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How to Reboot Your Sleep Cycle

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Illustration for article titled How to Reboot Your Sleep Cycle

Photo: Alena Ozerova (Shutterstock)

Nothing can stand in for a good night’s sleep, so instead of discussing how we might scrape by with less sleep, we’re going to help you reboot your sleeping habits so you get the sleep you need (and deserve).

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And who wouldn’t want more sleep? We live in a 24/7 world where our jobs can continue after it gets dark and begin before the sun rises again. Even when we’re done with work there are a million-and-one needs and distractions to keep us up well into the wee hours of the night, keeping us from a good night’s sleep. This guide aims to help get your sleep cycle back in order and start getting the rest you need. It’s a long one, so here’s a quick outline if you want to jump straight to any section:

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A few things need to be said before we go any further. First, sleep deprivation isn’t a badge of honor. It’s a very American/Protestant-Work-Ethic attitude to believe that being so busy and stretched thin that you must go without sleep is something to be proud of. If you insist that abusing your body with sleep deprivation is virtuous and a necessary part of being a working adult, then you’re not in the right frame of mind to take this advice to heart. Going with little sleep is sometimes an unfortunate necessity, but it shouldn’t be adopted as a way of life or point of pride. (You certainly wouldn’t brag to your friends how awesome you are malnourishing yourself.)

Second, if you read through this guide, take the advice to heart, and still see no positive change in your sleeping patterns, you may very well need to see a doctor. There are a multitude of medical reasons for why you might not be getting a good night’s sleep, including things like sleep apnea. Conditions that interrupt your sleep slowly shave years off your life and decrease the quality of life in the ones you have left. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor and see a sleep specialist.

Finally, there isn’t a tip in this guide I haven’t personally used. Between being a student, parent, educator, writer, and for one horrible year doing it all in addition to working 12-hour graveyard shifts, there isn’t a whole lot about sleep deprivation and putting your “sleep life” back together that I haven’t experienced. Sleep deprivation is brutal, and I hope whether you’ve been short-changing yourself an hour of sleep a day or eight of them, that you take something away from this guide that helps get things back on track.

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Effects of sleep deprivation

An important part of getting your sleep schedule back under control is understanding the negative impacts of not getting enough sleep. Your body is a complex machine that evolved over millions of years to the state it’s in today. Our modern coffee-swilling, go-go-go, work-until-the-crack-of-dawn-and-collapse culture has only been around for the tiniest fraction of the history of the human species. We haven’t adapted to less sleep, and we’re likely not going to adapt any time soon. You need as much sleep today as your greatest of great grandfathers needed in 2010 BCE.

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What happens when you don’t get enough sleep? Everyone is familiar with the common side effects, like being tired the next day, sore muscles, and general irritability. Sleep deprivation also has a myriad of side effects you don’t see as easily as yawning or a snippy attitude. Sleep deprivation increases your risk of heart disease, impairs memory retention, increases risk of diabetes and obesity (adequate sleep is required for proper glucose processing and insulin regulation), increases risk of depression and other mental illness, and the list goes on. Sleep deprivation can have similar effects to being outright intoxicated. Most people would frown on someone showing up to work drunk every day, but we often act as if sleep deprivation is simply the way it has to be.

Sleep is a critical part of your body’s maintenance routine, and depriving yourself of it is the same as running a machine with no down time for preventive care and repairs. You can do it, but eventually something breaks, and sometimes catastrophically.

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Short term recovery: Getting the ship back on course before it crashes

Let’s get a big misconception out of the way: You don’t have a “sleep bank.” If you’ve gone for the last year chronically sleep deprived, you can’t refill some sort of sleep tank in your tummy in order to start feeling normal again. You can start doing things today to increase the sleep you’re getting and start feeling better immediately. It takes weeks of consistent and restful sleep to shake the after effects of sleep deprivation. But don’t despair, you won’t need to “sleep off” all 1,498 hours of sleep you shorted yourself over the last year.

