LCS Commissioner Jackie Felling sat down with Gamelevate in Chicago during the LCS Championship weekend about joining the Riot Games team, goals for the LCS, and being a role model for women in esports.
Behind every esports league is a team of professionals who help operations run smoothly. From writers, producers, and everyone in between, it takes a village to make events run smoothly. Leading the LCS is Jackie Felling. Felling, who joined as commissioner in 2022, is a veteran in the gaming industry whose over 16 years of experience have brought her to this new challenge.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jackie, thank you so much for taking the opportunity to speak with us today! For those who don’t know, can you give us a bit about your background?
Well, I’m Canadian. I’ve been doing esports and gaming for 16 years. I have a business and marketing background, but also a background in community management. So I started my career doing community management for traditional video game companies and then eventually I eventually transitioned to Gears of War. And with Gears of War, I actually started as a game producer on the game development team. So really, I was working with the character cinematics, like weapons and vehicles teams, and understanding that whole aspect of video game production, video game design, and I was at Microsoft for eight years. And during that time, I transitioned over to esports.
And it was so fun, to move into esports because I felt like it was this perfect mix of my personal skill set in terms of being creative, in terms of getting to work with communities, in terms of understanding esports, and just getting to be involved in all sorts of different things, and having it based in video games. so after Gears of War, I ran the global esports program, I went to Overwatch League as the product lead there, and then I moved over to Call of Duty League as the product director before ending up here at Riot.
What made you make this decision to come to Riot?
It was a really interesting opportunity. Because, to be completely honest, and I’ve been very transparent about this in the community, I don’t come from a League of Legends community, right? I don’t have a deep understanding of League of Legends specifically. I mean, now I do and I play Wild Rift and stuff like that all the time. I love Riot Games.
What really appealed to me was the chance to come in with a challenge. Like I knew coming in, where the LCS was at, and where Riot as a company wanted to grow the LCS, too. And for me, that’s, like, super exciting. I love challenges. I love rising to the occasion, I think it’s a really cool opportunity to come in and do like change management. And I think the thing that really attracted me the most, and this is funny, is I wanted to work on an esport where I felt like the video game was built for esports, where the competitive nature was really taking into account.
One of the cool things when I first started my Riot onboarding, was in the de-loop session, right orientation sessions that they really try to cater to players that love gaming. Those players that are real gamers, and a lot of other companies that I worked at, it was always about attracting casual gamers.of course, when you’re working on esports, there’s always that competition or huge differences between what the casual players want and what the competitive players want. we’re building an esport that’s all about competition.so I loved the chance to work on an esport where the video game was built for it and the company as a whole supports it. The fact that Riot Games has a whole pillar for esports is mind-blowing to me compared to other companies. That was really the main reason and I think it’s awesome seeing how it’s kind of come to life and support and how much esports is really supported at Riot.
You definitely see a lot going on via social media. There is always the question of “What’s missing from the LCS?” “What’s missing from the LCS?” When you first came into the league, what did you say was the most important goal for you to either bring or develop in the LCS?
I mean, as a goal for the LCS as a whole, the number one goal for me is always going to be viewership. Everything stems from viewership, and that’s going to like drive sponsors. It’s going to drive like the investment is going to drive everything else. It all shifts from Riot’s concept. I think that has to be the number one thing.
But the second really important goal for me was like positive sentiment and community building. And so I think with those two goals in mind, there’s really so much you can do with that if you really focus on building amazing community and growing your viewership. If you pass every decision you make through those filters, it really helps focus you in on the things you need to do.
Without giving anything away, walk me through a little bit of what your first few months have been like, especially bringing such big events like Chicago and now getting Worlds thrown on your shoulders a little bit.
So for the first few months, I started in essentially late January/early February, and I really spent the first split shadowing the team and trying to understand and learn and listen. So I went in with the approach of I don’t want to come from the top down, like I really want to understand the scene and understand the community. And I want to understand what people on the ground think – not just executives. So I came in and I met with pretty much everybody one-on-one of the team. Everyone from the Global Head of League of Legends Esports, to the writers on the team, the talent, the player managers, or the referees – really trying to understand whole ecosystem. So I think I did like, I don’t know, 100 one-on-ones with people when I started.
