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Riot Games is branching out into new types of esports events, starting with Teamfight Tactics. This December, 512 players from around the world will gather in Las Vegas to compete in a massive open bracket tournament.
Riot has not shared how competitor passes will be obtained just yet, but some priority will be given to players based on their Set 9 ladder rankings. Players from all over the world will be able to compete, though they are not locking a specific regional breakdown.
This move is highly experimental for Riot. The publisher has not hosted open bracket esports tournament in over a decade, and certainly nothing at this scale. Moreover, this is the first time Riot has hosted a massive in-person event for TFT which debuted in late 2019.
Understanding Riot’s timing
Unlike Valorant, which had years of development and planning for its esports strategy, TFT was a relatively quick turnaround. Naturally, Riot borrowed its successful League of Legends esports model for TFT. Since 2020, Riot has crowned six global championships with its most recent ending this past weekend. 32 players from 9 regions competed for a share of $450,000 in prize money.
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The tournament capped off its eighth set: Monsters Attack! Each set changes TFT’s units, theme, mechanics and meta game so Championships commemorate a set.
However, Riot is looking to shake up its existing esports program for its auto battler. With over 80 million MAUs, TFT is Riot’s second most played game (for now). However, its esports program is not as high profile as either LoL or Valorant. The publisher took 2022 to rethink its traditional esports approach to draw in viewers from this massive player base.
“I think TFT is our biggest growth audience. A lot of our other games are in a state where we are trying to broaden out the audience and lower the barrier to entry. TFT has a massive audience, but most of them don’t engage with esports,” Michael Sherman, global head of TFT esports, told GamesBeat in an interview.
This upcoming TFT Global LAN event will take place at the beginning of Set 10, serving as a kick off rather than a send off for the set. This change will help the event capture the audience when excitement in the TFT community is at its highest. “Peak set viewership and engagement happens alongside set launch, but traditionally our big esports investments happened at the very end of the set. There was a misalignment from when events took place to when players were engaging,” Sherman said.
Riot confirmed that this change in approach was partially influenced by a shift in TFT’s business model. Until now, Riot rotated sets twice per year with mid-set patches to keep the game feeling fresh. Now, Riot is upping its release tempo to three times per year.
Ultimately, Riot hopes that this change in timing will act as a force multiplier for the launch of the new set. While the event is currently a one-off, fan feedback will play a major role in Riot’s strategy going forward.
Calling all TFT designers
This change in timing and format comes with major advantages, but it also changes the competitive focus. This tournament will test an entirely different skill set than TFT’s prior esports events.
“Rather than selecting 32 players and hosting something at the end of a set, this event is going to be an open bracket event where the content is still fresh,” said Sherman. “It has a totally different type of appeal to the player base. It helps create a moment that celebrates competitive players’ ability to innovate. Set championships test how good of a pilot you are. Now, we want to see how good of a designer you are. This event will test your ability to create the meta as opposed to playing into it.”
Of course, bugs are always a concern when esports events are held close to content release dates. Set 10 will launch about three weeks ahead of the TFT Global LAN event in Las Vegas. However, it had the longest development cycle of any Teamfight Tactics set. In any case, players will be challenged to adapt quickly.
“It’s going to be a cut throat format in order to get through that many players in a short time frame. Every game is going to matter more and players will have to adjust their playstyle to succeed,” Sherman confirmed.
Unlike Riot’s more standard fare, the TFT Global LAN event will open up new kinds of esports story telling. Open bracket tournaments are more random by design which will create memorable moments. Upsets will happen when players are tasked with fighting through a 512-person bracket.
An in-person open bracket event also blurs the lines between top level competitors and their competition. The biggest streamers and top ranked players will fight their way through pools against other qualifiers on even footing.
Viewers will follow each player’s path to the top, creating a cohesive storyline for the event. Riot plans to use its Project Stryker capabilities to enhance the TFT esports viewing experience with multiple feeds and shoulder content. Also, co-streamers will be on site to cover the event and spark organic interactions.
Timing the event with Set 10’s launch creates more opportunities to give TFT fans what they’re searching for. “80% of TFT players look up guides on how to play TFT on other sites. We’re thinking about how we can serve content throughout this event that acts like a live guide to the set,” Sherman said.
Ultimately, the format and competitor experience take cues from EVO and the fighting game community. Riot will put their own spin on the format for TFT, but this experience will be valuable with its own fighting game, Project L, on the horizon. Notably, Sherman also serves as global head of Project L esports.
As TFT’s first large scale LAN event, it will be the first major in-person gathering of the game’s community. The team at Riot sees this as a coming out party for the TFT fanbase.
“It’s about giving the whole community a platform to celebrate, not just crown the best player in the world,” Sherman added. “Our goal is to create something that feels like it’s bigger than its individual parts. This event is something that the community will create with us and it’s our role to make sure that we have all the necessary pieces to enable that.”
On top of its usual polish and production, Riot is building the event to bring the whole community together. The team is putting together programming for in-person spectators (and players that drowned in pools). Some of these ideas include meet and greets with creators and developers. Brand partners will have opportunities to interact with fans at the venue in addition to in-game and broadcast integrations.
Hosting an open bracket tournament at this scale is a huge bet for Riot. This event has the potential to bring both TFT esports fans and the game’s wider community together.
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