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How 'players' turned esports into one of the most compelling love stories of the year

To the uninitiated eye,Paramount+'s Players looks like a show just for gamers. increase. This 10-episode comedy follows Fugitive Gaming, a professional esports team playingLeague of Legends, in the hands of series creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda in this seemingly niche The show becomes a universal story about trust and what it is. I mean really the best. Whether you're an esports fan or have never heard of theleague,Players is a surprisingly insightful account of their passion, ambition and love for the sport. It's a story.

When the main character's name is Cream Cheese, these real feelings feel a little offensive. Perrault and Yacenda analyzed the Decider finale, hinted at what might happen next, and explained why turning the series into a love story made it feel so universal.

Decider: I would like to analyze the final episode "Yumi". You finished the season with Fugitive Gaming losing the World Championship and Organizm leaving Fugitive. What made you decide to go in that direction instead of building a full season about competing at Worlds?

Tony Yacenda: We've always seen this story as a love story between Organizm [Da'Jour Jones] and Creamcheese [Misha Brooks]. Cheering on the LCS [League of Legends Championship Series] is what keeps viewers moving. But the real story we were trying to tell is that of this young boy, Creamcheese, who must learn to open up and trust other people again, and Organizm, who is coming of age and coping with his ambitions. So those were the themes that we always knew and were more important to us. We loved the idea of ​​having this very public victory that we were all looking for, and then having these more complex, bittersweet, private emotional losses. In doing so, it tells the story of its teammates and its ambition in a more nuanced way.

Dan Perrott: He also says he wants the show to feel authentic and real and to go somewhere beyond this first season. We wanted a cathartic moment of LCS triumph. But to be true to what's really going on in leagues esports right now, it's unprecedented for an NA [North American] team to win the Worlds at this stage. is. It's not that we don't know what the future holds for this show. It's safe to say that future seasons will see more exploration of international play.One of the most exciting parts about League of Legendsis its global nature. But I didn't expect them to win Worlds in Season 1.

Yacenda: Never once did I feel like I was leaving this season prematurely. But a cliffhanger. He set the belief that if Cream Cheese wins his LCS title, he will be happy in the end. And we know that competition and ambition deep down — the world is too complicated for the simple reality of winning an LCS title to solve all of his personal demons. That's what we say at the end of the series.LeagueWhen you're in a competitive field like esports, true fulfillment is much more elusive than just a trophy.


Streaming Recalls his Organizm's last interview on Never Lost in his studio. increase. Are you happy? When asked, he answers, "I don't care about that." Would you say that's the theme of the season?

Yacenda: Yes, especially for Organizm... Indeed, we talk more about ambition than anything else. We saw The Last Dance and were like, "Wow, Michael Jordan is a man, but he looks so unhappy." Is that what you are signing up for? The psychology of true greatness is so interesting to us that it couldn't be fully explored through the win-or-lose dichotomy alone. Given

player's future potential, what would you like to explore if there was another season? 

Perot: One of the really exciting things about this is that this is the first time Tony and I have worked together on a TV show. American Vandal is an anthology series, so Peter [Tyler Alvarez] and Sam [Griffin Gluck] return for season two. It was essentially two isolated seasons of that show, so there's more variety in the background. For player, you will continue the story you started here.

It's exciting to explore so many hours not covered this season. Obviously, Season 1 will focus on 2015 and 2016, The Fugitive's very early formative years, and the current season in 2021. But there is so much time between and after.

Yacenda: Yeah, the second season is like his LCS season in 2022, it's like a flashback to 2017, 2018.

Perot: I came up with a particular character like spaghetti. Spaghetti is used as a funny-sounding name in Season 1. It was amusing for us to have two adult men discussing whether his Organizm or Spaghetti was better. But we keep our promises. I made spaghetti. We made him a cannon to this world, so we'll follow through with it. He'll appear in The Fugitive one day when we get there.

Clearly,Players is heavily influenced by classic sports documentaries and the like. But what I learned from Season 1 is that this show is all about supporting a great athlete and helping him grow even further. That's what made it so central to this show. 

Yasenda:When we were drawn into this story, we spoke like his 25-year-old kid… old in esports. He's like, 'What are you going to do, be a caster?' And we're like, 'Oh my God, this is crazy.' Because to us he feels like a child. But in this ecosystem, he's something of a grizzled veteran about to exit.

