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How Riot created the virtual universe of the 2020 League of Legends World Championships

Riot used mixed reality and some of the most advanced screens in the world

Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

The 2020 League of Legends World Championship was supposed to be the biggest and expansive event that Riot had ever put on. It was going to be a true 10th anniversary blowout for the ultimate tournament in the world’s most popular esport. But this is 2020, which means things often don’t go the way we plan them.

For Riot, that meant hosting almost the entire Worlds 2020 event in one single location, with no fans in the studio because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So the Riot production crew teamed up with its creative partners at the production company Possible to bring the League of Legends universe to Shanghai for Worlds. In a recent behind-the-scenes video, Riot’s executive producer for Worlds 2020, Nick Troop, and Possible co-founder and creative director Michael Figge reveal how the team pulled off bringing the two worlds together.

Figge explain in the video that even though the production couldn’t travel around China, like it normally does for Worlds, Riot still wanted each phase of the World Championships to feel unique for the fans watching at home. To pull this off, the team brought in some of the most advanced LED screens in the world and used the same Unreal Engine-driven technology used to film The Mandalorian to create an immersive stage setup that changed themes completely depending on what stage of the tournament they were on, with each theme based on one of League’s in-game elemental dragons.

Riot’s Worlds 2020 stage during the opening ceremony for one of the stages
Riot’s mixed reality in full effect for the opening of Ocean dragon stage of Worlds 2020
Image: Riot Games

“Ultimately, given the very factual reality that Worlds was going to be rooted in Shanghai this year, [we wanted to] try and take the audience to other places in the context of the event, we wanted to keep reinventing the place that both the pro players and our audience knew the event was taking place,” Troop told Polygon in a recent interview.

During the video, Troop and Figge give plenty of interesting information about the impressive technology that drives the stage’s many LED screens. And while the screens that make up the stage are displaying ridiculously high-resolution 32K video of the environment live, there’s also an entire 360-degree mixed-reality background outside of the LED screens that’s added for stream viewers.

The mixed reality view of the stage at League of Legends Worlds 2020
The studio without and with the mixed-reality background.
Image: Riot Games

Troop said that Riot and Possible wanted to create something “that wasn’t just on a sound stage but was an expression of the city. That’s why you see these kind of iconic buildings in every version of the set. We know that we’re always in Shanghai, so there’s a sense of place, but it’s always different.”

By covering the studio in a 360-degree skyline and letting the cameras move wherever they want, Riot and Possible give the area a sense of 3D space and turn the studio into a real-feeling place. And while no background environments can quite replace thousands of screaming fans, Riot and Possible’s impressive foray into mixed reality for Worlds 2020 certainly comes close.

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