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Arena: Supporting Pros IRL

An intro to how we support our pros and level up their experience.

“When I joined EU LCS, it was mostly Deficio who was my teammate and kind of a dad or big brother figure. He just kinda always made sure that I had everything I needed. I was very shy back then, so he made sure I knew everything that was gonna happen on an LCS day so I wouldn't be surprised. I didn't really wanna do too many interviews and stuff so he was good at shielding me from them because I just wanted to play.” - Bjergsen

The path to playing in the NA LCS isn’t an instant jump from solo queue to stage. When a pro enters the scene, they are often bombarded with millions of new things to learn, ranging from moving into a new house (or even country), to working with a new team, to handling their finances, all on top of playing the most competitive League of Legends in their life. Recognizing this transition can be an overwhelming experience—especially for athletes in their formative years—Player Management team’s role is to mitigate some of that craziness by providing classes, trainings, and support.

With more than 860 pros and 100 professional teams around the world, we have Rioters in every region committed to supporting our pro players and improving their experience. Here’s an intro to our North American Player Management (NA PM) team, what we do, and why we do it.

“Probably the most difficult thing about becoming a pro is working with a lot of new personalities, and especially a lot of those that don't have a very strong sports background. A lot of people are new to working in these team environments, and trying to ease everyone into a system that has the same goal can be difficult.” - Solo

SUPPORT MASTERIES

“We need anything, we talk to PM. If we want to ask questions, we talk to PM, and if we need to know information, we talk to PM.” - Apollo

NA PM team currently supports 120 pro players and manages amateur talent programs like Scouting Grounds. You might have spotted us in the background of the NA LCS or team content like 100 Thieves’ The Heist or Team Liquid’s Squad. We focus on providing a network of support and normalcy the pros can lean on as they make the transition into the rare opportunity of going pro and throughout their esports career. With the end goal of our pro players becoming better people than when they started with us, we explored the best ways we could partner with our teams to support and improve the pro player experience.

If a pro has to worry about the essentials in life, it takes away from their ability to focus and be their best selves on the Rift. Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we approach our pro player support by looking at their experience holistically. Here’s a sampling of our areas of support:

  • Gameday prep and event planning (hotels, flights, practice rooms, etc.)
  • Solving and anticipating pro player needs (tournament realm accounts, visas, schedules, etc.)
  • Ensuring a fair and safe environment to compete (onsite security planning, online security support, fan interaction guidelines, etc.)
  • Serving as the 24/7 connective tissue between pros and Riot (crisis management, last minute requests, questions, etc.)
  • Advising on issues or challenges that impact the pro players in partnership with The Player’s Association (standardized contracts, gaming houses, salary and benefits)
  • Being a neutral party who cares about pros, regardless of their winrate (sometimes they don’t want to talk about League of Legends!)
  • Based on feedback, we’re advocating for pro players and sharing their concerns inside of Riot Games (gameplay, balance, bugs, events, etc.)
  • Managing health, wellness, and developmental programs for pro players (summits, training, etc.)
  • Creating long-term solutions to improve the pro player experience (pro player churn, post-career support, scrims/practice evolution, etc.)

BEHIND THE SCENES

“Any problem I have when I'm here, I just always go to them.” - GoldenGlue

On a typical weekend at the NA LCS studio, PMs arrive bright and early to double check that everything is all set up and ready. Once the teams and pros arrive (about 2 hours before the broadcast starts), we’re running the behind-the-scenes schedule with team managers to make sure everyone is where they need to be (makeup, pre-game prep, game time, etc). Once a team takes the stage, PM circles back with the team staff and subs to check on any emergent issues and to keep a pulse on what’s going on. It may look smooth on stream, but running a live broadcast with this many moving parts takes everyone working together to keep things going.

Throughout the day, we’ll also collect all the requests for post-game content from Riot and share it with NA LCS teams, including side stage interviews with Ovilee, sound bites for next week’s broadcast, special interview requests for LoL Esports content (editorial pieces like Brother Sven, video features such as Eyes On, teases / promos, special events like the NA LCS Civil War, etc.), and press interviews. The days move really fast though, so we’re also making sure the teams playing in the next set of games are ready to go. Transition times are hectic, so we work hard to ensure it’s quick and smooth.

After a game ends, we make sure the pros are where they need to be, including post-game interviews, press interviews, and fan meets. We’re also making sure we’re still on track with the behind-the-scenes schedule and that the upcoming teams are where they need to be in their pre-game process. It really is a juggling act.

During Finals and international events, a member of NA PM will travel with the teams and stay with them during the event to make sure everything is ready for them and they have a familiar point of contact onsite.

GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT

“They seem to have an open floor for us to come to them and give our opinion. So it was more of a dialogue than a monologue whenever we had the summit.” - Shady

One of the priorities for NA PM is to ensure our pros are better people than when they started with us. We aim to arm the pros with all the awareness and tools they need to take full advantage of their time with our esports leagues. We focus on opportunities to set them up for a lifelong career in esports or future careers using any transferable skills they get while being a pro player.

