We interview Riot Games’ head of EU eSports Jason Yeh about what the developer is doing to better engage with League of Legends eSports fans, players and communities in the UK.
Read the full interview or watch it in video form here.
How excited are you to be hosting the Worlds quarter finals in London?
We actually held week five of the Summer Split here at the Wembley SSE Arena and it was an incredible experience. The live fan engagement, the excitement around the matches and so we really felt like doing Worlds in Europe, it made a ton of sense to come back to London and this setting.
How important is the UK to Riot?
The UK is one of the faster growing, larger markets in Europe for League of Legends. And so I think for us it’s really important to figure out more ways to make the game exciting and fun for players at a local level.
I think eSports has proven… especially in countries like the UK where sports is such a big part of the culture, I think the competitive element of eSports makes a ton of sense, so we’re definitely interested in figuring out how to bring everything from the professional level like Worlds, down to more local competitions in the UK to players.
On that topic of competitions, what is Riot doing to help those UK players and communities flourish?
I think in eSports in general, there’s a pretty big spectrum where the LCS and international competitions like Worlds are at the professional tier.
The goal is to create a clearly defined path to pro. And that covers everything from Challenger Series under LCS, then we have some national initiatives. Last year, the UK was part of the 4 Nations tournament, where different partners held qualifiers and then we had a final for the region.
And then, going even lower, the college scene in the UK is actually thriving compared to the other European countries, in terms of people self-organising into teams at universities and competing against each other. I think that’s definitely someplace we’re looking at supporting.
Going down even further to grassroots organised play, I think there’s a lot of different levels where we can hopefully create fun ways for players in the UK to compete.
“The college scene in the UK is actually thriving compared to the other European countries.”
Could the National University eSports League (NUEL) in the UK become an official Riot-backed team?
From what I understand, our League of Legends publishing team based in Dublin has a team focused on the UK. They do a lot to support partners like that and also like Gfinity and ESL etc here in the UK.
At the end of the day, I think part of the path to pro is to create a clear connection between the different levels of competition. And so ideally, competition that happens at a local level will help, whether it’s entire teams or individual players surface and become picked up into the professional system.
UK eSports has its critics. Worlds had one UK player – KaSing from H2K who were eliminated in the group stages. What would you say, if anything, is holding the UK back from producing more top-level players?
I don’t know if anything is actually holding it back. I think that the more we can focus on creating opportunities for players in the UK to compete against each other, and to demonstrate that they’re the best from this part of Europe, and that they have opportunities to compete in PAN-European tournaments and leagues… I think just better connecting the scene here with the rest of Europe, is something that we’re trying to do as well in Spain, Germany and France as well.
Now that there’s definitely a lot more focus on the UK in terms of other games having more exposure and having good traction, in terms of audience and players, I think we definitely want to create ways to make eSports a fun part of the League of Legends experience for players in the UK.
What would you say to young players who are trying to decide whether to continue with their studies or to go pro full-time?
I think there’s a long path to becoming a professional gamer. It takes a lot of preparation and dedication etc. So if it’s entire teams or organisations competing in the local leagues… I would say use the local leagues – such as ESL UK or other event organisers in the UK – as a kind of litmus test to see how well you guys are doing. How well do you stand against other teams in the region?
The better you do, the more opportunities you’ll have to compete regularly and make a more consistent viable living, that isn’t just based off of prize money, but is more based off of just the fact that you’re competing in a lot of consistent competitions.
So I think the whole scene, not just the UK, is still relatively early in that regard. I think players and teams should take a careful look at it and see how things are evolving, as they invest more time and effort into being a team.
ESL UK told us they think a world-class eSports team will emerge from the UK in the next two years. Do you agree?
So one of the eight teams and the winner of the first season finals… I know a lot of players don’t associate Fnatic with the UK, but Fnatic is based in London and the organisation is from the UK.
They happen to have multinational players from different parts of Europe and parts of the world competing in different games on their teams, but that is one of the most recognisable eSports brands in Europe – and it’s from the UK.
So I think doing more to help both build a fanbase locally and also a brand across Europe will be a big opportunity for a lot of teams over the coming years.
“If you are considering going pro, I would say use the local leagues – such as ESL UK or other event organisers in the UK – as a kind of litmus test to see how well you guys are doing. How well do you stand against other teams in the region?”
Will an EU team win Worlds?
I think that the EU teams have the home crowd cheering for them, so they definitely have the advantage of the live audience, but I think at the end of the day, the best team will win.
The thing that excites me the most is the level of parity. If you look at the quality of the different regions, two teams from Taiwan made it out of the group stages, and so did two teams from Europe.
So I think that it feels like the overall quality of professional competitive play across the regions is going up, and the gap is getting smaller. So I think that’s really exciting – because then all the different regions have a chance to see if their teams will be the last ones standing at the end of the season.
The BBC is covering Worlds online. What do you think of this?
I think it’s amazing to see BBC here. I think having partners like BBC not only do live broadcasts, but create other content around eSports, helping players get a better understanding around who the players and teams are, and why should people care about them – that’s only going to help.
Leveraging their online or TV platform is a great way to deliver this content and entertainment to hopefully more players, and more League players will hopefully make eSports kind of a part of their regular experience.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
We’re super excited to be back here in London, the crowd here are amazing. They’re incredibly loud and I’m really excited to see how loud they can get, especially for the EDG vs Fnatic game.
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Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
As a long-time gamer having first picked up the NES controller in the late ’80s, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.