'League of Legends' Netflix series 'Arcane' gets a grown-up immersive theater playpen
In a span of about 15 minutes, I was propositioned, was asked to show off my boxing ability — my stance needs work — and threw exaggerated physical distractions in the face of multiple public-looking officials. It's immersive theater of the most active, physical type at this real-life celebration of "Arcane," the "League of Legends"-inspired animated series that became a global hit for Netflix and has been renewed for a second season.
A love letter to fans of the show, "Arcane: Enter the Undercity" wants to surround guests in the action of the series but puts a premium on playing with fans, rather than performing for them. Aside from the boxing lesson, I found myself running in and out of the venue multiple times, following the character of Vi and the quest to track down her sister, Jinx. We played games in the guise of training for combat and once found ourselves trapped in a neon-scarred hideout with just three other players that doubled as a mini escape room.
I saw a fraction of what "Arcane: Enter the Undercity" has to offer in my two hours with the experience. I choose to stick by Vi, following the path of one of the show's main characters rather than those of its villains or one of the random underground factions of the city. Others I spoke with went on quests for objects; I ended up in a modified game of duck, duck, goose in which guests shout "bang" at one another and try to dodge imaginary bullets.
The event takes place at a film-shoot warehouse — whose southeast L.A. address is revealed once tickets are purchased — transformed into the seedy downtown district of the show's setting. "League of Legends" knowledge isn't necessary for enjoying "Arcane," but familiarity with the show is highly encouraged. I was asked at least twice to pledge allegiance to certain characters by reciting facts from the series. Making stuff up on the spot didn't go over so well.
Recognizing its audience is game-weaned, "Arcane: Enter the Undercity" expects those entering its gates to come ready to play. It's participatory entertainment, building upon a mix of theme parks, escape rooms and immersive theater, and it succeeds in that it downplays reenactments from the series in favor of communal moments — aside from an extended intro that serves as an onboarding scene. But even here, "Arcane: Enter the Undercity" likely would feel abstract to the uninitiated since it simply sets up the familial conflict at the heart of the series.
Still, it's entertainment that understands we don't just want to see our fantasy worlds come to life; we want to be in them , to fight with — or against — Vi or to simply be a weirdo scoundrel trying to cheat at blackjack in a bar full of secondary characters from the "League of Legends" universe.
A collaboration with the immersive firm Secret Cinema, which also worked with Netflix on "Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience," the so-called "undercity" of Zaun is outfitted as something of a warehouse-turned-rave, with a bar as its most notable building.
It's minimal, but it works overall, allowing guests to feel as if they're in an alley in which a party or a fight can break out at any time. Ultimately, wish-fulfillment pop art in this late pandemic age of 2021 isn't passive, and "Arcane: Enter the Undercity" triumphs over its clublike setting because it has a large cast. Almost everywhere one turns is an actor ready to play.
I spent my first 25 to 30 minutes somewhat overwhelmed, wondering if I wanted to talk to the wizard-looking guy or the owner of the brothel (note: There is no actual fake brothel in the experience), or play my hand at being a little evil by going on fetch quests for the drug at the heart of the series — "Shimmer" — that has hooked so many of its denizens. Eventually, by squeezing myself into two different conversations, I was asked to go on the hunt for Shimmer by competing groups. I skipped this once I noticed an actor outfitted as series star Vi entered the room.
For the remaining 70 minutes or so, my "Arcane: Enter the Undercity" experience became a more traditional immersive theater one — that is, I was following and conversing with an actor from space to space. The show tries to make concessions for those who aren't up for this type of role-play; I counted at least three large group performance moments in the center of the space, and a couple of times, "Arcane: Enter the Undercity" became a brief dance party, five- or 10-minute breaks that I could generally do without.
There are multiple layers of "Arcane: Enter the Undercity," and for those who want to go deep, I recommend being outgoing and directly approaching an actor. The cast will try to get groups of friends involved in an underlying game of gathering Shimmer, even keeping score to see who accrues the most, but those up to role-play will find many hidden paths.
I heard, for instance, at the end of my night of a not-so-secret, chemical-filled, mad-scientist-like room I didn't even get to see, as my optimistic nature kept me on the side of "good" — those fighting against Shimmer, rather than those trying to hunt it down. If it wasn't for the $70 price tag, I'd consider going back to play an alternate route.
But large-scale immersive theater for a few hundred guests remains a tricky balance of providing the deep players with one-on-one interactions while not letting the less experienced or the shy feel as if they've missed out. With its multiple tracks, hidden rooms and various gamelike quests, not to mention random puzzle games built into its architecture, "Arcane: Enter the Undercity" does its best to cater to a room full of those with short attention spans.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times .