
They seem to grind a lot as new casters, to be honest. Because Dagda also does LPL; Nymaera, as you said, also does ERL casting. It's sometimes like they're on the broadcast for six days a week, or at least working on it. How do you feel about that?
I honestly do not know what their schedules look like exactly. I would want to make sure, obviously, that they are comfortable with the work that they're putting in. If that were to become a habit, that would definitely potentially be a concern on my end. We don't want people working six days a week. That's not super healthy. But that is something that I didn't know and I will look into.
Casting is a very competitive field. Obviously, they'll be professional on broadcast, but they're all trying to get that spot on the show. We recently saw in VALORANT that Riot Games suddenly got rid of Sean Gares and ddk despite being beloved. I realize that the LEC is more established already, but how do you handle competition between casters?
Honestly, I'm not the best person to talk about that topic specifically. Our broadcast lead would be way better equipped to say how they think about the different casters throughout the year. I know that when it comes to structuring our arrangements with the casters, we obviously set expectations with them as well. We want to make sure that everybody knows, going into the season, that they have an understanding of how much of a level of involvement they would have with the broadcast itself. Then we leave us some wiggle room in the end to make sure that we can tweak where necessary and we can potentially bring in new guests or give additional opportunities to some of the existing casters.
Ender is now back on the broadcast and he's doing a very good job. But last year, he felt pressured to leave because he wanted to cast European VALORANT as well as LEC. Now, apparently, those rules have changed. Can you elaborate why those rules were there to begin with and what has changed?
I do not really have the expertise to talk on that specifically because it's a very VALORANT-specific topic and I'm not the expert on VALORANT, right?
No, but I think it was the LEC who said that he could not do VALORANT and the LEC together.
That may have been a stance that happened and that existed back in the day. If I had to assume, I would guess that it's likely because VALORANT wanted to ensure that they have the opportunity to create their own brand, create their own product, and not feel like the little brother of the LEC. I think, if there was a straight-up copy-paste of the entirety of the talent, I'd understand how people could come to that conclusion. I'd also understand that they wanted to prevent that. But as I said, I'm not the best person to talk on the VALORANT-side.
[Writer's note: Maximilian Schmidt told Inven Global directly after the interview was conducted that Riot would look into providing more context surrounding the caster rules for the LEC and VALORANT EMEA. As of publishing this article, Riot Games has not responded to multiple requests for said context.]
"It's just a process of alignment to make sure that everybody understands the opposing side, where they're coming from, and what they're trying to achieve, what they want to get out of that relationship"
I don't want to talk too much about the VALORANT side. But I do want to talk a bit more about that competitiveness and hiring casters. We saw in the offseason that it appeared Caedrel wouldn't be returning even though he was very beloved. Sjokz's negotiations also took very long. The LEC has existed for so long, why do those things still happen?
I think it's super normal, honestly, that negotiations happen between both parties. There are legitimate interests on both sides when it comes to expectations when it comes to looking at the entirety of the year. It's just a process of alignment to make sure that everybody understands the opposing side, where they're coming from, and what they're trying to achieve, what they want to get out of that relationship in the end. I'm super happy that we're able to come to that mutual ground and that mutual understanding with both Caedrel and Sjokz and all the other talent that we have at the moment.
I heard that Riot told Caedrel "Well, thanks for what you've done" and then that was kind of it.
[Laughs] That's definitely not the case.
Another topic is something that I mailed the LEC about three times back then but unfortunately didn't get a reply about. In January, one of your former casters Froskurinn made a comment on Reddit and said that there was a period where she wasn't paid for six months by the LEC. What are your thoughts on that? Has it happened with other casters?
Not that I'm aware of. Again, I'm not the broadcast on-air specialist—
No, but you're the head of European League. It falls under your domain.
Certainly, certainly. I'm happy to follow up on that and check in with the head of broadcast to make sure we understand where the potential issue was and to make sure that we obviously fixed that if it has been the case.
"I think we are trying to be 100% fair when it comes to our decisions, when it comes to hiring, when it comes to contract negotiations, etc."
As I said though, I've mailed about it three times and I'm sure that, given the buzz it caused on social media, someone at Riot will have noticed. Someone must have checked what happened there, right?
Potentially. I'll look into that. I'm happy to let Jian [PR for Riot EMEA] know to follow up with you as soon as I know more. I'm not aware of that specific incident and I'm not aware of six months of no payment. That being said, if that is an ongoing issue and it's still not fixed, that's something that should be remedied.
Another thing she said was that there was a lot of nepotism in the hiring process, that there was a lot of workplace toxicity, she also said that she was subject to sexist remarks. Those are heavy allegations. Are you aware of those? Because if those allegations happen, I assume that's something you want to be aware of.
Absolutely and I appreciate you pushing that forward. From my perspective, I'm not aware of any ongoing issues in that regard. On the contrary. I think we are trying to be 100% fair when it comes to our decisions, when it comes to hiring, when it comes to contract negotiations et cetera. I'd be surprised if that was the case.
Well you say "ongoing issues" but she has obviously left and no longer works with the LEC. Was that an issue at the time?
I do not know.
You do not know. Alright so, if someone made an allegation of "hey, there's sexism," that didn't reach you? Because she said she called it out internally.
It really depends on timing, right? Just for full transparency, I got into this role last year and that was also during the process of Frosk leaving. That may have just been something that has been handled by my predecessor. But again, as I said, I'm happy to follow up on that to understand that potential issue.
[Writer's note: Despite Inven Global reaching out multiple times, Riot Games did not provide the promised follow-up answers regarding Froskurinn's allegations as of publishing this article.]
I'm definitely gonna follow up on that. Well, to round up then, a final question about the broadcast: The talent pool has diversified a lot, as you said. Where do you see this development go? Are we gonna see ten more casters in the Summer Split as well to make the picture complete?
[Laughs] I think it's fair to say that we're not looking for ten new casters for Summer, at least not that I'm aware of. That being said, I think creatively it's important that you challenge yourself creatively, and this isn't something that's specific to casters. I really mean the entirety of the LEC product. What I tend to say is that, if you are not failing from time to time when it comes to your product, then you're probably not challenging yourself enough, right? It's definitely something where we are going to continue to experiment on our end to also understand what the right balance is. How do we create the best product for our fans? Ultimately, that's the goal. Talent obviously plays a major factor in that.
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.