Riot Games' Wild Rift Esports Director Leo Faria


Riot Games

Interview: Leo Faria on Riot's Plans For Wild Rift, Expanding Game Changers, and More

Vignesh Raghuram
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The first ever Wild Rift Icons Global Championship is finally underway, featuring 24 of the best teams from eight different regions. With a prize pool of $2M USD— the largest in Wild Rift history and the opportunity to etch their place in Wild Rift history as the inaugural Icons Champion, the competition is going to be fierce and thrilling.

In the wake of the tournament finally kicking off in the Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre in Singapore, AFK Gaming had the opportunity to sit down with Riot Games Global Head of Wild Rift Esports Leo Faria to talk about how the company put the Icons Global Championship together, the factors that forced the tournament to move to Singapore, the future of the Wild Rift esports circuit, Game Changers initiatives, future esports plans for India, and more.

The Wild Rift Icons Global Championship 2022 is a milestone moment for the game. This is by far the biggest tournament that Riot has ever hosted for a mobile title and hence represents a lot of firsts for the organizers. “This is the first global championship for Wild Rift esports,” Faria said. “In many ways this is the first time that a lot of these players are playing on an international stage, it’s the first time we’re really going all-in on Wild Rift esports, it’s the first music video, it’s the first full-on stage, it’s the first time we’re testing a bunch of new things with regards to production and how we do face cams.”

Why Wild Rift Icons Global Championships moved to Singapore

Faria confirmed that this was the first time his team was running a production out of Riot’s new remote broadcast facility in Dublin. Unfortunately, fans will not be able to witness the action in-person since the event is being run behind closed doors in Singapore.

Wild Rift Icons Global Championships is being held at Suntec, Singapore

“We don’t have fans here in the Arena which is very unfortunate because it adds a whole different atmosphere to the competition,” he said. Adding that just having all the teams in the venue allowed Riot to build stories, interview the players, and showcasing their personalities, which in turn adds a lot to the show despite the event being held without an audience.

Originally the plan was to run the event in Madrid since Southeast Asia had already hosted The Horizon Cup—a $500K tournament featuring inter-regional LAN competition. “We thought, let’s go somewhere else in the world,'' Faria said. “One of the things that we’ve been talking about is how Wild Rift is a global sport and we’re super-proud of seeing the game and the sport being developed around the world. So we thought, we’ve been to Asia, let’s go somewhere else and we looked at a bunch of options.”

Unfortunately potential visa, logistical issues, COVID-19 restrictions, and the limited availability of viable venues caused Riot to reconsider this decision and eventually move the event back to the familiar Southeast Asian region. “Singapore was just very favorable from a travel perspective,” he said. “We have a lot of teams from a lot of nationalities: 24 teams from all over the globe, so it is a big challenge if you think about visas, immigrations, flights, quarantine, and all of that stuff. So it was really driven by practical logistical decisions.”

The evolution of the Icons Global Championships

Riot had a few goals for Wild Rift’s first full year as a competitive esports title, with the first one being to establish a competitive circuit by creating a brand, format, storylines, and initial characters. “Esports are personality driven properties,” explained Faria. “So to make it interesting, you need storylines. You need to have something that you care about. Either because you are a fan of a team, or you are a fan of a player or you are interested in a specific rivalry. That was a big goal for us this year, leading up to Icons. And I think we’ve been quite successful with that.”

One of the other goals that the company had in mind was to build an audience which was more challenging than anyone expected; the company had to innovate and build an in-game experience around Icons for the Wild Rift client to help grow an audience by creating awareness amongst casual fans. “If you open Wild Rift right now, it is impossible not to see that Icons is happening because it is like a complete game takeover, it is right there in your face, so we’re excited about that,” Faria said.

Wild Rift gave out the Majestic Empress Morgana Skin as part of Twitch Rewards for Icons

Riot Games

“To make an esport successful, we need to create a sustainable business around it so that teams and pros can make a living out of being professional athletes,” he said, pointing out that Riot is accomplishing this by starting to monetize the sport and bringing in big sponsors such as Prime Gaming, Coca Cola, and Verizon.

