From the team that brought us to iconic Netflix American Vandal mockumentary series, Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault are closing out another hysterical show with Players on Paramount+, all based around the world of esports.
“Esports, on a surface level, at first glance, might seem silly to an outsider, like Tony and myself,” Perrault told Yahoo Canada. “These are professional gamers, usually in their early 20s, late teens, who go by names like Liquorice and Fudge, and to be honest, when you watch the game at first, if you've never seen a game like League of Legends, it can look like visual gibberish.”
“Tony and I were very interested in such an interesting, different world that to an outsider might seem crazy, that we would hope to play a sort of magic trick where they actually care, by the end, in the same way that you might care about a silly crime, like that of the American Vandal seasons.”
'The best audience is somebody who's a little incredulous about esports'
If you’re not particularly knowledgeable in the world of esports, thinking this series is going to be too far into an unknown world is the wrong approach.
Players is largely focused around its main character Creamcheese (Misha Brooks), seen as a sort of leader of a fictional League of Legends pro team, called Fugitive, on the road to taking home their first national championship. But when the 17-year-old rookie Organizm (Da'Jour Jones) shows up, a threat to Creamcheese’s ego-motivated legacy as the best on the team, that tension impacts their chances of winning.
Closing out the series, Players takes us through to the League Championship Series to see if Fugitive can really pull out the win, but creators Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault were able to strike the right balance of bringing you into the world in a way that you can follow along on this journey, without necessarily having the jargon a your fingertips.
“What we got rid of was the idea of needing to sort of be a fly on the wall in these scenes where their brother or their daughter would explain the game to them,” Perrault explained. “One, I think that would feel a little stilted, but also, I think that if you start informing the audience, have too many details, they will begin to feel like they need to absorb all of this in order to enjoy what's happening.”
“We prefer telling a story that would include very accurate gameplay and terminology, but not require that in order to enjoy.”
“We were so lucky that the show Queen's Gambit came out while we were in the writers room,...they never explained what a Queen's Gambit is, what a Sicilian Defence is, but it's just emotional context clues that allow you to feel like you're immersed in this world,” Yacenda added.
“The best audience is somebody who's a little incredulous about esports as a concept, but maybe likes traditional sports. We want to invite them in and be like, hey it's all in the same mechanisms that follow you when you're watching your favourite NBA team or NFL team.”
Creating the 'confident idiots'
Much like any fans of American Vandal would expect, the comedy is very much front and centre in the series with a classic mockumentary format, where the lead character, in this case Creamcheese, thinks he’s coming across so well in these fictional interviews, while we’re all watching and thinking this character is embarrassing themselves. For the series creators, they believe that’s a core aspect of not just mockumentaries, but documentaries as well.
“I think it's not just a trope in mockumentary but in the funniest documentaries as well,” Tony Yacenda said. “We talk about confident idiots in our show being a source of both comedy and empathy, these people who aren't quite as cool and smart and funny as they think they are.”
“Early in the writers room for both Players and each season of American Vandal, we kind of asked ourselves the question, 'what type of idiots are we writing?'” Perrault added. “Because it's not just one size fits all, there's Dylan Maxwell who's a pretty straightforward class clown, there's Kevin McClain who is the ‘I'm so smart I can't even stand myself’ and then there's the overconfident idiot. “
“It's fun to write from a flawed perspective but we really enjoy the overconfident idiot.”
With this being far from a traditional acting role, part of why we really feel invested in Players, aside from the story, is casting for these characters. In terms of Yacenda and Perrault’s process, they did ask the cast some “talking head” interview questions as part of the process, but what they’re really looking for is a rawness to the approach.
“Authenticity and a rawness is very important, I think that the improv element is also key,” Perrault said. “With this in particular, it was a very challenging casting process, one because we wanted to get real gamers as part of it, we wanted to get real people from the world.”
“We weren't looking for enormous resumes or name casting, especially when it came to gamers, we just wanted someone to be real."
One thing is certain in these series, even though you know it's not real, Players will still have you rooting for a fictional esports team.