Mixed Reality: How Riot Set a Tech Record at LoL Worlds Championship 2020
This year, Riot Games created a visual miracle at the League of Legends World Championship.
Due to the restrictions because of the COVID-19, the event could be canceled. Riot wanted to hold the championship in three different locations, but then it was decided to organize it in Shanghai, China. The Shanghai authorities allowed the LoL championship to be held, but the format of Worlds 2020 had to be adapted to the new reality. All the players sat through a 14-day quarantine before going on stage. All stages of the championship, except the final, were held in the same room without spectators.
Each year, the LoL world championship took place in a new region, and it allowed learning the game culture of this place. Riot realized that this time the event could not be held in the same way. But the company still wanted the championship to be truly memorable and differ from any other live event. So they decided to preserve the variety of places with the help of augmented reality.
Riot Games started using AR technology in 2017. At the Worlds Finals, the Elder Dragon landed on the stadium stage. The company later repeated this experience in 2018 and 2019. Each year, Riot put more emphasis on mixed reality in its events, and the elaboration of technology increased.
At Worlds 2020, they installed huge LED screens and continued to use augmented reality technology. As a result, the company created the illusion of changing the arena, which made the event truly spectacular. And what had to become just a shadow of past LoL tournaments has turned into an unforgettable show.
Initially, Riot wanted to keep the feeling that teams were competing with each other in different cities. But then the organizers realized that technology allows them to go even further and, instead of real places, immerse viewers in a fantasy world.
The design of the preliminary rounds of the championship was dedicated to the elemental dragons, which play a key role in the game. There was a different setup for each round — the rocks were replaced by clouds, and the endless expanses of water by fiery flashes.
Michael Figge, Creative Director at Possible Productions, Riot’s partner at the event, spoke about the unique technical nuances of the championship stage.
“If you go to a store and you pick up a 4k, that’s pretty high-resolution TV, this stage renders at 32k resolution. So, it is in terms of computational imagery the most sophisticated in the world.”
During the broadcast, the data from all cameras were sent to the LED screen. After that, the picture was visually expanded with AR. So the set looked like it had no end.
The screens showed the sights of different cities in China, both during the picks and bans stage and during the broadcast of game replay. There was an image even when a cameraman walked around the stage and showed from different sides what was happening. At any time, there was access to two shots from the camera, which made it possible to switch between virtual shots, like in a real show.
Disney used similar techniques to shoot The Mandalorian. They wanted to reduce costs and time for production and post-production. Therefore, many scenes were displayed on large LED screens, which provided the background using the Unreal Engine, an engine for computer games.
The centerpiece of the series’ set was a large LED screen that almost completely encircled the room. LED screens were also installed on the ceiling. Any video could be projected on the LCD screen to create a realistic backdrop as well as simplify the lighting of the scene. The executive producer of the series Jon Favreau called the technology StageCraft.
With the help of props and additional equipment, it was possible to create a realistic scene on which to shoot. Unlike shooting against green screens, which you fill with content during post-production, StageCraft created a “realistic” environment directly on set with the actors. As a result, the actors had a better idea of particular scene events and acted more realistically. Finally, the environment could be changed in real-time, and it was better adapted to the shooting conditions. If the director considered any elements of the scene unnecessary, they could be removed immediately.
The LED screen also provided realistic lighting for the scene, and it gave the necessary reflections on objects — they did not have to be added later through post-processing.
Of course, the use of cross-reality technology is not new. But in the case of Worlds 2020, everything was broadcast live — and such a thing was done for the first time.
What the organizers did was simply incredible also because it usually takes more than a year to prepare for the World Championship. This time, Riot and Possible made it in just four months.
The Worlds 2020 finals, unlike the rest of the tournament, was held in a stadium, as in previous years. However, only 6 thousand spectators were allowed in here. But that didn’t stop the finals from becoming the largest in-person esports event since the pandemic began.
The finals opening ceremony lasted about 15 minutes and consisted of, among other things, performances by dance groups and vocalists of the virtual band K/DA.
So in the end we can say that despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, Riot has managed to unite fans and players and immerse them in fantasy worlds as deeply as never before.