By hitting these goals, Riot has transformed The Wild Rift Icons Global Championship 2022 into the biggest tournament yet for the mobile MOBA, firmly establishing it as a premier global competition in the world of mobile esports. However, it is already planning ahead for the next iteration of the competition, aiming to evolve it even further.

Riot intends to do so by focusing on specific markets where it knows Wild Rift esports is growing and developing. “This year, slot allocations were mostly based on the size of the game in this market because we didn’t know… as much as we had some insights from the Horizon Cup, that event was not really a bespoke competition. So the teams’ performance this year will affect how we do slot distribution next year,” Faria said.

The company also intends to up its production game for next year by using all that it has learned from producing the show and using fan feedback of its production to influence and evolve the next edition of the tournament. “It is not going to be just a continuation of what we are doing, because we really want to move things forward and make the sport better,” he added.

Game Changers on the horizon for Wild Rift and League of Legends Esports?

Riot’s Game Changers initiative to support women has been a massive success for the Valorant esports scene; it has succeeded in giving women’s esports visibility and has led to the creation of various women’s Valorant teams such Cloud9 White, G2 Gozen, Guild X, Alter Ego Celestè, and more from top organizations in the space.

Riot's Game Changers initiative for Valorant has transformed women's esports

Riot Games

Faria noted that Riot is at a place where it is ready to expand its Game Changers initiative across all of its esports titles: “We are so excited and inspired by Valorant Game Changers, I think it has been a long time coming for esports. We talk about this so much, trying to find interesting ways to create opportunities for women and other types of individuals who want to play and aspire to be professional athletes in esports. And after a lot of debate and experimentation, I think we’re finally got to a place where we’re ready to expand Game Changers and make it something bigger than ‘Valorant Game Changers’ across all of our esports. Although I am not ready to announce anything right now. I can tell you for sure that we are building on that momentum and expanding what we’re doing in Valorant for other titles, not only Wild Rift,” he said.

Faria believes that Wild Rift is a natural fit for a circuit for female athletes: “If you look at the community in general, it is a lot more diverse than PC gaming which is heavily male dominated. In PC Gaming, we see 90% male and 10% female population, but in mobile you almost have an even split with 60% male and 40% female. So we know that the appetite is there, which is really incredible.“

He also took pride in the fact that Wild Rift was the only esports competition to feature both male and female medal events in the recently concluded SEA Games 2022 in Hanoi. He also reiterated that there was an appetite for these events and that Riot wants to bring the same success that the Game Changers initiative had experienced in Valorant to Wild Rift esports.

Wild Rift Esports in India

Unfortunately, despite Wild Rift being launched well over a year ago, the game is still yet to make its way into India and the rest of South Asia, meaning that the market remains untouched by this growing esports scene.

Faria promised that Riot will definitely include India in its esports plans once the game launches in the country. “It hurts me so much because every time we publish new stuff, we always see Indian players asking when we are launching in India. The love for the game, the desire and the will to play is so clear that it really hurts to see that not being fulfilled,” said Faria.

“I can’t unfortunately speak to the launch of the game,” he continued. “But rest assured, when the time is right and the game launches, we’ll be ready to do esports– that’s for sure.”

Faria closed by saying that Riot is still continuing to learn and innovate Wild Rift esports and that it is committed to it for the long term: “I just hope fans are proud because we’re putting a lot of work into building everything we build for them. Everything is for the players and for the community, so I hope you’re proud.”

The Icons Global Championship 2022 will conclude this weekend, with one team walking away with the championship and etching its place in Wild Rift esports history by being crowned as the first ever world champion. You can tune into the action via Wild Rift esports’ official Twitch and YouTube channels. You can also keep track of the live results and schedule through AFK Gaming.

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Vignesh has been covering the esports industry for nearly 5 years starting with the early days of the DPC. His industry expertise includes experience in Dota 2, CS:GO and Mobile Esports coverage.

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