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MLG's Lee Chen on League of Legends eSports Central

eSports Author Alan LaFleur
MLG's Lee Chen on League of Legends

MOBAFire eSports Central had the great opportunity to chat with MLG's Senior Vice President, Lee Chen. We talked about the League of Legends Summer Arena, the coaching rule, the future, and even a bit about Starcraft 2's future. I would like to thank MLG and Lee for helping us set this up. Without further ado, here is the interview!

First off, was this a preliminary run for League of Legends Arenas and given the success that you had with MLG Summer Arena, do you see MLG expanding it and in what way will you be expanding it?

From our perspective, we didn't really view the League of Legends arena as a preliminary run. We have done a lot of arenas before, whether that is with fighters, the stuff around Max Payne, and obviously the StarCraft 2. So for us, it was taking what we had done there and applying that against what we have already done around League of Legends on the Pro Circuit and taking it into a more contained environment and replicating that model at least from a production perspective and running with it.

There were a lot of stuff we got to do from a production perspective and also from a tournament perspective that is much more focused and easier to run in an arena setting versus on the Pro Circuit where you are in a big crowded space. On the Pro Circuit, you have to service the crowd, the stream, and the tournament at the same time; much more complicated.

Doing the tournament in an arena setting wasn't a preliminary run but it was a test in everything we were hoping it would be. We will absolutely do more because it was a good experience both for our production teams, guys on video and tech side to build out an arena in a more controlled environment and showcase focusing on the production versus also focusing on everything else that is happening in the room.

I know it is insanely difficult to take this type of production and take it to let's say Raleigh. Do you think you can take this type of event to a place with a lot of teams, is it even possible?

So Raleigh is August 24th through 26th. There are definitely some things that we weren't planning on taking to Raleigh that we are trying to figure out how to get there now. From the back of the house perspective, the great thing about Arena is it gives us a focused opportunity to just think about the production of the live stream. We don't have to think about producing a show in the room or a giant tournament. This arena was just 4 teams.

The intent for arenas from a production perspective is to take the lessons learned and things that worked there and move those to the Pro Circuit events in a 150,000 square foot room, with thousands of people running through the doors, and millions watching online. The kinds of things that we thought were really good and that really worked were the analysis desk, Dan Dinh doing the telestrator post game and running through the plays that were actually happening. That kind of flow is really important to any given show.

During one of the segments where you talked to Liquid. He talked about being pretty much the 6th man for Curse as a coach that would relay information to SaintVicious during the game. I know this is an old Halo rule but how do you see it transferring to League of Legends? There is a lot of difference between the two games.

Sure, the important thing to note here is that the Arena was not part of the Season 2 Challenger Circuit. It was not an official event. The Challenger Circuit rules don't allow for a coach, so there was some confusion there about like, "Hey, it wasn't allowed at Anaheim but it is allowed now! Why is that?" Part of this is, you're right, it was an old Halo rule but it isn't just a Halo rule. In MLG's view if it is a team game, there should always be a coach. Now, what that coach is supposed to do and what they are allowed to do differs on a sport by sport basis. So it will be different in Halo than it is in League of Legends.

Just like the NBA versus the NFL. In the NFL, the coach stands on the sidelines, when the players come over during a timeout he gets to talk to them, he gets to talk to the QB and only the QB for 15 seconds or something like that before each play. The NBA coach on the other hand can scream anything he wants short of accosting or physically abusing a referee. Coaching is different in every sport.

Our challenge as a league and an organizer is to figure out what that coach is allowed to do in the realm of League of Legends. In our opinion, there should be a coach. To the folks that were saying that Curse had a 6th man and he was the coach and that it is not fair; every team was offered to have a head coach.

Did every team know that they had an opportunity?

We flew a coach in for Azubu Blaze.

What about BLACK?

BLACK didn't because they had exit visa issues. They actually had a couple players that were not able to secure exit visas in time to make it to the event.

And TSM doesn't have a coach.

Yeah, so they weren't interested.

Blaze's coach actually, we were very careful about that match to say, "Hey, Curse is going to use their coach, do you want to coach your team?" Blaze's coach works with them in their house on strategy, tactics, and timings. He was furiously taking notes the entire event for every game they played and their opponents' games. He didn't want to mess with their jive. They call their own shots and he doesn't want to screw (the coach's word) with that, so he declined. No one said that you have to use a coach but our view is that the opportunity should be there.

To be clear, because Raleigh is the last stop in the NA qualifying process for the Challenger Circuit, coaches will not be allowed in Raleigh.

Going forward with this rule, do you see a likelihood of instituting time-outs, like 30 second timeout in Basketball, and a coach can come in and say this is what is going on and stop their team from tilting? Instead of having the coach in the ear calling shots but have the coach to the side taking notes and coming in on a time-out to correct them quickly. Do you think that would add depth to the game?

Time outs are a weird one in eSports. Maybe. We've never done timeouts, we have done pauses for technical issues. We have pause rules for if someone wants to claim an exploit or if something is wrong at any level that is technical. There are pause rules but there is no timeout rule.

I would have to talk to the League Commissioner on that. I don't know what his position is on time-outs. I don't know if timeouts have a place in eSports. I think when we are talking about giant showmatches, like Season 2 Championships, yeah maybe, maybe it makes sense there. I think, timeouts are a tougher one because it is an interruption in the game flow and let's say Blaze or TSM get on a streak, you could call a timeout to break that momentum. It happens in Basketball and a lot of sports where points go unanswered. I don't know how you would do that in eSports.