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Another misconception is the amount of sleep people require. The reality is, the best person to judge the amount of sleep you need to be happy and alert is you. Studies come out year after year saying a certain number of hours is best—eight hours to feel most rested, seven hours to live long, six hours and you’ll die young—but sometimes the best expert is the way you feel. We’ll return to the topic of how much sleep you need and how to measure it in a moment; for right now let’s focus on what you can do tonight.

Practice good sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene is similar to your end-of-day personal hygiene. Just like you wash your face and brush your teeth before bed, sleep hygiene is an umbrella term that covers all the things you do leading up to sleep that help or hinder restful sleep.

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Good sleep hygiene involves getting your body ready for a good night’s sleep, and not overstimulating it just before bedtime. How can you practice good sleep hygiene? Start by shifting your perspective on what bedtime and sleep really are. Bedtime isn’t just the point where you collapse from working hard and staying up late; bedtime is the start of a block of time very important to your body. You need good sleep and you should treat your bedtime with proper respect.

Don’t drink anything with caffeine in it after dinner

Dependent on age, gender, and other physiological factors, the half-life of caffeine in the body is roughly five to 10 hours. In other words, that cup of coffee you drank at 7 p.m. is still with you at midnight. Nicotine is another common stimulant; you should quit or make your last cigarette of the day well before bed.

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Don’t drink alcohol before bed

Alcohol is a depressant and will help you fall asleep, the problem is that it depresses everything in your system, including your metabolism. Alcoholics report having no dreams because alcohol disrupts REM sleep, a critical sleep phase for both brain and body health.

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Step away from screens

Exposing yourself to the glow of a screen before bed will keep you awake. Your body is hardwired to wake up when light is bright and go to sleep when it gets dark. If you shine a bright light in your face before bed, you’re telling your body it’s time to perk up and be alert. If you absolutely must use a computer or mobile device later in the day, at least turn the screen brightness way down to semi-counter the effect of the light.

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Change your body temperature

Your body drops in temperature as you drift off into sleep. You can trick your body by simulating this temperature shift. In the colder months, take a hot shower or bath late in the day, as your body temperature will rise and then fall again as you cool off from the shower, helping make you sleepy in the process. It’s harder to do this in warmer weather, but you can substitute the hot shower with a cold one. While a cold shower seems terribly unpleasant—and trust me, it’s not as fun as a hot bath on a winter night—it will also induce a temperature swing that can help make you sleepy.

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Minimize external distractions

As you ease yourself into a new sleep routine, it’s especially important to minimize external distractions. Have a cat that jumps on the bed at 3 a.m.? Toss them out of the bedroom before bedtime. Neighbor starts up their diesel truck at 4 a.m. for work? Wear ear plugs. Spouse gets up before you and turns on the lights to get dressed? Sleep with a sleep mask on—this one is amazingly comfy.

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Avoid napping while you reset

Later on when you’ve ironed out the details of your sleep cycle, you may find that a power nap early in the day is great for you. Right now though, we’re focused on rebooting your sleep cycle, which means limiting naps. You need to go to bed at the end of the day when you are tired, not at a later time because you snuck an overly long nap.

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Purge your bedroom

No computers, television, balancing your checkbook in bed, reading over those damn TPS reports…prioritize sleeping. If you have a television in your bedroom that you rarely turn on, don’t break your back hauling it down to the basement, but if you’re a chronic bedroom channel-flipper, consider getting it out of the room. Your bedroom should be a place your body associates with sleep.

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Don’t torture yourself

You didn’t drink any coffee, turned off the computer at 7 p.m., lugged the TV down to the basement, you put in ear plugs, and pulled the shades, but it’s 11 p.m. and you’re still tossing and turning. Don’t torture yourself by laying in bed frustrated. Get out of bed and do something that will relax you. Don’t go watch television, play video games, or anything else that will stimulate your brain into thinking it is time to wake up. Go sit in a comfortable chair and read a book for a little while. Sort through magazines you’re going to toss in the recycling bin. Do something low-stress and relatively boring for 20-30 minutes, and then lay back down again. You don’t want to get in the habit of thinking of bedtime as unpleasant and stressful.

