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Caster to Commish — MarkZ's Road to LCS Commissioner

Mark "MarkZ" Zimmerman was named Commissioner of the League Championship Series ahead of the 2024 season. His career path to this position was unlike any other Commissioner in esports.

If one were to ask fans of the League Championship Series what makes them optimistic for the future of North American League of Legends esports, the league’s Commissioner, Mark “MarkZ” Zimmerman, would be among the most common answers. Since assuming his new position before the start of the 2024 season, MarkZ has put forth efforts to optimize the LCS and the broadcast that shares it with the world every weekend (and the occasional Thursday or Friday). 

MarkZ’s greatest asset as LCS Commissioner is the unique career path that led him to his current position. The changes implemented within the LCS ecosystem in MarkZ’s brief tenure as Commissioner – or at the very least, the nature in which they have been carried out – can be traced back to his eclectic experience in the North American League of Legends esports ecosystem.

MarkZ got his start as a remote analyst for Team Curse towards the end of 2013 and moved in-house with the team the following year. When Team Liquid acquired Curse ahead of the 2015 NA LCS season, MarkZ assumed more of a full coaching role.

“He applied to the company just like many other people do – by sending a random cold email to an org he wanted to work with,” Team Liquid co-CEO Steve Arhancet recalled during an interview with ESI. “I receive so many emails from folks who want to work with us, but I rarely ever get past the first few sentences of the cover letter; much less get to the resume."

Photo via Team Liquid

Photo via Team Liquid

His cover letter, on the other hand, really struck me because more than just sharing a genuine interest in creating a career in gaming and esports, it leaned into his knowledge of the company and specifically mentioned wanting to work with me. We got on a Zoom interview and it led to me hiring him.”

MarkZ departed the Team Liquid coaching staff following the 2016 season. While his passion for League of Legends strategy was everpresent, he had begun to grow weary of the other of his position. “I enjoyed the work, but pro players at that time…maybe it's different now. But like, you have a lot of conversations where it doesn't feel like people are actively pursuing what we all agree on is the goal, which is winning, you know?” MarkZ told ESI. “[It led to] a lot of personality conflicts and these sorts of things. And it was not my cup of tea.”

Looking for a new medium to utilize his strategic knowledge of League of Legends, MarkZ began creating content under the TL banner in October 2016. In February 2017, he parted ways with the organization to pursue content creation independently in addition to working with other content-focused brands like Delta Fox and OfflineTV. 

MarkZ says that of all of his experience, independent content creation is the least applicable to his current role, but the experience added to his perspective all the same. “Some of the new media stuff – YouTube, Twitch – working with these people, you learn how they think about things and why they have huge audiences,” MarkZ explained. “How did they build them? What did they do? How can you interact with fans in interesting ways, and how do you make this kind of content? So it is still pretty useful, but I think it's the least directly applicable.”

MarkZ on the analyst desk during the 2018 NA LCS season.

Photo by Tina Jo/Riot Games

 While he continued his independent content ventures in 2018, he began to appear on the LCS broadcast as an analyst during the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split. Throughout his time on the LCS broadcast, MarkZ established himself as an innovator and a driving creative force amongst his colleagues. “Mark was someone that I felt like that the moment you send out one dumb idea, or a “what if?” or something like that, he would be able to pick that up and then expand on it,” said LCS analyst Barento "Raz" Mohammed in an interview with ESI. “So in terms of what he brought to the crew, it was always like a fun, entertaining way to kind of create ideas.”

That impact was felt at an increasing rate year over year – regardless of the amount of time he was on broadcast day-to-day, MarkZ’s irreverent demeanor juxtaposed with razor-sharp analysis gave the LCS analyst desk an added dimension. MarkZ almost felt like a community ambassador on the desk, and his constant engagement with the community on platforms like Reddit and his independent content like Hotline League with Travis Gafford only reinforced that brand. 

It isn’t just a brand though, at least according to LCS caster Isaac "Azael" Cummings-Bentley. “Mark is the degen-gamer who showed up to the studio in his pajamas. Every day he’d bring his laptop because he was too addicted to Dark Souls to like, wait to play at home, you know?” Azael said with a chuckle. “That’s just who Mark is, right? And I think that that element of him is gonna continue to exist, but obviously not in the same way.

Azael sees MarkZ’s authenticity as a boon to him as Commissioner of the LCS, and the flow of communication he has established with the community throughout his tenure thus far has been a breath of fresh air. “People don't see him as this polished executive person that you've never met, talked to, or seen,” Azael explained. “I think that makes people trust that he gets it and if there’s a decision he makes that people don’t agree with, I think people are gonna be more likely to give someone like him the benefit of the doubt.”

Commissioner MarkZ

It’s safe to say that MarkZ has earned the benefit of the doubt from the majority of the LCS fanbase, and rightfully so – viewership in the 2024 LCS Spring Split peaked at 192.8k, a substantial increase from the 178.8k high mark for the 2023 Spring Split. His former colleagues attribute it to his well-roundedness as a result of his experience in the ecosystem.

“I think the biggest thing that translates from Mark is his extremely clear view of what he thinks content should be – how he thinks things should be organized, how he thinks things should be delivered, and what's important to having a successful broadcast,” Azael told ESI. “To me, it feels like he has the experience and the understanding of the scene from working in it from all of these different positions. And he has the practical experience of being the person making the stuff too, so he really understands like what you need to be able to actually run a successful show.”

“He has a deep and intense appreciation for League of Legends and the LCS, and he's proved it over the years through his casting and content,” said Arhancet. “What makes him the best candidate, however, is his comprehensive knowledge of esports teams, agencies, content creation, marketing, Twitch, media rights — the whole ecosystem.”

The LCS has begun to right the ship in 2024 – the snappier broadcast, streamlined focus, and the added unique regional dynamic of North American competitive teams playing on the live patch are all welcome improvements. Most importantly, however, the LCS has a guiding hand at the helm with a unique perspective on the ecosystem. That, if nothing else, is something for LCS fans to smile about.