Online gaming — and esports competitive gaming in particular — has exploded in recent years. Game developer Riot Games capitalized on the trend early on, creating a league for elite gamers and bringing it on the road. Called the League Championship Series (LCS), it brings together 10 professional gaming teams, each with five players, who compete eight months out of the year for an LCS Championship title. All told, there are about 15 competitions a week. There are also qualifying tournaments, where up-and-coming players can compete to make it into the big leagues. When taking competitions on the road, the LCS typically transports about 60 PCs from place to place, including systems for every individual player and supporting hardware to run and stream the games to the stadium audience. The equipment sees a lot of miles in a typical year, says David Chan, esports IT manager at Riot Games.
During the course of a season, these PCs get quite a bit more wear and tear than under normal circumstances. “That’s why we care so much about how confident we can be that something will survive, how confident that it will still perform after that wear and tear,” Chan said. “In the early days of esports, there was a running joke, like, ‘Get to the competition and something goes wrong — you’ll get pauses, you’ll get a blue screen.’ In our first couple years, we didn’t do the best job of spec’ing out, and we ran into a lot of issues.”
One of the main issues was tied to hard drive reliability. Since the events moved from venue to venue, the hard drives were getting physically bumped around constantly. “What we were using just wasn’t surviving the rough treatment we were putting them through,” Chan said. These short circuits naturally affected gameplay — never a good thing when competitive gamers are involved. A single game pause or slow down — let alone a full system crash — could create a ripple effect, lowering the quality of the whole event.
“The consequences are tenfold,” Chan said. “It’s super important for us to have extremely high standards for what’s happening on stage. This is an actual sport. One of the things that holds esports back a little is technical problems. In a basketball game, how often would you say there’s a problem with the hoops or something wrong with the ball? It’s such a rare occurrence that nobody thinks about it. That’s what we need to achieve in esports.”