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Your initial energy should be focused on making bedtime pleasant, preparing for bedtime well before the bedtime hour, and making sure to limit stimulating activities (exercise, coffee drinking, action movie watching) to earlier in the day. You need to start doing these things right now. Reading this at 5 p.m. after getting home from work? Put that cup of coffee down right now. Stop telling yourself you’re going to get around to finally getting a good night’s sleep and start getting one.

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Long term recovery: Charting a proper course

Good sleep isn’t accidental. It might seem counter-intuitive since sleep looks like the most passive sport around, but preparation is key. Once you’ve started with the basics outlined above, it’s time to get serious about the big picture of your sleep needs and measuring how effective these strategies are for ensuring you get enough sleep.

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Analyze your sleep needs

Do you know how much sleep you actually need? Could you tell someone with certainty that you’re happiest after seven hours of sleep? Do you wake up when the alarm goes off, or do you wake up before it and turn it off on your way out of bed? There’s only one good way to find out how much sleep you need, and that’s going to bed earlier than you think you need to. Creep your bedtime forward by 15 minutes every few days until you start waking up on your own in the morning. When you start waking up before your alarm clock consistently—for a minimum of one week, weekends included—you’ve found your optimum sleep window.

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Waking up shouldn’t be a jarring affair that involves you jabbing your finger on your phone alarm and growling. I’ve been waking up ahead of my alarm clock and let me tell you, it feels awesome to wake up on your own and not to the sound of a buzzer. “Beating” the alarm clock every day is like a little victory right out of bed.

Obey the routine

I can’t tell you what your perfect routine is. Maybe your routine is banning coffee after 3 p.m., dimming the lights around your apartment at 7 p.m., and reading in bed for 20 minutes at 9 p.m. before it’s lights out—or maybe it’s none of those things. What is important is that you find a routine that works for your schedule and stick to it. You might not be seven years old anymore but your adult body appreciates a routine bedtime just as much as it did when you were a kid. Whatever routine you decide on, stick with it long enough to see if it works, tweaking it gently with one thing at a time if it doesn’t.

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Anticipate lack of sleep

Sometimes lack of sleep is one hundred percent unavoidable—somebody in your family gets in an accident and you’re up all night at the hospital, or you get snowed in at the airport and you just can’t sleep well on a plastic bench—but most times we see an event coming that will cut into our sleep cycle. If you know you’re going to be up late, take a power nap in the afternoon. If you’re coming off a late night bender, make sure to adjust your bedtime the day after to get you into bed sooner. Short term sleep deprivation can be quickly remedied with adequate rest. Don’t let a wild weekend throw off your sleep schedule for the rest of the month before you recalibrate your sleep schedule.

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You don’t have to tell me how hard it is to get your sleep schedule back on track. After I got off third shift I wondered if I’d ever stop feeling like a zombie and start feeling like a normal person again. It’s hard to do and easy to screw up. Take the above advice to heart though and you’ll be sleeping deeply, waking refreshed, and wondering how you ever got by on caffeine and grit alone.

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This post was originally published in 2010 and updated on October 14, 2020 to meet Lifehacker style guidelines.

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Here’s why scientists think women are better suited to space travel

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Are women better astronauts than men? This question will become central to the selection of crews to the Moon, Mars, and beyond as we undertake the colonization of space.

In the struggle for gender equality, women have already proven they are capable of doing anything — including conquering space, showing that not even the sky is the limit for their success.

[Read: Meet Alyssa Carson, the 18-year-old training to become the first human on Mars]

“The first all-women spacewalk at the International Space Station was carried out in October of 2019 and many other milestones have already been accomplished by women astronauts. But there has yet to be a first woman on the moon (or on Mars),” Katharina Buchholz writes for Statista.

