Piltover Parley Ep. 3 ft. Riot Yuujou

Welcome to Piltover Parley!

This is a series (Sometimes audio and sometimes written) where I interview significant figures in the League community and get their viewpoints, thoughts and ideas about the game!

Riot sometimes seems like a mountain you just can’t climb when it comes to getting in. For that reason, I sat down with Alexander “Riot Yuujou” Quach to talk about scouting talent for Riot, success stories and…super sentai?

Bear in mind: This is a SHORTENED TRANSCRIPT of the full interview which you can find here for full viewing or here for listening. This written portion will merely cover some questions for those who are looking for the specific questions/answers.

Getting into Riot and Working There

David aka “CaptainMarvelous”: Real quick, tell us how you ended up working at Riot because it seems like it’s not a company you don’t jump RIGHT into.

Alexander “Riot Yuujou” Quach: Absolutely true on that end. Riot’s not a company you can just, like, pop in and start right away. I started on the sales floor actually! I was folding clothes at Banana Republic and then I traded up to being a supervisor at a retail store. I was at Wallgreens. From there I went on to retail HR. I was the executive human resources at Target before this and then I just fully integrated. Traded retail for games at Riot.

CM: What’s it kinda like working at Riot? There’s a lot of conflicting stories about how Riot is but let’s hear from you; What has been your experience working at Riot so far?

AQ: For me, working at Riot, I work not on the player-facing side. I work internally on our talent discipline. I face Rioters rather than players. Really for me, it’s been an incredible experience. I absolutely love working at Riot! It definitely has had its ups and its downs; people are very nebulous, they change their opinions, they get confused, they can get frustrated. But ultimately, working at Riot has been the best experience of my entire career.

CM: So what would the day in the life of you look like? Is it something you start at six A.M.?

AQ: No no no no. Definitely not at six A.M.! Riot’s very nontraditional in that kind of way. We’ve kind of abolished the nine-to-five paradigm. We’re gamers and we tend to sleep in. We’re everyday people like you or everybody else.

So my day typically starts at ten or eleven because I can’t wake up that early. I’ll get in, probably grab some breakfast, and then trudge through my e-mails to see if I missed anything and then I get into meetings. So my jobs are people-focused. I’m often face-to-face with individuals being a “thought partner” in their work or giving them advice on how to deal with stuff. Other parts of my job include making presentations or designing learning. We’re very bored of the traditional status-quo of classroom teaching and stuff like that. It’s all about innovating that space and making it world class for Rioters.

Looking for the Unicorn

CM: In essence, you talked a lot about how Riot is looking for that unicorn, that perfect person. What is some stuff that is, for lack of a better word, a red flag for you? That “this person has potential”? Would it be talent? Experience? Something they’ve done or even just an awesome cover letter?

AQ: So there are a few things that make-or-break talent. The first is “player empathy” or just being a gamer yourself. Different rioters have different opinions on how much of a gamer you have to be to work at Riot but we all agree, at the very minimum, you have to have player empathy. Our goal is to make the best game experience and be the most player-experienced company. If you can’t understand the pain of being a player, you probably shouldn’t be working here because it’s not going to drive you to fix the things that are wrong and you can’t develop the best products for players. That’s one huge issue we have in un-gaming-related parts of our company. We’ll find people who are HR experts who have never played a game in their life. It’s like “Ugh you’d be SO GOOD but you never played a game in your life.”

On the flipside, we get tons of applicants who are hardcore gamers but have never worked a day in their life. They’re like “Just please Riot, give me a chance! If I can come face to face with someone I know I can get the job!” but they’re really lacking the experience we need to level up our company and level up our team to make our products better. I’d say those are the two big things that stick up as red flags when it comes to hiring people.

CM: Isn’t trying again something Riot’s big on as well? That person whose not going to submit that first application and say “Well they said no. I guess that’s it.”?

AQ: Absolutely! We’re definitely looking for people who are full of perserverence, who can thrive in adversity or face a challenge head on and aren’t afraid to fail. That’s definitely a strong trait we look for in potential Rioters.

