Each year, one of the highlights of the League of Legends World Championship is the opening ceremony. Developer Riot regularly had the opportunity to create a real-world spectacle before the Big Game. In the past, that meant everything from holographic musical performances to the appearance of an augmented reality K-pop group. In 2021, however, things went in a different direction.
With no audiences present due to COVID-19 restrictions, Riot instead opted for a pre-produced series of music videos that featured gigantic real-world settings paired with moments from the next. Esoteric animated series. It might not have been a live performance, but it was impressive nonetheless. “That’s really what feature films do, what Marvel does,” said Matt Kauth, production manager at London Alley Entertainment, who worked with Riot on the play.
What was created before the world championship game was essentially a 13-minute short film that combined animation, music videos and physical settings. It featured a handful of performances by Imagine Dragons and Bea Miller, interspersed with animated vignettes of Esoteric, which debuts on Netflix tonight. The idea of ââmixing live-action and CG isn’t entirely new, but part of what makes the Worlds event work so well is the sprawling real-world sets designed to look like Zaun and Piltover. , two emblematic cities of League (which feature prominently on the Netflix show).
âThese are the biggest sets we’ve ever done, and it’s probably not even close,â says Kauth, whose studio has worked on clips for Lil Nas X and The Weeknd. âWe shot this whole piece over three days in Los Angeles and three days in Birmingham, UK. It’s also the busiest he’s ever been in the production landscape right now. Both because we come out on the other side of the covid, but also because all the streaming is going on. It has never been so busy and teams are very difficult to find. The LA shoot, we were literally taking the builders out of the TV shows. And add new crew members every day to meet that deadline. “
Music videos were still part of the plan. But initially, Riot had hoped to incorporate a live element as well. That changed when the company was forced to move the event from Shenzhen, China to ReykjavÃk, Iceland due to covid concerns. âWe actually always wanted there to be this integration of music videos and more cinematic performances,â says Nick Troop, executive producer of the event for Riot. âEven when Worlds was still located in Shenzhen, we were going to shoot these videos that way. This was the general plan. And part of the magic of the stadium show was going to be creating that interaction between the live show and the pre-recorded stuff, and using that to uplift what was going on in the stadium.
The emphasis on physical settings contrasts with past worlds, where new technologies like mixed reality were on full display. Part of the reason for the choice was practical. With a short lead time to complete production, the physical sets would put less pressure on the various VFX teams who worked there. If the videos had been shot with a green screen, for example, it would have taken a lot longer to complete as the artists would have had to design the backgrounds practically from scratch. âOur goal was to make sure we captured as much as possible behind closed doors, so that when we passed the baton to the VFX departments, they had enough work,â says Kauth. (Even still, five different studios and 230 people worked on packaging the post-production effects.)
But the IRL sets were also chosen because Riot believed it would help differentiate the opening ceremonies from the many other virtual performances that have happened in recent times, especially during the pandemic. Plus, it looked cool. âYou can feel when it’s real,â says Troop. âYou live in a world that is rendered most of the time when you interact with League of Legends. This is one of the rare occasions to bring it to life.
It’s typical for large-scale film productions, like Marvel’s, to use both large sets and multiple effects studio partners. But Kauth says it’s rare for shorter form projects like this. Not only did this help make the opening ceremonies impressive, he says, but having so many people working there also helped make it a more sustainable production where teams were able to avoid largely the squeeze. “It’s a film and television approach to meet deadlines and not burn a single business,” he explains.
As impressive as the 2021 ceremony has been, something is definitely missing without an in-person audience. It’s hard for the team to know if viewers like it without the roar of a crowd inside a stadium. Instead this year, they’ll look elsewhere for that first wave of comments. âI’ll definitely be curious,â says Troop. “I’ll be keeping an eye on Twitter and Twitch chat.”