A NA LCS Weekend

This past weekend, I went to a broadcast of NA LCS, the North American League of Legends pro series. I had tried searching for posts from previous event-goers to help me prepare and know what to expect, but was unable to find any with the level of detail that I wanted. In addition to documenting the event for my own memories, I hope that this is informative for others planning to attend a weekend at the NA LCS.

This was my second time at the NA LCS Studio, so I was already somewhat familiar with the venue. I had attended the All-Stars event back in 2015, but the format of this 2017 NA LCS Summer Split was entirely different. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after doing some research, I prepared my DSLR for pictures from my seat and Sharpie pens and something for the pros to autograph, just in case there was that opportunity.

The broadcast was set to start at noon, so we arrived at the lot with plenty of time at around 11AM. The Riot Games headquarters is across the street from the studio. The lot that you park at is not owned by Riot; they seem to share the structure with other buildings/businesses. Parking is free with validation from Riot, however, which is a huge plus already. Considering this is LA, you would not be surprised to pay $20 for parking at an event.

Check-in was set up under tents in the empty parking lot in front of the studio building. We passed through security, which consisted of a metal detector and guards checking bags. Then, there was a Riot employee at a fold-out table to scan our tickets and give us wristbands. Apparently you could also just bring your ID if you didn’t have your ticket. I would imagine they’d check your ID to your Eventbrite purchase. Either way, the check-in process was very simple and we were also able to pick up some swag. That day, they had “Tons of Damage” wristbands and blow-up thunder sticks for you to use to cheer while watching.

For the recent season, Riot had expanded to two studios that would broadcast different match-ups simultaneously: the Battle Arena, which I believe was the original studio, and the newly-added Battle Theater. Both are at the same location but are in two different rooms in the building. Tickets were sold separately, so you were only restricted to one area unless you bought a ticket for each location. The weekend I attended, the Battle Arena was hosting TSM v. FlyQuest and Cloud9 v. Team Liquid. The Battle Theater was hosting CLG v. Team Envy and Immortals v. Team Dignitas. We got tickets to the Battle Arena, which was clearly the more popular choice, considering there was no line to get into the Battle Theater, while seats to the Battle Arena had been sold out. Despite the Battle Arena’s popularity, however, its line to get in was not bad at all. The studio itself only held maybe 200-300 seats and people were continuously entering and exiting the line, so it never grew too long. Event staff led groups of 20-30 people at a time from the line into the building and we waited for maybe 10-15 minutes before it was our turn. The staff who organized us was friendly and cheerful and easily made conversation with us as we walked in. He lined us up outside the entrance to the studio and went over ground rules, most of which were things that we were allowed to do, rather than things we weren’t allowed to do. He told us, for example, we were allowed to leave the lot, when the merch store would be open and closed, and where the bathrooms and concession stand were.

We entered the studio itself and there were other staffers there to lead us to our seats. I was concerned because the boyfriend was arriving late and I worried that we would not be able to save him a seat, especially since there were individual chairs, rather than benches or bleachers. I decided to ask one of the staffers if it was possible to save a seat for my friend, expecting the worst, but he easily and casually answered, “oh yeah sure, of course.” We ended up being seated to the right side of the stage, in the second row. The first row of seats were not open to us spectators–they seemed to be reserved for Riot-affiliated/special guests, videographers from the pro’s teams, or other media/special permissions.

The stage itself was pretty nice. The game was displayed on a projector screen hung in the middle above the stage and the entire setup was edged by glowing lighting. Before the game started, the LED screens behind the where the players sit displayed their faces. Once the game started, the screens would display a graphic of the Rift, either blue or red side behind each team’s respective side. When major objectives were achieved, such as first blood, dragon, baron, or rift herald, text animations would appear behind the team and the stage lighting would change for emphasis. The casters sat in a booth at the top behind the audience.

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Riot’s supervision of the studio was much more lax and casual than I had been expecting. DSLRs were allowed, even with larger lenses, as long as flash was not used; I suspect anything short of a canon lens, tripods, or professional film camera would have been OK. Additionally, I had thought that no food or drink (maybe aside from water) was allowed, or at least only food from the studio’s concession stand was permitted. Clearly I had not read the FAQ closely enough because, as it turned out, any food and drink short of alcohol was permitted. Boyfriend showed up as the second game was beginning with burgers and fries that permeated smells throughout the studio and there was no issue. We were free to enter and exit the studio whenever we wanted–it was just important that we put something on our seats to save it. People were walking in and out to grab food from the concession stand and since there was no cut-off time to check-in, many others would be trickling in throughout the broadcast.