Success and Failure at Riot

CM: You talked a little bit about this in your own story but what would be an example of you helped with or you were a part of that was shocking or incredible?

AQ: Hm, significant or incredible…for me, in my time at Riot, I don’t think I’ve had a significant hand in something crazy for a hire but I will tell a story about something one of my peers has done: At Riot before, we didn’t originally have a centralized recruiting model. We were all kind of piecemeal. Originally when Riot started, we didn’t have ANY recruiters. Just very recently we hired a head of recruiters and he came from. It’s very cool to see him integrate into the company because he’s been working at this very established company. Nike’s been around for such a long time.

So he’s come to Riot because we’re this brand-new playspace for him. He’s really come into his own. He’s never played League of Legends in his life but here he’s played so many games and he’s thinking outside of the box. Ways we can improve our recruiting process and ways we can reach out to more people. Help them know what Riot is so they can come to apply to our company. It’s been super cool to see that transformation and have a hand in that.

CM: As a counterpoint to that, what was kind of a situation where someone you really believed in or someone who looked like they had a lot of potential but there was just something that didn’t click? A rioter who you had to pull aside and tell them “This isn’t working”?

AQ: Yeah, we had a guy on campus. He was a super diehard fan of League and was like “Oh my god I’m gonna work at Riot! This is my dream come true!”. But day in and day out, the only thing he did was play games. He was just so into the gaming aspect of Riot that he let his responsibilities fall to the side. It was unfortunate but, because he wasn’t executing on his responsibilities and we weren’t getting any value out of him being here, we ultimately had to see him go.

He was super cool, super chill, great on the rift but in the end he wasn’t “doing” anything and was just kind of riding along. Enjoying being a part of Riot without really providing anything in exchange. That was unfortunately a time where we had to see someone go.

Closing Thoughts and…Super Sentai?

CM: So I have a major question for you: What’s your favorite sentai series?

AQ: My favorite sentai series has to be Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. The theme song was epic, I loved the plot and how gritty it was and the plot twitst took me by surprise.

CM: I just thought it was kind of overrated.

AQ: You do!?

CM: It’s good, it’s just not the best.

AQ: It was my first so I have a strong attachment to it but I’ll take that into consideration right.

CM: Is there anything else you’d like to say for people listening or people interested in Riot?

AQ: I got a couple parting words! My first is for anyone who aspires to be a Rioter. If you’re looking to make it into games and you don’t think it’s possible? I am living, breathing, speaking proof that you don’t have to have ever worked in video games to work in video games. Just believe in what you do, believe in your dreams and passions and it will take you to the right place.

My second kind of parting words is to go check out Super Sentai. It is like power rangers but it is a thousand times better!

 

 

Piltover Parley Ep. 2 ft. PiraTechnics

Welcome to Piltover Parley!

This is a series (Sometimes audio and sometimes written) where I interview significant figures in the League community and get their viewpoints, thoughts and ideas about the game!

The LCS and League Pro Play has begun across the globe. What better way to celebrate than to interview one of League’s casters? I pulled Devin “PiraTechnics” Younge over to Piltover for some words on pro play, being a caster, working with Riot and more.

Bear in mind: This is a SHORTENED TRANSCRIPT of the full interview which you can find here for full viewing or here for listening. This written portion will merely cover some questions for those who are looking for the specific questions/answers.

Becoming a Caster

David aka “CaptainMarvelous”: Starting off, tell us a little bit about how you got to be a caster and what made you decide to be a caster.

Devin “PiraTechnics” Younge: So I played League some years back and I was working long hours at a medical company doing software. I saw people doing community events as well as things like the LCS and Starcraft. I started making little video series that I just threw up on youtube and it was a fun hobby for a while.

CM: And then you got approached by Riot?

PT: Well there’s more to it than that. When I got into League it started getting more serious. It was a long time before I got anywhere near at Riot level.

CM: So you created a better portfolio to show to Riot?

