Gaming Bits with Monica Dinsmore, Head of Publishing and Esports Europe for Riot Games

Welcome back to the Gaming Bits by Replai! A series of short interviews with leaders discussing the present and future of gaming and esports, opportunities around the corner and how can industry participants play a significant role on its expansion. Want to add to the discussion or know someone whose input you’d really want to see featured on this series? Tag them on the comments or email at diogo.pereira@replai.io

This past weekend was a glorious one in the Esports one and the LEC - League of Legends European Championship - played a big part for that. One of the most antecipated matches, the clash between Fnatic and G2 Esports to secure a spot in the 2020 LEC Summer Playoffs finals, drew around 900 000 peak viewers. Some fans claim the European tournaments are the more exciting in the world. While this is highly subjective, the one thing you can't deny is how great of a job Riot Games has been doing when cementing the European Esports scene. Today I'm pleased to welcome one of the key people in putting this together: Monica Dinsmore, Head of Publishing and Esports Europe from Riot Games joins us for a great discussion. Thank you for your participation, Monica!

"We do a lot of listening and create content that resonates with our fans, consistently and intently. We push ourselves to innovate and try new things both on broadcast and in our Publishing content - and if fans love it, we’ll do more."

Recently you've reported a big viewership growth (81% YTD) in average minute audience for the first four weeks of the 2020 Summer Split. This is no small feat - congratulations! What's key in the strategy to sustain and grow such viewership numbers? 

We dedicate ourselves to creating a great show that keeps quality consistent, regardless of the challenges of remote production or online events. We’ve been able to still give fans an entertaining and creative show that they’ve come to expect from us, which keeps fans tuning in week after week. 

The LEC Summer Finals this year had to be moved online given the COVID-19 situation but it seems to have overcome the challenges. As the event continues through September, what have been the bigger challenges posed by such transition?

The biggest challenge that remains is having teams playing from their own gaming houses vs. being together in the studio. It presents challenges for everyone - we have to ensure competitive integrity, support sponsors and brands across organizations, make sure teams are comfortable having cameras set up in their spaces, and above all, deliver a great show that feels on par with what fans are used to seeing from the LEC. We hope we’re able to continue to delight fans throughout the finals.  

League of Legends European Championship

From a Publishing content perspective, the first major challenge was during Spring and leading up to Spring finals. That’s when we had to pivot completely away from live shooting, which is how we shoot most of our marquee content (Rap Battles, LECtronic, etc.). Luckily we have some insanely creative minds working on our team, like Margot Lelorier, who was able to get the caster team together to shoot LECtronic: We are EU, with everyone in their own homes. More recently, with local guidelines relaxing a bit when it comes to video productions, we were able to make some awesome live-action content with the latest Mediocre Rap Battle masterpiece brought to you by Dennis Salzman, our Video Content Producer, which feels really great. We can’t wait for you to see what else we have planned!

 Lastly, it’s emotionally hard for us not to have a live LEC event this year. We all thrive on that in-person experience from bringing a stadium or arena to life and seeing the fans’ reactions in person. We really hope 2021 allows us to continue to innovate around virtual fan interaction and engagement through things like our LEC Quiz (Do you even LEC?) and our new Discord channel, but we are really looking forward to getting everyone back together in one space.

The LEC is perceived to lean more on the streaming audience, in parallel to the League of Legends Championship Series which mirrors more traditional sports broadcasts. In what way does the LEC team gauge the differences between European and American audiences when it comes to assembling the product? 

At the LEC, we have a very distinct voice and brand which we’ve really been able to develop since the success of the launch of the long term partnership structure and our rebrand to LEC from EU LCS. It’s irreverent, meme-y, and uniquely us. We encourage our producers and on-air talent to embrace this, be themselves, and have fun with the content we make.  

We also do a lot of listening and create content that resonates with our fans, consistently and intently. We push ourselves to innovate and try new things both on broadcast and in our Publishing content - and if fans love it, we’ll do more.  The “many faces of Vedius” is a good example.  People love being surprised by a new Vedius persona.  This is also evident with the content choices we’ve made recently with music videos.  The first time we tried a Rap Battle or the Sandstorm remake, people went nuts so we decidedly added more music-based content to our mix and it’s paying off.  

"Esports offers a target demographic that is much younger than traditional sports - the average LoL esports viewer is 23 years old, significantly younger than that of an EU football fan, for example."

In general, partners and sponsors that started betting on esports seem to have seen good returns on their investment in the last few months. As other entertainment events get restarted, what do you consider to be the most valuable proposition of tournaments like LEC for brands in the public eye?

Esports offers a target demographic that is much younger than traditional sports - the average LoL esports viewer is 23 years old, significantly younger than that of an EU football fan, for example.  This gives brands that are used to working with traditional sports the potential to reach a completely new audience.

 As you alluded to, esports as a primarily online sport was able to weather the COVID pandemic quite well, causing brands to take notice when they were seeing a decline in opportunities with traditional sports when live events were canceled.  I think that awareness will lead to brands thinking beyond what they’re used to.  It also helps when huge brands like KIA, Louis Vuitton, Pringles that may not traditionally be associated with esports in the way that maybe energy drinks or tech peripherals are, take chances and see positive results from their partnerships with LoL esports.

That's it for the seventh edition of the Gaming Bits by Replai.io! See you next time.