Why an old Dublin nightclub is the future of esports for Riot Games

"Just like the whole industry, we're building a plane while flying it. We don't know if we're going to the moon, to Mars, or to another solar system, but we know we're flying somewhere!"

In 2019, the Wright Venue – an iconic nightclub for the residents of Dublin – closed its doors. Once home to the largest disco ball in Europe, it’s now the location of Riot Games‘ Project Stryker – the biggest esports broadcast centre in the world. Sticky floors have been swapped for some of the most powerful streaming technology around, and the nightclub’s old VIP rooms have been transformed into gleaming control centres. Don’t worry, though – the disco ball’s still there.

Project Stryker opened this month, and is the first of three facilities that will open across the globe. Even for a company as big as Riot, the maker of PC titans Valorant and League Of Legends, Project Stryker represents a big risk: nothing like this has been attempted before. In three months of building, Dublin’s iconic nightclub has been transformed into a beast with 100 GB per second internet, an audio board fresh from the Olympics, and entire walls crammed top-to-bottom with monitors. From this building, video can be bounced between Singapore, Los Angeles and Dublin in a fraction of a second, and there are two internet providers in place to ensure everything runs smoothly.

NME visited Project Stryker at launch, the day when three years of hard work culminated. Speaking to NME, Riot Games’ president of esports John Needham – a dedicated League Of Legends player since beta – says a facility like Stryker was “the furthest thing from my mind” when he joined the company in 2017. Now that Stryker’s open, Needham is incredibly excited – if a little nervous.

Project Stryker. Credit: Getty Images / Tristan Fewings / Stringer.
Project Stryker. Credit: Getty Images / Tristan Fewings / Stringer.

“I visited on March 1 when it was almost finished. And honestly? I was a little bit scared when I got here! I’ve been part of the planning process for this for three years, but seeing it all come together, seeing the capabilities of the facility, I’ve got a lot of content to produce out of this to make it make sense financially.”

The price tag is right to make Needham nervous – not only was Project Stryker a £17million investment for Riot, it’s also been built to accommodate games that haven’t even been announced yet. During a tour of Projekt Stryker, NME is told by staff that certain rooms – including a production room devoid of PCs, built to run on the cloud – were built partly to support several Riot games that haven’t been announced yet but will make for “great esports”.

“Any time you make a significant investment as we did in this facility, you have to plan for five years ahead so that you don’t beat yourself right out of the game,” says Needham, who adds that Riot is “actively working on” using Stryker to support the company’s music and entertainment branches. There’s also plans to use Stryker for the competitive side of Project L, an upcoming fighting game from Riot that is yet to be fully revealed.

project L league of legends fighter
Project L. Credit: Riot Games

“We’ve talked about L publicly – obviously esports is a really core part of the fighting game community, so we’ll be investing there – but all the games that Riot produces, we really look at games that can span generations. Usually those games are online competitive games – almost every game that you see Riot produce and develop will be competitive which, by its nature being competitive, there’ll be some sort of esports component to it.”

For Trevor ‘Quickshot’ Henry, who makes his living casting League Of Legends, the launch of Project Stryker is “uncharted territory” – to the point where he doesn’t quite know how it’s going to affect his job.

“I’m 35 and I’ve been in within the industry as a fan, a player, and now a broadcaster for 20 years. I have seen more video games, leagues, tournaments, come and go than most – and esports as an industry is still in its fledgling years. There’s a lot of opportunity, but there’s also a lot of risk.”

On how Stryker will affect his work casting League, Henry says there’s no way to answer that question. “The truth is, we don’t know […] I have no idea what this facility will do to impact my job, my role, my company. What I do know is that it will push the decision makers, the producers, the content creators to think bigger and bolder.”

Project Stryker. Credit: Getty Images / Tristan Fewings / Stringer.
Project Stryker. Credit: Getty Images / Tristan Fewings / Stringer.

I’m very excited and hopeful for what the future has and frankly, I just want more games and I just want more shows,” says Henry, joking: “I’m hoping for more work, basically.”

However, there is one big way that Stryker may affect Henry’s work. Within one of the gleaming stages in Project Stryker, Riot explains how having a suite of rooms for presenters and casters meant that a show from across the world could be produced remotely from the Dublin building. Naz Aletaha, global head of esports for League Of Legends, shares that having these production capabilities will be particularly useful for broadcasting League matches in more languages, and could even stream them in all-new feeds that players haven’t seen before.

“For Worlds, it’s such a global audience. We have fans tuning in from all over the globe. We really like to provide a localised version to as many fans as we can around the globe. A facility like this – and the other two that will eventually open – will unlock the opportunity to create those customised feeds. Even beyond language feeds, you could then start to produce, for purposes of examples, a stats-heavy feed, you could have a new viewer feed. This really allows us to do that in a scalable, efficient way versus spinning up each of those as ad-hoc opportunities every single time.”

For Henry, Stryker’s production facilities means that events which would typically see him flying from Berlin to venues across Europe, America and Asia could theoretically be created here in Dublin.

Project Stryker. Credit: Getty Images / Tristan Fewings / Stringer.
Project Stryker. Credit: Getty Images / Tristan Fewings / Stringer.

“I feed off the crowds,” says Henry. “As a play-by-play commentator, my role and my primary objective on any broadcast is to convey a story, emotion, and information about the action you’re seeing. I’ve never been good at macro – I can’t think that many moves ahead! But show me a teamfight and I can pick out every individual spell and call them out. I love being in the crowd and in the stadium, I am particularly proud of how I interact with the energy. But I also really like my house, and I love my wife and I have a dog. Having broadcasts from Berlin, which we do remotely with all the comforts of a normal traditional life.”

“I get to work remotely via Korea, but I lose access to the stadium. If I were to travel, it’s a huge burden on the individual and it’s draining,” Henry continues. “It looks glamorous, but it’s really hard – it’s really tough. It’s about weighing those pros and cons – you’re never going to have a one-size-fits-all, you are never ever going to live in a world where broadcasters only go to stadiums because I think that may be too costly and difficult. I also don’t think you’re ever gonna live in a world where casters never go to the stadium and they only work here, because sometimes you want that. I think it’ll be a balance – there’ll be a mix of them, much like our current League Of Legends circuit and our current Valorant circuit. When you do get to the semi finals, the finals weeks and those really big games, you’ll tend to see the broadcast being on location. I think for the build-up and everything before, it makes more sense to be in a studio.”

League Of Legends Lux
League Of Legends. Credit: Riot Games

Project Stryker has already been used for a Wild Rift tournament, and rehearsals for the Valorant Masters tournament in Copenhagen were being carried out ahead of the launch day festivities. However, League fans will have to wait a bit longer to see it in action. Aletaha says Stryker will be used in a “testing capacity” for this year’s Worlds, which will take place across Mexico and North America. The Dublin facility will also be used by Henry’s LEC crew, which Aletaha says will start to “eventually kind of transition over to leveraging” Stryker.

Looking further ahead, Needham shares that Riot plans to share “a lot of innovations very soon” with fans, which will include more statistics in line with traditional sports broadcasts, including power rankings.

Though Needham and Henry both acknowledge that building Project Stryker is a risk, their eyes light up at the prospect of what lies ahead for Dublin’s ex-nightclub.

“Just like the whole industry, we’re building a plane while flying it,” says Henry. “We don’t know if we’re going to the moon, to Mars, or to another solar system, but we know we’re flying somewhere!”

Project Stryker opened on July 20, and more information is available here

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