Stu­dio pro­file

ImagineFX heads to Cal­i­for­nia to see the huge new home of Riot Games, the team be­hind League of Leg­ends

ImagineFX - - Contents -

We head to Cal­i­for­nia to visit Riot Games’ new home.

Stand­ing guard near re­cep­tion are life-sized stat­ues of An­nie and Tib­bers, the Dark Child and the Shadow Bear. On the walls around them, a rogues’ gallery of of­fi­cial and player-cre­ated art, char­ac­ters with names like Amumu the Sad Mummy, War­wick the Blood Hunter and Gang­plank the Salt­wa­ter Scourge. Th­ese cham­pi­ons and the 67-odd mil­lion monthly gamers who play them, helped League of Leg­ends (LoL) be­come one of the big­gest, and best loved, video games of all time.

ImagineFX is in west Los An­ge­les, at the of­fices of the team be­hind LoL. Ex­cept Riot Games doesn’t call this place an of­fice or a stu­dio, or even its head­quar­ters. This is a cam­pus. The name fits: not just be­cause it’s sprawl­ing, but be­cause an im­por­tant part of the work that goes on here has to do with learn­ing, with striv­ing.

In case you’ve been in a cave for a bit, League of Leg­ends is a mul­ti­player on­line bat­tle arena game. A re­ally big one. Re­leased in Oc­to­ber 2009, it re­mains Riot Games’ only ti­tle. A cou­ple of gamers, Bran­don Beck and Marc Mer­rill, founded the com­pany in 2006, and it’s since grown into not only one of the most bank­able game de­vel­op­ers around, but also one of For­tune’s 100 best com­pa­nies to work for – de­but­ing at num­ber 13 in 2015.

the Grand tour

Strolling around the cam­pus, it’s easy to see why. Walk­ways lead through the site’s sprawl­ing quad, among drought-friendly plants, past a gi­ant chess set, with fairy lights lead­ing the way over­head. There’s a

bas­ket­ball court be­tween the can­teen and cafe. In­side one of its wings, an old-school ar­cade room and a mod­ern PC bang. There is, in fact, al­most 300,000 square feet of space, hous­ing well over 1,000 em­ploy­ees. When Riot moved here a year ago, The LA Times re­ported it as the “big­gest new of­fice lease in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia in five years.”

On Adam Mur­guia’s first day, the stu­dio art di­rec­tor called his new team into a meet­ing: “I said, ‘Look, there’s a lot about the game’s look that’s great. It’s orig­i­nal, it’s su­per, su­per broad, but it’s re­ally in­con­sis­tent when it comes to qual­ity and con­sis­tency across the board and that’s one of the things I think we need to fix’.” He braced him­self for a back­lash. But the team, to his sur­prise, agreed with him.

In the four years since, Adam has grown the art depart­ment from 20 staff to more than 200, a kind of dream team of dig­i­tal artists. The cam­pus on which they work is a flex­i­ble space, one de­signed to adapt to Riot Games’ col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach.

Walk­ways go past a gi­ant chess set. Fairy lights lead the way over­head

We just say, ‘We need an awe­some cham­pion. Go do what you need to do to make an awe­some cham­pion’

“Our fo­cus turned to the prod­uct, to holis­tic prod­uct qual­ity,” Adam says. “So all of th­ese desks, they’re all on wheels, they’re all plugged into the hubs, and lit­er­ally the con­fig­u­ra­tion is dif­fer­ent week to week. Teams self-or­gan­ise. One of the things we hire for is adapt­abil­ity.”

Ev­ery­thing on cam­pus is care­fully thought-out: cham­pion-themed con­fer­ence rooms sit in the cen­tre of workspace ar­eas, so teams aren’t in­ter­rupted by Ri­ot­ers rush­ing in and out of meet­ings. The Korean-style PC bang – the kind of large gam­ing room where many fans play League of Leg­ends – is where work and play over­lap. Nearby ma­chines vend end­less snacks. There are bars and cafes, and al­most 100 break­out rooms.

“We’re not the com­pany to say, ‘Hey, con­cept artists, do 10 con­cepts by Tues­day,“’ Adam says. “We just say, ‘ We need an awe­some cham­pion. Go do what you need to do to make an awe­some cham­pion.‘”

In League of Leg­ends, you play an un­seen sum­moner. You con­trol a cham­pion who has unique abil­i­ties and bat­tle against a team of play­ers or com­puter-con­trolled cham­pi­ons. The Riot team, or Ri­ot­ers, can take around eight months to cre­ate and com­plete a cham­pion. As many as 100 from var­i­ous dis­ci­plines are in­volved in that process. Adam says there are over 120 playable cham­pi­ons and each can have mul­ti­ple skins. Skins range from sim­ple cos­tumes to full the­matic over­hauls. They don’t boost the char­ac­ter’s stats, just changes their ap­pear­ance. Paid-for cos­met­ics are where free-to-play League of Leg­ends gen­er­ates much of its money.

any­one for es­ports?

‘League’ also has a huge com­pet­i­tive el­e­ment to it. Re­gional com­pe­ti­tions cul­mi­nate in the an­nual World Cham­pi­onship, which in 2015 of­fered over $2m in prize money and at­tracted al­most 40m on­line view­ers.

