With the LPL's regional franchising system in full swing, those who work within the LPL scene have never been busier; and it's not any different for 'Barento "Raz" Mohammed'. After diving into League of Legends esports in 2015, Raz has always been passionate about the game and the opportunities that it offered.
As both an LPL fan and caster, Raz has a goal: to promote the LPL through a variety of content and make it more visible for a global audience. In order to achieve his goal, Raz has been visiting the home venues of each team to film 'Culture Shock', an ongoing video series created to provide an inside look at the LPL and its newly implemented franchise system to the western audience.
During our team's visit to Beijing, we happened to cross paths with Raz at the RNG venue in Wukesong. After the highly anticipated match between RNG and Suning Gaming came to a close, we approached Raz for an interview.
Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
The name is Barento Mohammed, and people know me as 'Raz'. I'm an English commentator for the LPL.
I feel that the LPL isn't as well-known to the global audience despite its recent success in the international scene.
You're right, the LPL isn't too visible to the western audience, so my job -- by any means necessary -- is to get everything out to the western audience. And as a matter of fact, I'm actually here in Beijing to get one of our content pieces out called 'Culture Shock'.
We want to travel across China and show off the home venues of each team. Last episode [of Culture Shock], we were in Xi'an for Team WE's venue, and for this episode, we're here in Beijing for the RNG venue.
You didn't commentate today. I saw you sitting amongst the audience spectating the game with them.
We were shooting a video piece of the surroundings of the RNG venue, checking out Wukesong. When we came in, we were sitting down as the audience members to have the viewing experience, as that's the most important aspect of a sports venue. When we were at the OMG venue during a previous episode, that experience was phenomenal.
Sitting next to the RNG fans at their packed home venue, watching RNG vs. Suning Gaming -- I had to experience it.
You said that you've visited the OMG venue. How does it compare to RNG's?
This one is bigger! I'm really surprised because OMG's stadium was quite impressive. It was beside their music block, a theatre, and many restaurants. I was really impressed with how large the venue was and how accessible it was.
I was surprised then, but when I came here, it just blew my mind. I was in Wukesong before for the Beijing Finals, so when I heard that RNG's venue is in Wukesong, I questioned where they'd place it -- "it can't be in the same scale as a Finals event," I said.
When I came, the RNG venue was right beside it, and it looked amazing. What's even better is that when you come in through the entrance, there are events happening all over the place, with musicians going at it. You get to see a massive screen right at the venue, featuring just League of Legends. I've never seen League on that kind of a scale, shown to everyone like it's an open theatre.
How long have you been in China?
Since December. It's not been that long compared to the people that I've met, but long enough to now have me start to become acclimated.
What's your past like? Have you been to China before having started your caster career?
Funnily enough, I started my career as a League of Legends coach in the NA LCS, I was a coach for Team Dignitas. From that point forward I could've continued coaching, moved on as a commentator, or went back to school. Out of my possible choices, the one that enticed me the most was commentary. It's because when I first came into the esports scene, one of my first passions was watching the LPL. So when I was given the option to commentate for it -- first of all, that meant traveling, which I love, and it also meant a new experience. It was a dream that I was chasing, so it was big for me.
How has China been treating you so far?
I love it.
When I came back to China to live here, I started living in Shanghai, and there are so many options for food. You could really get a lot out just by walking around the city. Even though I've been working heavily, I love going to the Super Brand Mall -- either recreationally or for casting the game that I love. I've been loving Shanghai, it's a beautiful city.
As an LPL caster, you must be really proud of all that is happening within the region, including the LPL's regional franchising and its recent success in the international scene. The LPL is garnering a lot of attention as a result.
I'm not going to lie, it's honestly overwhelming. It's my first year living in China, and everything just happened all at once. Franchising is something that we wanted to share with the global audience, and thankfully, we're able to do that with 'Culture Shock'; trying to show them what the LPL looks like from the inside point of view.
And then, of course, there's the 2018 MSI that happened on top of everything that was already going on; so we had to showcase to the world that we have the best team here in China. But at the same time, we're in a completely different environment -- maybe NA could understand as they're also franchised, but even then, they don't have the 'home-away' system that the LPL has.
Currently, there's so much for us to explain to the western audience, which is why it's so important for us this year to show the world how our system looks like. One of the best things that the LCK and the LPL share is that the demographics of the audience that is watching is very mixed. It's not just a massive male audience, there are fans of both gender -- of all ages -- enjoying watching their favorite players and teams.
Is there a specific LPL team that you love commentating for?
I'm not afraid to answer that question because I'm a fan -- that's what I am first and foremost, but of course, with professionalism involved.
As a caster, I love teams that surprise me. And a team that really surprises me is the team that played against RNG today, Suning Gaming. They're a team that has been rising throughout the season. They came in, to the season, and had fans wondering how the team will perform. They brought in Knight initially, which is an exceptional player that I've been following throughout the LDL (China's NACS equivalent league), and now they brought in Angel.
They seem like a team that really has a pulse on finding talent that is up and coming -- ones that are really smart with how they play the game. Suning Gaming is a team that I want to see a lot more going forward. They were already on a surge, and if they continue with what they have been doing, I expect them to at least make playoffs.
That being said, I just want more competition.
Is there anything you want to tell the fans regarding the LPL?
If you want to watch teams that throw down the gauntlet, then please, watch the LPL. I'm throwing this out to the players as well. I've seen how slow NA and EU games can get -- I've seen a few TSM games.
I'd say that some of the best teams to watch are the LPL teams. Even the bottom 5 teams, they wind up coming down to the factors like, "we don't want to lose slowly, we don't want to bleed out." It makes the games exciting to watch.
Whether you're a fan or a professional player, the lesson that you'll get from watching the LPL games is the decisiveness, the confidence, and teams having no fear of losing. It's better to lose making a decision that was wrong than to lose not making a decision at all.
For the last question: which region do you think will come out on top? The LPL, or the LCK?
That's such a hard question. (Laughs)
Last split, I would've said the LPL, as it was the most competitive league and had the best teams. In addition, Kingzone was a team that was moving up and had a lot of new faces that couldn't prove themselves internationally.
But now, Gen.G is coming back in all its old Samsung glory. It's a team that is filled with veteran players that have proven themselves internationally. And then, of course, there is Griffin. If both of these LCK teams make it to Worlds, there's definitely going to be competition. Them verses RNG... I'll say RNG, but currently, it's way too close between those three teams.
The "LPL Journey" Series (Will Be Constantly Updated):
1. [LPL Journey] A Tour of RNG's Home Venue: LPL Marks an Important Milestone In the Development of Esports