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Referee, foundations of esport competitions

We asked Ellis Parker, Lead Referee at Riot Games, to explain his job to us.

They don’t distribute cards or whistle penalties, but they are essential to ensure that the competition of League of Legends runs smoothly. For years now, you see the Referees standing behind the players without knowing what they are actually doing. That’s why we asked Ellis Parker, Lead Referee at Riot Games, to explain his job to us. Here’s his story.

Start of the day

“During a competition, I usually arrive at the Studio four hours before the start of the show. During that time, I finalize the preparations needed for the arrival of the Referees and I make sure that the stage is ready for the games scheduled that day. This process includes checking that the communications are up and running between the Quality Control Pit (where the Live Producer, the Information Systems Technician, and myself, as the Lead Referee, are), the stage (where the 10 players are), the Coaches (with their headsets and the audio in their rooms), and the Referees.

Once the Referees arrive, they are responsible for the preparation of the peripheral equipment (mouse and keyboard) for the first two games of the day. The peripherals used for the first game are placed directly on the stage, while the ones used for the second game are stored backstage, in the waiting room.

When this is done, breakfast is served, and we synchronize ourselves while we eat. The most common topics are potential bugs that might lead to difficult situations, administrative deactivations (like a deactivated champion), or the player changes that we must know about.

Depending on the needs of the Broadcast and Live Production teams, we may conduct test sessions on different in game scenarios. For example, we may test the selection of champions, the launch of a game, or its end, and in some cases, we may even mimic the teams’ compositions to recreate some frames the Observers will use during the show.”


Multiple missions

“We have three Referees for each day. Their responsibilities include directing the pre-game warm-ups with the teams, the installation of the peripherals for the games, and to be my eyes and ears on stage. They have to ensure the players are ready to launch their game in time, and are also responsible for giving the penalties for any rules violations during the games.

If an issue arises, the first step is always to identify its cause. Once it is identified, there are a number of ways that we can remedy it, like chronobreak for example – a system that allow us to go back to a previous point in the game. When it comes to making a decision regarding a bug, a technical difficulty, replacing peripherals, or a player, I have the last say.”

Managing the players on stage

“Teams are allowed on stage 30 minutes before the start of the first game of the day. Before being allowed on stage, the Referee scans each team to check that no one is bringing cordless devices like smartphones or tablets. The Referee also needs to check that nobody is bringing hats or items displaying a brand that are not in compliance with the LCS (now LEC) rules. Once that’s done, each Referee goes on stage with the team they are responsible for. The players then go through a process to ensure they are 100% ready to play, which can include checking the settings of the peripherals, Windows, or the game itself. They also check the audio communications between them and their coach. Meanwhile, the Referee checks that the players did not connect any external devices to the computers.

Once all players are ready, the Referees inform the teams when they should start the game and they stay on stage to help identify and solve any issue that might arise during play. When the game is finished, they accompany the players backstage and start the whole process anew by scanning the next teams that are scheduled to play before allowing them on stage.”


During the game

“I can listen to the communications of the two teams while they play, and each Referee on stage is monitoring their respective team. Every Referee can communicate with each other and can also contact the Live Producer or the Information Systems Technician.

During international events, our objective is to have Referees that can speak the same language as the team in their care at a native level. When that’s not possible, we have a translator on stage who is equipped with a headset to communicate and translate live for the Referee and the players. Once the game starts, the translator stays backstage, in the same booth as the Lead Referee, to facilitate communication if an issue arises.”

Preventing cheating

“We are here to ensure the integrity of the LCS (and LEC) in many different ways. It starts with the storage of the peripherals. No player has access to them outside of game time, which is necessary to ensure that there’s no modification or manipulation of the equipment. Before the season starts, we ask all the teams to send us the peripherals they intend to use. We then share that information with our technicians, who download and install all the necessary drivers onto the stage computers.

Extensive tests are done, including playtests, to identify potential issues. Once we know that any issues have been identified and solved, a system image is taken (Editor’s note: a system image is a copy of a specific state in time of a computer that allows the user to get back to it whenever he needs it), which allows us to maintain regularity across the season.

Besides that, internet access is disabled on stage and our system is locked, which prevents programs from being installed or executed without the validation of our technicians. There are more steps in that process, but we are not allowed to share them.”


Do you want to become a Referee?

“The main qualities we are looking for in a Referee are the passion and interest for League of Legends and the LEC, but also a desire to learn. Having previous experience is also a plus, be it in an esport environment or not, but it’s not necessary. All our Referees receive training before they start, as it allows them to get their feet wet, so to speak, and have the required confidence to perform their duties later on.”


Now you know more about what the Referees are all about! A big thanks to Ellis Parker for the time he took to reply to our questions. Next time you see a Referee, you will know what they are really doing!