Additionally, since we were sitting on FlyQuest’s side of the stage, TSM was always hidden behind their computer screens  and it was unsatisfying for me to take pictures of them from where I sat. I really wanted to get a closer/better angle but wasn’t sure if I was allowed to wander around near the stage with a camera. Since Riot’s supervision of the event had seemed pretty chill so far, though, at one point when the players were setting up before the start of the game, I left my seat, walked up near the stage on TSM’s side, and asked the security guard if it was OK for me to stand and take pictures from there. He told me it was fine as long as I did not use flash.

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As we were waiting for the games to start, I also recognized Max, TSM’s videographer, sitting in a chair right in front of us. Knowing that he made the TSM: LEGENDS series that I so enjoyed, I got his attention and told him how much I loved the series and how well-done I thought they were, to which he shyly thanked me.

There wasn’t much of a ceremony to start each broadcast, which was fine because it added to the casual intimacy of the experience. The players would wander out on stage randomly one by one to set up a few minutes or even while the broadcast was starting. Before each game, a Rioter would come out to hype the crowd and throw swag such as Lulu cupcakes, Zigg bombs, and Teemo shrooms for the audience to catch. Then we would countdown the broadcast timer when it hit 10 seconds remaining.

The broadcast started with some analysis from the casters and also interview/short documentary snippets of players which were relevant to the game. For example, for the first TSM v. FLY match, there was a video of Hai discussing his matchup against Bjergsen. Then, we moved into champion select before finally entering the Rift.

Once the first game ended (#TSMwin), the players retreated backstage and we had about 15 minutes before the next game started. People took this time to use the bathroom, go to the concession stand, and check out the merch store. There was actually a line to get into the merch store during this time, since the store was only open from when the first game started to when the last game ended, so those who did not want to miss out on any game footage only had this intermission time to visit the store. However, if you don’t mind missing some matches and go during the broadcast, like I did later, there should not be a line. I also took this time to visit the front desk, where I obtained a validation for my parking pass.

Game 2 started and ended in a similar fashion to Game 1 (#TSMwin). Once the soon-to-win team was approaching the opposing Nexus and it looked like the game was going to end, the Riot broadcast cameramen would walk out with their cameras, in preparation to to film the players in the aftermath of the game. At the end of Game 2, as TSM was approaching the Nexus for their series win, the audience also rose and rushed towards the stage (although it was a relatively respectful, if not excited, approach towards the stage, rather than a crazed fan rush) for the ending high-five run. Sitting second row made it easier for us to get a spot, but I figure you’d probably still be OK even if you sat farther back. We gathered as a crowd in front of the stage and watched TSM do their usual victory team hug and walk across the stage to shake hands with/hug FlyQuest before running through our outstretched hands. There were a lot of hands and my fear was that one of them would miss mine, but the guys were fairly careful to hit each one of us, which was great of them. They went to gather their peripherals after finishing the high-five line and Bjergsen was pulled to center-stage for the post-game interview while us fans, having been notified by Riot prior to the second game that “player-interaction” would be held outside, hurriedly filed back out to the front parking lot to wait in line for that.

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The line for player-interaction wasn’t bad at all, either. We were told a few rules while waiting: 1) have the cameras open on your phones; 2) only one camera per group; 3) no handshakes, hugs, or picking up the players, but fist-bumps are OK; and 4) autographs and selfies will be afterwards at the players’ leisure. We waited for perhaps 15 minutes until the teams came out and the line began to move as each group stood with each team for a picture.  A staffer would take the photo with one of the group member’s phones and the line moved fairly fast. Excited and nervous, my group discussed ahead of time whose camera to use and where each of us three would stand with TSM. It was exhilarating moving with the line and experiencing them get closer and closer.

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When it was our turn, my friend handed his phone to the staffer and we went to our positions. I approached Hauntzer and Svenskeren with a “hi!” and, reading my intention, Kevin moved aside for me to stand between top and jungle. The Riot staffer took a couple of photos before we broke formation. I fist-bumped each of them in turn and at the end of the lineup, I turned to Doublelift and commented “Bonnie says you like being called oniichan” (before that weekend, I had posed this question to Bonnie). He replied something along the lines of, “what! no I do not!” as the other members laughed about “oniichan”. Peter asked if I knew Bonnie and I told him I didn’t, personally, before moving on to the photograph with FlyQuest.

