[Interview] Crumbz looks back at 2019, critiques NA: Calls for more tournaments, bigger prize pools, better mindset

After spending some time in the Overwatch League, Alberto "Crumbz" Rengifo returned to League of Legends esports last spring, both as an analyst and caster, and he's coming back again this year for another round!

Throughout the off-season, Crumbz has been critical of NA management and decision making, and spoke with Inven Global about some of his more specific critiques and potential solutions. More specifically, he has been involved with both minor region tournaments and NA Academy and speaks about where those need vast improvement to stay relevant moving forward. 

Critiques of NA Management

Crumbz has a lot of experience around esports and League, both as a player and caster/analyst. He is a long time industry veteran, and thanks to his combination of player and caster experience in both League and OWL, he has a lot of authourity to critique NA's decision making.

First I want to discuss some issues NA has with talent pool/development. We have a 50/50 on residents vs imports (including former imports like Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg) this year. What do you make of that and NA talent as a whole? 

Well that's a lot less than I thought it was going to be. I thought there were going to be even more imports than just half. Let's see... I think people were up in flames about Damonte and Pobelter specifically, and I don't think there are any other players that made a lot of waves on 'Why did they get dropped?' 

I think the case for NA talent is a super complex thing right? It's a ginormous issue, and a lot of people are coming up with solutions and posing problems... And I'd written a few articles myself just to see if I could understand where this was coming from. At the base level, there's not enough people coming from North America compared to other regions. Just at the very start, not enough players are playing League of Legends compared to people in Europe and Asia, especially China where they have 33 servers. 

▲ Image Source: Riot Games

It's not to say that North America is bad at producing talent because they're not. They've won many other things in esports. And when you look at what NA is best at when it comes to producing winners in competitions like esports - I'll use sports as the example - the collegiate system is usually the best way they do it. They're phenomenal at basketball, baseball, whatever. You name it, the US is usually really competitive. When you look at the Olympics, they're usually near the top of any game they're playing. 

And a lot of people are saying they want to introduce the North American talent and combine it with the educational system, that way you have a streamlined process from playing as a kid, to high school, to then in college and the pro league, that sort of thing. But I actually think that's a failed approach because the entire American education system is a sinking ship. So if you're going to try to tie a new technology slash new cultural wave to something that is already failing, it's going to make it even worse. So I think the issue is not one that can be solved through colleges.

The solution is going back to how NA talent came about in the first place which is just grassroots tournaments. I think there aren't enough things that people can play for. And this year I got a chance to work in literally almost every minor tournament that is not LCS. I cast the entire Academy League, I cast the entire Collegiate League, the entire Scouting Grounds... I did the Red Bull International tournaments, I did minor league tournaments for Super League Gaming.

I got to see a lot of the actual underlying system and the reality is that a lot of the players don't have any incentive to become a pro player because there is no financial gain in the process. You make money only when you enter LCS and Academy and nowhere in between. Whereas if you become a streamer, and that's your ambition, you immediately see a feedback loop that tells you, "You're doing well. Keep going. This is prosperous." 

There is a prize pool of $50 dollars for each player that wins a tournament. That's the kind of money they're playing for when it comes to many of these minor league tournaments, and that's just not enough money to devote themselves to professional gaming. There has to be an increase in the prize pools, and there has to be an increase in these organizations.


And coming from speaking to these international players, because the prize pools are so low, a lot of the teams and organizations have no problem just cheating players out of anything because the money and effort that it would take to sue them would not be worthwhile. So they can get away with hosting these tournaments, which then continues to add to the disillusion of what it means to be a pro player.

So to make things prosperous, I think the best thing will have to be an approach where you increase tournaments and simultaneously tackle the culture. The culture problem is quite big in the states where - at least how I see it - the players aren't really trying their best or their hardest or really giving it their all. And that's not to say they need to play 16 hours a day, but they need to be doing it a little bit smarter.

And when you look at solo queue and you see all the resentment and anger, like, "Oh the ping!" and "There are so many trolls!" and all that. Well if every player there just chose to change the attitude towards it and had more of the mindset of someone like Caps where he is completely focused on his own game and not so worried on his teammates' performance, you'd see a much more improved solo queue.


And some say that streamers play a part in influencing the culture that a lot of these games have, and I'd have to agree I do think they play a big part. But I think a great solution is one where we have more of what Tyler1 is doing with the TCS Championships. For brands, I think the best activations would then be simply sponsoring their influencers enough for a one-off campaign where they have a logo and a stream banner, and then they provide part of the prize pool for hosting tournaments.