And then after that, it was all about meeting owners and the teams and spending time learning about what their problems are, like, what they want to see where they want to go with their organizations, and what they think is important. And then also even in recent weeks, like having player meetings, where you actually like to sit down and have meaningful time to talk to the players about what they want to do? What are their issues? How can we make them more comfortable? How can we make them really feel like the professionals that they are and the stars that they are, and getting to know them?
And then of course, a huge component for me personally was spending a lot of time reading Reddit, and Twitch, and YouTube and Twitter and like, really immersing myself completely into the community because I love the esports and gaming community, it’s all because it has such a special place in my heart. And it’s actually a lot of similarities in communities and how people feel about corporations, how people feel about esports and how people feel about League. that really resonates with me, because I’ve obviously I’m used to Call of Duty and Overwatch to hear what the community was saying.so that was like a real focus for me. It was like getting into knowing the community, like really understanding what their problems are. What are people saying? I’m reading the Twitch chat. It seems like maybe not something that the commissioner should do. But honestly, you can see what people are reacting to. You can see what’s resonating. You can see the problems that people have. So for me, that’s just been like a really big learning experience for the course of those first few months before really getting to start to have some impact on Summer Split. And then of course, a lot of planning for 2023 has been like, basically my whole focus behind the scenes aside from planning for Chicago.
Women in esports
I want to also talk about women in esports a bit. Obviously, you are the commissioner of the LCS, one of the biggest leagues in the world for League of Legends. And there is also Naz (Aletaha) who is the head of Global League of Legends Esports. Can you talk to me about being a woman in esports? Do you think you are becoming an inspiration to many young girls and women who want to be in your shoes one day?
Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I mean, when I first started my very first video game job, I think I was like one of like eight women in a company of 200. since the very start, even before I was in esports, I really understood that like video game development at the time, and this was years ago, if I aged myself, right, that it was a male dominated industry. I think, from 16 years ago to now, I’ve just seen such a huge difference overall in the progression of how women in video games and esports have been more accepted. When I was on Gears of War I actually developed my whole online identity with people assuming I was a man because my Twitter account was Jack Felling, never said Jackie or anything like that. I actually for months and months like never let anyone know that I was a woman because I was afraid of that backlash and I was afraid of the community accepting me but I think the biggest thing was I didn’t want people to know me for what I look like or for the fact that I was a woman. I really wanted people to recognize, like the work that I did. At the time, that was the focus, like, it’s the work that I’m doing. And that’s what I want to come across. And I think over the years, as I’ve worked on again, Overwatch League and Call of Duty League, and I’ve seen the changes. I’ve really come out in the community more. I felt more confident, and I felt more comfortable. I felt very supported at the companies that I was at. So I have grown into accepting a woman in esports.
I know that sounds weird, but it was something that had to transition and change in my mind. And now, I’m really proud of it, and I think it’s something that again, I don’t think that it’s what I should be known for. I want people to know me for the work that I do in the work that we do. that is something that I would love to take forward is like, how can we help more women enter League of Legends Esports? How can we help women in North America and everybody, like, feel more connected to the fans and the community and to the games and all of that. And how can I support that more, and I’ve definitely taken on a lot of like mentorship roles with different women in the industry, and it’s something I really enjoy and value. But again, at the end of the day, gender doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re doing amazing work and we’re getting things done.
As we wrap up our interview, I have to ask: why is Wyldstyle from the Lego Movie in your profile picture?
First of all, I loved The Lego Movie when it came out and I’ve always loved Legos since I was a little kid. But actually, my profile picture was actually my Halloween costume. So while I was working on Gears of War, we had amazing Halloween costumes and stuff like that. I actually made that costume, made it out of cardboard, painted it and did Styrofoam and all that kind of stuff. So it’s actually my Halloween costume. And it’s just ever since because she and I have the same bangs, and I just identified with it.
Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of Gamelevate?
Yeah, I just like to say thank you for this opportunity. I know that everybody has different opinions on LCS, and where it should go and what I should do. I just want to let the fans, the community, the players and owners know, like I am committed and invested in making this league the best that it can be. I wouldn’t work on this if I didn’t think I can make an impact. And if I didn’t think that we could do this and I really believe like, we can really grow this like groundswell of support in North America and really do right by the fans and also like really do right by the players like they deserve to have the opportunity to play for the biggest audience and that’s something I want to do.