When you have a big announcement (say, a pile of new games and a television series) to share with a global audience, there’s no way to pick a broadcast slot that’s optimal for everybody. Even still, when those of us on the European Publishing team learned the Riot Pls: 10th Anniversary Edition would air in the middle of the night for local players, we were faced with a unique challenge:
How do you show local players that they’re your top priority when their viewing experience may be negatively impacted based on their location?
A broadcast of this magnitude is normally all about building awareness and teasing juicy details. But the League 10 Year Anniversary event was different. The strategy for 10 Year was to keep expectations low and surprise players with an unexpected crescendo into the multi-game and show reveal. So how do you do that when you need to encourage European players to tune in hours after the fact?
Instead of anchoring our strategy around driving “Riot Pls” awareness and viewership, we decided to focus our efforts on ensuring that EU players felt valued.
What if we created an unforgettable event experience for 500 European players who’d helped build League of Legends from a buggy beta into the most played game in the world?
We didn’t want this to be a roped-off VIP experience for influencers so they’d tell their audiences how great we are—because we mess up sometimes, and that’s fine. Instead, we wanted to give the red-carpet treatment to members of the EU community with no public profile. The anonymous fans who’ve been playing League consistently since launch. The players who silently grind out games and have supported us, and League, for years. This is the cornerstone for how we’d celebrate League 10-Year in Europe.
The way we compiled the invite list involved a combination of art and science. The data insights team looked for players who had played continuously since the game’s European launch, then we did a behaviour check to make sure we were inviting players who embodied sportsmanship and community.
Reaching out to these players resulted in some... amusing stories. Community manager Loris “Riot Witchburner” Rio reached out to one player who’d missed the original email invite by sending a friend request in-game. The player almost blocked Witchburner, thinking it was a scam. Fortunately he checked with player support before deleting the invitation!
But we didn’t want the experience to end there. We hoped our love letter to European players would be read by far more people than just those at the live event in ExCeL London. And because our event would take place the day immediately following the “Riot Pls: 10th Anniversary Edition,” we wanted to have developers from some of the new game teams dive deeper into all the cool stuff they’d been unable to talk about for so long.
Creativity for us is all about problem-solving within a set of rules to chart a path toward a desired outcome, which happens to be a fairly apt description of the joy of playing video games. If you apply the gaming analogy to the 10-Year Anniversary plan for European players, the difficulty setting was firmly locked to Hard Mode.
We’d committed our modestly sized EU Publishing team to building an unforgettable live event for players, physically transporting 500 of them from across Europe to London, staging a live broadcast with League developers, and running a massive LAN party onsite for attendees—all in just 12 weeks!
Since we now had our own follow-up stream to build upon the official “Riot Pls,” we focused on how to drive viewers to it without actually acknowledging its existence until roughly 10 hours before it went live. Fortunately we didn’t have to tackle this challenge on our own. While our small team focused on the creative vision, we were lucky to have amazing partners to help with the execution.
We reached out to North Kingdom, a Swedish digital agency that specialises in boundary-pushing interactive experiences, and asked them for help driving traffic to the EU follow-up stream without tipping off players to the fact that we had some big announcements to share.
Hyping something without actually hyping it? EZ.
Achieving Swede Victory
Our creative team flew to North Kingdom’s Stockholm headquarters for a three-day brainstorm. With such a short production window we needed to figure out what we were building as soon as possible. Because it doesn’t matter how good the idea is if you don’t have time to actually deliver it.
Since the 10-Year strategy prevented us from building hype or explicitly talking about the stream we needed to promote, our ideation very quickly started to coalesce around ways that we could embrace that mystery and lack of fanfare. What if we created an experience that contained so little hype that it became interesting? A League of Legends equivalent of John Cage’s notorious silent composition “4’33.”
Could we do something that avant-garde and get away with it? Who could be our protagonist to act as a focal point for viewers? The answer was surprisingly clear. Who would be better than Ryze? A champion with such deep historical significance in the lore of both the game and the company itself.
In early parts of the brainstorming process, we talked about how funny it would be if you could mess with him. What if clicking on Ryze multiple times caused him to swat at himself as if shooing away a pesky mosquito? What if you could type commands into a window and boss him around a la Burger King’s “subservient chicken” viral marketing campaign? What if the video was several days of absolutely nothing happening but once every 10-12 hours Ryze stretches his arms or a dragonfly passes and you only notice the mini climax happen if you happen to be watching at that precise moment?
We were about to see.
One of the beautiful things about working at Riot is that you’re expected to take risks in order to surprise players. So this crazy idea of having Ryze hang about waiting for days on end (and maybe even inspire players’ curiosity and speculation) felt like it had potential.
In the end we didn’t go 100% anti-hype. To infuse a bit of 10-Year celebratory fun, we added some visual and audio easter eggs. You could click on a boombox in the scene and it would play assorted clips from esports and community videos. Little Legends and jungle creatures from Summoner’s Rift dropped by occasionally for a quick dance party. The boombox had the added effect of dispelling any potential confusion from players who might believe that our web experience was canon lore. And finally, just to be on the safe side, we tweaked the shape of the countdown monument at the climax of the experience so that it mirrored the shape of the 10 Year logo.
Everyone at Riot was working flat-out to deliver some aspect of the 10-Year Anniversary moment. It quickly became the most widely collaborative project we’ve ever taken on as a company. But technical artists from our central headquarters in Los Angeles provided access to 3D models that our vendor could use to create the Ryze and creature animations that brought our experience to life. It feels amazing to get that kind of support when you know that your colleagues are already stretched to the limit. It builds an intense respect and appreciation.
Hurry Up & Wait
When the website finally went live, it was a delight to watch players puzzle away at the meaning behind it. And to keep some of the surprises hidden, we’d taken a few technical precautions to keep players from scraping every last secret from the website codebase ahead of its arrival. After all, we wanted players to pop back in and see what Ryze was up to.
If you really want to see how tech-savvy League of Legends players are, try to outsmart them in this way. Within 24 hours of launching the site, some intrepid code detectives had unpacked many of our secrets and reported back to Reddit with their findings.
One of the engineers at our vendor who’d worked on coding the “Waiting With Ryze” experience sheepishly admitted that he’d upvoted one of these spoiler-filled Reddit posts because he was so impressed by the player’s technical prowess.
In a poetic twist, two of the creatives from North Kingdom who worked with us on the “Waiting With Ryze” piece were able to join us in London for the European Celebration, which featured the final moments of the countdown experience just prior to the start of the evening broadcast.
The amount of passion, problem-solving, and collaboration that went on behind the scenes to make Ryze’s leap into the portal happen was humbling to watch. Unlike Ryze in his final moment, when you leap into the unknown during a big Riot project, you’re never doing it alone.