Twenty-four hours from now, League of Legends will have crowned its new World Champion. FunPlus Phoenix and G2 Esports take to the stage in Paris to fight for the Summoner's Cup of 2019. Ahead of the clash, some of the most important people behind the scenes gave a press conference. Nicolo Laurent, CEO of Riot Games, Naz Aletaha, Global head of Business Development and Partnerships, John Needham, Head of Global Esports, and Jessica Nam, Executive Producer sat down to answer journalists' burning questions.
[Riot's interview host started off with some questions]
We'll start with the man here, to your right. Nicolo, do you feel at home? You're sitting here, you're sitting next to this beautiful trunk, we're about to launch the biggest event probably in the history of esports... How does this make you feel?
Nicolo: Thanks David. Maybe I'll say a few words in French, this is my home city. [Speaks French, then translates it in English] What I was just saying, is: around twenty years ago, I was just a young, Parisian student. I was watching my idols, the French soccer team, doing wonders during the World Cup. I was at the city hall watching the show on a big screen. I was partying just under the Eiffel Tower, at the Champs de Mars, when the team was doing great. Being here twenty years later, knowing that the city of Paris is helping League of Legends host an awesome final, that's very emotional for me. So yeah, I feel at home and I couldn't be happier than I am today.
Naz, obviously were at the beginning of the discussions related to our partnership with Louis Vuitton. How did this all come together, and what was your involvement in it?
Naz: So, since we launched League of Legends in 2009, the game has grown to be the most-played PC game in the world, and the sport has grown to be the number one esports property in the world. Our aim is always to deliver the highest quality sports experience for our fans all around the globe. This past year we asked ourselves the question: How can we take the most prestigious moment of our sport season, which is the awarding of the Summoner's Cup, and how can we elevate that further? And well, victory travels in Louis Vuitton.
Louis Vuitton is the most iconic fashion brand in the world. They have been supporters of some of the most coveted sports trophies in the world, like the FIFA World Cup. We're incredibly honored that the Summoner's Cup is in such good company. We are so proud to see our partnership with Louis Vuitton flourish. They have embraced our game and our sport, in really just an amazing and unprecedented way. We couldn't be more thrilled.
John, Head of Global Esports for a short time, but long time coming to be here. You were head of LEC, so there is some bias here...
John: Just a little bit.
Just a little bit. You have to be awfully proud of what's happening with the LEC. But give us a sense of what you see 48 hours from now, the competition we have ahead of us.
John: It's incredible being here, back in Paris. I was here in 2017 for the Summer Finals for LEC. An amazing crowd, so it's very exciting to get back here again. And look, I am a little bit biased. G2 is having an incredible year this year, winning both Splits and MSI. So there's a great storyline if they could be the first team to hit the Grand Slam and win everything this year. So I'm super excited about that. Huge fan of Perkz and Caps, and Capsdad! And then FPX: I'm just thinking of the speed of the eastern leagues.
Naz and I actually sat together in Madrid and watched the matches against IG. It was the most incredible competition I think I've seen in League of Legends. Particularly game two was just amazing. Probably the best game I've ever seen in League of Legends. So I'm super excited about them. Doinb is an amazing talent as well. I think regardless of the outcome, fans are just gonna see some amazing League of Legends on Sunday, and I'm super excited about it.
Jess! We've had some amazing things happening at League of Legends. The skin we're gonna see on Sunday with Qiyana—I can't wait to see that in-game. Will you actually flip the switch?
Jessica: I will be flipping the switch.
Yes! The game itself is so rich. As lead producer obviously you are behind the genius and the creativity we all get to enjoy as fans of esports and the game. Tell us a little bit about how that happens, and the in-game experience that we're gonna see 48 hours from now.
Jessica: For True Damage, when we were first thinking about what we wanted to do this year, we kind of went back to K/DA and really wanted to make a spiritual successor to that skin line. But we wanted to do a little bit different. So we wanted to maybe explore hip hop, and streetwear, and what that whole culture would look like in the game and beyond that. When we actually met up with Nicolas Ghesquière and the Louis Vuitton team, and showed them the concepts of what we were imagining for True Damage, they were amazing. They really understood and digested what we were going for. They had such an eye for what elevated hiphop royalty could look like with the Louis Vuitton collection. It was a true collaboration and we're really excited to see it come to life.