“Our au­di­ence is hardcore gamers,” Adam says. “We hire hardcore gamers, so we’re also very crit­i­cal of the prod­ucts we’re cre­at­ing. We’re crit­ics, man, we re­ally are. And when some­thing’s res­onat­ing in­ter­nally, it’s a good sign. We’re very col­lab­o­ra­tive, we’re very com­pet­i­tive, we’re achieve­ment driven, we’re a team. We’re not a fam­ily, you know. The dis­tinc­tion be­ing that you can’t fire your grandma. We’re very plain spo­ken. Some­body’s not car­ry­ing their weight? They’ll know about it.”

Re­cent ImagineFX cover artist (see is­sue 131) Alvin Lee was re­cruited by Riot’s Splash Team just over a year ago: “Splash is ba­si­cally just a name for an il­lus­tra­tion team, which went from work­ing al­most as a stand­alone team to fol­low­ing the rest of the com­pany into be­ing more in­te­grated. If I jump into

work­ing with an­other per­son, hope­fully both of us will level up.”

Around the cam­pus, you hear terms like ‘ level up’ and ‘ force mul­ti­pli­ca­tion’ used a lot. Evan Mon­terro, an il­lus­tra­tor on the Champ Team, is one of Riot’s new­est em­ploy­ees. He ex­plains what th­ese terms mean: “I was sort of a gen­er­al­ist. I had a good amount of knowl­edge about a wide range of things. They want some­one here that is a 10 in the thing we’re hir­ing for, and a three in ev­ery­thing else. Not fives across the board.”

Once they have the job, Ri­ot­ers bump those threes up to 10s by col­lab­o­rat­ing, which is how they level up and force mul­ti­ply. There are also on-site sketch

groups, life-draw­ing classes and craft classes taught by Riot artists.

So how do you get a job at Riot Games? “Skill gets you in the door,” says prin­ci­pal artist Moby Francke, “but more im­por­tant is you’re a cul­tural fit.” Moby’s re­mit is broad. “I work with ev­ery­body. I’m mak­ing char­ac­ters some­times, I’m do­ing paint-overs of some­body else’s work, mar­ket­ing, art di­rec­tion for an event. Most things take six or seven months. This is a dream job for a lot of peo­ple. They let you take chances. They let you fail cat­a­stroph­i­cally, as long as you learn some­thing from it. You’re not just pi­geon-holed. You’re not a wid­get. We’re ex­tremely anti-wid­get at this com­pany.”

Never clock in again

“They don’t hire guys who come in for a pay check,” con­cept artist Chris Camp­bell says, “they look for the peo­ple who are pas­sion­ate. My team’s goal is to make a new char­ac­ter that’s go­ing to change the game. It’s gonna fun­da­men­tally blow ev­ery­one’s minds and be the kind of ex­pe­ri­ence that gets peo­ple ex­cited to play. If it doesn’t reach a level of ex­cite­ment with us, we just don’t put the char­ac­ter out.”

Work­ing at Riot Games is like work­ing on an aero­plane that’s be­ing built in mid-air

Chris’s job on the Champ Promo Team, he says, is to de­velop the nu­ances of a cham­pion: who they are and what mo­ti­vates them. “It’s never some solo pro­ject. It’s open, a com­mu­nal gath­er­ing of thoughts and ideas.”

Se­nior con­cept artist Trevor Clax­ton says work­ing at Riot is like work­ing on an aero­plane that’s be­ing built in mid-air. And that’s not to ev­ery­one’s taste. “I’ve seen peo­ple come on-site and work like that for a while and just not be happy. They need peace and space to cre­ate the best work they can pos­si­bly cre­ate.” It seems work­ing the Riot way may not be right for ev­ery­one, and could even up­set its spe­cific cul­ture.

League of Leg­ends is a game of great scope, built on metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to de­tail. The Riot Games cam­pus is ex­actly the same. A lot of care is taken to cre­ate what ap­pears to be a care-free work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. And the re­sults speak for them­selves. “We are al­ways try­ing to push, push, push,” says skins il­lus­tra­tor Cheng­wei Pan. “In other com­pa­nies you might get a week or two to pro­duce an il­lus­tra­tion,” he con­tin­ues. “When other artists hear that they’re like, ‘ What? It takes you four weeks to do one il­lus­tra­tion?’ But we’re not wast­ing time. We have more it­er­a­tions, more nar­ra­tive talk and a lot more feed­back than other il­lus­tra­tors get. That’s why the qual­ity of the il­lus­tra­tions keeps grow­ing. Riot has a fan­tas­tic cul­ture.”

Lo­ca­tion: Los An­ge­les, US

pro­ject: League of Leg­ends

Other projects: Bl­itzcrank’s

Poro Roundup (mini game)

Web: www.ri­

There’s a riot go­ing on in this epic ‘splash’

by artist Suke Su.

The Bil­ge­wa­ter Brew en­ables Ri­ot­ers to get caf­feinated for the day.

With its or­ganic cul­ture of cre­ativ­ity, Riot is a unique games stu­dio.

The art depart­ment trans­formed, and grew, four years ago when Adam came on board.

Some con­cept art from the Sum­moner’s Rift map. It’s the most viewed game maps in LoL and that’s say­ing some­thing!

This ‘splash’ of Miss For­tune by Ja­son ac­com­pa­nied a story event, aimed to en­rich the ex­ist­ing char­ac­ter for Ri­ot­ers and fans.

A de­tail from Ja­son Chan’s Poppy comic, a re­lease to give back­story to the re­vamped champ.

PC bangs are a com­mon sight in Asia, and so Riot built its own in-house to keep Ri­ot­ers con­nected with their gamer au­di­ence.

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