Riot Games are the headline sponsors for Esports Pro’s Esports Workshop, a name we wouldn’t encourage anyone to try and say too fast.
Mark ‘General_Coxy’ Cox is Riot’s UK Head of Publishing and the driving force behind the company’s new London office, one of several satellite offices the company is bringing together across Europe to help manage each country's League of Legends community.
Each office will still report to the EU headquarters in Dublin, and the Berlin office which oversees esports in the region, but by building these individual offices Riot hope to better connect with the playerbase in each country at a more grassroots level. These offices have been springing up for the last two years, although the UK has been somewhat tardy, perhaps the result of Riot looking to plan things out a little better after closing their creative services office in Brighton just a few years ago.
“Riot came to the UK because we want to connect with our players locally,” says Cox, “and I think the point of that is esports.”
Cox says that Riot is under no illusions about the state of the UK esports environment, both the League of Legends scene and in general, referring to it as “pretty undeveloped.” Riot’s goal in the UK is to develop a clear path for amateur players to move from there to a pro level, and one of their ‘prime goals’ is to build out this route and then show promising players that it exists.
“Ultimately it's all about the players. Giving them that absolute clear understanding; if they're playing in a grassroots league we want to point the way all the way from where they are to the EU LCS.”
“Deeper than that, lots of our work will focus on education around investor sustainability and sponsorship and making sure that our orgs become really solid businesses so they can be there for a long, long time. When we looked at League as a video game in esports, we’re planning for it to last for generations. However, if you want an esport to last generations you gotta have the teams and the players set up for success. And that's what we want to help them do over the coming years.”
Cox admits one of the problems is that there aren’t any UK teams with a “national flavour” at the top tier. “Fnatic is an example. they don't really have that true national flavour to them so they're not a UK team. They're just based there for business purposes. So for the local leagues that we have running at the moment we really want to develop a player's sense of identity so that fans can grasp hold of them and follow their story.”
Cox refers to the LCS as “very established” with “very established teams” and says that it’s time for the local teams and local players to be given a clear vision for how they can aspire to reaching the top tier. “Historically, it’s something we haven’t been that great at communicating on a local level,” he admits.
Riot’s London team will be fluid in its actual activities, at least to start. Part of the team’s tasks will be to work out exactly how Riot can help the community grow, and organisations to grow into stable and formidable contenders. “We're not going to create it all for them, but we want to use our resources to connect them with the right people, and help them make the right choices. So, running regular AGM’s (annual general meeting) for the teams, getting them in front of maybe even LCS teams so they can impart their information and some local knowledge around merch and streaming and getting them in front of partners like Twitch and Facebook and really getting them to level up their own profiles so they can start building a sustainable business.”
Cox feels that the UK is held back by the professional development side of things, which means that sponsors, partnerships and other economic factors aren’t where they are in other regions. “The economics of running a business are quite far behind, and that can mess up an organisation’s sustainability.
“For me, it's at that developmental place that we're still way behind on it. And I think every publisher has a responsibility within their brand or within their ecosystems to help those games do that. And that's not necessarily through monetary contributions and always throwing money into prize pools or throwing it into salaries. It's more about education and helping these guys live off of their orgs and getting structured in a way where they become self-sustaining.”
For the future, Cox wants to see a “very strong” local scene that’s built from the grassroots up. “We see a scene that runs from high school or uni all the way through some sort of division two, division one and then a premier league. We want to give these players a chance to get scouted for a go at the LCS, but also a sustainable UK ecosystem that has strong brands, strong players and a strong identity. That builds a strong sense of community in the UK and ultimately, that’s why we’re here. “
As we said, Riot is the headline sponsors for our event. What is key about esports in the UK?
“I guess for me a key reason behind sponsoring the Esports Workshop, and by extension any event we sponsor in the UK, is that I feel that Riot can play a ¬really strong role in developing UK esports, and I think that’s important. I don’t care what brand or franchise it is that helps the scene grow, but I don’t like seeing the UK so far behind in the esports industry as we’ve found ourselves.”
“We should be at the forefront, and I think that’s the important thing, not whether it’s for League of Legends, or Overwatch or even Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Whatever brand, whatever franchise, we need to be heralding amazing teams, taking part in amazing events and just throwing our hat into the ring and saying ‘we’re here, let’s all help each other’.”
Mark Cox will be speaking and networking at our forthcoming Future Games Summit Esports Workshop. Tickets for the half-day workshop are £49+VAT. Why not buy one?