[Press questions from here on]
To Nicolo: One of the most-discussed topics at Worlds is the tickets and how they're sold. Sometimes they're sold out in seconds. Especially with China coming up—I was there in 2017 and there were scalpers everywhere—have you guys started talking about dealing with the demand of tickets for the 2020 Worlds?
Nicolo: I'll say a few words, and I'm sure John will have some updates there too. It's always a frustrating experience. As a fan I actually experienced that myself. Last year France went to the final of the Worlds Cup, and I really wanted to see them. I booked a ticket to go to Moscow, and I tell you, I had to buy a place for a ridiculous amount of money. So I feel the pain. It's really hard, because regardless of the size of our venue, there's always gonna be so much more demand. We know there has been a lot of pain, and we're always going to try to improve the system. I know John has been working on this. Do you want to share a few words?
John: I actually got an email from Nicolo on this issue when we were opening up tickets for Worlds. [Laughs] Yeah so, we're trying to plan our finals better, to get ahead of them a little bit earlier so we can open up ticket sales. We will definitely work on that for the spectacle that we're gonna put on in China this next year. But it's difficult, just so you understand, creatively. I think you've seen these pop culture moments with music and entertainment. It requires a lot of choreography and set up to do that. Our staging is constantly changing for a long time, right up until a few months before the event. Once we can land the staging, then we can open up the tickets and we know where the best tickets will be. We're gonna get ahead of that for sure, because we need to. It's gonna be massive in Shanghai.
To John: LCS, LPL and LEC are now a franchised system, and we can consider it a success. When do you plan to franchise the LCK, and what are your thoughts on the Korean market?
John: Obviously the LCK is kind of the father of esports and has a long tradition of esports—an incredible, important market for us and for our sport. We don't have any news to share right now on franchising. Hopefully we'll have some exciting stuff soon.
To John: The LEC went through a huge rebrand this year, and the fans deemed it a huge success mostly because they felt that the European spirit, the European humor and culture was really shown in the league. Can we see other leagues dive more into cultural individualism as well?
John: I think the great team we have in Berlin has done an amazing job building personality around the league, as you mentioned. And yeah, the other leagues have taken notice of the success of the rebrand, and I think you'll see some rebranding initiatives coming soon for a lot of our major leagues. We're also, for global esports, looking at ways that we can build a new brand for ourselves that's kind of a FIFA-like brand, in a similar way that we did with the LEC.
To John: We still have a great gap between the minor region teams and the major region teams. What do you think Riot can do to close this gap?
John: I think you'll see a number of the tier 2 leagues around the worlds where we're looking at ways to raise the competitive level on the international stage. The best example I can point to is in Latin America. This last year we merged two leagues together, and we announced a partnership with TBS. With them we're gonna be doing all the production of the Latin American league, in Mexico City, which is gonna be amazing. Similarly, in South East Asia there will be some consolidation as well, hoping that leads to some concentration of talent that, again, while viewership and fandom is growing around those leagues, that they can take stronger teams to the international stage.
To Naz: The response to the Louis Vuitton skins has been very positive. Are there any plans to take the in-game style and bring it into physical clothing with Louis Vuitton?
Naz: We're really excited about this partnership because it is so multi-faceted. It's the first time in our history as a company that we have brought in a partner across the sport, across the game, and in real life. They're just dressing our in-game champions, but then they'll be launching a capsule collection of Louis Vuitton products that is inspired by the League of Legends universe. So, there's not more we can share at this time, but definitely stay tuned. It's gonna be great.
[Interview host to Jessica] As a follow-up: How does the development of the in-game skin go? How do you make that take place?
Jessica: When we think about what the concept is gonna look like, what themes we want to go for, we kind of see what champions would fit really well with that theme. Not every champion is a good pairing. So when we were thinking about the Louis Vuitton skins: what would be a good fit? We wanted to make sure that the personalities actually come through with the themes that we were looking for. They were going into the streetwear and culture of hip hop and understanding these larger than life personalities that are taking center stage in a life audience environment.