The first woman in space 

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Valentina Tereshkova seen in 1963 became the first woman in space. Image credit: RIA Novosti

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born in Russia, in 1937. At the age of 18, working at a textile factory, she designed parachutes to aid her love of skydiving.

In the early 1960’s, the Soviet and American space programs were each engaged in reaching milestones in space exploration, attempting to upstage their adversary. Striving to beat the United States in sending the first woman in space, Soviet officials selected Tereshkova to become the first woman in space.

Tereshkova was launched into space on June 16, 1963, aboard the spacecraft Vostok 6. After 3 days, Vostok 6 reentered the atmosphere, culminating in Tereshkova successfully parachuting to Earth after ejecting at 20,000 feet. (This was standard for cosmonauts at the time).

“After her historic space flight, Valentina Tereshkova received the Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union awards… In 1966, Tereshkova became a member of the Supreme Soviet, the USSR’s national parliament, and she served as the Soviet representative to numerous international women’s organizations and events. She never entered space again, and hers was the last space flight by a woman cosmonaut until the 1980s,” The History Channel reports.

Although women successfully trained as American astronauts in the 1960’s, It took 15 years for the U.S. to fully accept women in their astronaut corps. In 1978, NASA approved six women to become the first woman astronauts of the U.S. space program.

One of them was Sally Ride, a doctor in physics who became part of the STS-7 crew on April 30, 1982, serving as a mission specialist. She was also the first American woman astronaut to return to space a second time, in 1984.

“Ride again made history when she became the first American woman to fly to space a second time on October 5, 1984, on shuttle mission STS-41G, where she was part of a seven-member crew that spent eight days in space. Another woman, mission specialist Kathryn D. Sullivan, was also part of that crew, making it the first NASA space flight with two women aboard (Sullivan became the first American woman to walk in space during that mission),
The History Channel reports.

After that, more than 59 women including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and foreign nationals have flown in space, and several other women astronauts are now preparing to take their first flight beyond Earth.

Despite enormous progress, since Sally Ride took her first flight, over 80% of the astronauts are still men. The 2013 class of incoming astronauts were the first to reach a 50/50 division of women to men.

Advantages of flying women astronauts

There are some reasons suggesting that women astronauts may perform better than men in some respects, including:

  • Women are lighter: Sending too much weight to space requires fuel, costing a lot of money. Having more women on the crew could help reduce the cost of space travel.
  • Women eat fewer calories and use fewer resources: When you plan to send humans to Mars, it may be a good idea to have more women on the crew because they require 15 to 25% fewer energy calories than men. They also expend less energy despite possessing similar activity levels. Additionally, because women are (on average) smaller than men, they produce less waste (CO2 and body excretions), making it easier for the spacecraft systems to recycle it.
  • Space traveling affects men and women differently: Due to the effects of microgravity and radiation, space-traveling can have several implications on astronaut’s health. It seems that men are less affected by space motion sickness than women, but men are quicker to experience diminished hearing. Men also have a higher risk of vision problems, while women tend to have more urinary tract infections.
  • Women can give birth: One idea for the long-term colonization of space is to send an all-women crew to Mars or other colonies. This would reduce travel costs, as an all-women crew to reproduce over time through artificial means.

“More significantly, men tend to have problems with deteriorating vision, which women don’t experience as often or as severely. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly — who has spent a cumulative 520 days in space and has the eye problems to prove it — half-jokingly wrote in his autobiography that if scientists can’t figure out what’s causing those eye issues, ‘we just might have to send an all-women crew to Mars,’” Nadia Drake writes for National Geographic.

Women have already proven to be great astronauts. However, there have not yet been enough studies to conclude whether or not women should make up most — or all — of the first colonists to space.


This article was originally published on The Cosmic Companion by Dr. Ana Luiza Dias and James  Maynard. You can read this original piece here.

Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion is also available as a weekly podcast, carried on all major podcast providers. Tune in every Tuesday for updates on the latest astronomy news, and interviews with astronomers and other researchers working to uncover the nature of the Universe.

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Yale may have just turned institutional investing on its head with a new diversity edict

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It could be the long-awaited turning point in the world of venture capital and beyond. Yale, whose $32 billion endowment has long been led since 1985 by the legendary investor David Swensen, just let its 70 money managers across a variety of asset classes know that for the school, diversity has now moved front and center.

According to the WSJ, Swensen has told the firms that from here on out, they be measured annually on their progress in increasing the diversity of their investment staff, meaning their hiring, training, mentoring and retention of women and minorities.

Those that show little improvement may see the university pull its money, Swensen tells the outlet.

It’s hard to overstate the move’s apparent significance. Though the endowment saw atypically poor performance last year, Swensen, at 66, is the most highly regarded endowment manager in the world, growing Yale’s endowment from $1 billion when he joined as a 31-year-old former grad student of the school, to the second-largest school endowment in the country today after Harvard, which currently manages $40 billion.

Credited for developing the so-called Yale Model, which is short on public equities and long on commitments to venture shops, private equity funds, hedge funds, and international investments, Swensen has inspired legions of other endowment managers, many of whom worked with him previously, including the current endowment heads at Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania.

It isn’t a stretch to imagine that they will again follow Swensen’s lead, which could go a long way in changing the stubbornly intractable world of money management, which remains mostly white and mostly male across asset classes.

While the dearth of woman and minorities within the ranks of venture firms may not be news to readers, a 2019 study commissioned by the Knight Foundation and cited by the WSJ found that women- and minority-owned firms held less than 1% of assets managed by mutual funds, hedge funds, private-equity funds and real-estate funds in 2017, even though their performance was on a par with such firms.

Swensen tells that WSJ that he has long talked about diversity with the fund managers to which the endowment commits capital, but that he had he held of anything systematic owing to a belief, in part, that there were not enough diverse candidate entering into asset management for a mandate to make sense.

After the Black Lives Movement gained momentum this spring, he decided it was time to take the leap.

What about that perceived pipeline concern? Fund managers will have to figure it out if they. For his part, says the WSJ, Swensen suggested to the U.S. managers that they forget the standard resume and consider recruiting directly from college campuses.

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How Riot used tech from The Mandalorian to build Worlds’ astonishing mixed reality stage

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After a hard-fought win over Korean team Gen.G, all five members of Europe’s G2 Esports stood at the edge of a pool of clear, glistening water to take a bow and celebrate their victory. Two members then picked up their star teammate, Rasmus “Caps” Borregaard Winther, and held him over the water, as if to throw him overboard. It’s a good thing they didn’t — despite how real the water may have looked to viewers, it was nothing but pixels.

The annual League of Legends World Championship is currently underway in Shanghai, and like most major events, it has had to be re-envisioned in order to be possible in our new pandemic-dominated reality. Typically, the early stages of the tournament are something of a traveling road show, with different rounds taking place in different cities. In 2020, things had to change.

With travel restrictions in place, and fans no longer able to attend matches, the team at League developer Riot tried something different. They built out a set made up of massive LED screens in a technology setup similar to what Disney used to create The Mandalorian’s sci-fi landscapes. It has been used to startling effect. Matches have looked like they’ve taken place in a cloudy, cyberpunk Shanghai skyline or amid a flooded landscape. What could have been a drab competition in the absence of fans has turned into perhaps the most impressive Worlds in recent memory.

“There are any number of days where we come to the set and say ‘Wait, I don’t think this has ever been done before.’ You just kind of get used to it after a while,” says Michael Figge, creative director at Possible Productions, which partnered with Riot on the event.

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The feat is all the more impressive when you consider the compressed schedule. Typically, producers from Riot and Possible spend well over a year planning for Worlds, but that simply wasn’t possible this year. It wasn’t until May that the decision was made to utilize this tech in a studio without fans.

