Following an influx of star players from Korea to China, Riot Games is preparing to gain a foothold in the country’s League of Legends pro league. Sources close to Riot reveal that the company will broadcast the Tencent LoL Pro League (LPL) this season, with production handled by Riot’s Sydney-based Australian division.
The company has already brought on casting talent for the broadcast. Richard “Pulse” Kam announced that Riot had officially hired him on Dec. 18, leaving many wondering where he would end up. Kam, a former Challenger scene commentator, will likely be one of the main commentators for the LPL season, though that is of course subject to change, as with all things Riot.
Julian “Pastrytime” Carr will also join broadcast. Carr made a big splash when he was part of the Battle of Atlantic talent in 2013, his performance prompting Riot Games Director of Esports Whalen “Magus” Rozelle to announce that the company was working on bringing Carr to the North American LCS on a full-time basis. That was back in January 2014, and since then there has been little activity from Carr. With the studio in his native Australia, he will now be free from the visa issues that plagued his attempts to move to North America.
The move is likely to freeze out a small group of dedicated fans and casters who’ve brought the Chinese LPL to the English-speaking world for over a year. The people behind LPLen— principally Kelsey Moser, Ryanne “Froskurinn” Mohr and Devin “PiraTechnics” Younge—have been told that their stream will effectively be shut down. Riot has yet to offer any an opportunity to continue their work alongside the official Riot broadcast.
“Riot have assessed the existing LPLen staff internally and aren’t particularly won over by them” one source explained. “They don’t consider Kelsey a caster at all so she is out. Piratechnics is currently somewhere in the interview process and could be included.
“But things are different for Froskurinn though. I think most people in esports see her as good enough. Riot see her as a risk based on her social media [presence] and have informed her that she needs to change that if she wants any chance at working on a show with them.”
If Mohr is brought into the fold to work on the LPL broadcast, she would become the first female caster on Riot Game’s books. She and the rest of the crew behind LPLen declined to comment on this article.
Bizarrely, the move could also see Riot on collision course with its majority stakeholder, Tencent Holdings. A prominent figure within the Chinese scene explained why.
“One of the agreements that had been in place with the share purchase was that Tencent had full control over the Chinese market. This is why there have often been inconsistent decisions across the regions and very different marketing approaches. Now, Riot have creative control over this English language stream. It is a foothold in the region, one that just so happens to coincide with the launch of their official merchandise store. Everyone knows how huge the Chinese market is for League of Legends, and Riot want their official products to be marketed there.
“This also now means Riot have changed how third party streams are authorized. Now all broadcasts have to be localised and approved by the branch responsible for the language and the region. So where before the LPLen stream could exist with a green light from Tencent, that decision now goes to Riot’s HQ in NA and they can reject it. It will mean that all streams for their regions will now be Riot approved and controlled.”
Whatever conflict lies ahead surrounding this move, fans are most likely to be satisfied with the results. Riot has consistently shown that it excels at broadcasting its game. Many will welcome the opportunity to see how the exodus of big name Korean players fare in the upcoming LPL season in an English-language broadcast that rivals the Western and Korean regions.
Illustration by Max Fleishman