For the skin development process, a lot of it is trying to figure out what the key thematic pillars are gonna be. Which designs for abilities we want put into actual concept. Afterwards we start building it from scratch from concept into character art, into modelling, rigging, and then finally get it into the game, where we then get to see it come to life.
To Jessica: When K/DA was announced at the 2018 World Championship final, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive and it grew a big following. People treated it like a real group and there was almost a culture built around it. With True Damage in 2019, are there long term plans? Will there be albums, an Instagram? Will fans be able to appreciate the group as if it was a real band?
Jessica: We're definitely interested in kind of, like, a long-term pursuit in developing our universes, our alternate universes like True Damage and K/DA before it. It's actually the same universe. We really want it to evolve it over time and introduce these new characters. With that come the songs that we hope to share with players. We find that the thing that connects players to the context of the real world, and being able to connect to the characters in a new way. So yeah, we have a very high interest in continuing to develop that fort, and see new explorations into both of those universes in the future.
To all: Could you give a quick prediction for the finals, who's going to win and with what score?
Nicolo: You see, as a CEO I am supposed to be impartial. So I'm not gonna tell you that my favorite is G2. Instead I'm gonna tell you that I hope for a best out of five, full match, and the best of League of Legends sports.
Naz: I think similarly. I think us, sitting on the global esports team, we're supposed to be Switzerland, we're supposed to be neutral. I am very excited to be on the home turf, in the region where G2 is playing. I'm very excited to see them on stage. But I think that they're gonna have some really tough competition with FunPlus. We'll see!
John: ..... I really want to see a Grand Slam! [Laughs] I've spent too much time in Europe to not be biased. So, cheers. I love FPX. I think it's going to be amazing competition with the ultra-aggressive style of FPX, and the creative compositions that G2 plays, but my heart is here with G2. Cheers.
Jessica: I'll take the other side! I think G2 is amazing. Definitely, their high level play, their macro, is pretty unparalleled. But FunPlus also has an incredible history behind it. These are young, very, very talented, hard working individuals who have come together in the most unlikely scenario to now come this close to winning the finals, potentially. I'll take the other side, and say maybe we can see some really bloody fights from FunPlus.
To John: If you look at the structure of the World Championship, it's very much like the UEFA Champions League, in that it's professional teams with sometimes imports from other regions. Has there ever been a discussion of building a competition that focuses on national teams and teams carrying national flags?
John: Yeah, we do talk about that all the time. I think that we unlock a deeper fandom with national teams and national competitions. We don't have any plans to talk about yet, but that's certainly on our radar as a possibility.
To Jessica: Fans of K/DA and True Damage are also obsessed with the lore behind the band. Was there any reason why Akali was chosen to participate in both, instead of a different character?
Jessica: We really liked the idea of Akali. Like, when we looked at her history and kind of how the fanbase connected with her a lot, we wanted to see and explore what her career would develop into if she had complete creative control. We worked off of that, and after a lot of discussion in development we were like: Ok, if Akali had her way, she would just go hard into hip hop, and have her choice of what her dream cast would be. That's actually how True Damage was born: it is a hip hop collective of Akali's choosing. It's very much born from her roots and her beginning, and what she is inspired by.
To John: It's early days, but Riot just announced a new fighting game, a new FPS, and there are a lot of questions asking whether the League of Legends esports scene will be wrapped around that stuff. Maybe TFT or the FPS will be connected to the League of Legends esports scene. Or do you think the scenes will be kept separate?
John: We're talking about how to evolve esports around the new games. Certainly our fans demand esports around these games. We feel like the games are ready for esports. We're gonna do esports around them, it's kind of core to what we do at Riot. I think you saw, this last month, we did our first TFT invitational. We're gonna have a charity TFT match at our All Star event in December, and we've got some pretty exciting plans for next year with TFT specifically. So stay tuned, you're gonna hear some exciting announcements at the end of this year or next year.
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.