Over the years, Player Management has developed, managed, and updated its programs. For example, the Pro Player Conference, an annual gathering of all active NA LCS pro players, and the New Player Summit, an event for all new players at the start of each split, were designed to provide developmental opportunities for our pros. These events include programs, workshops, and sessions to help resolve some of the challenges pros face in their LCS careers or skills for future careers or personal growth. Early on, it wasn’t uncommon for new pros to be uncomfortable doing post-game interviews on broadcast or press interviews. We wanted to give pros the tools they needed to level up, so, with the help of the Riot PR and broadcast teams, we introduced media training and on-camera training as sessions during our conferences.

A lot of our courses are based on pro player feedback. A number of pros asked for help on how to grow their audiences or how to better connect with fans, so we introduced social media and branding workshops. After the influx of South Korean talent joining NA teams in 2014, we began to develop and introduced a workshop for them on some of the cultural differences between the USA and South Korea to help them better adjust to North American culture.

Recently, we introduced a workshop that helped NA LCS teams identify their personality strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to collectively reflect on their team dynamics, and hopefully improve interpersonal communication.

“I had a talk with Quickshot back then, and I remember he just said that, ‘You're really good at the game, but that's not the only thing that matters. All these people that make this into a career, they do interviews and they interact with fans and they do social media because that's how you grow a career, not just as a player.’ And that kinda clicked with me and I was like, ’Oh, I need to also put effort into these other things,’ 'cause even though it's not stuff I liked to do, it's stuff that matters, so that was really helpful to me back then.” - Bjergsen

COMMUNICATION AND FEEDBACK

The NA LCS and Academy are only possible through the support of fellow teams at Riot and our strong partnership with our permanent organizations. We can’t expect NA LCS or Academy teams to know exactly who to go to within Riot to get what they need, so part of our job is to be the connective tissue between Riot and the teams. Knowing who to go to in each situation inside of Riot and getting the right answer to teams is crucial so we don’t give misinformation and hurt the relationships we’ve worked so hard to build.

“Yeah, I think [feedback] gets acted on. I feel like most of the time most players actually don't have too much feedback. Or anytime Riot comes to us with information—for example, we were switching the format from Bo3s to Bo1s—they came at us with all these stats of why we should do it. And then they took our feedback as well. Like, if you guys really don't wanna do this. They do a very good job of keeping us in the loop.” - GoldenGlue

Another time Riot and pro teams often collaborate is for playtests. NA PM facilitated and developed a strong relationship with the Playtest team, and that has allowed Riot to get some great feedback from the pros. When Playtest wants pro player input on game changes, they reach out to PM  and we work together to find the pros who are best suited to give them expert feedback. For example, when the Evelynn rework was in progress, we connected them with Moon who was known for his Evelynn picks.

“I playtested Evelynn when she was getting reworked, and I gave a lot of feedback. It was actually like a really cool experience to be able to see a champion go through all those changes because I think I playtested her twice. And even then, the last playtest I did, her last kit, her release kit, was still extremely different. So it's really interesting to kind of get into the mind of the champion creators and see what they're thinking and their reasoning for things.” - Moon

These days, the Playtest team even gives out retros to each pro after a playtesting session explaining what was implemented, what wasn’t, and the whys behind the decisions. It helps the pros understand how their feedback was considered or used so they hopefully feel more inclined to continue partnering with us to improve the game.

While pro players and teams currently get patch previews or recaps of potential changes to come, we worked with the Gameplay team to establish a more direct line of communication. Ultimately, balance changes are always up to our designers, but understanding pro-player perspective and gaining a more in-depth understanding of how potential changes can impact pro play can be incredibly valuable for the game’s health.This direct line of communication allows our Gameplay team to get more feedback directly from teams around the world and pro teams to get more visibility into potential changes so they can anticipate how they’ll adapt if the changes hit the Rift.

WORLDWIDE WILDCATS

“I felt like I could always reach out to PM if I had any questions or if there was kind of anything I needed. I think that's one thing the player managers have always been good at is they're just really approachable people. So I don't think anyone ever feels uncomfortable with them or feels like they can't ask them for something. They just always seem like they care for the players and they wanna help.” - Bjergsen

Supporting our pros isn’t unique to North America—it’s something we strive for around the globe. We believe that creating a network of support and normalcy for the pros and helping them grow is a key factor in League’s long term success as a sport. Player Management goes by a variety of different names in different regions, but a few times a year we all come together at global events such as MSI or Worlds. Since not everyone goes by PM, we wanted a rally cry or a name to band us together at our events, especially after long game days.

After one particularly long argument (I believe there were quite a few tiebreakers), someone shouted “Go Wildcats!” and it stuck. Regardless of what you might do outside the event, when you work as Player Management at an event, you’re a Wildcat. And the Wildcats have one common goal—supporting our pros so they can compete at the highest level. We’re excited to see Player Management continue to expand to support more of our pros, and we’re still hungry to continue to level up the experience of being a pro player.


Next month, we’ll share how the story of how the Player Management team started, how we evolved over the years, and where we’re looking to go in the future.

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