For us, it was really about a man accepting his own death and being able to let someone in. I thought support was the perfect position to pass the torch to someone else and express my ego. Put aside and completely trust a teammate you didn't think you trusted and loved at the beginning of the season. That's the great thing about support. Many traditional sports have it. They don't have to be best friends to be good wide receivers and quarterbacks, but if you're a good pair, you can develop this really special bond. Support was a way for these gamers to really like telling this unique love story in this alternate dimension of these famous gods.

The end of season one feels like a farewell, so a love story does a good job of explaining it.

Yacenda: I speak in metaphors. When [Creamcheese] gives [Organiz] her Toblerone. It's the first time I've had a "kiss" like that... It's not that I don't like them, but they have different goals. And although they band together and find that they have the same goal, these external forces are also keeping them apart. As an audience, we wanted what you really wanted. Open your mind and train this kid. he can be great Fugitives can win. And overall, I'm very proud of how we tied it all together through the first season.

Perot: At one point we were able to make a fairly literal comparison of relationships. I remember going up a few points to Misha in the scene where the two had their final argument on the bridge in “Yumi” and saying, “This take is purely a breakup take.” Colored how such scenes sometimes played out. He sees the person he has come to love most walk out the door.

Creamcheese in Players
Photo: Paramount+

Player and American VandalWhile you've created these intolerable boys that audiences reluctantly learn to love. Dylan [Jimmy Tatro], Kevin [Travis Torpe] How do you balance between how annoying cream cheese is and when you have a more emotional moment? Can you pass a needle through it?

Perrault: It's a bit difficult to like all three of these characters in each of the seasons you mentioned. I think we have to start there. In some ways, the harder they are to like early on, the more satisfying the arc becomes. I don't want to root for a pure asshole with no morals.

Like Dylan, it was his mother who did not wholeheartedly believe he was guilty. She can empathize with the situation he is in, if not him. It's safe to say he was certainly an asshole for the first half of the season when it came to cream cheese. Yet you have this moment where he gets very emotional and talks about his parents filing a police report against their own son. In that moment, you're at least drawn in enough to invest yourself in this bastard journey. Then slowly more is revealed as the season progresses, peeling the onion to make it more human. It only works if you start out at the beginning of the season where you don't know exactly how you feel about the person.

Yacenda: These are the stories that have always fascinated Dan and I. In a real documentary, it always happens that you're like, 'Oh, we just assumed this real person was in some kind of way and we went into this. And spending a few hours in their shoes really changes your perspective on someone. Building empathy in an unexpectedly challenging place… I find it very rewarding.

You two are on the final list of creators who have worked for both Netflix and Paramount+. Can you talk a little bit about working with Paramount+ instead of Netflix? Did you have a shift? 

Perrault: Creatively, there is not much difference. One interesting story is that Brian Wright was on one of the EPs for American Vandal on the Netflix side and is currently at Riot and could also be part ofPlayers. [Note: Riot Games owns League of Legends. It was a lot of fun. I love working with Brian.

Yacenda: There were big network notes from both Paramount+ and Netflix that really helped the show. So, so far, we've been fortunate to have really good creative input from both places, really smart and creative executives. Clearly, there are huge differences between platforms and subscriber bases and algorithms, and many other things that Dan and I are not qualified to talk about. But when it comes to making TV shows, I'm grateful that we have a really smart management team.

Is there anything else you would like me to add that I haven't heard yet?

Perrault: From a fan perspective, it was fun to legally be in his LCS. The first time you saw League of Legends, If you haven't played a MOBA [multiplayer online battle arena] game, If you've never played League, Like most I think it looks like It's like gibberish and really hard to understand what's going on. I remember the first time I met people from the League community. I didn't understand much about the community. Little did I know. Investing more over the years has been a fun experience and we hope it aligns with people's interest in Fugitive Gaming and esports in general. I hope it's something you can grab and invest in because I think you can invest in any sport as long as you care about the characters.

Yacenda: It's easy to assume this is a niche gamer show, a show for gamers. For me, [gamers] are missing half the fun of learning about this new world. They may understand things like inside jokes that non-gamer outsiders can't. But The Outsider dives into such a vibrant and crazy new world that it's really pulling a team of professional videogamers by the end of the season. The trip was really fun for us to watch.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.