The 2021 LCK season has had an explosive start to the season. The much-anticipated DAMWON KIA vs T1 match in week 1 had viewership that broke records, the hype behind that match is worthy enough to be monumented as a key moment of the LoL Esports legacy.
There are countless reasons why the LCK is so popular, both domestically and internationally. However, if you were to ask me, the journalist who fell in love with the Korean competitive LoL scene since Season 2, I believe that the main reason behind the popularity is because the Korean esports industry were the pioneers in making esports what it is today. The ability to bridge language and culture barriers have been historically critical when building something great. Not only was OGN brilliant at it, they were quick to adapt by using the knowledge that they’ve gained in the Starcraft era.
The last time we spoke to the head PD of LCK Global, Jin Yae-won, was seven months ago, in June of last year. A lot has changed in that seven months, with the biggest change being LCK franchising. With LCK Global, however, the most visible change is the addition of new casters, Wolf Schröder and Maurits “Chronicler” Jan Meeusen. In our recent conversation with Yae-won, she shared some of the changes that came alongside the franchising, and some of LCK Global’s plans and goals for 2021.
Before we start talking about the 2021 season, I want to go back in time and talk about after DAMWON won Worlds. Now that the Summoner’s Cup has returned to the LCK, do you feel more proud that you’re in the position that you are? Has it affected your work in any way, whether in indirect or direct way?
When DWG won, I think it was one of my happiest moments in 2020. The year before I joined Riot Korea, I actually went to the finals in person, but I was never able to witness LCK win Worlds. In 2019, I was actually on-site for Worlds, but watching the LCK teams get eliminated one by one filled me up with this unknown frustration. However, watching DWG dominate the tournament and lift the Summoner’s Cup made me incredibly emotional. It felt like all that pent-up frustration just went away in an instant. It made me even more proud that I’m representing the LCK, and watching how hard the players work at their craft made the whole global production crew very motivated.
The last time you spoke with us, you listed some of your responsibilities during the season. Did you use the off-season to recharge your batteries? What were some of your responsibilities during the off-season?
While it would’ve been nice to get some time to recharge, I remained pretty busy during the off-season as well. Because of the worldwide pandemic, some of the responsibilities Riot HQ was in charge of were shared with us. We even produced some of Worlds, when our LCK Global casters were casting some of the matches.
One other interesting thing that happened was when we produced the First Strike tournament for VALORANT. We then straight went into 2020 All-Stars two weeks later, where we were in charge of half of it. I think all of this will prove to be a worthy experience and will serve well in production values for the LCK.
Bringing the topic to the present time, let’s talk about franchising. How has franchising affected the LCK Global production? What are some key changes that came with it?
Now that the relegation system is completely gone, I believe that the right environment has been created for LCK teams to aggressively make moves in expanding their fandom and gaining more profit overall. In that process, a lot of these teams, especially teams such as T1 and Gen.G, have their sights overseas.
That’s why viewership, both domestically and globally, is growing. This growth also brings potential, as we’re also looking to expand our broadcast and gain broadcast rights for viewers in Southeast Asia, in their native language. Our English broadcast is always looking for ways to be a better version, of course.
After LS left the broadcast at the end of last year, LCK Global accepted applications for a new color caster. What were some of the key elements in a color caster that you were looking for?
The reason why we had open applications for the job was because I felt that the gaming industry was a tight, connection-based industry, where people get hired either through their social media presence or through personal connections. I believed that there were very talented individuals in the community, biding their time to find the right opportunity.
With franchising and LCK’s rebranding, we worked on gaining more internal stability. In the past, LCK Global was just considered a subsidiary of the Korean broadcast, rather than being treated as a standalone one, so not too many resources were being poured into us, in comparison to the KR broadcast. Now, we hope to provide a much more seamless broadcast and fully satisfy the viewers.
Some ways to go about doing so was to strengthen the narratives and secure more casting talent. We take high priority in reading through the community feedback, and something that we felt for about two years was that because of the language barrier, we weren’t showcasing a lot of the pros’ amicable personality traits. That’s why we needed someone knowledgeable in that area, and someone who analyses the game well.
That was the main focus for the open applications, and in the process, create a team that can build up on these narratives. Atlus and Valdes took an active part in the audition process, where they helped do mock casts with our applicants.
In the end, Wolf Schröder and Maurits "Chronicler" Jan Meeusen were announced as the newest color casters for LCK Global. First, when’s Chronicler getting here?
For now, he’s scheduled to arrive on Jan. 29. If there isn’t a problem [laughter].
I hope he’s not stuck in his country like EGym was last year [laughter].
Last year, there really wasn’t anything that we could do because of the strict government travel restrictions in Australia. Due to strengthened COVID regulations, we did face problems this year as well, but due to the immense help from a lot of people, everything is on course.
