The year-end “League of Legends” champion will be determined on Saturday, marking the culmination of this year’s League World Championship and its central theme, “One and Only.”
But Riot Games’ “Worlds” theme is a carefully curated expression of Riot’s core brand, shaped over the course of months using feedback from brand clients and other stakeholders. In other words, it’s a window into how the gaming giant is posturing itself to advertisers.
What is a World Championship theme?
The “League of Legends” World Championship, fondly referred to as “Worlds” by League fans, is one of the largest annual esports events. Concurrent viewership of last year’s World Championship final peaked at nearly 74 million, a 60.33 percent increase over viewership in 2020, according to Riot’s internal figures. Simply put, it’s Riot Games’ biggest opportunity to showcase its brand to fans and prospective partners every year.
Riot Games began working with Tendril, the creative agency that helped it develop a visual identity for the theme, in August 2021, when Riot kicked off the Worlds 2022 theme project, but the companies had been looking for an opportunity to work together for “several years,” according to Tendril creative director Patrick Coffey.
For each iteration of Worlds, Riot devises a one-line phrase that acts as a “theme” to tie together the event’s programming and visual identity. This theme informs the way agencies such as Tendril develop visual assets for the world championship and gives advertisers such as Mercedes Benz something to work with when they develop their own activations around Worlds.
In 2020, the Worlds theme was “Take Over,” and in 2021 it was “Make/Break.” Both events smashed viewership records, with 49.5 million concurrent viewers watching the Worlds final in 2020 and 73.86 million in 2021. A significant amount of the social conversations around both events centered around their themes, with online searches for both phrases spiking during the lead-up to past World Championships, according to Google Trends.
“It’s something that we’ve intentionally made into a dual message. Obviously, we have this strong spotlight on Worlds and what it means as this singular event within culture,” said Carrie Dunn, global head of creative for Riot Esports. “But we have over 100 different teams, we have 12 different regions, we have hundreds of pros — we kind of loved the inherent juxtaposition of the truth that while there is one ‘League of Legends’ esports fandom, it is made up of so many diverse parts.”
A months-long process
The process of developing this year’s Worlds theme began before last year’s iteration of Worlds even started. Dunn and her creative team started by brainstorming with representatives of Riot’s events, broadcasting and brand development teams, then word-vomiting 20 pages of prospective themes onto a Microsoft Word document.
“Obviously, there was this theme bucket of the singular status of worlds,” Dunn said. “That kind of led to ‘One and Only,’ as well as a million other iterations of the line.”
It took nearly two months for Riot to settle on its Worlds theme of “One and Only” before bringing it to stakeholders such as brand partners and the esports organizations involved in the event. But while Riot gave its partners ample opportunity to give feedback on the theme, most of them trusted the game developer to approach the event and its branding in the right way without significant pushback, according to Dunn.
“With all of our partners, the reason they partner with us is because they want to really authentically integrate into the ecosystem,” she said. “So it’s less of a consideration of what works for them, and more of us making sure that the authenticity is there, so that anybody can build on the foundation.”
Developing a visual identity
In addition to informing prominent aspects of the Worlds broadcast such as the involvement of Lil Nas X and his “Worlds anthem,” “Star Walkin’,” Riot’s “One and Only” theme was also a key source of inspiration for the visual assets the company displayed throughout both its online broadcast of the event and in-person arenas such as New York’s Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden.
“In the arena, it’s up to the event teams to kind of figure out how to use them, but a lot of the things we provided for the live broadcasts can be as simple as a looping background animation, or things like title cards,” said Adam Brandon, a creative director at Tendril who worked on the project.
Riot’s Worlds visuals this year centered around a colorful flag that combined the colors and logos of the 24 professional esports organizations participating in the event, highlighting the unity aspect of the “One and Only” branding.
Tendril designers created the flag using the three-dimensional modeling tool Houdini after Riot provided the agency with a comprehensive and up-to-date Airtable database containing the colors and logos of every professional “League of Legends” team.
Since the designers didn’t know which teams would qualify for Worlds while creating the flag, Tendril had to provide Riot with a modular toolkit that allowed them to swap out one team’s logo and colors for another.
“Each team has so many different, unique colors,” said Tendril executive producer Ramona Gornik-Lee. “So trying to find a way to work with them and make it still visually appealing, that was one of the challenges as well.”
Why does this matter?
The depth of the research and development surrounding the Worlds theme and related visual branding shows how critical events like the annual World Championship are for Riot’s goal to use its fervent esports fandom as a springboard into broader relevance within the worlds of culture and entertainment. As Riot expands from “League of Legends” into other game genres and dips its toes into original streaming content, it is not skimping on the branding and visuals supporting its core esports product.
“One thing I would say about Riot is that they’ve been a bit of a trailblazer, on the design side, of the larger-scale gaming companies,” Coffey said.
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