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Worlds 2021 Finals Media Day - John Needham: "Double elimination for Worlds it’s something we'll definitely consider”

Riot’s Global Head of LoL Esports, Naz Aletaha, and Global Head of Esports, John Needham, answered questions on a potential move to a double elimination format, the Mercedes-Benz Championship Rings, Wild Rift as an esport and more.
League's Super Weekend is getting closer, as the global premiere of Arcane and the showdown for the Summoner's Cup are about to go down this Saturday.

As part of the Finals Media Day, Riot executives sat down with the press to answer some questions, prior to the battle between DWG KIA and Edward Gaming.

The creation of the Worlds 2021 championship rings

Naz Aletaha talked first about the collaboration with Mercedes-Benz to create League’s first-ever championship rings. “First and foremost, we’re very thankful for the collaboration [with Mercedes-Benz].

The “hoisting right” of the Summoners’ Cup is really this moment that teams from all over the world have been vying for all year. It’s a huge moment; one of the most aspirational in our sport. We think the Summoner’s Cup does a pretty amazing job at celebrating that moment. We’re thankful to Mercedes for coming in and helping us take that moment and essentially give our pro-teams, the finalists, the winners something to take home with them.

The cup is passed on year on year to the winning team, but with this new alliance we’re able to give championship rings to the winners, to commemorate the event and their accomplishment forever.”

Changing from single to double elimination playoffs

One of the most consistently broached topics was the Worlds format, from a lack of a double elimination bracket, to no 3rd/4th place matchup leading to a scarcity of scrim partners in later stages of the tournament, to a dearth of international Bo5s.

Worlds 2021 Finals Media Day John Needham Naz Aletaha
Worlds 2021 Knockout Stage bracket. (Picture: Riot Games / Getty Images)

“Our sport is in a constant state of growth,” Aletaha began the first time the topic was raised, “When we think about Worlds and formats, we’re really balancing for what’s going to make for the best and most competitive event. It certainly means we’re open for iteration and improvement, but it does come back to that balance and how we optimize.

And we really do look to optimize for, first and foremost, competitive integrity. We’re looking to balance the overall number of matches in a tournament and the impact that has on the teams that are competing. And of course, we want a tournament that makes for a really engaging and exciting experience for all of the millions of fans who are tuning in at home.”

Worlds 2021 Finals Media Day John Needham Naz Aletaha
Riot’s Global Head of LoL Esports, Naz Aletaha. (Picture: Riot Games / Getty Images)

“What I can’t tell you today,” she ended, “is that we will or won’t adjust the format in future years. But what I will say definitively is that we hear the feedback and we very much appreciate it and we’re certainly going to take a look at it.”

John Needham was later asked about double elimination being added to the Worlds format, especially after the success of the LPL in implementing it into their playoffs this year, elaborating on Aletaha’s earlier answer.

“Every year, we look at our format. As Naz said, we always want to deliver the most exciting competition - one that’s great for our fans to view [and] super exciting for our teams to participate in,” he said. “We’re very aware of the LPL format and how great it works in China. It’s something we will definitely consider going forward.”

Worlds 2021 Finals Media Day John Needham Naz Aletaha
Worlds 2021 finalists and current LPL champions, Edward Gaming. (Picture: Riot Games / Getty Images)

The question of the wider League of Legends scene and its format were also brought up, with specific reference drawn to Cloud9’s coach Mithy who recently criticised the league system. He had called out how it favoured Asian teams due to their geographical proximity allowing for easy scrims where western teams were comparatively isolated, and with long-running splits preventing easy travel or bootcamping western teams were inherently left at a disadvantage in his view.

“We want to have a very fair sport for all the teams that participate in our competitions. We certainly look at scrims, and one of the more exciting things when you throw Worlds is you see the teams come and they scrim against one another and they play solo queue and that becomes a whole huge thing on all the social platforms…” Needham began, before transitioning over to the question more properly. “We don’t want to disadvantage teams in any way, so we’re constantly looking at ways we can improve and improve conditions for our teams to prepare for the competitions. We positively will look at that.”

Questions also ran to the lighter end of the spectrum, asking the executives which team they favoured in the finals (Needham is rooting for EDG and Meiko, as it turns out), and which series they thought had been the best so far. Aletaha vouched for T1 v DWG KIA. “I think I’ve got to go for T1 versus Damwon -” to which Needham agreed, “C’mon, it was the best!” “- to see Faker and ShowMaker go head to head… two of our all time greats, both of them, I think that was a really, really exciting matchup.”

Worlds 2021 Finals Media Day John Needham Naz Aletaha
DWG KIA's mid laner, Heo "ShowMaker" Su. (Picture: Riot Games / Getty Images)

Scrutiny was also brought onto Naz Aletaha about Best of Fives though. Over the year, we’ve only had a grand total of 3 LCK v LPL Bo5’s, 2 LCK v LEC Bo5’s, 1 LCK v LCS Bo5 and 1 PCS v LPL Bo5. The question, as posed to Aletaha, was whether Riot had done enough this year to foster international rivalries?

“We hear you and we love the cross-regional play just as much as our fans,” Aletaha responded. “We’re proud of Worlds as an event. We love seeing all twelve of our regions representing with their best teams, and we hear you. We hear you - we want more games. Again, it’s a balancing act. Our commitment is that there are no sacred cows, that we will continue to look at and iterate on our sport so we can identify the winning formula for LoL Esports and each season we go into.”