Can you please share how they came to join the Global casters’ desk?
One of Wolf’s biggest strengths is his immense knowledge of LCK history. When we sought advice from other casters, they all had great things to say about Wolf. PapaSmithy said that Wolf is a caster that knows a lot about LCK’s history, and shared that he and Wolf would always have conversations on the topic over drinks. He had nothing but praise for Wolf and highly recommended him for the position.
I met Wolf a couple of times in my personal time as well, and he gave me the impression of a natural storyteller. When I had a chance to work with him in the past, he was very professional in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to the game, and was the right person in creating the footing for our broadcast.
You don’t find that many law students in esports, but Maurits was one, and he’s been a long time fan of the LCK. There are pictures of him taken at the OGN studios when he was an exchange student in Korea. Also, as a caster, he was very talented on a fundamental level, so we thought he’s the perfect addition to the cast.
What were some of the key factors that those two possess, which separated them from the rest of the applicants?
We really spent a lot of time on our decision until the very end, so I believe that there were so many talented applicants that we’d love to work with. If the right environment is created where we can expand our broadcast talent pool, such as an LCK Global analyst desk being created, we’d still love to work with a lot of the applicants. We lost all our color casting talent last year, so we took priority in securing a strong caster team. This is all part of securing internal stability, and I believe the deciding factor came down to the composition and its chemistry.
Speaking of the global analyst desk, when I spoke to Valdes and Atlus last year and asked them about some new additions they hoped for with franchising, they were in unison on creating an LCK Global analyst desk, as well as an English broadcast for the LCK Challengers League. Can you share any exciting new content plans for the broadcast that will greet the fans in due time?
It’s hard for us right now to gain more resources for a bigger expansion, such as creating the LCK Global analyst desk, so we focused on strengthening our existing content, like our podcast, ‘The POG State’. It was just an hour long conversation about an LCK topic in the past, but now, our entire global talent team will take part, with fun segments planned for this season.
Let me give you a sneak peek of what we have planned. In a certain episode, Wolf is going to select a few memes from the Korean community and try to explain them to our global viewers and help them understand. Valdes and Atlus will have a debate on some of the greatest moments of the LCK, and even our lovely Jeesun Park will be making an appearance as well. This is the direction that we took this year, and hope to entertain our viewers in a fresh way.
Essentially, the content will not only shine the spotlight on global talent but also actively work on introducing and bridging the KR community with the West?
That’s right. The content will focus more on the topics that our global viewers want to know about.
What are some goals that LCK Global wants to achieve in 2021?
We’ve already hit record viewership right from Week 1, so we’re all definitely feeling the pressure of doing things better. We’re currently more focused on providing more depth in both the English commentary and content.
Behind the scenes, we’re always working to gain more resources for production. We’re slowly getting our gears turning in preparations for segments like the global analyst desk, and we’ll be able to share some of our exciting plans once we’re ready. However, for this year, we hope to focus on improving internally and look to provide more quality with our English broadcast, while also paying attention to minute details that viewers didn’t like, such as on-screen captions.
How about your personal goals for 2021?
I feel honored and proud that I was part of LCK Global’s immense growth. When I first joined, our viewership was at around the 10-20K mark at peak, but nowadays, the highs are in the 100-200K mark. In the past, gaming was always considered a minority culture, but now, it’s becoming something that’s transcended the mainstream. The realization of how I play an active part in that process always makes me look for how I can provide more exposure to Korean esports overseas. When I grow older, I hope to look back at 2021 and be proud of my accomplishments this year.
Funny that you mention how esports has become something that’s become bigger than mainstream. In my interview with Wolf earlier this month, one of his answers was the following.
“I feel like the Olympics needs esports more than we need the Olympics. We're so big already and we're only gonna get bigger. I don't feel pressure that I'm not working in mainstream media, or "Are we as big as the NFL or FIFA?" We don't need to compare ourselves to that.”
Does his statement resonate with you as well? In what way?
There was once a time when all we wanted was to broadcast some of the games on TV, but right now, with how the online broadcasting network is already so developed, we’re living in a different generation. It’s a time for us to not rely on the old methods, but create new ones, to find new possibilities in the uncharted territory.
Once COVID dies down, fans will eventually return to LoL Park and fill the stadium with cheers and applause once again. Is there anything that you’d like to say to the fans that are eagerly waiting to return?
We miss the fans very dearly at LoL Park as well. We always miss all the events that we had prepared for the spectators, and being here by ourselves, makes us feel very lonely. I eagerly wait for the day that the fans return, and hope to see LCK take another world championship victory, this time on-site. I hope that everyone stays safe, and until then, we’ll continue to strive for various ways to provide entertainment to our fans.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports