Careers in Esports: Kris Lyman, Esports Event Manager for Blizzard Entertainment

Esports events may be taking a year off due to Covid-19, but that doesn’t mean that the Esports Event Managers are taking time off. We had the opportunity to talk with Kris Lyman of Blizzard Entertainment who planned the World of Warcraft and Hearthstone stages at BlizzCon 2019.

From start to finish, Kris walks us through what it takes to plan an event like BlizzCon.

What was your first job in esports?

This is actually my first job in esports. I was previously working in the action sports industry for 20+ years prior to my employment with Blizzard.

How did you become an Esports Event Manager?

I produced multiple action sports events and working in the motion picture business prior, so this was a natural fit. Even though the subject matter of the event has changed, the nuts and bolts of an event and managing are the same.

My close neighbor worked for Blizzard and he approached me to come and apply to work. I was up for the challenge and change of scenery, so I applied and was hired within 5 days of applying.

Can you walk us through your work for BlizzCon?

Each element of BlizzCon is a collaboration between multiple partners, vendors, and different departments within Blizzard. As an event manager, we lead that collaboration from start to finish. There is an event manager for every aspect of the BlizzCon show. I have been lucky enough to lead multiple esports stages during my time with Blizzard.

We start every year’s pre-production around 8 months in advance and our first step is to establish our goals with our stakeholders for the upcoming event. In this past year’s event (2019 Blizzcon), I was in charge of the World of Warcraft and Hearthstone stage that culminated the esports programs for each game at BlizzCon.

Of course with a reoccurring event like this, we talk through a lot of what worked and what didn’t. We work hand and hand with the teams to try and figure out the best way to resolve the issues and move forward. We set multiple recurring meetings with the esports team and one with the vendors associated with the specific stage which start around 5 months prior to load in. In these meetings, we make sure each of the teams are on the same page, order equipment, and talk through any issues that are discovered. The vendor teams would include rigging, lighting, power, IT, trucking, scenic, graphics, audio/visual, and venue specific personnel.

The load in starts one week prior to the event. The halls of BlizzCon are an empty canvas so we need extra load in time for multiple pieces of equipment to fill the halls. A typical load in schedule will be: trucks unload for one day, rigging and lighting equipment is put up another day, the scenic and lighting look is set the following day, broadcast equipment, cameras, and cables are ran and production trucks are positioned in another. Once the stage and surrounding broadcast equipment are set, we start with a technical rehearsal. This technical rehearsal walks us through the show and every piece of equipment to make sure everything is set. From the cameras to the finished production feed that is sent to the world, everything is double checked to be in working order. The next day is the dress rehearsal. This is the time where we have the talent and players physically run through the show as if it was live. This includes everything but the makeup dept., real competition, and the live audience. As an event manager, you need to inspect the halls and make sure everything is set and ready prior to the doors opening up for the live audience. This includes cleanup of trash and equipment, plus making sure the floor is show ready and there are no signs of a load in.

Once the show has started, we survey the area and crowd to make sure everything is running in smooth order. If not, this is where we work behind the scenes and solve problems without the audience knowing there was something wrong. Usually, all mistakes are discovered through the load in and set up days, but there is always something. Set up day problems are typically solved easily; like a problem with the scenic pieces (broken pieces, paint not matching the existing set, gaps between the set walls, etc.) or lighting (lights focus not correctly, wrong shade, or the fixture movement not consistent with the show, etc.) for example. But during the show, once an issue does occur, we make sure that the audience and show are not in danger and if the issue is best fixed after the first day of the show we wait. Problem solving and being ahead of issues are key to my role during the show.

On the last day of the show, I’m usually thinking and prepping for load out. Making sure that everything that was brought in goes back with that person or vendor. Load outs are usually chaotic, so I like to have everything sorted out to the best of my ability prior to that time.

Once we are cleared out from the venue and everyone gets some rest, we like to start our post event debriefs around two weeks or a month later. First, we gather feedback for the post meeting and organize the thoughts so they can be covered. Here we will record any issues that weren’t solved and what can be the next steps to ensure those issues don’t happen again. We will have multiple meetings with the stakeholders and even individual ones with the vendors or teams if needed.

Any other aspects of your job that you’d like to talk about?

That amazing feeling of accomplishment that you get when you see how much the event means to the attendees makes all the long work hours and endless time of preparation worth it. 

Obviously, organization and people skills are going to be critical to your job, but what else would you consider critical for someone looking to get into event management or tournament organizing for esports?

You need to be a great problem solver, very detail-oriented, and be able to manage multiple tasks at one time.

The pandemic has made things difficult for everyone; How has it changed your job?

Obviously, the cancellation of all events was a big blow to our team. We had the OWL week 10 event in Las Vegas, OWL Grand Finals, OWL All-Stars, and BlizzCon ramping up so there was a lot of decisions around what is next and what should our main focus be. For the OWL program, moving 100% online to keep the season alive was very interesting, to say the least. Our incredible broadcast, tournament operations, and game teams really saved the season as they worked through all the process and were able to find solutions for the “Stay At Home” order. I can’t thank them enough for all their hard work.

BlizzCon cancellation was very hard on everyone as the main reason we work all those long hours is to get the Blizzard community together physically in one single event for a culmination of the year. You can expect big things for BlizzCon in 2021.

Here at NASEF, we’re about scholastic esports at the high school level—A lot of clubs I’ve talked to have students running local events and their high school clubs. What other advice would you give them as they move onto college if they’re looking to continue in esports/event managing?

Always be very prepared and detail-oriented, build great work relationships with your staff and vendors, and remember to leave no loose ends uncovered within all aspects of the event prior to the first day of set up. This will help you successfully produce an event and if something does go wrong in the process you will be ahead of the curve and be able to think of all the solutions so you can to alleviate risks within the event.

Last question, what do you love most about esports?

I like the ever-changing status of the industry, technology, and rapid growth that makes producing these events very fun and challenging at the same time.

Photo Credit: Blizzard Entertainment