PT: I’m not sure if they ever saw all my applications. I submitted at least three-to-four over the year. I quit my job and was trying to pursue doing casting full time. It wasn’t the only path, I thought about “hey, do I wanna write about esports?” I don’t know how viable my skills are to that, I wasn’t particularly good at it. Casting was something a little more natural to me. All the same, I just immersed myself in esports, particularly League watching everything I could. The key was to get online and to start casting events. It wasn’t until I started meeting some people who were doing bigger and better things that I started getting more recognized.

CM: So it’s all about beating your head against a wall until you hit that one big moment that gets you noticed, right?

PT: Well you make yourself available. First off; Constantly be doing casting. Be it a three person stream or a tournament at someone’s house. You just start to make those connections because you’ll always meet people. Eventually you start growing a list of contacts and eventually somebody knows somebody doing something a little bigger than what you’ve been doing. That’s when you show them your portfolio and you start to move forward and that’s what happened to me. I got the chance to cast the LPL because the people who were looking to start an English stream knew me for a while and invited me to come along board. That kinda launched things into space.

Casting For Riot and the “Caster Cage”

CM: Casting for Riot, how has your experience been specifically casting for them?

PT: First thing is the level of production is completely out of this world. There’s really nothing like it and there are so many little things that Riot just gets right time and time again. I don’t want to shit on anyone else, it just is a high standard of quality. It’s something I can show to people who don’t even watch esports. I can show it to my parents and the first thing they’ll say is “I have no idea what’s happening but this looks really professional”. That’s a point of pride for me and it’s a really important thing that Riot sets the standard for what esports production quality should be.

CM: How is Riot in developing your casting from what it was to today? What is your experience with that and how have they (Riot) supported you in your rise from Devin to PiraTechnics?

PT: It’s really about who you work with. They definitely do take care of me in terms of getting vocal coaching and taking care of my throat because I lost my voice last year. It’s definitely played a really big part in my development. We have this really big emphasis on giving and receiving feedback. It’s definitely a “Riot” thing in general but in our office it means we VOD review each other and we really just want to push each other to be better. If I do something in the office that people are like “Hey, that wasn’t OK. That wasn’t cool” etc. etc. , someone’s going to let me know. It’s a really good environment to foster growth both personally and professionally.

CM: As a comparison to casting for Riot; Late last year there was what I’ll call the “caster cage controversy” when MonteCristo came out about working with Riot and Riot’s esport department comparative to the rest of the industry. Some of the biggest criticisms he had working with Riot were that, for one thing, you can’t really grow a brand of your own. The other thing was that there was a lot of work without a lot of pay compensation associated with it. A lot of people were saying that Riot isn’t good for a tier one caster to work at. What’s been your take on that?

PT: To be honest, there’s not a lot I can really add to this. What I can say is that if I want to, I can always go to my boss and negotiate for more money, etc. It’s not like there’s a moratorium on discussing salary. From the content side, there’s a lot of stuff I’m empowered to build with Riot that I couldn’t do on my own. For me, it’s kind of cool to have the environment of “Hey if you want to make something related to League let’s do it in the Riot ecosystem”.  It kind of makes sense too because if I was making something, people are going to associate it with me no matter what and with Riot. If it was crappy quality, it’d be like “WTF is this”. That whole policy on content and creating things in certain ways makes sense to me. It’s not like I can’t just go and stream something and say “Hey I think this champion is really good”. It’s not a total lockdown of what we do.

CM: Building on that; There’s a sort of Reddit mentality that you can’t really “talk bad” about Riot or about League of Legends. There are a lot of people that because you’re Riot employees you can’t talk ill about things they make.

PT: I’d say that in a standard employment contract that’s par for the course for a public statement.  You’d find that a lot of that stuff is totally fine for us to say. The balance team probably wouldn’t be happy if we went on a tirade about how bad things are but I don’t think anyone actually feels that way. We can totally call a bug or the idea that we can’t say “this champion is OP” or whatever. Some of us do that more than others. One of the reasons I don’t particularly do that is because my game knowledge usually isn’t up to the same level as color casters. I’ll know basic stuff like I know Camille is overpowered and a little bit about why but I don’t know the exact details about how she could be fixed perfectly. There’s really nothing to the idea that we can’t talk about things that aren’t totally balanced or working-as-intended.