They just announced Season 3 and some of the language that they have in the release, I don't know what the future is, not for Riot and the top 24 teams, but it sounds like MLG might take a bit of a hit. Are you worried about it at all?

I don't think there are enough details out on it yet. We have been talking to Riot about Season 3, they have been very open about it. They are great partners to work with. They are passionate and invested in eSports around League of Legends, which is great! They are putting a ton of prize money on the line, investing tremendously in the production around both Season 2 championships and Season 3. That is never a bad thing, I think it will play out a little bit strangely in North America because it is where Riot is located.

We have conversations coming up with Riot about how that all will shake out and we will play it by ear. I'm not worried or upset about it and think it is great that Riot is digging in on this and doubling down or really quadrupling down as the case may be. I have seen these concerns around the community and those concerns could go either way. It all depends on what Riot empowers and enables organizations like MLG, IEM, and OGN to do. So long as those things are supportive, and we have every indication that they are going to be, it is great that they are planning on running something that is amazing and is going to push the envelope and try to advance eSports as a whole. If it happens, it is good for everyone.

One of the things that has always struck me with MLG is the way that you guys do sponsorship activation. The Sharp screen you were using for the analysis, Dr. Pepper and Hot Pockets in the past, and ELOBUFF stats during the game. Do you think this is one of the things that makes you guys one of the most revered leagues in eSports? Do you think it makes you easy to work with?

To be clear some of those companies are partners like ELOBUFF. Sharp is not a sponsor. They worked with us to demo the screen, so we are showcasing it. We are working closely with them and they have been hugely supportive and it is a cool new application for them to showcase the screen and what it is capable of, but they are not an official sponsor of MLG.

MLG is one of those companies, is the only league actually that is currently around outside of OGN and KeSPA, that has mainstream lifestyle sponsors; they are not endemic to the PC or Console gaming space. Although, we work with iBUYPOWER and BenQ with our monitors, Steelseries as a partner, Mad Catz for our console controllers, we work with a lot of endemic and non-endemic brands. Part of that is making those partners and sponsors as authentic to the audience as we can. Which is sponsorship 101. You take a league or a brand like MLG or the PGA or the NFL, and you leverage the brand strength and loyalty that you have with that audience to create an affinity around a partner's products.

Dr. Pepper is kind of an easy sell, 23 flavors of Dr. Pepper, it is a great drink. So, it is like, "Here drink it!" There is as much free Dr. Pepper as you could possibly drink at a MLG event. You want to create an affinity around that, make it authentic, and you want to make sure that the partner and sponsor is providing some kind of value to the audience.

Not to use corporate buzzwords but we ideate, create, and then we execute. We spend a lot of time with our partners talking about what they want to accomplish with their brand and what they are trying to say to multiple demographics. What messages are they trying to get across? Then we come to them with our interpretation of all that and here is how we do that with our brand. So, the Dr. Pepper Ultimate Access stream, integrating in with Hot Pockets and the Sony Xperia dial-in where you text in the vote to a poll.

It is a team of folks on the MLG side spending a lot of time thinking about it. If it is just a logo slap, you aren't delivering anything, not to you as the fan, not to me as the league, and not to the partner. It is just a logo, okay great. I'm a hardcore gamer, a Counter Strike semi-pro and I had the same reaction that anyone does to watching League of Legends. Awesome, Dr. Pepper is a sponsor, yay but how is that relevant to me, why should I care? The Dr. Pepper Ultimate Access, you submit a video to the MLG Facebook Page, the contest is over but two of those folks are getting flown to Raleigh and get a huge VIP package as part of Dr. Pepper's partnership. So they are bringing fans to the event and giving them backstage access and front row seating and a whole variety of different things. That is something that Dr. Pepper is bringing to you as a fan.

This question isn't League of Legends related, it is about StarCraft 2. It seems like Starcraft 2 has hit a plateau, viewership and player-base wise. Do you see a resurgence coming with Heart of the Swarm or do you think it will always be a struggle with a retail game like that?

I don't know if it has actually hit a plateau. Our numbers don't indicate that. SC2 is still on a strong growth path and has legs on it still with Wings of Liberty. It is a great game with a great community, the fans are awesome, the players are awesome. There is a lot of momentum upwards still there.

The second part, traditionally Blizzard titles do great on launch but they do even better on subsequent expansion packs which is the brick-and-mortar box model that Blizzard has executed amazingly well. So Heart of the Swarm is one of the first of the expansions that is coming for StarCraft 2. I think that historically the expansion always provides lift to interest and activity around Blizzard's titles. You go back and look at Brood War, that gave StarCraft so many years of additional life. Brood War is actually what made StarCraft amazing for South Korea and made it huge here in the United States for a little while. It obviously grew a lot longer in South Korea than it did here but StarCraft enjoyed a pretty solid longevity for a long time because of Brood War, that is what Blizzard is hoping will happen around the Heart of the Swarm expansion.

From what I have seen from the betas, it is good! It will be a lot of fun, they are spending a lot of time, and they are super focused around eSports. It is going to be good. It will introduce some interesting new competition and bring new eyeballs to the table.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Tune in for Raleigh on August 24-26, we kick off at 5:00 PM EDT. There is an HD pass available for upgrade, so if you aren't happy with the 480p quality - which I think looks pretty awesome - or if you just want to support MLG. Grab an HD pass and check it out.

Thanks for having me, I appreciate it!

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