Then you have former pros and major streamers that continue to run week by week tournaments on the basis that if players behave well and do well in solo queue they'll be invited, and then you force people to group together and play that grassroots approach that we had before, while simultaneously increasing the prize pool for a lot of the people who want to aspire to be a pro and not just go into streaming. And the pie in the sky would be having Riot involved in it as well so you have access to the Tournament Realm and all that.

And as an aside, I will say that the Tournament Realm is obviously amazing, but I have seen recent highlights of a Chinese Lee Sin player making moves that I never even thought were possible, and when you look in the top right corner, he plays on 80 ping. So I think the ping argument is really just a whiny argument because I've seen other players in other games play with over 100 ping, but they had the drive and desire to get there, and it didn't stop them. 

▲ Image Source: Riot Games

That makes a lot of sense, and I would posit alongside your minor league and grassroots points that NA doesn't utilize the Academy League very well either. It has been largely unsuccessful overall. 

Yeah I spoke to some teams for the potential of joining as a GM for next season, and one of the things I was suggesting is because the Academy system doesn't actually do anything for the players, and when it comes to money and struggles with developing talent that advances into the LCS, I'd actually propose a system where you have the Academy team completely devoted to beating their LCS team internally.

Their entire mission would be to watch their main team, both as a whole team and also individually, and beat their counterparts and make sure to pressure them as much as possible, and then make a junior team below that - like what TSM was hoping to do this year - and have that team pressure the Academy team in the same way.

So your practice is no longer centered around placing in the League, but rather within your own organization. That way, not only is it more intense, but you have a bigger sense of fire under everyone's asses in the potential of being replaced, and it gives people a little bit more purpose.

I mean playing weekly in Academy is not as thrilling as the LCS. You know that if you win, not a lot is going to happen, whereas if you internalize that effort and say, "Okay if you actually can prove to us that you can beat our main team, you might get some stage time, or we might put a good word out for you."

But the best thing that can happen is that they get some stage time within that team in the LCS, and that is where people are going to start noticing, because it's not like they're going to be starting over an LCS player if they didn't prove they're worth it. So a lot of eyes will be on whoever will be on Team Liquid Academy who can replace one of them for a game. 

▲ Image Source: Riot Games

Yeah I guess the only change Riot implemented for Academy was the Match of the Week, where they streamed them more professionally, rather than just the game footage from the teams. 

Yeah, that was a good effort in order to give stage time to the players so they'd be more accustomed to playing in the LCS in the event that that would happen, yet... Imagine an ecosystem where you had those weekly tournaments held by influencers. You wouldn't care how much you get paid in Academy as long as you can play in those. And then you can utilize the Academy, not as a main tournament, but rather as an opportunity to group together with like-minded individuals on a team and improve that way. 

You have also talked about how org management and decision making seems to be out of touch with what League veterans seem to think is correct. Any way you know of to remedy that problem?

Nah, they're just going to have to keep making mistakes till they learn.


Self-Reflections and Future Career Plans

Crumbz has moved around a lot in the past years, and looks back on his journey and what steps he plans to take next. 

Can you reflect some on your year joining back with the LCS and discuss future plans?

Well I knew I'd be going back to Riot around November of 2018, but it was because of delays in my visa that I was unable to start right at the beginning of the season. So that was a bummer, but it was a super great opportunity for me to come back to Riot. I came in much happier, much more excited to do the work there, really thrilled to be there a part of the team and basically have a second shot at being there. 

There was a time where I was supposed to be a Rioter, but again due to Visa problems, I was unable to go for it, and that's why I had to go to Korea. So my entire career really has just been plagued with Visa issues, but it looks like we might be nearing the end of that soon hopefully. 

It was really nice because they also gave me the opportunity to cast Academy. So I had only been doing the analyst desk before, but I got to branch out into casting. It was something I did in Korea, and I had a rough start there, but in Academy, it was a much easier training ground for me. They paired me with great play-by-plays in Julian "Pastrytime" Carr and Rivington "RivingtonThe3rd" Bisland III, so I got to really start honing in on that craft and honestly I really started to enjoy it. 

