League of Legends developer Riot hasn't been playing around when it comes to pushing the incredibly popular game as a serious e-sport, with huge prize pools, international pro leagues and millions of fans to its name.
On the domestic front, that meant some marquee grand finals and some stiff competition to qualify for the top level of play. That is until now. 2017 marks the opening of Riot's new nexus for all things OPL -- that's Oceanic Pro League -- Australia's highest level of play for League of Legends.
The Sydney-based offices house the most advanced gaming coverage studio in the region, and it's there that every game of the 2017 season will be played, covered and streamed live. We sat down with OPL producer Matthew Boughen to talk about what the upgrade and investment in the local e-sports scene means for Riot.
"We were going into a season where all the players were going to be playing live on site, and we knew that what we had wasn't going to be sufficient to cater for that," said Boughen. That meant a new technical loadout, a new team with experience in live broadcast, sports and e-sports, and a new approach to how the team would cover each game.
That meant weekly internal meetings on the stories behind each game. "It's about storytelling with sport. It's about telling the story of the undefeated champion, about the team that's the underdog on the rise, the team that's going to defeat the undefeated champion. Those kinds of things are what helps fans connect with teams."
A big part of the new studio was moving to LAN based games, rather than games played over the internet. It's how the pros do it internationally, and it makes a bigger difference than you'd think in response time. If Australia means to play for keeps, it's an important step for them to take. Boughen says that all eight teams have now moved to Sydney in team houses. If you want to know more about what it's like to live in a house and get paid to play games professionally, you can see CNET's write-up here.
In the 2017 season, the teams that have qualified for the top level of play in Australia are:
- The Direwolves
- Chiefs Esport Club
- Abyss Esport Club
- Sin Gaming
- Tainted Minds
- Legacy Esports
- Avant Garde
The season is now a few weeks in, but the remaining 21 rounds will all be streamed live from the new studio. You can watch games live on YouTube and Twitch on Saturdays and Sundays. Conveniently, that also means Riot is now rocking seven days of live matches around the world. The OPL season also has a planned midseason break with some international exhibition matches.
For the full lineup and dates, click here.
If you've never played League, the big takeaway is that it doesn't really detract from watching it. That's the end goal of the team at Riot. To get you to connect with the players, the game and the stories in a way that stands apart from how well you can play. And a touchstone that Boughen keeps close to hand: We're a sporting nation.
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