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PAX Prime 2012: Riot and the North American regionals

It's a good time to be a League of Legends fan. With the European regionals at Gamescom and North American regionals here at PAX Prime, there's plenty of excitement. The Riot team is gearing up for big changes in Season Three while continuing to support its incredibly large community. We sat down with the busy and gracious Associate Producer Paul Bellezza to talk about what Riot is looking forward to in the near future.

Riot populates two ballrooms on the sixth floor of the convention center that PAX calls home. Those ballrooms have been packed from the moment doors opened on Friday. Eight teams have been competing over the course of the weekend. It's generally a big deal, which Bellezza says has been both humbling and amazing to see.

LoL is breaking into e-sports in a big way, and the team has plans to change things up in the near future to make e-sports even more successful. Bellezza told us,

The truth of the matter is that we've always positioned LoL as a game for e-sports because it is a competitive multiplayer game. We've always seen the potential for that and wanted to support that by making sure that we were talking to pro players, supporting tournaments that amateurs were putting on, and doing our best to facilitate that spirit. At the end of the day, seeing the best players play across all the world really inspires us to see how we can make content better and inspires other players to really learn and do different things with the combination of champions and items that we have.

Three years ago we were at a big event, two years ago we were at Dreamhack and events were getting bigger, and we've been watching the groundswell as the community itself really got excited... we just decided that we really need to continue to support this as a feature because our community really wants it, and this is the result. It's been awesome.
What's been the tipping point, according to Bellezza?
I think the big change is Season 3. We've announced the championship series where we are going to take eight teams from North America, Europe, and Asia, and we're going to partner with some Asian e-sports leagues in Korea (OGN in particular), and we've created a salaried team structure. We don't own any of these teams, but we're giving these pro teams a salary so that they can cover their living expenses and their day-to-day lives so they can focus on being the best at League of Legends so that we can all put out together amazing League matches that you can see a couple of times a week at set times, just as if you were watching the NBA or NFL.

We're going to be doing the same thing, and I think, at least in North America, that's unprecedented. You see that happening in Korea where it's part of every day life, and I think you're starting to see that in other parts of the world. That's a really big change there, and I think it's a real awesome thing for our players. Right now we're watching the third place match of the NA regionals, and the winner of this match will get a position in Season 3, so these guys are really playing for all the marbles right now and that brings out the best competition in everyone.

In addition to that salary, we're going to help them to get sponsor so they can continue to create their own revenue process and do what they need to do to live a good life and play League of Legends.
PAX Prime 2012 Riot and the North American regionals
Pro gaming isn't the only focus of the team, given its huge amateur and casual community. Despite the advancements being made in e-sports, the game is still getting love and attention. Another perk of these Gamescom and PAX events has been Syndra, the Dark Sovereign, a new champion who will be available soon. Says Bellezza,
You know, League of Legends isn't just all about e-sports. It's a fun game that's approachable to lots of people, so we're continuing to support the game with new content and features -- balance updates, new skins, putting on events. So for those who aren't necessarily into following e-sports but like playing League of Legends and are still playing it normally, we do all that to support them and kind of hit everybody. We make sure the game is fun for everybody at all levels. There's nobody getting neglected here.

We are showing a champion that has not released yet. We're showing her here; we showed her at Gamescom: Syndra, the Dark Sovereign. She's a new mage that's coming out. She uses gravity and more force energy. She's able to lay down dark spirits that do damage and then manipulate them. She can pick them up, she can throw them, and she can knock them around and stun people. I think she brings a really unique gameplay to the middle. She can actually pick up minions with one of her abilities, so she can actually steal the jungle minions and steal the red buff and blue buff and actually throw it out of its position, so there's going to be some disruption in the jungle. I'm really excited for her to come out sometime in September, so you can all look forward to that.
This whole conversation took place back in a room off the show floor, with Riot employees and guests lined up at tables to keep an eye on the in-progress match with Counterlogic Gaming and Team Curse fighting for third place. It's clear that employees are invested in the games and interested in what the teams are doing. Before I departed, Bellezza told me,
This tournament's been going great. This game here is really important to both of these teams. And at yesterday's games, just the emotion that you can see on the people's faces as they've played and they win -- it's remarkable. It's heightened emotions, heightened competition, and you can really feel the energy in the crowd. It's kind of awesome.
Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 31st - September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2012. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, PlanetSide 2, RIFT: Storm Legion, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!

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