The dawn of the 2023 League of Legends EMEA Championship is finally upon us. As the rising sun casts its warmth on the inaugural LEC Winter Split, Summoner’s Rift begins to thaw. Eventually, the frost evaporates, leaving only the lush greenery that’s oh-so-enticing to the region’s finest players, beckoning them to face off against each other once more for the coveted LEC trophy.
But things are different this year. Apart from Europe’s expansion to EMEA, and a new three-split format, EMEA – like its major region cousins – held its very first Season Kickoff Event. Additionally, there’s a new LEC commissioner in town, and he has big plans for taking the region to even greater heights. Introducing Artem Bykov.
Bykov has honed his craft in various capacities across the industry, operating within it for over a decade. From general management at ESL, to managing Blizzard’s esports efforts in EMEA, Bykov has quite the résumé. Having joined Riot in August 2022, he has yet to experience his first full LEC split though, as he tells The Loadout, he can’t wait to get into the action.
We sat down with Bykov to quiz him about the LEC Season Kickoff Event, his thoughts on the LEC as it stands, and his plans for its future.
The Loadout: Starting off with the Season Kickoff Event, I just want to get your general thoughts on how you felt the event went?
Artem Bykov: The LEC Season Kickoff Event very well. After the event I’ve been following the community’s reaction online – it’s been great. Watching the show from the studio, the energy from the audience was fantastic. The event also has a special place in my heart because it’s the first product I worked on from A-to-Z as the commissioner, so I’m very happy about the way it went.
What were some of the other thematic options explored? Or were the LEC Dynasty/Legacy memes too good not to instantly opt for?
There’ve been some pretty good ideas, I also loved what other regions did as well. I’m not going to spoil the things that we came up with in case we want to reuse them on our LEC broadcasts. It’s been a fun experience, though, to brainstorm with the team on this one. Again, for me, it was one of the first times where I could create, and express my opinions to the team. It’s been great.
Thinking about the broadcasts themselves, bearing the SKE in mind, are we going to start seeing some other styles of creative segment to what we’ve perhaps had before?
I cannot comment on anything that is not specifically scheduled in the future. I want to say, though, that we are listening to the fans very closely. It’s a very big value for Riot, and the reception has been great. We will see if fans want to see more of this type of content. And, if this happens, we will consider it in the future.
You also mentioned that the SKE is the first product you took from start to finish. For you, what were the biggest learnings that you took from this process?
Well, one is that our talents are exceptional, and they can deliver a very, very fun show.
Another one is that it is great to have an opportunity to warm up the studio at the beginning of the year, before we actually kick in with the regular season of the LEC Winter Split. So we really appreciated this opportunity.
In general, the product was not trivial to come up with because, of course, we’re doing this for the first time. Planning was around the holiday season, so big shout out to the teams who have been very cooperative, and helped us to shape the product the way we really wanted to. I couldn’t be happier about the way it went.
If this were to happen again next year, what would you tweak?
If I were to reflect a little bit on the way this event went, what I would have done differently, together with the team is that one of the themes for the event was ‘make your mark’ – I think we hit the theme in some instances, like with our social media posts – [but] I wish we could have had a bit more time to prepare to explore it more on the broadcast. But all in all the event exceeded my expectations and expectations of the team.
As we moved on to discuss the LEC itself, we asked Bykov about the second seed spot for this year’s Mid-Season Invitational and how it would be awarded. Bykov said at the time that the LEC team was “very close to figuring it out.” The methodology has now been confirmed. Bykov continued on to say the following:
The teams have been very, very happy to get the second slot for MSI. I was super excited to watch Worlds last year – I caught this bug of cheering for your home region. So obviously [I’m] very excited about MSI and Worlds this year.
Regional pride is something which Europe has always had in spades. Thinking about that, where do you perhaps feel that we can really amp up that love towards the region a little bit more this year?
Well, first of all, I think that one of the biggest things to see here is the new format that we’ve been tirelessly explaining to people on social media. But it’s one thing to announce it, it’s now up to us to deliver it, and to deliver on our promises. So I think if everything goes as well as we planned, that’s going to be a really big upgrade for the LEC teams, for the players, for the fans. So I’m really looking forward to delivering on this one.
Moving onto yourself. You came in towards the end of last summer, and have spent time acclimatising to the role. Now coming into the Winter Split, how has that process been for you, and what are your thoughts on the league as it stands?
So joining the League last year was a very humbling experience. Joining a product that’s been out there for ten years is a big undertaking. It’s been fantastic so far, [and I’m] really thrilled because the team working on the league is exceptionally good. Our partner teams are exceptionally good – love working with them. So I’m finding my footing, and definitely feeling confident, thrilled, excited coming into the new season.
Obviously, the whole EMEA change is something that’s been planned long before I joined the league. Now I’m working together with a team to bring all of this a reality. I’ve been working very closely with the teams on various plans for this year that we have not announced yet, and working with our broadcast and production team to make sure our show keeps delivering the fans. It keeps a very high entertainment bar – a lot of irons in the fire.
Frankly, I’m itching to get to the studio on Saturday. To see people coming in for this event was great. Now, I know even more people are coming over this weekend. So yeah, really, really looking forward to finally beginning.
I feel like you’ve touched on this throughout, but as a more focused, final question: where do you and the LEC team currently see – apart from the format change – the biggest opportunities to take that product further?
It’s a great question. Our ambitions are very high – we want to be one of the most entertaining sports leagues in the world. And there are many, various things we consider. One thing that may not be that obvious to the fans is, when people think of LEC, they think of our studio and the creative, fun broadcasts that we deliver. At the same time, we have more than ten broadcast partners, who broadcast the show across various EMEA languages and also across the world.
Those fans are a major portion of the LEC viewers, and one area that I’ve been thinking about for the past two weeks is how we can deliver an even bigger and better experience to those fans who watch LEC through our amazing broadcast partners. So that will be one of the areas where we can deliver in the future. I know we also spoke a lot about the format, but that’s going to be a big one this year, and I’m ultra-focused right now on delivering on this promise, and all those various videos that we released about it.
I’m looking forward to seeing you all deliver on that!
It’s a busy time! But I feel that, on every call I’ve been part of, everyone is galvanised about this season. I think everyone has this feeling that it’s going to be a special year, we’re bringing a lot of cool stuff to the league – some things we’ve not announced yet – so everyone is really doing their best to create this amazing show.