The LCS and Favorite Things to Cast

CM: The LCS began all across the world. What do you think about it right now and all the changes, such as the ten ban system and some interesting pocket picks?

PT: There’s a lot of cool stuff going on! There’s a lot of pick diversity thanks to the ten ban system. We saw Camille playing against Jax, that was interesting. Speaking of ADCs, we’ve seen Ziggs a couple of times. Bang played it on SKT the other day. I think they experimented a bit more in the east. NA and EU haven’t really not quite gone outside of their comfort zone as much. There have been a few really interesting things out of there but they’re definitely missing a few of the newer champions.

CM: Speaking of the meta, you see a very sort-of basic meta right now; Tanky toplaner, damage-oriented midlaner, tanky-bruiser jungler, a utility or long-range ADC and finally you have the AP “support” who gets more kills than the ADC. What do you think about the current meta?

PT: It makes for a lot of interesting teamfights. ADC gets a little more pinch that a lot of the roles but obviously at a competitive level there are some cool things going on. I think it’s really interesting to watch because you have so many picks-to-counterpicks-to-compositions-to-countercompositions.

CM: On champions, what’s your favorite champion to cast?

PT: I’d say I have a couple of them. I would think that my absolute favorite, which I haven’t seen in a while, would be Jinx. Watching outplays with that champion is actually incredible. Seeing a super mega death rocket connect from halfway across the map is really really cool. Another one I’d say is Kalista. There’s a moment going back to MSI of last year where I got to cast CLG. Stixxay had this really incredible Kalista game and it was just a pleasure watching him play. Kindred is another one. There’s something of a theme that I enjoy casting ADC champions because of my solo queue.

CM: I think we’ll have a clear answer for this one: Who is your favorite player to cast, be it in an EU LCS sense or a worldwide sense?

PT: Actually casted some players in China before I ever stepped on the EU stage. From those days, one of my favorite players to cast was Uzi. That guy just does highlights-after-highlights so it’s super sick to watch. Even if he facechecks into five people he gets a double kill out of it. On the EU stage, there are definitely a lot of fun and interesting players to cast. I would say Jankos comes to mind, “The First Blood King” as we call him. Another player I enjoy casting is Perkz, Zven, most of G2. Most of G2 have pretty cool highlights but those two in particular. I’d also say Steelback because he’s always been this sort of underdog player. When he was on Roccat he was kind of the shining light on that team. They might lose day-in and day-out but he would do so much work and you could see how tryhard he was going. Players like that are just enjoyable to watch because it’s not just mechanics but their passion.

Closing Thoughts and Changing League

CM: As a sort of closing idea: What are some gameplay changes you’d make to League to make it a better game in your eyes or make it better/more enjoyable to cast?

PT: Well, most of the things coming to my mind are really trolly. If I had to make a change off-the-bat, nothing super specific? I would say an in-built system to track movement around the map would be cool for spectating. Looking at heat signatures that wouldn’t be built from data but actually select and put in the corner of the screen to cycle between players. Having a little more clarity with items with stacks and numbers. In actual gameplay design? I don’t know what I’d really change. Maybe change some of the build paths for ADCs because that’s sort of a point of contention. The number one important change, though, would be that whenever someone scores a sick play it goes full Mortal Kombat and someone says “Toasty!”.

CM: You did say you had a few troll ideas. C’mon, let’s hear’em.

PT: Besides the toasty one? I would love when Baron dies for there to be an explosion of glitter and streamers and stuff. Not every time but maybe like one in fifty times. One of the great things about League is that even casting it like a sport, it’s still a game and I really love that aspect about it. It really lives on in how skins are designed and how game modes are added. I’d love a little silly RNG that doesn’t affect the state of the game but silly things like blue buff taunting you one in fifty times. More of them than we have anyways.

CM: Closing off; Do you have any final words for those who are fans of League of Legends or the LCS specifically?