The question was followed up by one asking about the potential return of other international events, like Rift Rivals or the Battle of the Atlantic, which would allow for more cross-regional play. “Personally, I’ll say just as a fan, let alone as somebody coming in to help lead the sport, I love the cross-regional play,” Aletaha stated.

Worlds 2021 Finals Media Day John Needham Naz Aletaha
(Picture: Riot Games / Getty Images)

“You mentioned the Battle of the Atlantic, we used to have Rift Rivals, All-Stars of course… the short answer is yes, we absolutely are looking at more ways to essentially bring the regions to match up against one another. As you can imagine there’s a lot of considerations that go along with that, not just in terms of the length of just one event like Worlds, but the implications to the full seasonal calendar. It’s absolutely something we’re looking at and frankly I’m happy to hear that’s something that’s in demand, because, like I said, as a fan that’s something I want to see more of too.”

The rise of a new esport with Wild Rift

On an intriguing tangent, John Needham was quizzed on League of Legends’ mobile cousin, Wild Rift, and what the future held for the title as an esport. “Wild Rift [is] obviously off to a really exciting start in China,” Needham started. “We see players really loving the game, which just thrills us. We have our first World Championship, called the Horizon Cup, that’s happening right after Worlds this year and we are deep into designing and architecting a brand new esport around Wild Rift.

Worlds 2021 Finals Media Day John Needham Naz Aletaha
(Picture: Riot Games / Getty Images)

There’s tons of things that we’ve learned from running League of Legends esports for eleven years. We’re applying a lot of those basics to Wild Rift, but we want it to be its own esport so we don’t have plans for combining it with League of Legends PC esports in any way. We want it to have its own personality, we want to serve its own fans and their special needs in their way. So, we will very much be investing in Wild Rift, we want to go very big on the esport, but we want to treat it as its own sport.”

Naz Aletaha was also asked for her perspective on the rise of female fans and players within League of Legends and the broader library of Riot games. “It’s really exciting for me personally as a woman, but also just as a League of Legends fan to see our audience really diversify,” Aletaha said. “I think Riot is uniquely positioned right now, because more than ever there are unique entry points for our audience to come into the League of Legends universe.

With of course League of Legends the game, with the launch of Wild Rift that now makes League of Legends far more accessible for a larger audience - we actually know and have seen that the mobile gaming audience does have a really healthy balance of male to female gamers. The launch of Arcane is another one, and other League expressions of the IP, so I think the future is really bright in terms of the makeup of our audience - and frankly the size of the audience and the growth potential of the audience.”

Worlds 2021 Finals Media Day John Needham Naz Aletaha
Riot's Global Head of Esports, John Needham. (Picture: Riot Games / Getty Images)

Alethaha went on to call out Valorant’s new Game Changers initiative as a particularly good example of this. “At Riot we’ve started to make some really positive inroads on providing more platforms for female gamers. Valorant Game Changers I think is an amazing example of that, and that’s going to be something we look to bring over to League of Legends esports as well.”

The future of Riot's Esports

Another incisive question was asked about the lack of long-form content following players and teams at the World Championship - something that seemingly hasn’t been done since the famous “Eyes On Worlds” and “Legends Rising” series finished around 2019. Needham was very defensive of Riot over this. “We’ve really tried to double down this Worlds on features content around the teams and their best players and I think actually we’ve done a pretty good job in outfitting our shows with a bunch of content on the players.”

Worlds 2021 Finals Media Day John Needham Naz Aletaha
(Picture: Riot Games / Getty Images)

He did concede however, that “we haven't thought about doing a bunch of long form content to support the matches, but it’s a super interesting idea. And I can tell you we’re doing something super special for the Opening Ceremony that I think will show you a different take on how we’re thinking about events and it’ll just be a different experience for fans that I think they’re going to be super proud of.” He closed off his answer saying, “We know we need to work more at building our best players into stars and building fandom around our teams - and I think that’s a super important thing.”

Aletaha chimed in afterwards to say, “One of our goals for next year is to figure out more effective ways of telling those stories. Like John said, we want to build the storylines and narratives around these incredible teams who are competing. We want to introduce the rookies to the audience, which I think we’ve seen done in really fun ways this year with Worlds.”

A last question went out to Aletaha on whether fans would be required to get the Covid-19 vaccine to attend events next year. “For us, the safety and health of our events is priority number one. We want to make sure that our teams can compete in the safest, cleanest, healthiest environment. That said, we’re very, very, very excited to welcome fans back. Having fans in the arena brings an energy that is just unmatched.

Worlds 2021 Finals Media Day John Needham Naz Aletaha
The final battle for the Summoner's Cup starts this Saturday. (Picture: Riot Games / Getty Images)

For 2022 we’re very hopeful that we’ll have fans back.” She did caveat her answer, however. “All of it really depends on where we are hosting [events], what the laws, regulations, advice from the health authorities of that area, and that venue, and that city really are. I’d say that it’ll depend, but our commitment is that we will take our protocols for safety and health very, very seriously to ensure the competition can go on in the safest way.”

There was, however, notably no comment on vaccine requirements for fans (or otherwise) mentioned in Aletaha’s answer.

For more Worlds and League of Legends Coverage, head on over to our dedicated LoL section!

Featured image courtesy of Riot Games.