For many, it feels like North America is in a bit of a downward spiral when it comes to League of Legends. Although it features major teams like Cloud9 and Team Liquid, with each laying their mark in the region’s league history, it is also in the midst of major struggles to find its footing.
Besides the region’s ongoing struggles on the competitive front, where they managed to send two teams to the knockout stage in the past six events (Worlds and MSI), it has been the subject of intense scrutiny and concern due to a downward trend in viewership, the demise of CLG, the issues with TSM and fundamental changes to its format.
Looking at the first issue, Riot recently made scheduling changes to the League Championship Series (LCS), in the hope of reignite interest in the league. However, the move to weekday broadcasts has caused a tumble in viewership, with average viewership falling to 109,000 for the Spring 2023 split according to Esports Charts. This new normal represents a fall of 66,000 viewers when compared to the Spring 2021 split.
The LCS didn’t get any favors with their produced content either. Although the league welcomed new talent and created new segments in recent years, it had yet to generate the same buzz and excitement that it used to do during its early years. All in all, things haven not been looking well for the LCS.
However, as far as LCS content is concerned in recent times, there has been some notable renewal in fan engagement. New segments like "Catching Up With Doublelift", which was inspired by the dark comedy and surrealist-centric Eric Andre Show, and "Are You Smarter Than an LCS Analyst?" has helped the LCS remind fans of the alluring content it used to produce while also making them aware of the innovative potential it holds for the future.
After a content drought for sometime, it seems the LCS have started to take the first steps in the right direction. Who is to credit for this renewal of NA on the broadcast front? BLIX reckons Mark "MarkZ" Zimmerman might have something to do with it.
In the first part of BLIX’s interview with MarkZ, a League of Legends personality and one of the brains behind this new content direction, we ask him about the new segments he helped spearhead, his views on content creation in the LCS, where he found his inspiration for the new direction and more.
Approaching to content creation for LCS in 2023
Pedro Romero, BLIX: As of now, you're getting ready for MSI which is a big event coming up in the season, but just to start off, I just want to know like how are you preparing for MSI? How are the vibes in the MarkZ camp?
Mark "MarkZ" Zimmerman: It's busy. There's always a lot of stuff going on. When LCS ends, a lot of LCS things ends as well. Time is divided between thinking about what happened in spring and planning for summer while also trying to catch up on seven other regions other than NA, so yeah, it's stressful.
BLIX: You played a part in producing content for the LCS this split. It was one in which the majority of the fans really loved watching the pieces you produced for the league. Starting on that aspect, what was your approach in producing this content for this past spring split?
MarkZ: It was an experimental phase, I guess you would say, for both myself and the LCS in the sense that we had some level of direction, but it was ultimately the people in the room deciding what we wanted to do like me, the other analysts, the casters, the producers and some other people. But for the most part, the general direction was quite broad in terms of wanting to diversify the content that was between games so fans felt like they couldn't necessarily anticipate what was coming next.
I know we wanted to decrease viewership drop out between game periods and it was open on how that would be accomplished so I went about it doing how I thought it should be done in leading to the entertainment and pre-produced segments more and higher engagement content kind of stuff.
"That was maybe the biggest change: we actually wanted a new style of content and not just maybe swapping out faces and times and stuff like that."
BLIX: It was a pretty big difference compared to the past two years in which it was more geared towards the professional sports aspect, and in doing so, it was kind of a return to what it was back then in the early years of the league. How did you view the content from the past two years that prompted change for this year?
MarkZ: I think this year is pretty unique. Going back to the 2016 days, when at previous times it was just me and Dash as the only two doing the analyst desk during the double stream days, it's always been post-game, pre-game oriented [programs] back in the day so it was definitely a big departure for anything we had done before. The two years kind of leading up to it, and maybe this is something I just hear specifically and the community sentiment doesn't match this, but it feels like people always say, 'Oh, the LCS is just doing the same thing,' and I get why some people say that, but I feel if you actually look, the product, if anything, has experimented too much over the past two years.
In 2021, we had this 'made by many' approach where we had like seven talents on the desk total that would rotate through and you would pair people up and the days were all different, you know? We would be on Fridays and we've done Mondays before. During that period of time, Gabby was hosting as well. In 2022, we kind of solidified it for the most part with Jatt and I rotating out and we also had this LCS 10 thing kind of going on but I don't know if we utilized that to the highest amount of its capabilities for what was a pretty cool year. Last split, it took some time for that group to kind of find its footing, and towards the end of summer, the sentiment was largely decent.