PT: I guess I would just say that if you’re a fan, really appreciate you for tuning in to watch. We do the show for you guys. If you’re an aspiring caster, I can’t promise any of my advice would be good, I just know it worked for me. You just gotta hustle as much as you can and get your name out there. I feel like if I can do it anyone who has the drive to do it can do it.

Piltover Parley Ep.1 ft. Fearless

Today we sit down with Jo “Fearless” Graylock to discuss the major introduction of season seven: Plants.

Welcome to Piltover Parley!

This is a series (Sometimes audio and sometimes written) where I interview significant figures in the League community and get their viewpoints, thoughts and ideas about the game!

With the advent of Preseason 7 (soon to be Season 7), there was no change more controversial and questionable by the playerbase than the introduction of plants. In an effort to get a deeper understanding of the system, I sat down with Jo “Riot Fearless” Graylock to get his insights, thoughts and even some regrets he might have about the system.

Introductions

David aka “CaptainMarvelous”: Thanks for sitting down with me! To start things off, why don’t you give us a quick view on who you are so we don’t just keep calling you “The Plant Guy”.

Jo “Fearless” Graylock:  Hey! I’m Jo “Fearless” Graylock, Design Lead for the game systems team on League of Legends. I do a pretty even split between managing the well-being of the designers on the team and helping our designers do their best work and constantly growing in their capabilities. I’ve helped to create Plants, Elemental Dragons, and the Marskman Item rework, along with many other projects. Before I took this position, I took on the Sona rework, built the 2015 jungle along with Riot Axes, and built the Cinderhulk jungle enchantment. Previously, I worked at Obsidian Entertainment for most of a decade.

CM: That’s quite the career indeed. Shifting a bit more to the topic: Let’s start with what you and your team saw as the biggest problem plaguing the jungle.

JG: Route differentiation had really broken down, with many junglers having very similar starts and early clears, leading to the laning phase getting very rote. On the other side of the spectrum, a lot of the optimization points were poorly communicated. This meant the jungle was both solved and fairly arcane, which tends to be a worst of both worlds sort of situation.

CM: So the obvious criticism I, and many other players across Twitter, boards and reddit, was that “Well just fix the smite buffs”. What was it about smite buffs that made your team go “Yeah, no, this isn’t going to work out at all.”

JG: Smite buffs were a huge part of what was causing the situation. They created very strong right answers for jungle routes, and separated junglers pretty hard into routes with very little in-game decision making. We’d also seen the impact of the best case users of the smite rewards strongly limit the power we could put into the buffs, which put a limit on how strong we could ever make them.

CM: I’m still going to miss my raptor buff though. Now, with plants, some other games such as DOTA 2 have similar systems in place. In that game’s case, magical floating runes sitting in the river. What was it about plants that made it seem like the right call to add thematically?

JG: The plant theme was a pretty quick find due to how strongly our map has built up the theme of the jungle into every detail of the geometry and texturing in those spaces. Magical runes or crazy technical devices really don’t look reasonable in the setting, whereas fantastic plants very easily integrated into the environment. League also has some notable examples of plants that do big magical things, so it was a very clean fit.

The Response to Plants

CM: To be blunt, the initial reaction to plants was equivalent to stepping on a wasp nest right next to a lion who absolutely hates humans and wasps. Did you forsee the reaction being as volatile and vicious as it was?

JG: Yes. I was very unhappy with our initial messaging on plants, and players had every reason to be concerned if all they had to go on was those initial articles and videos. I was confident players would be much more positive once they had a chance to play with plants, but I totally understand the concerns we created.

CM: One of the most common criticisms you get is of your ranking in the game itself. “Why is a gameplay designer in silver?” and so forth. Giving you the platform, what would you say to those who hold up your rank as damning evidence that you harm the game more than help it?

JG: My only critique would be that I think very few people understand what my job actually entails. I’m not the lead designer of all league gameplay, I don’t do live balance, and I constantly seek out the opinions of the experts that do that work. We have plenty of designers and experts that are extremely talented players, and I have no concerns that awesome players are involved in our design process. On the other hand, we have very few designers on LoL with a long history of design experience, and I’m confident I bring a lot on that front.

