Riot Games is taking a new path to drawing interest in its massively popular League of Legends game by distributing a documentary about League of Legends players. That’s not so unusual, as game-related documentaries are becoming more common as gaming becomes a truly mass-market, global cultural phenomenon. What’s interesting about this video is that Riot is not only distributing the documentary on YouTube, but also from within the League of Legends game itself. The documentary traces the day-to-day lives of five very different League of Legends players from around the world, and has already drawn close to 2 million views on YouTube.
Riot Games senior producer Thomas Vu spoke with [a]listdaily about the documentary and Riot’s marketing of it, as did the film’s directors Nathan Caswell & Jeremiah Zagar.
Why did Riot decide to distribute Live/Play within the League of Legends client as well as online?
Vu: Our philosophy is to engage players where they play. We have a lot of players who log on to play League everyday so the client is a natural place for us to publish content that we think they would enjoy. The Live / Play documentary was really for our players, and leveraging YouTube via the client allows for players to easily access and engage in the content without having to jump through any hoops.
Do you think documentaries such as Live/Play will change some people’s perceptions of gamers and what they are like?
Vu: I think so, especially for those far outside gamer culture. A good example is the Olympics, which does a great job of this — every four years the Olympics give us insight and deeply connects us to people who engage in an activity or passion of theirs that we might not fully understand but can appreciate their journey.
Documentaries give viewers a window into a world that they may not be familiar with, in our case it is context for why players care so much about League, what connects them and why this community is special to them. Documentaries help construct a common language, and if players share this with people who aren’t familiar with the game, I think it can help connect the dots for them and communicate the passion our players have for League.
Did you finance the production of this documentary, or will you be paying the creators for distributing the documentary?
Vu: As a creative company we are constantly looking for amazing people that may work on things that are far outside our comfort zone and expertise. It’s always about inspired work and from the time we first met Jeremiah and Nathan, we quickly realized that they wanted to tell some amazing stories and they were intrigued by League, so it was an obvious fit for us. In this specific instance, we financed the production of this documentary but left it up to the directors to find and tell the story that they were inspired to tell.
What sort of feedback have you received about Live/Play, and what impact do you expect it to have Do you think League of Legends players and fans will show this to other people to help them understand why they love the game?
Vu: It’s a great representation of League’s global community and players have responded very positively. Each of the players in the documentary represent a very different part of the international community and it’s been great fun reading through the comments and feedback from so many different regions; from Brazil and all the way to Korea. As far as sharing it with non-gamers, well we hope it offers a glimpse into the passionate community and why we love this game. The message at the end hopefully resonates broadly as we are all connected in some way through the communities and activities that we engage in.
Will we be seeing more efforts by Riot in the future to help spread the word about League of Legends by using documentaries Are you planning more media surprises like this?
Vu: Earlier this year we released Frequencies, a documentary about the music team at Riot Games and deeper insight into our creative culture. Right before Worlds 2014, we released Road to Worlds, which is a three-part documentary series on the teams vying for a spot at Worlds. When we meet talented creatives who have a unique story to tell about League of Legends, that inspires us. It’s something we take seriously and it’s a huge undertaking to do it right, but as we’ve seen with Live/Play, it can be a powerful window into what we do as developers and the community that sustains us. As long as there are great, inspiring stories to tell about League and our players, we will want to tell them.
League of Legends has a massive fan base and a very active eSports audience. Much of the attention has been focused on the eSports part of League of Legends, with its pro players and multi-million dollar prizes. You chose to focus on the tens of millions of players around the world and from all walks of life — what appealed to you about that part of audience, and that part of the story?
Caswell & Zagar: What we find so appealing about the League of Legends community is its incredible diversity. There are eSports professionals but there are also students, artists, entrepreneurs, and everyday working folks. The community is a terrific example of how we are all regular and exceptional at the same time. You can be a fisherman in Iceland, a robot inventor in South Korea and a student in Egypt, and all have a common language. The game becomes a unifying force that erases our differences.
What were the challenges you encountered in creating this documentary Was it easier or more difficult to film than you originally thought it would be, and why?
Caswell & Zagar: With a player base of tens of millions of players, casting initially seemed like a Sisyphean task. How do we pick just five players to represent nearly 70 million Riot, our Producer Jessica Sherry, and our Associate Producer Alice Dugan, did an incredible job narrowing that player base and organizing them into the “archetypes” that we wanted to feature. We knew we wanted a cosplayer, a pro gamer, someone in an urban environment, someone in nature, etc. Ultimately, casting was a balancing act. The film works because it shows how these players’ lives are different, but also the same. Unfortunately, this meant we had to make the difficult decision to exclude characters we loved. For every person in the film, there were dozens of other incredible candidates we couldn’t include — a bounty hunter in San Francisco, a skateboarder in Manila, an Olympic diver in Spain. All of those were stories we really wanted to tell, but couldn’t.
The most challenging process, by far, was editing. Juggling multiple characters is tough, even in a two hour film, but we wanted Live/Play to be around 30 minutes. That might sound like a hefty chunk of time, but it means six or seven total minutes for your five main characters. And those six minutes get broken down into three or four scenes, roughly two minutes each. Because the film takes place in a single day in each person’s life, you need to advance the story of that day in every scene while also figuring out where you can leave the confines of the day, “jump back in time” and give the characters the backstory that explains a bit about who they are and what they want to achieve. We had to be so economical in how we told the five individual stories, and one communal story.
What surprised you in the course of making this documentary?
Caswell & Zagar: We saw a lot of League being played over the course of making this film, but we were surprised at how exciting it was to see it played at a very high level at the North American Spring Split. The game was just so much faster and more technical than we expected, engagements happened so fast, and were over so quickly. You could really appreciate the skill of the players. There’s a part in the film where Amin talks about seeing a pro game for the first time, that was our “jaw dropping” moment.
Games and gamers as the subject of documentary films are a recent phenomenon. Do you think there are more fascinating documentaries to be created about gamers and game play What does the future hold for such documentaries, and will you be working on a similar project at some point?
Caswell & Zagar: League of Legends has proven that sports has a powerful future with the inclusion of eSports. There are thousands of players and an enormous fanbase so it is clear that over time, many rich stories will unfold. We don’t have any plans for another film about gamers right now, but who knows what the future holds.