Doublelift had the whole 'the LCS is dying' thing and the Mr. Beast situation kind of like bottomed out, but it seemed to be rebounding from that before everything was kind of thrown to the wind again this past offseason. If anything, I feel people get this idea that things aren't changing, but within the last couple of years, I just highlighted a number of big changes, and for 2023, we had our own new suite of changes. This time, it did feel a little bit more brand different as opposed to just format or talent difference. That was maybe the biggest change: we actually wanted a new style of content and not just maybe swapping out faces and times and stuff like that.
BLIX: With having many faces cover the league and having them switch between a given weekend, it sort of brings about the notion that the LCS might have a different identity between what it was to the past and what it is now. Do you feel the LCS has returned to its past identity or has it manifested into a different identity altogether?
MarkZ: I definitely don't think it's anything like its past identity. I don't think there's ever been a period of time where content was really that comparable to this. Obviously, there's a lot of new faces to the league that bring in a new twist on that. A lot of people who were fundamental in the establishing of the LCS are gone, so I think it's pretty hard to compare it and say it's similar to previous iterations of the LCS. It's definitely its own thing.
Catching Up With MarkZ
BLIX: I move the attention from that to what you did in the spring split. Obviously, you had the big [program] called "Catching Up With Doublelift". When it comes to finding the inspiration, the obvious person everyone pointed to is Eric Andre. When it came to producing that show, why exactly were you inspired by Eric Andre to produce that program
MarkZ: It's funny because I felt like it was so clearly Eric Andre, but the amount of times I saw comments about it being like Sundae Conversations or something, despite the fact that I think for people who have seen the Eric Andre Show who knows it's the Eric Andre Show, there is a lot of awkward interviews. There's a long tradition [of programs like that]. I don't know when it started, but the one that I think back when I was really young that I haven't really watched was the Ali G Show, with Sacha Baron Cohen trolling guests, Between Two Ferns, and then the Eric Andre Show.
Even to this day, in the modern era of new media, Hot Ones is kind of continuing that tradition. It's less awkward focused but it's about trying to break down the walls of your guests or show new sides to these people. It's kind of why I think so many of these interviews try to break the mold of what an interview is and that is, I think, the driving force of why I wanted to do this.
I want to fuck with the pros in a positive way, obviously. I'm not trying to ruin their lives. I want to get the pros out of their comfort zone. They've all been conditioned by Riot at this point to go into interviews and expect a certain set of questions, certain approach, and certain methodology.
Knowing the early days of the Eric Andre Show, when they were getting B and C-list celebrities whose publicists were just signing them up for what they thought was a late night talk show, what that enabled Eric Andre to do to them, it actually just seemed like a match made in heaven in terms of what I wanted to do there, where you just get these unsuspecting pros and harass them effectively. That's why, of all the shows, I felt like it was the best one to emulate. It's also personally my favorite.
I think there is more subtle differences in the kinds of humor that each of these ones that I referenced bring to the table. Chicken Shop Date is very different. Both of them are awkward comedy but they're trying to do different things and Eric Andre, of those, leans by far the furthest into absurdism which I just find as a particularly funny branch of comedy. Feeling like you really can't anticipate what's coming next and it just makes the moments feel more interesting to me when I watch and want to emulate that part.
BLIX: You wrote in a Reddit thread for one of the episodes that you “couldn't hit the performative levels on Eric Andre” during the early days of the show. Since then, did you feel you've managed to hit that same level of performance or have you tried to lean towards something similar to that but not trying to emulate him completely?
MarkZ: There's two things there. One is my actual quality of performance, which I don't think I'm ever going to be Eric Andre. I think he's actually a genius if you listen to his interviews where he's not in character. He's thoughtful but in a kind of crazy way. There's just no way I'm ever going to be able to match his level of craziness in the moment. He seriously risks physical harm. If you watch his interviews, he's had to get stitches a bunch of times. He's been arrested a couple of times. He commits on a level that I would struggle to ever get to. I think I got better at it. I think the first couple of months, it was so unlike content I had ever done myself. I've watched awkward interviews, but being in one and recording it, it took me a while to get [used to it].