We had also decided on where of us would stand with FlyQuest, but they were not in line according to their positions, which confused me so we ended up just standing wherever. After our photo with FlyQuest, we moved out into the open to wait for the photos to finish and the “autographs/selfies at the players’ leisure” to begin. I had my two Sharpies out and my Lulu cupcake, caught by my friend from the 2015 All-Stars event we attended, and boyfriend’s nice Hydroflask water bottle for the players to sign. When the photo line finally finished, us fans, excited, started to crowd towards the remaining TSM members (Doublelift and Sven decided to bounce right after the photo-ops, leaving Vincent, Kevin, and Soren left to deal with the fans). The Riot staffer in charge was quick to halt us and asked us to form a line. As we jumbled into the line in front of Biofrost, I was confused as to whether the line was for access to all of them or if there was a line for each person. I mistakenly thought it was the latter (my bad) and, urged by my friend, approached Kevin, who was standing to the side alone. I presented my Lulu cupcake and gave him the choice of Sharpies and we stood in short silence as he signed it. Once done, he gave it back and I skipped off with a “thanks!”. I returned to where my friend was waiting in line and gave him the water bottle so he could ask for autographs on it when it was his turn.

Accustomed to the frenzied chaos of kpop fandom back in the day, I had been stressed about getting access the players and had made my prioritizations on who and what to ask for, fearing biting off more than I was allowed. However, I soon realized that this fan experience was incredibly unhurried and more relaxed than I was expecting. The Riot staffers never stepped in to cut off the player-interaction lines or tell anyone they were being inappropriate and the players didn’t seem impatient to rush off to somewhere else. Every fan there was able to get their fill of time with the players and Riot seemed to be chill as long as we made lines and didn’t harass the pros. If I wanted signatures from all of TSM and pictures with all the individual TSM members there, I could get all of that without feeling like I was bothering them or overstepping boundaries.

So, feeling unsatisfied, I stood back in line and no one told me that I couldn’t even though I already had a chance at my player-interaction. The line moved quickly and I asked for a selfie with Biofrost before moving to Bjergsen, whose signature was the only one missing from our signed water bottle. Since neither Vincent nor Kevin were talkative in my interactions with them thus fair, Soren surprised me by trying to make conversation when I approached. Having not been prepared to make small-talk with Bjergsen, I mumbled uninteresting responses to whatever his comments were (too starstruck to remember what they were, except for “Oh this is a Hydroflask”/”Yeah it is!”) as he signed the water bottle. He ended up smudging the first couple letters of his signature because, I was later told, Soren is left-handed. The side of his palm was stained with the smudge, which he quickly realized and covered up. I thanked him and walked away before regretting that I could have offered him tissues or hand sanitizer to help clean the smudge. Instead, I turned back to Kevin and, aware that I was back for a second time, apologized and asked if I could take a picture with him this time, to which he obliged with a chuckle. Then, before leaving, I mustered up what I wanted to say but couldn’t before and asked if Sven still lifts more than he does, to which he replied “yeah, I think so.” I followed up with “are you working on it?” and he replied with a shy laugh and “yeah” before I felt it was awkward enough to leave.

That ended our player interaction episode. Extremely satisfied with my experience, we headed back into the building and stopped by the merch store. They had the statues, figurines, plushies, and apparel on display. Apparel included League-themed shirts and hoodies, as well as team jerseys (but the jerseys do not have individual player names on them). I ended up buying the last King Poro plushie and convinced boyfriend to gift me the cutest bestest figurine, Dragon Trainer Tristana. We also received a small Poro plush as a free gift for buying at least two items.

By the time we exited the merch store and made our way back to our seats in the Battle Arena, the first game of C9 v. TL had already ended in a C9 victory. C9 ended up sweeping it 2-0 and we stayed long enough for the high-five run before leaving at a little before 4PM.

Overall, the event was a great experience. While watching the game itself was similar to a viewing from home (you’re still watching a screen, right?), being at the venue to experience the hype and atmosphere, seeing where it all happens, seeing the players in person, and being able to participate in player-interactions made the experience infinitely more exciting. Even more, Riot’s handling of the event exceeded my expectations at each turn. Their supervision was so relaxed and chill that I felt I was in no way inhibited from getting the best experience I could out of the day. At the same time, however, I recognize that Riot was able to maintain such an atmosphere because the fans were calm and respectful enough to deserve it. I would not recommend for anyone to push the boundaries and risk ruining it for the rest of us in the future. In the end, though, it was an extremely satisfying and intimate experience and I would strongly recommend to any League esports fan.

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