I’ll admit that the title sounds as corny as it gets. I’ll also admit that I, unlike my staff, have only been to NA LCS Studio for a bit less than two months out of my eventful year at the United States.
However, that short memory with NA LCS Studio was firmly imprinted on my mind even as I’ve been in this gaming journalism industry for longer than a decade. It was a fresh, exciting and powerful experience, and I wanted to write down my feelings in words before they get swept away by the World Championship.
Actually, there’s more to this article than just that. I wanted to thank everyone - Rioters, competent yet kind esports writers, pro players who were always happy to talk to us, staff from different organizations and the passionate fans who came to the studio - in the best way that I can. Although I need to have my staff translate this article for me, I believe that this is the best way that this timid gamer who can barely communicate and understand the culture in America can express how he feels.
Before I begin though, I want to emphasize that this article was not written to compare the esports scene of NA and Korea. I've spent more than 30 years of my life in Korea, and I am more than proud of my country that had been a key player in the history of esports and still is the strongest region in League and many other esports. However, unlike a few years before, esports is rapidly expanding all over the world and is posed to become a mainstream entertainment and even 'sports' worldwide. By learning from one another, I believe that we can all work towards this goal to make esports greater than ever before.
I’m hoping that my modest impressions on NA LCS Studio can be a good ice breaker for English-speaking fans and let this be a good opportunity for us to understand each other better.
Reason #1: The venue
“Is this it?” That’s the first thing that I had in mind when I first saw NA LCS Studio. In Korea, every esports stadium is located right in the middle of Korea’s busiest areas, as the target demographic - People in teens to 30s - often prefer to take the public transit to get there.
That’s why SPOTV’s Nexon Arena is located below the ground level of a high rise building in Gangnam, while OGN eSports Stadium, which was built with a joint investment from OGN, Seoul City Council and South Korean Government with millions of dollars, is located in a 20-storey building that are located within 10-minute walking distance from a subway station.
While the United States is substantially larger than South Korea and a car is almost a necessity, it was still a bit jarring for me to see an esports stadium that’s built as spacious as NA LCS studio.
However, it didn’t take long for me to appreciate how a spacious venue that’s located some distance away from the center of city can lead to a very different yet pleasant experience of watching esports in a quieter area.
Fans taking photos, players handing out autographs, a dad playing Tag with his children and a mother coming in with a baby carriage...When I saw how much fans and the players were enjoying the moment that they are in the studio and not just for the anticipation for the upcoming games, I could see how much they are enjoying every moment of them being at the studio.
I know it’s unlikely that we’ll see a large and open esports stadium like this in Korea, but one can hope.
Reason #2: Fans
I was uncertain whether any region could top Korean fans, but I soon found out that NA fans are just as passionate as ours. Even before the game, I could hear the familiar chants of the teams and friends who came to watch the games together while wearing their favorite team’s jersey. Of course, some teams are inevitably more popular and have more fans watching them live, but the difference wasn’t as dramatic as Korea.
Another difference was how the demographic of fans were noticeably different. While the most common demographic was was teens and people in 20s just like in Korea, but I couldn’t help but to notice how easy it was to find a whole family coming to the studio to watch the games.
I saw a young father with his daughter on his shoulder with a hotdog and a cup of Coke on his hand, and I also saw a middle-aged father and mother visiting the venue with their son and daughter. Seeing them watch the games together made me envious as many of middle-aged Koreans still consider liking video games as stigma.
The most memorable fan for me was the person who told me that he flew thousands of miles to here in LA to cheer for the team that he loved. As I watched him shout out as loud as he can, I gained newfound respect for the fans in NA.
Reason #3: The press room and local writers
NA LCS Studio’s Press Room is located in the second floor. There are a two large televisions to watch both games that take place in the venue at the same time, two discrete interview rooms, a lounge and snacks to keep us happy.
The best part of the press room for me is the ‘lookout’ where we can watch the Stadium from above just behind the mechanics. It feels like we are in a control tower of a carrier, and we could tell how much the designer had the passion for gaming and wanted to share it with us.
Though, what makes the press room complete are the people: The local writers who welcomed us wary travellers like their own. They are the reason why the atmosphere of press room is different from that of Korea. It’s never quiet in the NA LCS Studio Press Room because of them, and we’ll ever be grateful for how they let us in in their endless and passionate discussions about the game. They were smart, considerate, kind and knew more about Korea and Korean players than we’ve ever imagined.
Maybe after the Worlds and when the spring split comes, I hope that we’ll have a chance to have a KBBQ all together with the Press Room crew talking about esports.
Reason #4: Post-match interview system
This is, by far, the most distinct difference between the two.
Since Brood War days, South Korea had many tournaments and media presence, so how the interviews are conducted are the same for all esports. The winning player (or players) visit the press room after the match and they’d do a joint interview with all media at the same time. For team games, writers often have to agree with what player to ask for an interview, and there hasn’t been many cases where the player refuses to do an interview from my years of experience. Although it’s good to be assured that we’d have a material to work with, it’s often not enough because the questions can’t really be in depth since all media have to take turns when asking questions.