When I make content that I'm comfortable with, I know if it's good content or not in the moment when I'm filming it. For comparison, with "Are You Smarter Than an LCS Analyst," within five minutes of that starting recording, I was like, 'this is gonna fucking bang'. I was very confident that as long as the edit was good, this was good content and as soon as it finished, I went to my producer and I was like, 'Hey, that was too good to get cut into a three-minute thing. This should be released separately on YouTube. This reminded me of Offline TV when I used to work with them.' I had a very strong idea of what this should be, and while I had a strong idea of what the Eric Andre Show should be, in the moment recording it, I was definitely in my own head. I definitely didn't know if I am doing this right. Should I be louder? Should I be more aggressive? I think I crutched on vulgarity as a form of absurdism versus situational absurdism.
I think there was a lot of those kinds of things that I got a little bit better at and not needing to just drop 'F bombs' to change the mood of an interview or something like that, but I don't think I ever quite got it. And another part of it is style, let alone quality performance style. Eric Andre is his own guy. There's a lot of differences between us, many are very apparent, and there's a lot of things that I just shouldn't even try and copy. The form of the show, in terms of people breaking through tables and falling off rooftops, there's a culture that comes with his show that I am not going to even attempt to mimic because that's just not my place.
BLIX: Just out of curiosity, did you try to channel in your Jeff Foxworthy from "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader"?
MarkZ: No, not at all. I hated Jeff Foxworthy stand-up. I watched a lot of stand-up too and that whole redneck crew of him and Larry the Cable Guy... they were always on Comedy Central when I was growing up and I never liked their stand-up. That is purely a naming device knowing how the YouTube algorithm works. That is just tapping into the framing of a show. I've never even watched 'Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?' to be honest. I don't even know if the way that I did the questions in that show was similar.
Other Sources of Inspiration
BLIX: You mentioned other shows that you've watched in Zach Galifianakis' Between Two Ferns and Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G Show. How did you incorporate those ideas from those people into "Catching Up"?
MarkZ: For each of them, I don't think they were quite as direct. People commented on this but, for the Eric Andre Show, there were some bits I literally ripped almost one-for-one or at least try to reimagine exactly how I would execute it given my constraints of my set, props, and the people I'm working with. There were some that we tried to be more original with in working the players' personalities like Spica's 'let him cook' thing or when we had Pastry [Pastrytime] pop out with a Ludwig mask with QTCinderella. I tried to incorporate our ecosystem of LoL esports into it but some bits were straight up ripped off. I've watched a lot of his content, but I didn't realize he also did a vuvuzela bit when I did one with Spica.
The way I got into it was a little different where we're playing table football and I tried to be unique but it's kind of like The Simpsons effect where someone much smarter and much more creative than me has already done this show. I am willing to shamelessly take really great bits that's already been developed and try and just expose them to pro players in the League scene. The other influences, I think, are a lot less direct where it's just trying to find responses that I think were funny when a pro says something.
For example, Zach Galifianakis does this 'ask a question, other person answers, and mutter under his breath,' thing to make them try and look bad or dumb. The other thing the Eric Andre Show benefits from is, of course, there is Comedy Central and Adult Swim that he has to answer to, but I think his show can go a lot further than mine and some stuff unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor.
I guess that's really a long-winded way of saying that I copied a lot, I tried to do a couple of unique things, and I think if there were elements I pulled, it was more personality in ways of handling the guests. The Eric Andre Show is also edited in a very unique way compared to any other interview style show where it does not give a fuck about linearity and consistency. If you know how to watch for edits, you will actually notice that there's a lot of insert shots that they fake like they happen live or they will take something that the guest is reacting to 20 minutes later and stick it next to this other bit.
"I am willing to shamelessly take really great bits that's already been developed and try and just expose them to pro players in the League scene."
I think editing is actually another thing that I had to relearn by re-watching their show and seeing how they do that stuff. It's an element that I think people, who are not working on content, would recognize as something you have to relearn because it was something I had to learn with my editors who I was working with. I had to go through so many more rounds of feedback in one of these shows compared to "Are You Smarter Than" where it's like 'just a YouTube edit on it,' you know? 'Just make it look like a YouTube video' and they got it, basically.
BLIX will be back with part two of our interview with MarkZ tomorrow, so be sure to keep an eye on our League of Legends portal.