Players on Paramount+ seems to be a game designed for gamers. But as a series creator Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda, it becomes a universal saga about trust and what it means to be the best in the world.
When your main character is named Creamcheese, those real emotions can be jarring. Perrault and Yacenda described Decider's final scene, speculated on what would follow, and explained why turning this series into a love story made it seem so universal.
Yuumi, you ended the season with Fugitive Gaming losing the World Championship and then Organizm leaving Fugitive. What motivated you to pursue this goal rather than spending a whole season competing in the World Championship?
Tony Yacenda: We always saw this story as a love story between Organizm [DaJour Jones] and Creamcheese [Misha Brooks]. Both stories told of this young Creamcheese, who is coming of age and dealing with ambition in a more nuanced manner.
Dan Perrault: I'll also say that we want the show to be authentic and relatable, and give ourselves a chance to go beyond this first season. But, for being true to what's going on in League esports right now, it would be unprecedented for a NA [North American] team to win Worlds at this stage, at this time. I do think that, in future seasons, we might enhance international play more. That's one of the most exciting aspects of League of Legends, since they
Creamcheese has this belief that if he wins an LCS championship, he will never have to hide all of his personal problems, according to Yacenda. In fact, we have said that winning a league championship is far more difficult than winning a trophy.
That reminds me of Organizms' final interview with Never Lost, a streaming studio. When he is asked if he's happy, he replies That's irrelevant. Would you agree that this is the theme of the season?
Yacenda: Yes, especially for Organizm. We talk about ambition more than anything else. We would see Michael Jordan as the man, but also he looks so miserable. Is that what you are signing up for? The psychology of true greatness is something that we found fascinating.
Looking to the future of the Players, what would you like to explore if there were a second season?
Perrault: One of the things that is particularly interesting about it is that Tony and I have collaborated on a television show in which we might extend the stories of the characters 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 kind of more in the background as it was essentially two isolated seasons of the show.
It would be interesting to spend a lot of time on things that aren't covered in this season. Season 1 is primarily focused on 2015 and 2016, the very early development years of Fugitive, as well as the present season in 2021.
Yacenda: Yeah, it's like the 2022 LCS season followed by the 2017, 2018, flashbacks.
Perrault: We did develop certain characters, like Spaghetti. Spaghetti is used in Season 1 as just a funny-sounding name. We will keep working on it. We made him a cannon to this world, and we will follow through with that. He will if we get there on Fugitive at some point.
The Producers' Playoffs are a great example of this. What I learned from Season 1 is that this program is more about the support players that help make great athletes even bigger. What went into making that the focus of this program?
Yacenda: When we first got involved in this, we talked to like a 25-year-old kid who is old in esports. We were like, Oh my God, this is crazy, because to us, he feels like a kid. But in this system, hes like a grizzled veteran on the way out.
The support was a great way to support a guy who was never otherwise able to accept his own mortality and allow somebody to enter the game. Thats what you see in a lot of traditional sports. They dont have to be best friends to be able to develop this really special bond.
Because the conclusion of Season 1 feels like a breakup, the love story is such a good descriptor for it.
Yacenda: We talk about it in those metaphors. When [Creamcheese] gives [Organizm] the Toblerone, it's not that they don't agree on anything, but that they have different goals. And then they pull together and realize that they've got to train this kid. He can be fantastic. Fugitive can win. And, overall, I'm pretty proud of how we thread that together throughout the first season.
Perrault: At some point, a relationship comparison became pretty literal. In the final scene in Yuumi, I would go up to Misha a few times and be like, This is the breakup take. That sort of influenced how that scene played out sometimes. Hes watching the person he has come to admire the most walk out the door.
You have created these ludicrous guys-children that audiences reluctantly learn to love, between Players and American Vandal. How do you tie the knot between how irritating Dylan [Jimmy Tatro], Kevin [Travis Tope], and Creamcheese are, and when to focus on the more personal moments?
Perrault: In each of the seasons you mentioned, it's a bit tricky to like all three of the characters, and I think you have to start with that. The more difficult they are to like early on, the more rewarding the story becomes. You don't want to be rooting for pure assholes who have no morality.
As the season progresses, it is up to you to understand the person you are dealing with who believes he was wrong. If not him, then you can empathize with the situation he is in. With Creamcheese, I think it is fair to say he was an asshole in certainly the first half of the season. Yet you have this moment when he is so emotional, talking about his parents who file a police report against their own son.
Dan and I have been drawn to these kinds of stories a lot. In real documentaries, it happens all the time where you think, Oh, I went into this assuming this real person would be a certain way. Then, when you spend a couple hours in their shoes, it really changes your perspective. Building empathy in unexpected and challenging situations I find super rewarding.
You and I are on the shortlist of filmmakers who have worked with both Netflix and Paramount+. Can you describe how it's been like working with Paramount+ as opposed to Netflix? Has there been a shift?
Perrault: No, technically, there isn't a lot of difference. One fun throughline is that Brian Wright was one of our EPs on the Netflix side for American Vandal now works at Riot Games and was able to be a part of Players as well [Note: Riot Games owns League of Legends]. It's great to collaborate with Brian.
Yacenda: Weve had huge network notes from both Paramount+ and Netflix that really helped the program. So, weve been lucky so far to have really talented, creative executives. Obviously, there are huge differences between the platforms and the subscriber bases and the algorithm and a bunch of other things that like Dan and I arent qualified to discuss.
Is there anything you've not asked me to include that you'd like to include?
Perrault: From a fans perspective, getting into the LCS is fun. I think that when you first see people from the League community, I did not understand much about the community. I knew very little about the sport at all. I hope that it matches peoples interest in Fugitive Gaming and esports in general.
Yacenda: It's easy to knee-jerk assume that this is a niche gamer show, rather than a series for gamers. And to me, gamers are missing half of the fun, which is learning about this new world. They may pick up some interesting inside jokes that non gamers or outsiders might not be familiar with. But by the end of the season, outsiders will be able to really want to join a team of professional video gamers.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.