The League of Legends European Championship was one of the most successful esports leagues in 2019. The franchise grew its audience quickly during its inaugural year with fast-paced content, alternating between lighthearted fun and a serious competitive tone. Needless to say, Riot tried to continue that trend in 2020. However, after the third week of the LEC, the League of Legends community audibly pushed back against the broadcast. The tone of the league, coverage, and individual on-air talent were scrutinized quite heavily.
Trevor "Quickshot" Henry, Talent Manager at Riot Games and on-air talent at the LEC, sat down with Inven Global's Tom Matthiesen to discuss the community backlash. He shared how his team deals with feedback, and explained why he will never apologize for the editorial choices his broadcast team makes.
Last week the LEC broadcast got a lot of feedback from the League of Legends community. How do you reflect on that?
To start: I am very thankful that we have so many passionate fans, who are so invested that they are willing to share their thoughts. Obviously, when you read through feedback of any sort, a lot of it is going to be emotionally charged. When we take into consideration some of the criticism at specifically the shoutcaster team during week three of the LEC, it is important to dilute everything you read. There is no smoke without a fire, but it's also important to understand whether we're talking about a candle burning, or about a forest fire. Scale matters.
Everybody on my team took time to discuss what it means to the individuals, what it means to the team, what it means to the broadcast as a whole and what we want to do to address it. But I think it is also important to acknowledge that we had one of the most viewed games in regular Split history—numbers of course unverified. But we're talking about approximately four hundred thousand concurrent viewers. A large number of viewers means there'll be a large number of new viewers. It's also important to quantify the feedback that we got. One of the things especially true for me, in my role as talent manager, is that I have to look through and understand the numbers. How many comments are there, what's the contrast in the post-match threads, and then form a picture.
You weigh how much of the feedback was actually negative feedback.
Exactly. And it's not to mitigate or to undermine the feedback we're hearing, right? It's to understand just how serious and critical it is. In the context of something like 'new year, new teams, new content,' there will obviously always be some discussion, and it's something that we take seriously.
"A lot is just personal preference. When people say: "I don't like this caster," I get it. That's why we have a team of nine people."
Is all the feedback you get valid to you?
No, frankly speaking. A lot is just personal preference. When people say: "I don't like this caster," I get it. That's why we have a team of nine people. We have three core play-by-play casters, three core color casters, we have Yamato, Laure, and Sjokz. Nine on-air talent. It's impossible to expect to love all nine people and all nine styles. So it is important to dilute the difference between what's personal opinion and preference, versus what is actually critical.
Going into the discussion: a lot of the stuff was about gameplay knowledge, and contrasting it to pro players. I think contextualization is important. Of course pro players are going to be the most informed. It's the reason they're pro players, and we're not. But that's why we have them on our show. Learning to explain that to our viewers and building that understanding will go a long way to address the concerns, as opposed to pivoting 180 degrees and changing how we do our jobs.
The LEC is not just watched by Europeans, but also by a large American audience. A part of the feedback could just be because of cultural differences.
There absolutely are cultural differences. I won't use the casting as an example; I actually think our supplementary content is what brings it true. Anybody that is on social media will have opinions. You either like the jokes and the cold opens and the content choices we make, or you don't. That's taste. Not everybody likes Saturday Night Live and the sketches they do. We draw a lot of inspiration from that type of show. With that context: we do have a unique flavor. We do have something we try to accomplish. It's not to everyone's taste, but we firmly believe that a lot of European fans enjoy watching it. When you look at the growth and the performance we've had, I think we have some evidence to back that up as well.
Would you then rather focus on that European crowd? Because in the end, that is still something that's causing feedback.
It is, and I think it's never going to be as black and white. I'm never gonna say to you that we're gonna prioritize one area. What we will prioritize is making the best content we can. We listen to all of our viewers. We have regular surveys. We look at what content is viewed the most, and what content gets very little viewers. At the end of the day, if people are tuning in to watch we're doing something right. If people don't watch we need to understand why. Understanding the cultural differences help to make informed choices, but obviously we are a European league for European fans in a European time zone. So that will weigh heavier, but it's never going to be like we don't care about other audiences.
I want to zoom in on some of the feedback given last week. Some of the criticism was, for example, that before the match between Origen and Vitality, almost all of the talk was about G2 and how Origen compares to G2. Vitality wasn't even mentioned. Viewers have a point when they ask "well what about Vitality?" right?
