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Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda Interview

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To the untrained eye, Players on Paramount+ seems like it would be a show just for gamers. The 10-episode comedy follows Fugitive Gaming, a professional esports team that plays League of Legends. But in the hands of series creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda, this seemingly niche show becomes a universal saga about trust and what it really means to be the best. Regardless if you’re an esports fan or if you’ve never heard of League in your life, Players stands as a surprisingly insightful tale of athletic passion, ambition, and love.

Those real emotions feel a bit jarring when your main character is named Creamcheese. Perrault and Yacenda broke down that finale for Decider, teased what was ahead, and explained why turning this series into a love story made it feel so universal.

Decider: I wanted to break down the final episode, “Yuumi”. You ended the season with Fugitive Gaming losing the World Championship and then Organizm leaving Fugitive. What made you decide to go in that direction instead of building up to a full season about competing in Worlds?

Tony Yacenda: We’ve always looked at this story as a love story between Organizm [Da’Jour Jones] and Creamcheese [Misha Brooks]. Rooting for the LCS [League of Legends Championship Series] is the engine that keeps the audience going. But the real story we were trying to tell is of this kid Creamcheese, who has to learn to open up and trust other people again and of Organizm, who is coming of age and dealing with ambition. So, those were the themes we always knew that were more important to us. We liked the idea of having this very public win that we’ve all been looking for, and then having these more complex, bittersweet, private emotional losses. That way, we’re telling this story of teammates and a story of ambition in a more nuanced way.

Dan Perrault: I’ll also say that we want the show to feel authentic, realistic, and give ourselves somewhere to go beyond this first season. We wanted that cathartic winning moment of the LCS. But, for being true to what’s really happening in League esports now, it would be unprecedented for a NA [North American] team to win Worlds at this stage, at this time. It’s not to say that we don’t know what the future holds with this show. I do think it’s fair to say that, in future seasons, we could explore international play more. That’s one of the most exciting parts about League of Legends is how global it is. But we never thought that they would win Worlds in Season 1.

Yacenda: I don’t feel like we ever felt like we were leaving this season on a cliffhanger, though. We set up this belief that Creamcheese has that if he wins an LCS title, then he’ll finally be happy. And deep down, we know that competition and ambition — the world is too complicated for that the simple reality of winning a LCS title is gonna solve all of his personal demons. That’s what we’re saying with the end of the series, that true fulfillment, when you’re in a field as competitive as League esports, is far more elusive than just a trophy.

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That reminds me of Organizm’s final interview at the streaming studio Never Lost. When he’s asked if he’s happy, he says “That does not matter.” Would you say that’s the theme of the season?

Yacenda: Yeah, especially for Organizm… Certainly, we talk about ambition more than anything else. We would watch The Last Dance and be like, “Wow, Michael Jordan is the man, but also he looks so unhappy.” Is that kind of what you are signing up for? The psychology of true greatness is something that was really interesting to us, and it couldn’t be fully explored by just a binary thing, win or lose.

Looking to Players’ potential future, if there is another season, what would you want to explore? 

Perrault: One thing that’s really exciting about it is that this would be the first time Tony and I have collaborated on a TV show in which we could further the stories of the characters that we worked on with Season 1. With American Vandal being an anthology series, we do have Peter [Tyler Alvarez] and Sam [Griffin Gluck] returning to Season 2. But their arcs are really kind of more in the background as it was essentially two isolated seasons of that show. Whereas with Players, now we would be continuing the story that we started here.

It would be exciting to explore a lot of time that is not covered in this season. Obviously, Season 1 focuses on 2015 and 2016, the very early formation years of Fugitive, as well as the present season in 2021. But there’s a whole lot of time in between and after.

Yacenda: Yeah, like a second season would be like the 2022 LCS season and then 2017, 2018 flashbacks.

Perrault: We did come up with certain characters, like Spaghetti. Spaghetti is used in Season 1 as just a funny-sounding name. To have two grown men argue about whether Organizm or Spaghetti is better was funny to us. But we will hold true to that promise. We created Spaghetti. We made him cannon to this world, so we will follow through with that. He will — if we get there — make an appearance on Fugitive at some point.

Obviously, Players takes a lot of influence from like classic sports documentaries. But what I took away from Season 1 is that this show is more about the support players that help make great athletes even greater. What went into making that the center of this show? 

Yacenda: When we were drawn into this, we talked to like a 25-year-old kid… that’s old in esports. He was like, “What do I do? Do I become a caster?” And we’re like, “Oh my god, this is crazy,” because to us, he feels like a child. But in this ecosystem, he’s like a grizzled veteran who’s on the way out.

