DISCLAIMER: I have many skills. I have learned from this trip that photography is not one of them. My apologies for the blurry pictures. I’ll try to do better next time.
Unlike most people, I talk with Rioters on a semi-regular basis, so I knew the invitation was legit from the beginning. Others weren’t so lucky. In fact, “I thought it was a scam at first” was the most common story I heard, which says something about the internet savvy nature of the player base.
I was up early, getting to the airport with plenty of time to spare. They’re doing construction on 94, but it wasn’t a problem. The fountain at DTX was cool, but was leaking all over the place. Par for Detroit, I guess.
The flight was good too, except for the 20-something next to me wearing far too much Drakkar Noir. Pretty sure that was banned in the 80’s. I had a great book to last me through the five hours we were in the air. Best part of the flight was literally flying over my parents’ house:
I deliberately wore a bright purple shirt so I would stand out in the Uber pickup area. I got an older driver named Kyung who had over 11,000 rides. We spent the time talking about how Los Angeles has changed in the 22 years since he emigrated from Korea.
The hotel was pretty nice. It’s interesting to see how businesses adapt to change. With the TSA limit on fluids, everything in the bathroom was in enormous pumps. High quality stuff, but definitely something you could take with you.
I was on the 14th floor, so I had a great view. The hotel prides itself on being “pet friendly”, so I heard barking dogs several times while I was there. Tell you what, a deep, rumbling WOOF! as you head down to the lobby for breakfast wakes you up real good.
Having had a salad at 11-ish my time and creeping up on 7, I thought I would grab some quick food. Keyru and D’Artagnan were taking us out to KBBQ, but Keyru had a late flight, so that wasn’t happening until quite late (after midnight on EST). I’m kind of a foodie, so I found a place that sounded cool.
Turns out they only serve appetizers during “happy hour”, which I found absolutely befuddling. I settled on tomato and mozzarella flatbread, but walked away vaguely disappointed by the experience. One of the other volunteers joined me and we sat there talking gaming.
He needed water ($10 in the minibar), so we walked to Trader Joe’s. That area is adjacent to UCLA, so it had a nice college-town feel. The architecture was amazing. If I could, I would transplant any number of those old homes to Michigan.
It was weird seeing the scooters just sitting on the sidewalks. Turns out you rent them using a smartphone app and they have someone come round to gather them up. Later on in the evening we saw people zipping along through traffic at what looked like 30 miles an hour. Keyru mentioned that they used to be even faster, but restrictors had to be put on because they were killing people. Younger me probably would have loved them.
We got back to the hotel and hung out in the lobby for a while before we finally got our KBBQ.
I’m not going to lie: I lost that battle. Hard. Don’t get me wrong, the food was amazing, but it’s a LOT of meat and I’m a very slow eater. It was nice getting to meet Rioters I’ve spoken to many times in the past in person. People kept asking me if I had never had Korean BBQ before and I had to explain that, while there are a couple places in the Detroit area, none of them are close to me.
Having gorged ourselves silly, of course we had to get ice cream. I always enjoy watching someone make crepes.
If it seems this story is all about food, that’s mostly because there’s a rich tradition of “breaking bread” in my family. Meals are for spending time with people, as far as I’m concerned. I suppose I could try to relay some of the conversations we had, but it was mostly that energetic talk that happens between people who know each other, but not really.
I got to meet a bunch of other people who were invited at breakfast. They were a pretty diverse bunch. The high point was the woman cosplaying In-n-Out Ahri with french fries for tails. We all avoided making the obvious joke.
**_*~~About that Teemo hat~~*_**
When they first told us we absolutely had to wear the Teemo hat at all times while we were on campus, I thought they were kidding. They are not. Turns out they make new hires wear the hat for a week, so everyone there is used to keeping track of them, which is pretty clever when you think about it.
They’re also very strict with their security. We had to wear hats and visitor’s badges. We had to stay near our Riot buddy at all times. Most of the doors require a security card to open. Despite all this, there was a security guard at every door and hall leading out of the permitted areas. I saw many guests being pulled aside if the guards couldn’t see the badge, even when the guest was with their group, though this was more common early on, shortly after we got on campus.
Later, they explained 90% of the campus was off limits. I will admit I was expecting a tour, something along the lines of “This is the music department. This is Kathy and Joe.” and maybe some of the cliched questions people ask at such things. I realized after the fact that it wasn’t a tour at all. It was a party that didn’t feel like a party at the time. Still a lot of fun, though.
**_*~~The Warmest of Welcomes~~*_**
The part that absolutely felt like a party came when we entered the campus. Several hundred Rioters were lined up along the sides of a long corridor where they were cheering, clapping and high-fiving us as we jogged past. The Annie statue is in that hall. It felt like they really wanted us there, which was a consistent feeling for the whole visit.
From there they took us all over to Skywalker Theater. Turns out the Riot campus is a bunch of studio buildings. I don’t know what all used to be there, but they did point out a tiny theater where James Cameron used to watch production copy.
This was where people were introduced to their assigned Riot buddy. Most Rioters had one or two people. The volunteers were a group of nine. We got D'Artagnan and another person whose gamer handle I never learned (and so won’t name).
We also got to meet Ryze and Tryndamere, who welcomed us and took questions. I’m going to be honest, people talk all the time about how Tencent’s ownership drives development, but I saw exactly the opposite. Every single Rioter, from top to bottom, was a nerd like me.
For example, Brandon walked with our group for about twenty minutes while we yakked about gaming. He never seems to stop smiling, by the way. It’s rare to meet a genuinely happy person. Marc talked about getting up super early to get in his gaming while his kids are asleep. When I spoke with him later, he was genuinely interested in how I came to be there.
They also put up a big list of players for recognition:
I only got a picture of this portion, as we were in a hurry.
Some cool things I saw:
Yes, they modded a DDR machine.
Sadly, did not get to play.
We got a chance to play a couple of games in their in-house PC bang. I got carried so hard (thanks again, guys!).
After eating lunch in the cafeteria, we went across the street to the LCS arena. This is us on stage for the 10-year show:
We got to go back up into the seats for Riot Pls. Trust me, it was loud.
We went back to the main campus for supper, all abuzz over what we had seen.
Afterwards, back to the hotel. Most of us headed to bed pretty quickly.
Not much to say about the trip home. I was pretty tired. I did sit next to a guy who spoke six languages and wanted to practice his English (apparently I seem like a good choice for that sort of thing).
I did get to finally meet a bunch of people I have “known” for years.
Thanks for everything!