The League of Legends Championship Series returns on June 4 to kick off the 2021 summer split. Fresh off of a successful live show at the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational, it seems that Riot Games is on track to begin transitioning the LCS to the “new normal” of a post-COVID world.
Ahead of recent news, Upcomer spoke with Riot’s Head of Esports for North American and Oceania Chris Greeley (who earned the title change from LCS Commissioner in March of 2021). In this exclusive interview, he detailed the major changes in broadcast, in-person production, COVID-19 protocols and more in regard to coming to the LCS this summer.
Remote no longer
The COVID-19 quarantine restrictions went into full effect in March of 2020. Since then, the LCS broadcast has been operating on a remote basis with the majority of essential personnel. This includes players, production and on-air talent working from home. The April 2021 Mid-Season Showdown was the first time that the LCS welcomed players and broadcast talent back to a live venue. With restrictions beginning to lift in California, due to rising vaccination numbers, Greeley outlined Riot’s plans to slowly transition back to normal operations for summer.
Greeley confirmed that the analyst desk and broadcast team will resume in-house operations at the LCS studio for opening day and, hopefully, the entire summer split. And, with a physical control room at their disposal once again, fans can expect the return of familiar broadcast features; the most notable of which being ProView.
“They took the time in the offseason to continue working on it,” said Greeley. “I think you’ll see a much more upgraded experience for fans. And we’re working on the rollout for that now as well.”
During the pandemic, Riot has strictly adhered to reopening guidelines detailed in Appendix J of Los Angeles County’s Health Officer Order; specifically, COVID-19 reopening protocols and conditions for music, television and film productions. While there are still no plans to have a live audience in the studio until 2022, Greeley stated that the LCS is finalizing plans for players on-stage. This will be for opening day and hopefully longer.
“We are finalizing plans to get our teams back into the arena for week one,” said Greeley. “There are still a couple of hurdles to get over. As we’re finalizing the plans, we still need to discuss those with the Players Association and with the teams. We are pretty confident that that the plan is good, and that everyone is going to understand even the things that aren’t awesome in terms of limitations on mobility around the building — that has never been there before for teams. But, we have to limit where people go and when they go there in order to keep people safe and keep distance under these protocols.”
Additionally, Riot will continue to monitor any new CDC guidelines closely as the state of California begins to reopen. The organization hopes for vaccinated press to be allowed back on site sometime in 2021.
A revitalized LCS
For the 2021 summer split, the LCS will be dropping Countdown. Consequently, it is introducing three new shows to air on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays before matches begin.
“We think we have a second chance to make a first impression on our rebrand now that we’re back in studio, and we don’t want to lose that,” Greeley said. “I think we’re going to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders.”
The three new LCS shows are as follows:
- Friday: “LanexLane”
This LCS classic will be making a return on Fridays with a new host, analyst Barento “Raz” Mohammed. In this 30-minute show, analysts will fight to give their best arguments on a topic, now with Twitch chat interactions.
- Saturday: “Replay Files”
This brand new show hosted by caster Julian “Pastrytime” Carr will take fans back to some of the biggest LCS matches from the past and include interviews from players that took part.
- Sunday: “Next Level”
Broadcast analyst and former pro jungler William “Meteos” Hartmann will host this roundtable-style interview. The series allow fans to hear from LCS pros, coaches, talent and community members. Viewers will learn what’s going on in the LCS, League of Legends and the gaming community at large.
Riot will also introduce a new audio-only LCS broadcast for summer of 2021 called LeagueDay. Casters Steve “Kangas” Kangas, Kari Keone, Matt “Cubby” Samuelson and Thomas “TJ” James will host this event.
🚨🚨IT’S OFFICIAL🚨🚨— LeagueDay (@LeagueDayGG) May 27, 2021
LeagueDay is partnering with the @LCSOfficial to bring you live audio coverage of the 2021 LCS Summer Split & LCS Championship! As the Official Audio Cast of the LCS, we’ll make sure you don’t miss a minute of the action — coverage starts June 4th! pic.twitter.com/9LwdgMNIUc
No current plans to abolish import restrictions
Greeley weighed in with some updates on recent conversations around the future of import restrictions. For the time being, there are no plans for rules to be abolished or changed significantly.
“Riot’s not removing the import rule,” Greeley said. “I will tell you that I have had an awful lot of conversations with LCS teams. I don’t think anyone; maybe one team. But, I really don’t think anyone is advocating for the repeal of the import rule. It’s just not happening.”
Furthermore, Greeley stated his belief that the conversation spun out of control while teams were still having private discussions with Riot on the subject. This is why he hadn’t released a public statement on the issue until now. Later, he addressed claims that players were being instructed not to speak on the issue by teams.
The import rule’s creation in the first place created disadvantages for the LCS because we were the region with high ping and a low player base. I’m asking for there to be changes , not preferential treatment.— TSM FTX Andy (@TSMReginald) February 27, 2021
“I had a bunch of conversations with Darshan, around the allegations,” he said. “We ran those down with teams. I know that Darshan had direct conversations with at least one team where they clarified their position. To the best of my knowledge, players were not instructed to not talk about it. I think there may have been situations where a team told their players that they would prefer them to not go on the record, but it was up to the player. Again, I don’t know every situation and I don’t want to just paint it with a broad brush.”
In an interview with Upcomer, published on May 26, LCS Players Association’s Executive Director Phillip Aram stated that orgs instructing players to stay silent on such issues would be unacceptable and unethical.
Watch Parties and fixing NA
Greeley also spoke about the LCS’s new exclusive Watch Party Program that has replaced co-streaming. Additionally, he shared his thoughts on the current state of North America’s competitive infrastructure.
“We know that there are folks out there who provide a different broadcast experience than we’re interested in providing,” Greeley said. “We love those kind of interactions. But, in order to have them, we have to tighten the program up a little bit.”
However, Greeley doesn’t foresee a formal application process in the near future to allow more streamers to participate in the program. Riot’s influencer team will always be on the lookout for suitable partners.
Greeley stated that Riot is interested in continuing to build out the amateur development pipeline. These plans to improve NA’s infrastructure were laid out at the beginning of 2021. Finally, the organization is monitoring conversations around in-houses and ping issues, but there are no updates to report at this time.
The LCS returns on June 4 with Team Liquid facing off against TSM at 6 p.m. ET.