League of Legends’ new competitive tournament mode, Clash, goes live next week. Ahead of its full announcement, we spoke to Clash product manager Leanne Loombe about Riot’s hopes for the mode, as well as what they’ve learned about crafting a new competitive game mode from watching other League of Legends tournaments.
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PCGN: With so many other games vying for attention, how confident are you that you'll see entire teams willing to sit down for hours a day going forward?
Leanne Loombe: We know it's a large time commitment, but we've made Clash flexible so that you can play one, two, or three days. We understand that if you want to compete in the whole tournament that is a three-day commitment. During a lot of the betas, we did many evaluations on that particular point because that was an area of concern for us as well. During all of the tests that we ran, we've actually seen a very high percentage of players return if they've won, and if they've lost as well.
We're pretty confident based on the tests that we've done that players are willing to put in that time commitment, especially if they win, but the surprise for us is how many losers actually come back and play again. I think because Clash is so intense, and people are saying 'this is how I want to play', that intensity is encouraging people to put in that time, and so the time commitment is becoming less of an issue because they've had so much fun playing in this mode.
Are things like Clash and similar features an attempt to refresh/galvanise a community, or is it something to reward players who have stuck with League for a long time?
LL: I think it's actually both. Our competitors have done a bunch of things and we've learned a lot from them. We're confident that there's still room for us, of course, even with the other great games. I think Clash specifically is for both of those. We're hoping that the players that haven't played League for a while see that Clash is happening and maybe their friends are playing and saying 'come and play with us' and it revitalises them to get back into League again and into Clash. But also for our players that are continuing to play, we want to carry on surprising them with really cool stuff, and Clash is one of those experiences. So I do think that it's for all of our players, it’s for the existing players and those who haven't played for a little while.
What impact do Riot imagine Clash will have on the game's wider competitive scene?
LL: It wasn't one of our goals, but Clash is very competitive and it's a team sport, and it's very close to the esports scene, especially with the way that we've done the pick/bans, and scouting, and all of those kind of things. We are mimicking that to some degree, so I do expect it to be a by-product, and within Riot we are looking at how we connect the Clash tournaments to esports and more things we can do in that space to make that feel unified.
What have you learned about Clash from grassroots tournaments?
LL: We have spent a bunch of time with the Europe team going through what Battlegrounds does already for players in a lot of detail, and we're still working on our overall strategy for that. Battlegrounds and the data analysis we've done from that gave us a lot of information about what players are expecting from a tournament. Things like the grassroots scene definitely gave us ideas for the structure of Clash and for what we needed in Clash.
One of the key things that influenced the design of Clash from the grassroots scene was that the amount of no-shows that you can see in those type of smaller tournaments that are run in particular venues. Analysis on that showed that sometimes you're seeing a 50% no-show in some of those tournaments, We really wanted to make sure that we didn't have that problem with Clash, so we designed this system so that we only add people into the tournaments when we know that they are there.
How have you tried to eliminate no-shows?
LL: The tournament starts on the Friday, we open it on the Monday, so you have time to get your team together. During those five days you’re not committing to the tournament, you're getting your team together, you’re submitting your tickets. You can do all your strategy, and then on the Friday, 30 minutes before the games start, we require you to lock in.
You lock in individually, but you're not actually entered into the tournament until all five of you are locked in, and then the captain does the final 'this team is ready to play’. Because that's 30 minutes before the big games start, we're hoping that you're there, at your PC, ready to play. The games are going to start in the next ten minutes or so, and because you've locked in, we expect you to be there and play. That system has helped us to eliminate no-shows, creating a tournament based on the teams that have locked in and are actually there to play.
What will happen when you have an odd number of teams?
LL: The way that Clash is built is that it does cater for all types of participation numbers. We have systems within Clash that will deal with odd numbers, and the way that we do that is with byes - if we have an odd number of teams then one of those teams will get an automatic bye, an automatic free win, and they will progress through. We still want that team to be in the tournament, we still want them to progress. Obviously there’s the slight downside because it means that that team doesn't get to play a match, but as soon as the next matches starts then they will be in round two. That's the way that we're dealing with the odd number of teams.
The other system that we have in Clash is, if we see odd numbers of teams between days, then we do promote teams. So, for example, in the 16-team bracket on the Sunday, if we don't have enough teams in that bracket, we will promote people automatically from the eight-team bracket.
Will Clash ever leave its weekend structure?
LL: Not immediately, but we're definitely open to it. We want to get Clash out, get some consistency to players, because they think that's important - knowing when something is happening rather than it being super flexible from the start.
Definitely to begin with, Clash will be the three days over the weekend, but we're totally open to looking at other times, shorter durations, that kind of thing. We're investing in Clash long-term; it's not something that we're going to get out and then forget about. We have a lot of plans already for it in the coming months, so absolutely that's something we're totally open to.