Riot Games' Esports co-directors, Whalen Rozelle and Jarred Kennedy, discussed community feedback and sustainable business development with Yahoo Esports' Travis Gafford following the announcement that team revenue-sharing and crowdfunded prize pools would be coming League of Legends esports in 2017.
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The hour-long conversation was wide-ranging, but Rozelle and Kennedy were especially clear on two points: that League of Legend's tremendous growth must be managed carefully and that they need to communicate with the community better.
"The goal is: how do we go from where we've been over the past several seasons, which is multi-platform distribution on a regional basis to potentially multi-platform distribution plus maybe some global sponsors, right?" Kennedy said. "Could we do that, could we have a sponsor that goes across leagues? potentially. what would that look like, how would it be structured? how would those flows work? We've got thirteen leagues around the world so it's hard to solve these types of problems at the business level but we're actively working towards it and we're excited about the potential."
The duo also talked about exploring new revenue opportunities beyond digital goods, such as skins and icons, to more physical merchandise, such as jerseys. They stressed that Riot's plans go much further than 2017 and that their goal is to make League of Legends a sport on the level of the NBA or MLB.
"One common factor is we have to set up a system where everyone is incentivized for the success of the league and everyone has to be thinking along the same time-frame," Rozelle said. "Whether it's split over split or five or ten years out, right now I think we have a system where you know its not bad but at the same point there are these problems where maybe not everyone is incentive for the long term success of the league versus thinking short term because of the relegation system we have now but how we navigate out of that is incredibly complex which is why we stated it's going to take some time to figure out, the solution is going to differ from region to region."
While the new announcement seemed to hit on many of the points brought up by team owners during the public feud between Riot president Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill and Team SoloMid owner Andy "Reginald" Dinh, Rozelle and Kennedy say these plans were in the works long before the firestorm erupted.
"This is not a direct response to any one thing, as we mentioned in the post, we've been on this journey for a long time and we've been targeting getting to the status of being a premiere global sport," Kennedy said. "But we could have done more to share how we were thinking about things and help teams understand that path."
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While Riot's relationship with its community has become strained as public figures, such as Duncan "Thorin" Shields and Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles, criticized the company during the Tryndamere-Reginald debate, Rozelle says they go to great lengths to listen to the community and take their feedback.
“I’m proud we do react to the community, right?" Rozelle said. "Whether it’s the community blowing up and getting angry at us, I’m proud to react to that. I’m proud when the community has a great idea and we’re like ‘yeah, that’s a pretty good idea, let’s integrate that” into whether it’s our broadcast or our game or something, I’m proud of that."
Rozelle and Kennedy also say that the new revenue-sharing opportunities are the first steps in building stronger partnerships with LCS teams, but they are not ready to talk formal arrangements, such as franchising, until 2018.
"I think in general we want to move away from the supplementing model, where the teams are able to go and thrive independently and also in partnership with Riot and with the league they’re a part of," Kennedy said. "And we’re always looking at our schedules, we’re always thinking about what’s the right way to structure this. We have an entire dedicated to try and optimize this for that ultimate goal, which is to get us all to the place where we’re a sustainable premiere sport that lasts a really long time."
Beyond discussing yesterday's announcement, the two responded to a community question about Riot's controversial arbitration system and announced early plans to look into third-party arbitration for major decisions, such as banning a team from the LCS, as early as 2017.
"Since essentially the Renegades/TDK ruling and onward is that, y'know look, we believe in the ruling, right? We believe in the policies that we have, the process that we have, but we also think that, y'know, this is not the ideal situation, we believe it can evolve as well," Rozelle said. "And so, we believe enough in the ruling that we have that we're willing to begin exploring how can we bring in a third party to help validate, or arbitrate, we don't know exactly the system yet, but we do want to do that as early as 2017."
Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. Follow him on Twitter, it'll be great for his self-esteem.