So, we just wrapped up the first half of our whirlwind tour of Riot Games HQ. We got to check out the awesome offices where our favorite champions are brought to life, and see firsthand the commitment that Riot has in maintaining a good work/life balance for their employees. These efforts have certainly paid off: just last month they landed at the #39 spot in Fortune magazine’s list of best places to work, their 2nd year in a row to land on the selective list.
Now, we made our way to the eSports offices/arena – a major wing of the League of Legends business model, and located conveniently across the street from the main campus.
As we crossed the street, we noticed the back-side of the Riot games sign read “Rito”. An ongoing joke among players and Rioters that refers to a sort of alter-ego of the company. When a new champion is rolled out and is deemed overpowered, players flock to the forums with cries of “Rito pls” to address the issue. Seeing this on the reverse of the Riot games sign was a great testament to Riot Games ability to laugh at themselves, and also remember the community that they serve.
Above the entry to the arena is a large display that showcases the LCS logo and invites you inside. Since it wasn’t a game-day it was fairly quiet. Erika pointed out that typically spectators would go to the left, but we headed right and moved to the backstage/office area.
We did catch a glimpse of the League of Legends store on the way to the offices. Featuring figurines, apparel and more, fans swarm the store on game-day to throw money at Riot and bring home a memento of their trip. If you’re in a shopping mood, you can browse Riot’s online store here.
Much like the Bilgewater Brew on the main campus side, the eSports office features a “watering hole” of sorts: a smoothie bar that offers up freshly blended smoothies throughout the day. As we made our way into the smoothie bar we were greeted by two more Rioters: Nick Troop, live producer, and Raven Keene, the LCS Head Referee & eSports coordinator. Put simply, Nick makes sure that all the equipment being used during the events is working smoothly, and handles any on-stage logistics as needed. Raven is in charge of making the call when it comes to bugs within the game and whether they’re serious enough to warrant a game restart, a delay, or other penalties within the game. They would be joining us for the rest of our tour through the eSports area. Before we moved on we spent quite some time chatting with them, and one of the first things I was interested in hearing about was 1) if they had been following the shanghai major and 2) what their thoughts were on the event, and their takeaways.
Nick was quick to point out that early on, during season two of the world championship series, the Riot Games eSports division was hit with a production snafu: a 70-minute long game crashed and was unable to be retrieved. The game was ultimately delayed for a couple of days and was a real stumble for the nascent eSports division. After that incident, Nick explained, CEO Brandon Beck and the other leadership at Riot decided that they would commit to developing their eSports division rather than risk another incident like that. Due to the influx of resources, it’s no wonder that the production quality of League of Legends stands apart from its peers.
We also had a brief discussion around the dismissal of James Harding “2GD” at the Shanghai Major. Nick returned to the commitment by Riot Games as a whole to invest in the production value of eSports, and as a result of this investment they are able to facilitate a better relationship between their casters and the production staff.
It was time to pick Raven’s brain, so we had a brief discussion about making calls within the professional eSports realm. While other professional sports have had the privilege of years of odd calls and unique scenarios, it’s only been a few years for eSports, so there are times when a unique challenge presents itself and it falls squarely on Raven to make the call. Still, the more games he sees and the more calls he makes, the more precedent is established and the easier things tend to get.
After our brief chat in the smoothie bar, we headed into the production offices. A number of the rooms featured small caster desks that were used for Challenger-level coverage, but we soon came across the real deal:
The “main desk” was an awesome sight to behold. Of course, a couple of my contributors couldn’t help but to get behind the desk and offer their own commentary…
Leaving the main studio and heading down the hall, we noticed large red trunks lining the walls, and Nick explained that all of the equipment was transported in those trunks whenever they go out of town. I casually mentioned the mess of the Shanghai Major in its packup/takedown and Nick shot me a pained glance as if to say “Those poor cables…”
We soon found ourselves behind the stage, where a series of lockers branded with the major pro eSports teams was set up. Within these lockers were the keyboards and mice of the players, kept under lock and key until it was time for the game. Each pro team submits their accessories for inspection to make sure that no tampering has been done to them, and they are then secured by Raven and his team. Just before game-time, the accessories are released to the players before they make their way on stage, but not before a final pass-over with a metal detector. No personal electronics of any sort are allowed on the main stage (for fairly obvious reasons). We then made our ways onto the stage and were invited to take a seat in the “Thrones of Competition” (not the official name) where the pros would be sitting in less than 72 hours.
The most impressive piece of equipment at these desks was easily the sound-canceling headphones. These custom plantronics headsets are similar to helicopter-grade headphones that completely block out any and all noise thanks to the wonders of “pink noise”. Nick was happy to explain: most noise canceling headphones utilize white noise to drown out external sounds and give you a comfortable and quiet experience. However, white noise isn’t very flexible: the range of frequency isn’t ideal for blocking out noise at the level required for pro-level play. That’s where pink noise comes in. With a wider frequency, it’s able to eliminate far more sound more effectively. In fact, almost too effectively, as was discovered early on. The headphones were so good that they drowned out the sound of a tower targeting a player who was in range. This obviously had a negative impact during pro play, and so they captured the sound of the tower targeting noise and were able to isolate it effectively and allow that noise to make it through the headphones.
After our fake, yet epic, Bronze-level pro match, we left the stage and made our way back to the smoothie bar, where our tour came to an end.
As we bid Riot Games HQ goodbye, we placed our badges on the badge ball of glory, featuring all of the temporary guest passes of everyone who passed through Riot HQ over the last 2 years. Erika assured us we were now forever a part of Riot Games history, and it certainly was a great experience. We had some good conversations outside of the purview of this article that we hope will bear some fruit in the coming weeks and months, but in the meantime we were very honored to be invited to the Riot HQ, and hope to visit again soon.
If you’re in the area, or if you’re passing through, do your best to tour the campus: you won’t regret it.
Tours are currently being re-worked, but you can visit the site here to book one.
Thanks again to Erika Olsen for hosting a great tour, and Scarlette for taking some great pictures!
Also thank you to Nick Troop and Raven Keene for chatting with us about eSports procedures and production.