For us, it was really about a guy coming to terms with his own mortality and being able to let somebody in. We thought the support was a perfect position to pass the torch to somebody else to put his own ego aside and fully trust a teammate that he never would have thought he would have trusted and loved in the beginning of the season. That’s the cool thing about a support. You have that in a lot of in a lot of traditional sports. They don’t need to be best friends to be a good wide receiver and quarterback, but if you are a good pair, you’re gonna develop this really special bond. The support was a way to like really tell this unique love story in this alternate dimension where these gamers are these high-profile gods.

Love story is such a good descriptor for it because the end of Season 1 feels like a breakup.

Yacenda: We talk about it in those metaphors. When [Creamcheese] gives [Organizm] the Toblerone. That’s the first time where that’s like “the kiss”… It’s not that they hate each other, but they have different goals. And then they pull together and realize that they have the same goal but they also have these external forces pulling them apart. As an audience, our hope was that you’re really hoping like, “Come on Creamcheese, you know how good he is. Just open your heart and train this kid. He can be great. Fugitive can win.” And overall, I’m pretty proud about how we thread that throughout the first season.

Perrault: We got pretty literal with a relationship comparison at some point. I remember in the scene in “Yuumi” where they’re in their final spat over the bridge, I would go up to Misha a few points and be like, “This take is purely the breakup take.” That sort of colored how that scene played out sometimes. He’s watching the person he has come to love most walk out the door.

Photo: Paramount+

Between Players and American Vandal, you have created these insufferable man-children that audiences begrudgingly learn to love. How do you thread the needle between how annoying Dylan [Jimmy Tatro], Kevin [Travis Tope], and Creamcheese are versus when to hit the more emotional moments?

Perrault: In each one of those seasons that you mentioned, it’s a little challenging to like all three of those characters, and I think you have to start with that. The more, in some ways, difficult they are to like early, the more satisfying that arc can be. You don’t want to be rooting for pure assholes with no morality to them.

Like with Dylan, it was his mother who just truly to her heart and to her core did not believe he was guilty. You can empathize with, if not him, then the situation he’s in. And with Creamcheese, I think it’s fair to say he was an asshole in certainly the first half of the season. Yet you have this moment where he is so emotional, speaking about his parents who file a police report against their own son. In that moment, you have enough to be pulled in to at least invest yourself in this asshole’s journey. Then as the season progresses, you slowly reveal more and peel back the onion and humanize them more. That only works when you start from a place where you’re not exactly sure how you feel about that person at the beginning of the season.

Yacenda: Those are the stories that Dan and I have been drawn to a lot. In real documentaries, it happens all the time where you’re like, “Oh, I went into this assuming this real person would be a certain type of way.” Then, when you spend a couple hours in their shoes, it really changes the way you look at somebody. Building empathy in unexpected and challenging places… I find super rewarding.

You two are on the short list of creators who have worked with both Netflix and Paramount+. Can you speak a little bit about what it’s been like working with Paramount+ as opposed to Netflix? Has there been a shift? 

Perrault: Creatively, there’s not a huge difference. One fun throughline is that Brian Wright was one of our EPs on the Netflix side for American Vandal now is at Riot and was able to be a part of Players as well [Note: Riot Games owns League of Legends]. That was super fun. We love working with Brian.

Yacenda: We have had big network notes from both Paramount+ and from Netflix that really helped the show. So, we’ve been lucky so far that we’ve had really good creative input from both places, really smart, creative executives. Obviously, there’s big differences between the platforms and the subscriber bases and the algorithm and a bunch of other things that like Dan and I aren’t qualified to talk about. But in terms of just making television shows, we’ve been grateful to have really smart executives.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to add?

Perrault: It’s been fun legitimately getting into the LCS from a fan’s perspective. I think that when you first look at League of Legends, if you don’t play MOBA [multiplayer online battle arena] games, if you haven’t played League, it looks almost like gibberish, and it’s really hard to understand what’s going on. I remember the first time that I met people from the League community, I did not get the game. I did not understand much about the community. I knew very, very little. To become more invested over the years has been a fun experience that I hope parallels people’s interest in Fugitive Gaming and esports in general. I hope that it’s something that you can latch on to and invest in, because I think you can invest in any sport as long as you care about the characters.

Yacenda: It’s easy to knee-jerk assume that this is like a niche gamer show, like a show for gamers. And to me, [gamers] are missing half of the fun, which is learning about this new world. They might pick up on some like inside jokes that non gamers, outsiders might not be picking up on. But outsiders are going to get to dive into this like vibrant, crazy new world, and by the end of the season, really be pulling for a team of pro video gamers. That journey has been really fun for us to watch.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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