▲ Image Source: Riot Games

I got to be a part of some of the sketches just getting back into the groove of things, so at the end of the year the decision was to bring me back for 2020. And that's something I wanted to do as well, and I see that as a really good opportunity to triple down on what I want to do here which is to expand beyond - not League of Legends - but just being a shoutcaster. I feel like I have a lot of skills and knowledge to offer, but I'm not executing on it all.

So this end of the year, I'm really planning on how I can make the most out of it. Maybe hiring people, potentially making content for teams - which looks to be part of what my 2020 future will look like - then the same for brands as well, and navigating the business space. I use a lot of my downtime as a caster which is one of the blessings of the job - that much downtime - to learn other skills. So I got to work briefly for an influencer company.

And then in either June or July, a media company that I was a co-founder of sold for $2.5 million. And obviously, I did not even make a fraction of that, but I got some money for it which is really cool because of the lessons I got to learn in how that operates, and then using some of that capital to invest in an analytics startup.

So really I am trying to put all my eggs into esports but also trying to diversify what I can bring to the table. So this next year, I'm planning on not only improving my craft as a caster but also a communicator. And that's one of the values I see in casting actually, how useful it is to become better at expressing myself and conveying what I want to say to other people, and utilizing that experience and free time to then generate more of a positive business influence in the space as  well as carrying a positive message to what I think a lot of people in gaming need.

One of the things I'm going through personally is a reshaping of discipline and learning, "How to Adult Better." Hahaha. And I think I'm getting a lot better at it, but it took a lot of time to figure out how to get started and how to continue doing it. And I see a lot of people in the space that also struggle with that. Whether they're 12 or 50. So it's something I think where I can at least share my story and help others help themselves. 

▲ Photo taken by Kenzi, LCK reporter, during Crumbz's career in the LCK

Is all of that stuff you're planning going into a new role for you with Riot, or is this happening outside of that?

No no, it wouldn't be a new role with Riot. I believe for Riot I'll remain a shoutcaster and analyst for the Analyst Desk, but when you look at the logistics of the job as a freelancer, really I'm casting two to three days of the week, and then I'm in meetings for two days, but the other days the time commitment is minimal. So that leaves me with almost three or even four days to do something and that's one of the lessons that I learned.

When you have that much free time, the quote, "The idle hands are the Devil's workshop," could never be more true. So to fill that time up is a constant struggle, but also I wouldn't have it any other way. So the role remains as shoutcaster and commentator, but then my off time is simply being used for developing skills that not only help in my career in casting but also help and benefit from it. 

I think a lot of how it plays out comes down to working with other teams and other brands. And for myself, I caught myself in the middle of the off-season being more of a talker and less of a doer, and I didn't like where I was going with that, so having to focus on making sure that I am producing something in the world should be the priority. So that's where I'm going before saying, "Oh I'm going to do this, or do that." I'd rather show you so you don't have to deal with my own embarrassment of continuing to just say things without having anything actually done. 

You know, if I just build some sort of empire between articles, videos, social media posts, and hire management to help me run these things to oversee the growth of it, not as myself but rather what I want to offer when it comes to League of Legends and other aspects without sharing too much of my personal life, then I think I can manage the pressure of it and achieve the results that I want. But until that happens, I'm not expecting anyone to come forward looking for esports help. 

▲ Image Source: Riot Games

Speaking of talking and doing, you were on a talk show with ESPN this off-season, and you were the only non-ESPN member to be on there throughout it. How did you land that? 

Well I've been close with a lot of the ESPN guys for a long time. I've worked with Arda before in Season 5, I've talked with Jacob Wolf for the entirety of my career, I can't even tell you how long I've known him. Same thing with Emily Rand. So we all go way back. And then recently, ESPN introduced a new producer, and they're going all in on esports right now.

So they did this off-season show which was Fionn - Oh my god, I forgot Fionn [Tyler Erzberger] my bad - but it was Fionn and Jacob's idea to make that show. I assume they had some conversations and put my name forward, so I'm really grateful to them. And then they brought me on just right by LA Live and they wanted me to just discuss the off-season moves.

They had Joshua "Jatt" Leesman call in as well, and I think he was the only Riot employee. I'm technically not a Riot full-timer, so I guess I can get away with being on the whole thing. So I hope that that show then propagates my ability to work with other companies in gaming and esports - particularly League of Legends. But yeah that's how I came about it. And I thought it was a pretty good show actually. I'm not going to lie, I actually felt high after I left that show. 


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