It's now been three weeks since Western League of Legends competition resumed its course in a different, online iteration. Well, not so new when you think about it, because online competitions were the bastion of esports in their early form, and helped forge the scene.
However, this adaptation — however obvious it may be — was not easy to implement. Whether on the side of the organizations and players, production teams, or talents on the show, all were taken aback.
While esports are slowly getting used to a new way of working as they wait for better days, let's take a look at how the situation is being experienced from the inside.
For the European Championship, the cancellation of the Finals was the first reaction to a situation which, at the time, was still difficult to identify and anticipate.
“We started working on different scenarios three weeks before Budapest was canceled,” explains Alban Dechelotte, Head of Partnerships and Business development at Riot Games in Europe. "We had established eight different scenarios, a sort of matrix of events, to anticipate reactions and allow us to think about what broadcasting in isolation could be."
With successive decisions to limit contact with the community, then between players, and finally close access to the public from the LEC studio at the dawn of Week 8 of the regular season, the European Championship was reacting.
However, despite some signs of mistrust, nobody could have predicted that we would go to the studio the next day to finally say "see you soon."
What struck me most in stopping the competition was its brutality. I got up on Friday morning, I took the subway to the studio, greeted my colleagues whom I had not seen for a week, then continued with my typical pre-show ritual before show.
A reading of the script, rehearsals, makeup, and then we were off to film my first interview for the preshow. It was after this that the entire LEC broadcast team were called in for an announcement. We get together without thinking too much.
The verdict fell, and after a few meetings with our superiors, we each returned home —in shock, but also convinced that it was the right decision. And without knowing when the league would resume...
The same evening, things were already put in motion: the organization of in-house parties, the construction of remote broadcasting facilities, and team initiatives to create content. Very quickly, the shock subsided, making way for construction.
“At that time, our decision criteria were very precise — firstly the health of all,; secondly, the continuity of the league; and then we took care of the management of the other deliverables,” explains Dechelotte.
The following week, the beginnings of the LEC online saw the light of day. After an intense week of remote organization, technical tests and other attempts at anticipation, we welcomed the eighth week of competition a week late.
To paint a picture, it was a bit like learning to ride a bike: we saw what needed to be done, we knew the mechanics, but getting there wasn't so simple. In a snap of a finger, we went from a studio production involving a hundred people with all cogs in place, to a conversation on Discord where we tried to mimic established procedures as well as possible.
From a business perspective, one can also question the impact that these decisions will have. Is the LEC in this form as interesting and “sexy” for business partners? When I brought up the subject, Dechelotte explained that the reactions were diverse.
“There are people who leave us, there are also those who stay. We also have people who were to join us and will do so anyway. On this last point, I can't wait to announce that soon.”
Here, we mainly talked about the organization for Riot Games, but for the teams it was a whole new form of gymnastics too. It is worth remembering that at this time, we were at the dawn of the Playoffs: some teams had everything to play for, and a single error couldn't be tolerated.
These teams, who had been used to their version of the “subway, work, sleep” for years, had to also adapt. The difference being that unlike patches, there was no meta here.
It was difficult to predict which teams would benefit from this chaos, or who would suffer the consequences. Which teams needed the stage to shine, and which “scrim gods” could finally live their hour of glory.
Week 8 took place with some misadventures on the side of the players too: problems with Internet connections, communication tools... The classic package for an online competition.
During most of my interviews that week, players mentioned the difficulty or ease of playing online. Some people needed the stage to channel themselves, others were happy to be able to play with one less element of pressure.
The weekend was spent in pain, but with a clear will: quickly take the plunge, and give the public the best of LEC.
On the other side of the Atlantic, things followed a similar pattern. The week was canceled, there was a passage to online competition, and at the same time, a world which was slowly starting to close.
Jérémy "Eika" Valdenaire, midlaner for Immortals, says that “everything happened suddenly and the organization was not easy. But we had to play, so we adapted.” Would the results have been different on stage? "Surely," he said, "but that is speculation, and difficult to know."
In the aftermath of the LCS, Travis Gafford published a video explaining the players' feelings. They responded to a poll, according to which 2/3 of them would have been in favor of canceling the Split. It would be easy to jump on a perceived lack of ambition here, but let's not forget that they are players — many far from their families — who saw the borders of the world gradually closing.
In the end, the competition went ahead. After a premature end to the Spring Split for Immortals, Eika told me that he couldn't go home to see his family. However, by taking a step back “if the situation requires that we stay where we are, then we will do the right thing and I don't mind.”.
On this subject, questions arose in Europe and the many players who have surely returned home for the end of the season. What if they can't come back for the Summer Split? How do we preserve the integrity of the league if the players are at a distance? Will the Split go ahead?
It's also difficult here to predict what the world will look like in a month — but once again, Dechelotte considers these possibilities by always putting health first.
For now, we continue to move forward, and the Playoffs are already well underway. With a weekend of competition as intense as it was surprising behind us, I think that as fans of esports we can first of all rejoice in one thing — knowing that even in these troubled times, esports will endure and continue to make us dream.
Let's live esports at home.
The League of Legends competitive season is already well underway, and many new features have appeared since the start of the season. However, in Korea, a well-known figure in French esports has returned home in search of a new adventure.