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League of Legends’ unsung heroes: The magician of MSI 2023

Speaking to PCGamesN in an exclusive interview at MSI 2023, Riot Games’ stage manager shared a glimpse into the behind the scenes of League of Legends esports.

On October 23, at the Hulu Theatre in New York, DRX were one game away from being eliminated from the 2022 League of Legends World Championship. They started giving out gifts to the event’s stage manager, Sebastian, to thank him for taking care of the team since their first appearance in Mexico City. Only after the MOBA‘s now-premier squad reverse sweeped EDG and eliminated them from the biggest League of Legends tournament of the year did he realize why they chose that moment to thank him.

It could have been the last time Sebastian saw DRX on-stage, but instead the Korean team won and kept on winning until they lifted the trophy. But Sebastian was not there with them, accompanying the players on-stage as he usually does.

Sebastian Leathlean has been the stage manager for all of League’s international events since 2017, but during the Worlds 2022 Finals he could not be there for DRX, a team he saw rising from the play-in stage of the competition. “I watched DRX lift the trophy from my hotel room with a fever of 103. I cried my eyes out. I did not stop crying the whole time.”

Sebastian had tested positive for COVID-19 the day before the Finals, and felt like all the work he had done from the start of the competition had been suddenly taken away from him – but he came back to League of Legends’ international stage a few months later for MSI 2023, and has never felt more proud of his work.

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He became a fan-favorite at the Copper Box Arena in London as the official hype-man for the audience, encouraging them to cheer and have fun before matches had even started. “It’s an immense privilege and an honor to serve this community,” Sebastian said, listing the reasons why working with Riot as a freelancer still excites him after seven years. But the journey to becoming Riot’s “energetic little bald guy” put Sebastian through hardships and epiphany moments.

There was a time when he slept on the sofas and floors of friends and worked multiple bar jobs on top of his production hours in order to survive. Years of “acting decline” and “lots of temporary bar jobs” made Sebastian throw in the towel on his acting career, and saw him return behind the camera. But one unexpected encounter with Charlie Anderson, who now also freelances for Riot as Broadcast Director, changed the trajectory of Sebastian’s career. “Before that point I didn’t know the existence of a person or job of floor manager, but from that moment, I knew I was born to be one,” Sebastian tells me.

Throughout his time as Riot’s stage manager, Sebastian made the company’s values his own, always putting the fans and players first and considering how he, in his “small part,” can make their experience the best it can be.

But this year’s MSI was special to him.

A bald man in front of a crowd wearing headphones forms a heart with his hands as they cheer and hold up signs

Most of Riot’s events crew is formed of contractors and freelancers from the location of the competition, but at its core there is always an international team that has the “joy” of going around the world to bring Riot’s events to life. Sometimes, as in Sebastian’s case, they can do so on their “home turf.”

“To be here at home and showing London what this is all about, when League of Legends’ profile isn’t very high in this country as it is in others, is such a privilege,” Sebastian tells me. “So to bring this beautiful show here on our home territory and show this to English fans is just a massive treat for many of us on the crew.”

At the end of it all, though, it always comes down to the fans, their expectations, and how Riot’s crew can defy it. To “defy all haters,” Sebastian and his colleagues meticulously plan the staging and broadcast and have a rigid schedule to uphold for every day of the event.

A photo of a red wall with MSI 23 written on it with white graffiti

Putting all of his twenty years of broadcast experience at work into practice, Sebastian has to operate on several levels daily. From meeting and acclimatizing the players to the environment, working alongside the broadcast and production team to make sure the talent is ready to walk out on the stage, and even cooperating with the artists Riot partners with to make them feel comfortable.

“There can be up to fourteen people holding cameras on that stage, plus ten players, two translators, two coaches, team handlers, managers, and owners before a match – and that’s not counting the broadcast cameras,” Sebastian tells me. Having to balance the needs of every team involved in the event while knowing the environment you’re working in like the palm of your hand is like conducting a “big beautiful orchestra” for Sebastian.

But that is just one of the many delicate tasks Sebastian and his team needed to take care of in their “twelve hours minimum” shift, which made him run over twenty-four kilometers each day at this MSI.

During our soul-stirring conversation, Sebastian made sure to highlight how much “blood, sweat, and effort” goes into Riot’s events and shows. The MSI Opening Ceremony is particularly ambitious “considering the budget and people available to make that ambition come to life,” Sebastian commented, before going on to praise the fans for the appreciation they show for the effort he and his team put into the event.

“They are awesome fans and I want them all to walk away feeling appreciated by myself and my colleagues, for without them I wouldn’t be getting to work on the world’s greatest stages,” he continued. “But I just think maybe they don’t realize just how much of a grind, just how much we put our hearts and our souls into this.”

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Despite sharing his desire for League fans to better understand the work behind the scenes of their favorite events, Sebastian admitted he doesn’t want them to know everything. “There’s things that go wrong that the audience hopefully don’t notice,” Sebastian said, while laughing and probably thinking of all of the things that haven’t gone to plan behind the bright lights and stages that he’s worked on. He doesn’t share which particular event popped into his mind because “a good magician never reveals their secrets.”

League fans will most likely be seeing Sebastian this Fall, when Riot will build a grandiose stage for the 2023 World Championship and the stage manager will be there once again to make sure everyone has the best time of their life – including himself. “You cannot do this work unless you love it. And that’s what it all boils down to. Loving it. Every single moment.”

Images courtesy of Bruce (Yicun-Liu86), Colin Young-Wolff, and Riot Games.