Let me ask you this: how many traditional sports do you watch?
I watch football, tennis...
How many times, when you have a super hype matchup, do you hear about every team in the league and every player on the teams?
They will talk about the upcoming match, though.
Of course they will! And when you talk about the upcoming match, you have an option, a choice of what direction you want to take your content in. At the end of the day, you find the stories to tell. When you're three and a half weeks in and the story you're telling is 'this team is not working,' at some point you have forty-five minutes of gameplay to tell that story. Yes, there will be fans that don't like the fact that we make an editorial choice that in the pre-game we focus on and prioritize the bigger stories, the more influential ones. You have a limited amount of time on the analyst desk.
I guarantee you that every Vitality story, player problem, coaching drama and substitution suggestions was said in-game. I'm never gonna apologize for editorial choices. I'm gonna take a very firm stance and say that I'm very proud of how our team has challenged the convention. The real world is not defined by equality and fairness. It's defined by the superstars, the big names.
The reason I was a bit confrontational about traditional sports: go back and watch the Superbowl intro. There are, like, twenty-plus players per team? [Editor's note: 46 players are allowed to be active per game day] Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson introduced seven on each side. Does the rest of the world throw their arms up because every other player doesn't get mentioned? No, because again, it's an editorial content choice. It's to explain the perspective. We're never gonna be able to make everyone happy. We're never gonna be able to make everyone get the same amount of airtime. We're never gonna make everyone superstars. But we do the best we can with the tools we have. I can guarantee you that as and when Vitality starts to make changes, shifts, and adaptations, those stories will come back in. But there's an ebb and flow, and you have to stop and look at the bigger picture as well.
"I'm never gonna apologize for editorial choices. (...) The real world is not defined by equality and fairness. It's defined by the superstars, the big names."
Creating the broadcast is all about learning. From the current point of view and given the feedback, where can the LEC broadcast still improve?
Absolutely every aspect. The question of "where can we improve?" is neverending. We get a chance to redo everything every week. There are very few jobs in the world where you throw away everything that you have done for seven days, and do it all again with a blank canvas.
You start with a completely blank canvas every time?
You have to. If we had prepared week five's LEC games under the assumption that G2 and Fnatic would win this weekend, we'd be screwed. Now we have all this new context of how G2 performed, the question marks around it. MAD Lions pulling off this upset win. Misfits on a six-game winning streak. You have to use all of this information to rebuild.
Now, this is a long way around to answer your question of what we can improve. We can always improve every element of the show. And you can always make better editorial choices. We make conscientious decisions to try and drive awareness, visibility, hype, and excitement. Sometimes you'll miss. We're talking seven hours of content per day—not everything is gonna land. So you have to re-evaluate all those steps and choices. The exciting thing is that the entire team around LEC and the supporting staff are super committed to it. We read everything that is posted, and we really do our best to use that information to inform what our next steps will be.
To round up, I'll give you a chance to speak to the community. Obviously there are multiple ways of giving feedback, and since you and the team read it all: how would you like the community to give feedback to you?
There's an internal concept we have at Riot: feedback, when it is intended as feedback, needs to have actionable steps. Use case examples. When we see the community lashing out at my co-casters, lashing out at my team saying that they have less game knowledge about pro players: what would you like me to do about it? Stop and think for a second. Of course that's true, but do these pro players have any idea of the technical abilities and the skills required to build stories, to build content and to perform on-camera? No. But we do create these scenarios and environments where we can get this information from them. We're incredibly proud as a broadcast to create these opportunities, even if there are some fans that will lash out, right?
When people want to give feedback, just remember that if you don't like something and you want to vent: great, no worries. Not everything is for everybody, but we hope there are different segments, different games and different casters that you will enjoy. Stop to think about why we do things. The biggest thing about feedback is: keep commenting. Ideally a little less emotionally charged, if possible. *chuckles*
At the end of the day, what we're getting on our post-match threads, what we get in the appreciation threads and in the criticism threads is what fuels us. We're all here to do a job to create entertainment, to educate, and to celebrate the greatest video game that we have and that we love. But I definitely think that one thing that is lacking, at the moment, is stopping to think about why things happen.