While it is possible for us to do an individual in-depth interview with a certain player, we need to contact the organizations directly well before the match, and I’ll just say that it isn’t always easy to get the permission to do one.
NA LCS works very differently. Before the day starts, a Riot staff who is in charge of the press room would write down his contact information and the list of players that Riot is planning to do an interview on their own (so that we should avoid trying to do an interview with them) on a whiteboard. It isn’t there to say that it won’t be possible to do an interview with them, but it’s just Riot’s way of being considerate to the media by letting us know which players are likely to be occupied with something else and have higher chance of declining interviews.
When a match is about to be finished, all media need to contact the Riot staff in charge of Press Room, and that staff relays our requests to each team. What surprised me here is how we could even ask for an interview from the losing team, but, conversely, it was possible for us to not get an interview at all if all of our requests get declined.
I loved how the media could choose the player that they want to do an interview on, which meant that we were free to ask any in-depth questions about the players and their team and not just about the match. However, we had to learn from experience that there’s a chance for all requests to be turned down, which meant that we were sitting in the press room for absolutely nothing.
There are pros and cons for both, but I really liked how the interview system in NA LCS allowed me to get more in-depth interviews and get that feeling of anticipation while waiting to hear whether we’d get an interview or not. However, I can’t say that I’m happy with teams that almost always declined our interview requests.
Reason #5: Pro players of NA LCS
Here’s what happens when an interview gets accepted. Some time after the match, the player that we asked for walks into the press room, say “Hello, I’m here for Inven Global?” and everything is good to go. As we walk out to get to the interview room, we see other players chatting with their manager, teammates and even writers to waiting for their turn to be interviewed. Some players even lie down on the couch and do an impromptu interview with a writer who were just being there.
Too many times I saw players being tense and anxious during an interview, but in NA LCS, interview is not a something to be afraid of. Instead, it’s a good opportunity to show their freedom, confidence and what it means to be a pro in this scene.
I remember TSM Doublelift giving us a rundown of League and the current metagame, TL Goldenglue being a gentleman (well, a cheeky gentleman) even when asked a sensitive question about himself and gave us an honest but strong answer, IMT Xmithie showing his confidence and making me feel like I was at an Immortals fan meeting and many other players with different personalities that I cannot forget. With many players that have unique personalities, this might be why NA LCS is one of the most interesting regions in League.
For Korean players like Ssumday, Flame, LirA and Impact, I could feel how much effort that they are putting into in order to adjust themselves to a new country with a new fanbase and to be loved by the fans and their teammates. As a fellow Korean who also came to America with a mission, it was a good opportunity for me to strengthen my resolve to be successful in America.
Reason #6: Riot Game’s passion and investment
Come to think of it, all the reasons that I’ve just wrote down is all thanks to Riot Game’s vision. From the venue, tournament operation, broadcasting and services for the visitors and media, Riot Games have taken care of everything about the Championship like a professional and is still making improvements.
All staff present on site were always on lookout for fans with a smile on their face. Even the security guards looked nice. We could find many Rioters on site during the NA LCS matches, and our communication with them in the press room was always pleasant. We could tell how much Riot Games is dedicated making NA LCS experience the best that they can be.
However, Riot Games’ ‘comprehensive’ scope of operation on NA LCS has made me a bit worried.
Although the beginning of esports in Korea can be traced back to the rising popularity of ‘PC Bangs’ in Korea back in early 2000s, there were a lot of conflicts in between that humble beginning and today. Broadcasting companies, media, writers, developers, freelance shoutcasters - they are only a small portion of people who were involved in the scene; and through conflicts and cooperations, the South Korean esports scene is one of the most robust esports ecosystem in the world.
On the other hand, when all staff - even shoutcasters and photographers - are on Riot’s payroll, it won’t be easy for them to speak out against Riot Games even when something does need to be changed. Without proper criticisms, organizations face stagnancy and risk falling behind.
I cannot say that either keeping everything under own control for stability and risking instability for constant improvement is necessary better than the other. We'll just have to wait to see which works out better for the future of esports.
Number #7: Nachos. Nachos. Nachos.
I swear nachos at NA LCS Studio is beyond a simple snack. I’ve only tried pizzas and hamburgers, but crunchy yet soft texture of nachos, delicious duo of chili sauce and jalapeno, and gulping it down with a bottle of ice cold Diet Coke - they all left me a huge impression on me. I was even ashamed when I realized that the biggest reason that I’ve been coming to NA LCS Studio might have been for the nachos instead of the game.
Alright, I’ll admit it here: Nachos are the biggest reason that I love NA LCS. I know a few writers who’d look at me with disgust when I say this, and although this makes a poor argument, but I have to say it. It’s the best nacho that I’ve ever eaten.
If you’d like to find out yourself why I fell in love with NA LCS nachos, you’ll be able to find the concession stand named “NOMs” after passing by the Battle Theater and the merchandise store. It should be much easier to follow the long line of hungry fans to find it though.
Nacho: 5 dollars and 75 cents.
Coke: 2 dollars.
The feeling from the first bite into the cheesy heaven: Priceless.
I'm the captain of the Inven Global, but I'm doing all sorts of chores. When can I end my journey around the world? :)