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How It's Made: The new LCS HUD

The new HUD for the LCS Summer Split. Provided by Riot Games

A video game Heads-up Display, or HUD, owes its name to modern aircraft. The implication is that information communicated on an HUD is important and relevant to the player experience. Information left off of the HUD in League of Legends involves items, cooldowns or other information on one's opponents that is part of the challenge in winning.

In professional esports, detailed information on both teams needs to be available to the viewer, especially in a complex Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game like League of Legends. The challenge lies in discerning what pieces of information are important enough to earn visual real estate on the League of Legends Championship Series HUD, how that information can be represented in the most succinct way possible, and what that information leads the viewer to believe, especially if they don't play a lot of League of Legends themselves.

"I have met people who watched LCS before they played League but it is a small, small sample overall," Executive Producer of NA Esports, Dave "RumbleStew" Stewart said. Stewart himself started watching LCS around the same time he started playing the game and has found many viewers' experiences to be similar. Despite the fact that the most recent LCS playoffs and finals were broadcast on ESPN television, the overwhelming majority of feedback that Stewart and the LCS production team received was from existing LCS viewers who usually watched on Twitch, YouTube or through the LoLesports website framework on these same streaming platforms.

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He added that their long-term goals are to find a better way to suit that audience without losing sight of their core gamer audience.

"When we flash between gold accrued and the item slots or even the caster's ability to highlight certain items so if they're talking about someone's build and they pull it up, we're hoping that we can educate as we entertain," Stewart said. "Overall we want to be responsible for our core audience, but we also want it to be something that resonates with a broader audience overall as we go forward."

Although Riot has tested beginner HUDs and streams in years past, they didn't want any of the changes to dumb down the game visually in any way. This HUD update was specifically to streamline visuals so existing viewers would feel like they had even more information at their fingertips while also making things more intuitive for newer audiences that may be watching League of Legends without having played the game all that much.

"We are moving away incrementally from just, 'you queue up and here's the experience,'" Stewart said. "There are certain elements we don't want to go away like ultimate cooldowns, summoner spells, and things like that. Those are vitally important and it would be awful, like watching an NBA game with only half the court. You need to know the story. You need to know the items."

Previously, Riot Games' HUD -- like many visual parts of the game as well as in-game changes like the divisive eradication of lane swaps in 2016 -- aimed to mimic the experience of players' solo queue matches, where the in-game HUD visuals' intention is to reflect specific lore elements of Runeterra, the in-universe location. Similarly, teams were placed on red and blue sides, like League of Legends solo queue matches.

"We're going away from that a little bit," Stewart said. "The core audience of ours are League of Legends players. They are the ones who tune in and watch LCS because they love watching League, you know it, it's intuitive. But over time we want to continue to grow our audience and as we move away from some of the fantasy architecture and in the overlay, we're becoming more contemporary and more like sports."

One of the most obvious changes in this direction was not only moving away from red and blue sides, but placing gold amounts in the center in prime real estate previously given to kills for each team.

"So often people that are new to the game would see kills and be like, 'Well they're winning.' And you know if I'm watching with them, I'm saying, "Well, they're leading in kills but gold is really the thing to watch,'" Stewart said. "Who is winning a game of League of Legends can be really obvious or be hanging in the balance and uncertain. I like putting the gold in the middle. I like how the white text makes it pop. We wanted it to be readable. We wanted it to look professional and have a visual identity as a modern sport and as a future-facing sport."

Another consideration was how people are consuming League of Legends esports content, which is increasingly on their mobile devices. Cleaner, white lettering allows for viewers on any device to quickly look at the screen and get a better sense of how both teams are doing at any given time in the game.

Justin Restaino, Creative Technology Producer and Charles Kim Jr., Creative Lead for the LCS worked closely alongside Stewart and his LCS broadcast team through multiple iterations and feedback sessions. Some features, like the cleaner text and different information hierarchy, were present from the beginning stages whereas some priorities revealed themselves as various creative teams working on the HUD gave their own feedback. One of these that had been brought up previously, but again bubbled up through the HUD feedback was for franchise logos and sponsorships to be featured better and more prominently alongside player cameras and the all-important minimap.

This also worked in tandem with recent in-game adjustments to visual assets like the sponsorship banners on the Rift itself, although Stewart was quick to point out that this was an entirely different digital team than the creative and technology teams assigned to spruce up the LCS HUD.

Stewart said that the HUD went through a few minor changes going into this spring, but that this larger HUD update has been in the works since November 2019, following the League of Legends World Championship. Ultimately, what gave them the final push to improve was the realization of how quickly other broadcasts caught up to the LCS team after they were one of the first to return after going offline for a week due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're looking to level up in ways this summer to set LCS apart as something special and something that is an upgrade in production value over a streaming experience," Stewart said. "We want to bring back the professional and production-value qualities that make LCS special for us. T last two and a half months Justin and Charles have been dedicated to this. The last 10 weeks have been the pivotal time for getting this to where it is."