Riot Games Founders Marc Merrill And Brandon Beck Discuss Rise Of ESports

The founders of Riot Games discuss what's next for League of Legends and eSports in this exclusive interview.

LOS ANGELES — Riot Games is riding on a high when it comes to eSports. The game developer has put on a spectacle at the Staples Center that stood up to anything the NBA and NHL arena has offered in the real sports world. At least that was the consensus among the 13,000 fans who experienced the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) Season 3 Final live – and the 1.3 million who tuned in to the livestreams – were happy with the competition, even if SK Telecom T1 swept Royal Club 3-0.

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Things have come a long way since Riot co-founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck took off a day from studying at the University of Southern California (USC) and dreamed of video game competitions being held in arenas. After launching Riot Games in 2006, that vision finally came to fruition this year with the LCS. Riot has created five regional leagues around the world that took part in the Championship Series at the end of September in Los Angeles to whittle down the best League of Legends players. Merrill and Beck discuss the year that was and look ahead to the future in this exclusive interview.

What impact do you feel that selling out the Staples Center has had, not just with League of Legends, but for eSports, in general, moving forward?

Marc Merrill: Selling out the Staples Center is a really big milestone for eSports in general and really helps add a lot to the exciting road that’s happened the last couple of years. It’s a real privilege to be in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, home of the Lakers where NBA Finals have been won.

What type of mainstream credibility does something like the Staples Center, as well as the $8 million in prize money, have?

Marc Merrill: One of the team’s goals was to really bring in the giant sponsors, the companies that sponsor the Olympics, FIFA and the biggest events in sports and bring them into this ecosystem. Generally, when that happens all the other sponsors now have a precedent and a case to be made that eSports is a viable pursuit.

You can imagine the conversations that go on in some of those companies around explaining eSports to senior management and why companies should be allocating resources to it. It was important to us because we think it is really important to the ecosystem and the teams, in terms of making sure that they’re financially viable and sustainable and that eSports can be a real profession for all the players.

What do you feel needs to be done for eSports to take that next step into the mainstream?

“Our goal isn’t necessarily to try to bring eSports to the mass market.”

— Brandon Beck, Riot Games

Brandon Beck: Things like the event at Staples Center and some of the symbolism and companies like Coca-Cola signing on to support eSports are good steps to grow and continue to evolve. But our goal isn’t necessarily to try to bring eSports to the mass market. Esports should be centered around people that are interested in watching games as a sport. Our focus has really been primarily on serving that community. Over time, that community is going to grow over and will become a bigger part of life, as more generations grow up playing eSports. I don’t think we should be under any illusion that eSports, in a couple a years, with increased production value, are going to be something that we’ll watch with your grandparents in the living room.

How have you seen live streaming impact League of Legends?

Marc Merrill: The live streaming has had a huge impact, allowing millions of people to watch the game. Even via spectator mode, it can facilitate people watching the game through the actual live streaming. That spectator mechanism was a novel technological evolution that has really not only helped people come into eSports, but opened up a financial ecosystem for the players who are streaming content.

Pros are getting tons of people who want to watch them. Live streaming allows pros to have a viable career and to actually make money while they’re doing it. Spectating is an important part of the ecosystem.

Streaming is on its way to replacing television.” — Brandon Beck, Riot Games

Brandon Beck: Live streaming has advanced really fast and it’s remarkable how well it works today. It’s only getting better exponentially and it’s easy to stream almost anywhere with almost any type of connection. And it’s easy for the average connection to stream in HD and it’s easier to pull a stream up on mobile devices and it’s becoming easier to share that content with something like Apple TV or Chromecast, which is something that we’ve been testing out and we just enabled for the World Championship this year. It allows you to watch your live streaming on television.

Streaming is on its way to replacing television, where we’re not clamoring to focus on serving TV and being on Channel 674 know and having to look at the TV guide to figure out when. I think streaming is a glimpse into the future of television.

What do you guys contribute to the success that League of Legends has had even with so many other MOBAs out there?

“Marc is still trudging his way through Platinum and I’m still trudging my way through Gold.” — Brandon Beck, Riot Games

Brandon Beck: Part of what keeps these players really engaged is just the nature of competitive games. No two games have ever been the same. It’s almost this endless mastery, where you can spend endless amounts of time playing and trying to get better. It’s that competition that’s really the reward loop for most players.

Players like Marc and I always have something to improve upon and something to learn in every game we play and we’ve played thousands of games. Marc is still trudging his way through Platinum and I’m still trudging my way through Gold. It’s that challenge that keeps us motivated and keeps a lot of the players motivated. It’s the social feeling that you get in a game of basketball.


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Author
John Gaudiosi
John Gaudiosi has been covering the video game business for over 20 years for outlets like The Washington Post, Reuters, Fortune, AOL and CNN. He's EIC of video game site Gamerhub.tv.