Late on a Friday night, Mexico City’s nearly 65,000 League of Legends players received their second clue as an unexplained facebook post. A single, white flower curled in the foreground in front of blurred figures walking in a rotunda. The community came alive, receiving hundreds of likes in just a few minutes as eventually, in one of the initial 70 commenters identified the square as the Insurgentes Metro stop. One step closer.
The post had actually been in planning for a couple of weeks as the Riot Games’ Latin America North (LAN) team’s office planned for the release of Jhin, the newest character, or “champion,” as Riot creators (“Rioters”) and fans refer to them, in their hit online multi-player battle arena game League of Legends. Every few months, Riot releases a new Champion into the mix to the anticipation of the games 70 million worldwide players. New champions mean not only new abilities and tactics to unpack and discover, but increasingly rich “lore:” back-stories and art released but the company soon flanked by fan art and fiction as characters take on a life of their own in the community. Rioters working in LAN have since been working to create a balance for the players between the world-wide aspects of the game, and experiences that reflect a sense of local community.
Months earlier the over 3,000 League fans who packed into Mexico City’s Teatro Metropolitan and the 50,000 who tuned in online for the 2015 Copa Latino America championship were delighted by the LAN team’s pre-show treat: a live performance of three famous Spanish-language voice actors performing the story of Echo, another League champion, to the music of a live orchestra. The voice actors – famous in their own rights for the strings of characters that they voice including Woody from toy story (and everything else Tom Hanks), and Fin from Adventure time, gave the local player base something that, for a world-spanning game, gave them something distinctly Latin American.
It is exactly this that the LAN team hoped to encourage with it’s mysterious facebook posts in January 2016 as the LAN team highlights the uncanny parallel between Jhin, the flamboyant artist champion, and Oscar Flores, the Mexican muralist and actor who voices him (though unlike Jhin, Oscar doesn’t moonlight as an assassin… to my knowledge, at least…).
Jhin’s event, while still focused on the celebrity of the voice actor, was designed to evoke a different tone than Echo’s. A smaller event, the LAN team’s creative mission was to host an “intimate, but sharable” event for the local community – easy for the fans to have a unique and personable experience with the artist, and packed full of artifacts that they could share on social media.
As the event’s photographer, my duty was to visually capture the feeling of the event, the Oscar-Jhin thematic parallel, and the progression of the team as they methodically pulled the gathering together over the course of one short week.
6 days earlier…
Event mastermind Jonathan Barceló-Iñiguez has a tendency to look far beyond the operating hours of an event to understand the full narrative of an experience as it will be remembered by its’ audience. In this case, it involved a careful study of how the before, during, and after would be experienced through social media.
Barceló maps each event on a three-act structure to consider both the pre and post-event effects for the fan-base.
The project started for me a week before the event as we scouted out the black-box theater in Mexico City’s Roma Norte district where the small gathering would be held. Oscar – who would be the event’s main attraction, live painting for local fans to watch – played an active role in planning his performance.
Over the course of the week, I would be collecting imagery to play certain roles in this choreography. In particular, I was tasked to find the images to be released on social media to draw fans to the event, and create the imagery for a bio-wall about Oscar for fans to see before meeting him. To capture the parallels between Jhin and Oscar, my own research cataloged both common themes in artist portraiture and visual styles typical of Riot character art.
The exhibit would lead fans through an experience starting with the reveal of Jhin-related art, followed by an artist bio of Oscar and an exhibition of Jhin-related art that Oscar had made, a hologram of the new character, then ending in a room where Oscar himself would be live-painting a mural depicting Jhin’s stylistic victories over other game champions.
Riot’s official Character Art shots for Jhin were essential to replicate to draw a parallel between the character and the actor.
4 days earlier…
My first task was to generate some photos of Oscar himself. Fans entering the space would immediately see images and a short bio of Oscar, so we scheduled a pre-shoot to create the assets needed.
I wanted to capture the artist in his element, specifically creating on the pieces that would be displayed at the show. Oscar had already been hard at work working on four shirts and four pairs of shoes that matched his bright style with the game’s thematic elements. To get the shots we needed, Barceló and I set up in an apartment, brought in some food and beer, and hosted a comfortable work night where Oscar could work, the crew could gathered supplies, made plans, and get ahead on on content writing, and I could shoot the process.
The comfortable situation (and better control of the lighting) make these some of my favorite shots. Oscar immediately came in, dumped an entire back-pack’s worth of sharpies, highlighters, and bright paints and markets of every kind onto the floor, and set right to work stretching the t-shirt over a piece of cardboard holding it tight with clothes-pins.
Tonight, he would be working on a shirt that featured on of Jhin’s “character skins,” or alternate costumes. We leaned a large table-top up against a wall, and Oscar set back to work with is playful, but intense interpretations of Jhin.
As he worked, Oscar had a chat with Omar Miranda-Flores, known to the community as “Riot Brujo” about the inspiration for his art, and the way he came to understand and portray Jhin through both his voice acting and painting. This interview would end up featured on Riot’s post about the event. Meanwhile, the crew continued to organize supplies and make final plans for the event in a few, short days.
When most of the crew had left, we set up for the one staged-shot we needed: a portrait of the artist with intense dramatic lighting to match Jhin’s character art. Earlier in the week I’d ventured to Home Depot to pick up an LED work-light that, with a shroud, gave us the perfect effect.
Event day began for us at 6:00 as we were the first to arrive at the venue for set-up. My goal with these behind-the-scenes shots to capture the teamwork between the Riot team and their event-coordinating contractors.
By early afternoon, the space had been transformed into a morbid art show, a dark and mysterious tribute to Riot’s newest character.
The second room was focused toward Oscar’s work.
When everyone was ready, just before 2:00, Max released the final picture to the community, and minutes later fans were lined up to see the artist at work.
I’d shot an exterior photo of the theater a few days before – when the event was ready to begin, the Riot team posted it to their facebook. It wasn’t long before the community located the spot.
After weaving thorough his work (and taking selfies next to about every piece), fans got to hang out in the room with Oscar as he painted. Ever friendly, he answered endless questions about working with Rio and the various other characters he voices (including Bilbo Baggins and Scooby do).
In the end, the Riot team pulled off exactly what they needed – something to give the local community – an experience for League of Legends that gave a nod to the world brand, but was distinctly Latin American.
Portrait of Oscar Flores in front of the finished mural. Below are more pictures from the week. Make sure to check out the League of Legends post about the event and Oscar Flores’ facebook fan page. All of these pictures were taken using my Sony a7 Mark II switching between my 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm prime lenses. Check out more photos on my portfolio.