CM: On another note of criticism: A response to those who say that your previous work such as, say, the Marksmen items is another fact against you when it comes to gameplay design? Especially considering how it often makes you a punching bag beacon.

JG: I’d say it’s to be expected. I’ve made a career out of taking on projects that no one else wanted to do or knew how to do. This leads to taking on a lot of unpopular projects, even if they were necessary and important. Systems design is frequently about doing the work to set the foundation for exciting projects. Sometimes we get to do something like elemental dragons, but very often it means doing the work that sets up the new champion or reworks, or the cool items six months later. I very much know that part of that work also means tanking the frustrations of players that can’t see what comes next or what our work makes possible in the future. It also means that I get to be quietly satisfied when the projects that are meant to be in the spotlight succeed, partially because of the work that we’ve done.

Plants on Live Servers

CM: Despite all the petitions and harsh words, plants have arrived on the live servers. What are your initial thoughts on the system now that players have gotten their hands on them? “Horrendous Herbs” or “Victorious Vegetables?”

JG: Plants have been pretty solid so far. We’re mostly looking for what interactions look like after plants stop being new and novel.

CM: Let’s fast forward a few years with our own zero-driver. What would be the best-case-scenario plan for plants in the future?

JG: I’d love to see more plants in the system, and probably a few more spawn locations or variety in the spawn rate, etc. We tuned the system to be pretty damn conservative at launch, and I’d love to find some ways to bring back a bit more adaptation rather than memorization and planning.

CM: On the opposite end, what’s the worst-case-scenario for plants? Do you think you guys would ever pull plants if it turned out the doomsayers were right and they actually were the death of League?

JG: No single element is truly sacred in systems, so any system that has more negatives than positives will eventually get tweaked, reworked, or removed. Plants is not an exception here, though currently they’re trending well.

CM: Moving back to the present, what would you say to all the plant detractors who had their own feelings on plants, be they eloquently worded or the narrative equivalent to poison?

JG:  Thanks for the feedback. We’re lucky enough to have a tremendous number of players that care about this game quite a lot. I expect to tank a lot of concern and discomfort when we make changes to the game. The personal attacks are a bit draining, but if that’s the infrequent cost for the hundreds of awesome player interactions that I get to have, then so be it.

CM: So what would be your thoughts on plants in pro-play? Do you think they might be the thing that’ll make games increasingly exciting and unexpected?

JG: My hope is plants allow for windows of aggressive action that either were much too risky before or simply weren’t possible for many champions. On a smaller scale, I also hope we’ll seem some gank routes and general jungle approaches unlocked by the new jungle and some of the early blast cone possibilities.

Heading Forward

CM: With plants out, what do you think would be your next project? Some sort of system or mechanic in the game that you think really needs a good wrench thrown at it?

JG:  I’ve been very open with the fact that I think runes and masteries have a ton of issues, and I hope we’ll get to address those in the future. Those systems are rather large, but they’re also limiting, outdated, and generally just a poor use of the possibilities they present.

CM: Looking back as you move on, what do you think would be something that you’d tell of past Jo? Some sort of hindsight that you really wish you could have changed?

JG:  Given what I know now, the season 2015 jungle would have been much better off with more direct changes to the camps, rather than the addition of Smite rewards. I think if I’d had more confidence about changing the more fundamental elements, rather than adding to what was there, the jungle would have been a much better feature long term. I also really wish I’d done a better job on plants messaging. I cause a lot of pain and frustration that could have been avoided with a little more patience and attention on my part.

CM: Finally, for the most hard-hitting question I could have ever come up with: What’s your favorite champ?

JG: I’m actually hoping I’ll have a new favorite with Camille. I’m a giant cyberpunk/transhumanism fan, and seeing us create something in that space is incredibly exciting to me.

CM: There’s a joke about machines and plants but I’ll spare you. Thank you for the time you’ve taken with me today and I hope this will give players some insights on how and why you do what you do. Best of luck on whatever system you plan on tackling next!