The setup is a powerhouse, and Riot says that the LED screens — there are more than 900 LED tiles in total — display visuals at 32K resolution and at 60 frames per second. Those visuals were made using a modified version of the Unreal Engine, and in total, the team is made up of 40 artists and technicians. Nick Troop, executive producer for Worlds 2020 at Riot, describes it as “a creative tool that gives us effectively infinite power to manifest whatever our collective imaginations bring to the fore.” And he says one of the most important elements of the whole setup is the way things are shot, powered by four specialized cross-reality cameras.

“Rather than having a single projected camera perspective, we actually have two running simultaneously, effectively all of the time,” he explains. This allows the broadcast team to work in a more traditional way; they can swap between the two simulated perspectives at will, using four cameras to shoot the action on set. “It means that the broadcast team can do what feels to them what feels like a ‘normal television show,’ but in this curated, and beautiful series of environments,” says Troop.

For viewers watching on Twitch or YouTube, the LED soundstage is transformed into a sprawling fantasy world, with AR technology used to make the images expand beyond just the screens. You still see players sitting at desks and playing, but their surroundings are quite elaborate. In a nod to the current state of League of Legends, where four elemental dragons are of pivotal importance in a game, each of the four preliminary rounds of Worlds was styled with a different element.

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Initially, there were lots of crumbling rocks and mountains to represent the earth dragon; this was followed by the cloudy Shanghai skyline for the air dragons; later, the set appeared to be flooded with water that stretched on forever. This weekend, during the two semi-finals games, things will shift to fire.

While this technology has been used before, most notably on The Mandalorian, this is the first time it’s been done live. “Pretty much every [cross-reality] expression that has been broadcast to this point has not been live,” explains Possible’s Figge, whose company has worked on everything from Super Bowl halftime shows to Justin Bieber concerts. “It’s been pre-shot, similar to a lot of AR stuff for awards shows in North America. It’s risky to do live. We’re doing up to 10 hours a day of live television on this stage. There’s no second chance at it.”

One of the challenges was balancing the desire to make things look cool without interfering with the players. Everyone onstage — teams, coaches, and support staff — has a somewhat different visual experience than viewers at home, since the AR elements only appear for viewers at home. This turned into something of an advantage for the broadcast team.

“When we do these games, it’s really important for the competitive integrity of the sport for the players not to be able to see the game on the Jumbotron or anything like that. It’s a really difficult design problem,” says Figge. “With this stage, everything that’s above a certain level of height on the stage is completely virtual. It’s augmented reality. So we have the game playing in the background and the players can’t see it.”

A comparison showing how the stage looks to players (left) and viewers (right).
Photo: Riot Games

That said, while players don’t get the full experience viewers do, it was still important that being onstage felt special. This is the World Championship, after all, something teams from across the globe have been striving for all year long. Without the roar of a crowd to hype up players, the spectacle of a vibrant fantasy backdrop is a solid second option. Those onstage can’t see the AR elements, but they can see the graphics on the screens around them. “It helps ground the player,” says Troop. “They can still have a sense of the [game] world reacting, in a way that I think helps with their Worlds experience. There is a certain mindset that comes from being on stage, and we wanted to preserve that.”

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In most years, the technical showcase of Worlds is reserved for the opening ceremonies at the finals. In the past, that’s included an AR K-pop concert and a holographic hip-hop performance. It’s still not clear what this year’s big show will look like (though it will likely involve K-pop again), but you could argue that the early rounds have already stolen the show thanks to this new technology. Each round even opened with its own mini ceremony, featuring choreographed dances set in the fantasy realm; performers jumped across crumbling stone bridges and twirled around with magical spells. Despite the circumstances, Riot turned what could have been a low-key edition of Worlds into a surprisingly memorable one.

“It’s been more educational than frustrating,” says Troop of the experience so far.

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