Netflix and Riot Games' ‘Arcane’ Is All About Real Audience Engagement

Riot Games' 'Undercity Nights' event
(Image credit: Future)

A Gothic-looking factory turned cavernous movie stage, tucked into an anonymous warehouse district in South Los Angeles, is hardly the venue you’d expect for a state-of-the-art exercise in fan engagement from two of the world’s biggest and most interesting entertainment companies.  

David Bloom

(Image credit: David Bloom)

But that’s where this weekend’s “Undercity Nights” event unfolded, a smaller version of which is now open to the public through late December for fans of League of Legends, the hugely popular video game, and Arcane, the Netflix nine-episode animated series built around some of the game’s iconic characters. 

To kick off the in-person experience tied to its game and show, League owner Riot Games bet big, flying in some 500 international social-media influencers, live streamers, game journalists and others. 

At that South L.A. venue, the influencers took part in an intricate, immersive, scavenger-hunt-like experience created by Secret Cinema that features key characters and story lines from both the game and the animated series. (Secret Cinema is also about to launch an online live experience tied to Sony’s Ghostbusters franchise). 

During the Undercity Nights events, Riot installed banks of gaming PCs in themed rooms where influencers could play, join tournaments, live stream, grab food and plenty of drinks, and more over two days. Riot even had a blimp advertising the Arcane series and League of Legends floating over its West Los Angeles headquarters. 

It felt like a combination movie premiere, game-launch junket and theme-park opening, mashing up all that into one big brand extension, as Riot moves further into video, and Netflix moves further into games. 

And, no surprise, at the end of the second day, just as the final three episodes of Arcane’s first season debuted on Netflix, the streaming company and Riot announced that Season 2 is on the way.

Riot Games' 'Undercity Nights' event

(Image credit: Future)

I say “no surprise” because the other thing Netflix did this week was change the way it reports who’s watching what where on its sprawling service.

The company has moved from the risible “They Watched 2 Minutes, So It Counts” standard to a far more critic-proof “total hours watched” metric. We’ll be able to track which features and series, both in English and not, really grab fans’ attention in a sustained way across nearly 100 territories. 

Under those new metrics, by the way, Arcane is a massive global hit. It’s in the Top 10 in 83 territories, and No. 1 in 11. 

Netflix Co-CEO Reed Hastings has frequently invoked games such as  League of Legends and Epic’s Fortnite as its real competition for audience attention and engagement, rather than other streaming services. The company rightly notes that, big as it is, it still attracts a shockingly small fraction of the addressable market for audience engagement. 

The prodigious tie-up with League of Legends and the new metrics address some of that. 

The numbers usefully spotlight something other streamers aren’t doing so well, bringing audiences deeper into their franchise programming, and then demonstrating how well audiences have turned into engaged and loyal fans. 

Most competing services talk mostly about subscriber adds, instead of showing how well they’re keeping people tuned in and connected on an ongoing basis. Third-party assessments of growing churn rates suggest why most services haven’t quite gotten around issuing stats on audience engagement just yet. 

Disney, of course, has been profitably extracting in-person theme-park experiences from its on-screen franchises (and vice versa) since the days of Walt Himself. 

But we’re not hearing about how much time people spend on Disney Plus shows, even for award-winning bell cows such as The Mandalorian. Third-party estimates suggest some stagnation in engagement, and growing churn, though the imminent debut of Hawkeye will give us another Marvel heat check. 

Riot Games' 'Undercity Nights' event

(Image credit: Future)

Netflix, meanwhile, continues to roll out its own games, mostly casual titles so far including two built around its hugely popular Stranger Things franchise, now available through the Netflix app on both iOS and Android mobile platforms. 

The key in all of this is how much can you keep people turning to your service, and staying there? Most of Hollywood still hasn’t figured out how they’re going to do that. 

By the way, if you want to check out the Arcane League of Legends public experience, Secret Cinema will run three two-hour shows most evenings through Dec. 19 at the South Los Angeles location. General admission tickets cost $70 apiece, and nearby parking another $25. The “premium” experience will cost $140, and includes food and drink vouchers, and fast-track entry among other perks. 

David Bloom of Words & Deeds Media is a Santa Monica, Calif.-based writer, podcaster, and consultant focused on the transformative collision of technology, media and entertainment. Bloom is a senior contributor to numerous publications, and producer/host of the Bloom in Tech podcast. He has taught digital media at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and guest lectures regularly at numerous other universities. Bloom formerly worked for Variety, Deadline (opens in new tab), Red Herring, and the Los Angeles Daily News, among other publications; was VP of corporate communications at MGM; and was associate dean and chief communications officer at the USC Marshall School of Business. Bloom graduated with honors from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.