The 2023 Worlds had K-pop stars, an AR boy band and a big screen

Last weekend, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, the world’s most famous professional gamer, won his fourth League of Legends world championship as his team, T1, defeated rivals Weibo Gaming in front of a home crowd at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. It was an impressive sight but, as always, one of the most exciting parts of the experience happened before the matches even started.

The Worlds Opening Ceremony is an opportunity for developer Riot Games to combine cutting-edge technology with performances from some of the biggest names in music. This time around, the event featured K-pop stars NewJeans and impressive augmented reality. But the biggest star was also the biggest: a 110 meter long LED screen was present everywhere.

“Using this surface, we aim to create truly immersive environments,” says Carrie Dunn, Riot’s creative director for global esports. “So it’s not just about presenting information. It’s about giving the audience the feeling of having been transported.

The 13-minute ceremony (which you can watch above) was divided into several different sections. It all started with a pre-recorded cutscene in which a League The player went from playing in their room to being transported via a portal to the Worlds stage. From there, the music aspect began with Heartsteel, a newly created virtual boy band made up of alternate versions of popular songs. League characters. First, there were real singers and rappers performing the song “Paranoia.” Then, a (virtual) car crashed into the giant screen, shattering it, while AR versions of the band appeared on stage.

This was an opportunity for Riot to use techniques it had used in the past. During the opening ceremony in 2021, for example, the entire show was a cutscene of Imagine Dragons performing on an elaborate set, as in-person events were not possible at the time. The year before, in Shanghai, virtual K-pop group K/DA appeared on stage via AR. “We kind of remix (these ideas) and apply them in different ways,” Dunn says.

The difference this time around was the massive display, which surrounded the stage and allowed Riot to create a convincing virtual backdrop. The scene itself was quite simple; there wasn’t much besides a few inlaid rocks around the base of the screen – which, Riot notes, were hand-carved – intended to blur the transition between the real world and the fantasy world on the screen. screen. For this reason, the screen had to do the heavy lifting, depicting large, detailed fantasy settings taken directly from the League universe. “It just creates a sense of realism,” says Dunn. “It helps us transport the audience and make them feel like it’s not just something that’s happening on stage.» Think of it like the virtual sets for shows like The Mandalorian or the next Avatar: The Last Airbender. (Which is completely unsurprising; Riot has also used this technology in the past.)

Last year in San Francisco, Riot used holograms to make it appear as if a gigantic robot was lifting Lil Nas This year, a similar show took place, but with a transition to augmented reality. Following Heartsteel’s performance, a surprise rendition of “Rise” – a popular 2018 Worlds anthem – was accompanied by a 90-foot-tall version of League Mordekaiser character standing in the crowd. While the screen behind showed a vast, ruined landscape, a character on stage fought against the AR villain with clever choreographed dance moves.

And then came NewJeans. The K-pop group was an interesting choice for an event like Worlds; Although they are popular, they are also known for their laid-back 90s-style pop and R&B. It’s quite different from the epic anthems that have accompanied opening ceremonies over the years. When you mix these two styles, you get a song called “Gods”, which closes the event.

“I really enjoyed the process of trying a new sound precisely because it was different from the style of music our listeners now associate NewJeans with,” says NewJeans’ Minji. “The lyrics also resonated more strongly with me once I discovered the stories behind them. Through the lyrics, we could feel the intense efforts put in by the players. League and their competitive spirit, both on the professional stage and in everyday life, so we did our best to capture and reflect that same spirit in the song.

“It really comes to life in a different way.”

On stage, the band set against a backdrop of ancient ruins before the camera zoomed high into the sky, revealing a glowing moon. As they sang, the AR battle continued, with Mordekaiser ultimately defeated in a bright explosion before the two competing teams – and the trophy they were fighting for – were revealed. For NewJeans’ Hanni, it’s this combination of sound and style that makes a collaboration like this really work.

“I firmly believe that music and visuals not only complement each other, but also go hand in hand,” she explains. “THE League of Legends The universe is inherently immersive, but when music supports specific elements of it, like the champions, the world, or the professional players, it really comes to life in a different way. And personally, I think the history of collaborating with many different and incredible artists adds another layer of richness to the fans’ listening experience.

As for Dunn, as soon as the event ended, his mind had already turned to what comes next, with the 2024 edition of the Worlds kicking off in London next year. “As as soon as last year’s show is over, even at the after-party, we all start talking among ourselves,” she says. “How are we going to top this one?”»

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