Day 1 At All-Stars - The Sound And The Fury Featuring URF, Wind And Fire
The run up to All Stars had seen me unsure whether I would be here at all. Having resolved to attend a major Riot ran event, having one that was the figurative hop, skip and a jump across the English channel was hugely fortunate. Ten days before the event we had our press access confirmed. We had already booked and kept our fingers crossed that we would be approved. We were among a lucky few who had been approved.
I for one have had my reservations about this years All-Star set-up, no doubt about it. Having seen what was planned it had felt like a pre-worlds show, lacking much of the prestige that the previous year’s event in Shanghai. 2013 saw teams comprised of a region’s best players take each other on with regional spots at the World Finals at stake. Here the best teams from the previous split would take each other on for prize money. The hype didn’t seem anywhere near the same level, nor did the regional rivalry that fuels so much of the game’s discussion.
There were “all-star” teams present of course, in the form of Team Ice and Team Fire. However, they wouldn’t be competing against each other in anything close to a “real” match. Opening each day with them engaging in one of the novelty game modes Riot had enabled users to take part in over the past few months is indeed designed only for amusement. Still, for those of us who like to obsess over winning, the game’s didn’t really seem as if they would satisfy.
The Zenith stadium doesn’t cut an impressive figure from outside. It looks more like a warehouse than anything that would immediately spring to mind if I said the word “stadium” to you. We even walked past it on our initial treck to the venue, only realising our mistake when we glimpsed a smattering of Teemo hats from an elevated vantage points. Huge credit then must go to Riot for what is inside. The difference is night and day. The huge neon stage and screen, the flashing lights, the booming sounds… It is hard not to be impressed with the way it all looks, especially if you spent the best part of ten years attending events that, for the most part, had the production values of a children’s birthday party.
No doubt about it, Riot are right up there when it comes to putting on a show. They also opened up the proceedings in fine style. The videos that rolled out to the crowd continue to be well put together, featuring all the big name players in attendance and the crowd roaring each time one of the favourites appeared as a floating forty foot tall face before them. The excitement didn’t get in the way of sending thoughts out to those who were missing – Cloud 9’s Hai suffering with a collapsed lung and somehow still streaming and of course the sad news that World Elite’s Caomei’s dad had passed away.
I understand the desire to keep the “ultra rapid fire” mode at a distance. It provides easy ammunition for the game’s detractors, as it effectively distils the game down its absolute constituent parts in the most obvious fashion. However, when deployed to a baying crowd it served its purpose in much the same way a “one-liner” comedian does in warming up an audience before a TV show, putting them in a receptive and appreciative state.
URF is ideal for this. A game without any of the hassle of it needing to be a game, people can spam abilities and ultimately it comes down to a series of duels that primarily test mechanics. Team Fire’s Bjergsen rolled over his opponents with Ezreal, giving the crowd something they had obviously wanted to see and served up in less than twenty minutes. Accuse it of being “fast food” all you want – when you’re as hungry as this crowd was you don’t give a fuck.
While all this was going on, backstage Azubu staff frantically checked their website to make sure it was holding up, hampered by some sudden internet issues. I am proud to say I played my own small part in helping them make history by allowing them to use my laptop to help correct their network settings. Naturally, I have subsequently had it swept for viruses and tracking devices, partially delaying the publication of this piece.
Of course, it wasn’t flawless. It has been stated already by many that there is something hugely counter-intuitive in hosting a global event and having the on-site commentary in French. This is undoubtedly true but it was clear to see that the audience was mostly French speaking… That or they were easily entertained. For those who were not conversant in French alternatives had been provided. We were told in-ear radios would be available on request that would sync up with the English cast. Great in theory however in practice this was the root of many problems.
It was brought to our attention from one disgruntled Danish fan calling himself “m1nd” that the radios were simply not suitable for the atmosphere they were being used in.
“We paid ten Euros for our radios” he said “and when we got them the maximum volume was so quiet we couldn’t even hear them. They obviously hadn’t been tested in the environment. The French casters and crowd were so much louder.”
Riot’s reputation for being able to resolve such disputes and satisfy their customers is well documented. The first staff member they complained to, someone called Alex, disappeared into the crowd. Two hours later they raised the issue again with the Rioter “Tacostorm” and received a much better reaction.
“Make sure you mention this guy was a god” he added “Tacostorm told us he wasn’t going to do anything else until he fixed our problem. There was no way of fixing the radio but I managed to get an app for our phone. Tacostorm gave us a bunch of skin codes and some Riot Points to say sorry. If we hadn’t talked to him we would probably have gone home.”
He wasn’t the only person who spoke of their disappointement relating to the commentary. Another spectator who had travelled from Manchester, a trip that cost him close to Ł300 once he’d secured his tickets on eBay, was amazed to find that the “in-ear radio” he was expecting to purchase was in fact a cheap pedometer.
“It was like something you would get in a pound shop” he laughed, holding it out on his extended palm and pointing to the word “pedometer” on the LCD display. “I paid ten Euros for this and it came with a tiny little instructions leaflet in print I could barely read in about ten different languages, none of which I’m sure was English. By the time I got the thing working I couldn’t hear it and the signal kept dropping anyway.”
Being typically British our friend hadn’t made a fuss and said that overall his experience was only slightly dampened by it all. “I definitely don’t regret coming to the event but it has been frustrating having to sit there listening to the game’s in French. I did think about getting up and leaving but the games have been good. Just a shame that the atmosphere hasn’t felt the same as I hoped it would.”
He also raised another “issue”, one that we hadn’t even thought about it as members of the press. Merchandise. As we’re all mostly broke, the thoughts of spending money on anything that isn’t linked to immediate needs is a distant dream. However, this is a demographic that we are frequently told has disposable income to spend and here there is nowhere for them to spend it beyond the food and drink dispensers.
“I promised my brother I’d get him some T-shirts and hoodies” our Mancunian colleague continued “but after wandering around inside I quickly realised there were no shops. I mean nothing. I brought three hundred quid to spend and I can’t even give them my money. I caught a Ziggs bomb that was thrown in the crowd and got a free T-shirt on entrance. No shops was really surprising. I was going to make a Reddit thread about all this stuff when I got home but talking to you will hopefully have a similar effect.”
It has felt that these issues were mostly beyond Riot’s control. I have seen the stressed faces backstage, the senior members of staff holding clipboards and zig-zagging between loitering players and media. The finished broadcast you are all seeing at home is taking a considerable effort and I sense that Riot have faced numerous challenges they had not anticipated.