Just a few months into League of Legends' rebranded European scene, a new face took control. Alberto Guerrero, previously the country manager of the Iberian region, stepped in to help the LEC propel to new heights. At the LEC Summer Split finals, we sat down with the newly appointed Head of Esports Europe to talk about the challenges European League of Legends faces, and how he plans on tackling those challenges.
You became head of esports in Europe only quite recently. Before that, you took care of the Iberian region. What made you desire to be in charge of the entire European region?
It wasn't particularly about the region. It's more about my connection with esports and gaming from years ago. I started sponsoring a team in 2001, then started organizing internetional competitions for games in 2005. So my connection with esports has been strong for years.
Joining Riot was a massive opportunity for me, to be in touch with the best esports in the world. When John Needham, who now is the Global Head if LoL Esports, asked me to join the Berlin office as Head of Esports Europe, what could I say? Of course! It was a good opportunity to focus on a region that I'm connected with personally. It was a dream job.
To you, what was the biggest difference between working in League of Legends esports and the other esports you'd worked in before?
Hm, well League of Legends is the #1 esport in terms of viewership etc. That means there's a lot of responsibility, that means that you have a lot of impact, that means that your decisions affect many lives. So the team needs to lead by example. We can't only consider what's best for the game, but we also need to consider what's better for the players. Understand what is better from a holistic understanding of the competitive scene.
That's the main difference: we are focussing on one game, but the reach of it is something we need to take into account a lot.
"This ecosystem we have, with different countries and local leagues,
gives us a massive opportunity."
So to you it was a realization of the impact your decisions will have?
Yes. For example: we recently joined the ISFE group to be part of the decisions that are made in the industry. So we can build a better framework for the players and others who enjoy esports.
When you became the Head of Esports Europe, was there a challenge you thought needed to be addressed?
Honestly, there is nothing of which I thought it needed to be fixed ASAP. I arrived at a very good moment, because we launched our new brand in January. It's been received very well by the fans. At the same time the office was very well equipped. It was not about something I needed to fix; it was about improving something that's working so well already.
League of Legends as a game is one of its best shapes in history. On the competitive side, teams are performing very well. We won MSI, we won Rift Rivals, we have Worlds in Europe... I would say we have more opportunities rather than challenges. This ecosystem we have, with different countries and local leagues, gives us a massive opportunity. If we work well with them, help them develop, we're helping the LEC automatically. The opportunity is to keep working on this ecosystem from the grassroots to the top level, so we can give our teams in the LEC the best tools to scout talent in the region.
We want to help talent develop by playing in university, playing in high school, to play in amateur tournaments or at sem-pro level and then make the jump towards the professional level, and then win Worlds. That's part of our mission in order to make the best product for our audience.
That transfers well into the next topic actually. The LEC is pretty different from, for example, the LCS, because it has a relatively large grassroots basis with all the different countries. Would you say that the LEC has the healthiest system compared to that of other regions?
Yes, but I would say a more complete system. We have more layers. It's in particular because we have different countries, different languages, different initiatives. So it's easier to start up companies locally, and help them grow and survive in a smaller ecosystem. They now can arrive at a moment where they're quite competitive and we can combine them into a European Masters league. In a massive country like China, or in the North American region this is more difficult to accomplish. You need to think big from day 1. In Europe, because you have all these individual initiatives, we're in a better shape to help players discover how to get to the pro level.
What is the role you play in helping these communities grow?
Well my office in Berlin focuses primarily on the LEC. But of course, we're the leaders of all these different groups. Every local country team has an office for the grassroots scenes. We have an office in Paris, in Barcelona, in Dublin... These countries' teams are managing the local level of esports. So my office is just coordinating, helping make the connections between the regions. For example: France has grown a lot. There's a regular league, amateur circuit, they're doing a great job with universities. In the last two years their ecosystem has developed a lot.
"In Europe we're in a better shape to help players discover how to get to the pro level."
With all these smaller regions in Europe, is there one you think is trailing behind perhaps? One you need to invest a little more in to keep a balance?
I don't think we get it balanced. Countries are different sizes, there are different opportunities. That's life. A sponsor you can find in Spain could not be as healthy as the one you find in Germany, for example.
At the same time, in the UK you have the challenge that you're competing with all other esports, since they are all broadcasted in English. Each country has its own challenges. If I could say something about it, I'm very curious to see how the new structure we have prepared in Germany is going to develop. The potential in Germany is huge. I wonder how it'll work out, obviously I hope very well.
There are many smaller countries in Europe—I'm from The Netherlands for example—that perhaps could have a lot of potential. What about those regions?
Yeah, the grassroots advantage Europe has with all the different countries also has some disadvantages. You need a minimum critical mass to make a business. You need an audience minimum. So what could you do in The Netherlands? If you broadcast in English you're competing with the other esports. So let's do it in Dutch then, right? Well, because the country is small compared to others in Europe, it's probably more difficult to find sponsors you need for the teams. There are simply more challenges. There are countries that are doing well, but you need to find the right momentum with players and teams and a company that invests. Then perhaps one day we can have it in The Netherlands too.
Right, if generally speaking 1% of a country's population is into esports, smaller countries won't get to the critical mass quickly.
Yes. Well, I think it's more than 1% though. We have data, which I'm not going to disclose. [chuckles] But it's definitely more than 1%.
Well maybe one day we'll get our hands on it! Thank you very much for the interview Alberto.
You're welcome, and thanks to you too.
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.