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Alums Show They’re ‘Players’ in Hollywood with Esports Series

Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault standing in front of building holding clapperboard
Tony Yacenda ’10 and Dan Perrault ’09 on the set of Players.

As co-creators of the Paramount+ show Players, Dan Perrault ‘09 and Tony Yacenda ‘10 broke a wall into a new genre.

Players, a fictional show that began streaming in June, follows a League of Legends team as it tries to win a championship. By incorporating the League of Legends, a real multiplayer online battle arena video game made by Riot Games, Players is blurring the line in a crossover between video games and fictional scripted shows.

“We love sports docs, and knew we wanted to do a show in that space. Esports was a natural space,” said Perrault, who also plays Paul “Bignpaul” Gilberstadt in the show. “If you look at esports without knowledge of it, it seems silly or bizarre that thousands of people pay to watch kids play video games in sold-out arenas.”

Dan Perrault holds a trophy as his character Paul Gilberstadt
Dan Perrault as Paul “Bigpaul” Gilberstadt on Players streaming on Paramount+ (Photo by Lara Solanki for Paramount+)

The duo met while students when they worked on a campus moviefest together. Perrault was a year ahead of Yacenda, and he liked a short Yacenda made. Perrault, a member of the comedy troupe Chocolate Cake City, acted in a short film Yacenda made his sophomore year. Yacenda jokes that people were in awe that he got Perrault to act in his short, as he was a noted talent in Emerson’s film and comedy circle.

“We worked well together and we ended up living together in Los Angeles and making a bunch of shorts,” said Yacenda.  

The pair have primarily worked on comedy programming, and Perrault knew there was enough silly material at surface level to make a comedy in the esports world. After all, some players have names like Licorice or Fudge. But with big studio money being invested, he knew the stakes were high.

From co-creating the Netflix show American Vandal, a true-crime satire about the aftermath of a high school prank that left 27 faculty cars graffitied with phallic images, Yacenda and Perrault had cachet in the biz.

Tony Yacenda hugs Dan Perrault while Perrault is sitting
Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault first worked together when they were Emerson students in Boston.

Yacenda still wasn’t sure they could get people to care about a video game show, but from listening to esports analysts, he saw it would be a sports show about teammates needing to trust each other.

The original premise was that the show would focus on an esports agent. That changed when the duo visited a League of Legends all-star event in 2018.

“It was such an interesting atmosphere. We met players, retired players, hosts, cosplayers. There were so many people of different professions all in the orbit of League of Legends,” said Perrault. “That convinced me this is the game to choose for the show.”

“The goal is, ‘Can we get our parents to care about fugitive gaming?’” said Yacenda, who directed all 10 episodes. “When we decided there was meat on the bone for a character-driven sports story, we said let’s do this for real with Riot Games.”

Former Roommates Reconnect

With Riot Games, Perrault and Yacenda worked with a familiar face – Perrault’s first-year roommate James Carmichael ’08, Global Head of Marketing, MOBA Esports at Riot Games, and one of several Emersonians who have worked at Riot Games.

“Dan and Tony, as well as ViacomCBS, and Paramount+ all went to great lengths to understand and integrate themselves within our sport dating back to 2018. When they came back to us with their pitch it was clear they authentically knew the sport and community,” said Carmichael. “I ultimately think the execution of their vision for Players showcases the passion and commitment of our players, and ultimately a series that overwhelmingly celebrates what makes LoL Esports unique and special within the esports industry.”

Carmichael said he watches the Emerson Esports team, and is interested to see how Emerson supports esports competitors, but also how they develop curriculum and programs that enable students to get ahead of the curve when it comes to gaming and esports careers.

Looking back on his time at Emerson, Carmichael feels the College was ahead of the industry.

“In addition to being well known as a great school with progressive values, they truly understood where the future of the marketing industry was headed,” said Carmichael. “Professors exposed students to a holistic approach to marketing, communications, and branding. That perspective helped me early in my career and still does to this day.”

There are also several alums working on the production side of Players: cinematographer Alan Gwizdowski ’09; automated dialogue replacement recordist Jennie Shea ’19; first assistant camera Erin Douglass ’12; and second assistant camera Angelo Gentile III ’15.

“That stuff happens with Emerson. You’ll go off and [another alum] will pop up. You’ll help [an alum] out and [another alum] will bring you on to another gig,” said Perrault. “There are so many [Emersonians] active in the industry. It was really fun reconnecting with James.”

A scene in the tv show Players has three people intently watching an offscreen video
Left to right: Dan Perrault as Paul “Bigpaul” Gilberstadt, Holly Chou as April Braxton, and Ely Henry as Kyle Braxton in Players. (Photo by Trae Patton for Paramount+)

From PAs to Creating Their Own Show

Like many in the entertainment industry, Yacenda and Perrault worked their way up from being PAs to creating their own TV shows.

Yacenda worked on numerous comedic shorts series, and gained attention from the video of rapper Lil Dicky’s $ave Dat Money, the premise of which is to make an epic rap video with as little money as possible. Yacenda didn’t get paid for it, but he said it opened a lot of doors. That relationship led to directing more Lil Dicky videos, and directing five episodes of the FX show Dave, which stars Lil Dicky as himself, Dave Burd.  

Perrault also worked on numerous comedy shorts series, and his most recent project is the movie Strays, which Perrault wrote and which stars Hollywood heavy hitters Jamie Foxx and Will Ferrell. It’s in post-production and has a dark twist to it.

Strays is a live-action, R-rated dog movie, and a sort of revenge dog movie,” said Perrault. “It’s Homeward Bound, and instead of finding their way back to their lovable owners, our dog is trying to find the owner who ditched him in the middle of the street.”

Working with real-life dogs has been a different experience.

“Sets are completely silent because we’re working with dogs. And you can’t pitch alt jokes to dogs,” said Perrault.

Dan Perrault sits in a chair on the set of Players
Dan Perrault on the set of Players, which he co-created and stars in.

Talking dogs and video game stars aside, neither Yacenda nor Perrault are married to comedy.

“I don’t think drama without any levity is something that appeals to us. We’re looking to find compelling dramatic arcs to put in comedies and characters and situations to fill out the drama,” said Yacenda.

Yacenda reflected on going from production assistant to freelancing to directing music videos and television series to creating his own shows.

“We had to build our skill set and build our Rolodex of collaborators. The first part of it was proving that people would watch and enjoy the stuff we were making,” said Yacenda. “Beyond that, I think it helped there was certainly variety in our portfolio.”

He said while they made a lot of silly content, it was executed in a serious manner.

As for their future, Perrault said he’s really loving what he’s been working on.

“I would like to collaborate more with Tony. We’ve primarily worked in TV, and working in the feature space would be a big step for both of us. We have a lot of ideas for that, too,” said Perrault.

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