Source: Riot Games
Ten Octobers ago, Riot Games, a small independent developer at the time, released a beta of a new multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) called League of Legends. At the time, the title was a spiritual successor to Defense of the Ancients (Dota), a MOBA based on a modification of Blizzard’s massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Warcraft 3. Over the course of the last decade, League of Legends has evolved into a global gaming and esports phenomenon, with Riot Games stating that the game has upwards of 100 million monthly active users, with the same number of individuals having watched the 2018 Worlds Championship series between Fnatic and Invictus Gaming – as many unique viewers as the Super Bowl. Despite these successes, one of the longest running jokes amongst the developer’s fan base was that, despite calling itself Riot Games, the company had only ever produced one game – its signature League of Legends MOBA title. While that changed slightly earlier in the year with the release of Teamfight Tactics, an autochess game that leveraged the vast intellectual property (IP) established in League of Legends, the game mode was available on the same client as League of Legends, and this may have mitigated it feeling like a truly unique experience.
Enter Riot Games’ 10 Year Anniversary Riot Pls event in mid-October. “Riot Pls” has always been a way for Riot to let the League of Legends community know what the company was up to with respect to new game features and enhancements for its signature MOBA title, and while many fans of the game went into the ten year anniversary stream expecting a bit more than the standard updates, it’s hard to imagine that anyone outside of Riot Games’ employees expected the deluge of news that came from the roughly 45 minute live-stream. All in all, Riot Games not only announced new developments to its signature MOBA, but also teased alpha versions of a new first-person shooter (FPS) with a tactical focus and footage of a previously disclosed, new fighting game – both of which are set in the same Runeterra universe as the MOBA. The company went on to announce a mobile and console-friendly version of League of Legends, known as League of Legends: Wild Rift, that will preserve the competitive nature of the PC MOBA title by acting as a standalone game, as well as a much anticipated mobile version of its autochess offering, Teamfight Tactics. Riot also announced what is believed to be a previously in-development card game, Legends of Runeterra and teased a new, pre-alpha role-playing game (RPG) that some believe could be massive multiplayer online (MMO) in scope. Lastly, the Company announced an animated series that investigates the origin stories of some of League’s most beloved champions, as well as a League of Legends Esports Manager offering.
CS:GO’s Spiritual Successor?
Riot’s tactical FPS, codenamed Project A, is still in early stages of development, but its clear from the “Riot Pls” that this title is aiming to be more like Valve’s Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) or Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Siege (RB6: Siege) than Blizzard’s Overwatch or Activision’s Call of Duty. While the characters in Project A are expected to have skills meant to augment their play, these skills are being designed as a way to set-up gun kills – rather than a means of executing an enemy outright. A high focus on precision gun play, latency issues, and anti-cheating mechanisms certainly leads one to believe that Riot has lofty esport ambitions for this particular offering.
The Future of Fighting Game Esports?
Project L is the Company’s previously disclosed, but still relatively unknown, fighting game title. Development on the game likely began shortly after Riot Game’s acquisition of Radiant Entertainment in early 2016. Initial footage seems to point to a “one vs one” style of play that will leverage League of Legends robust champion stable. While different fighting games have different styles of play, it remains to be seen what differentiation Project L will bring to the table. It will be particularly interesting to see if, and how, Riot Games will handle any potential esport aspirations for Project L. While there is certainly a healthy esport fighting game scene, spearheaded by the Evolution Championship Series (EVO), fighting games as an esport have historically been significantly less lucrative and have smaller (but as devout) fanbases as other genres of games.
Enter the Mobile Arena
Given the enormous global market for mobile gaming, Riot’s decision to develop a mobile-friendly version of its core MOBA title seems like an obvious choice – and that’s exactly what League of Legends: Wild Rift represents. While translating a mechanics intensive game genre from a PC to mobile devices can be technically complex (and potentially alienating), initial footage of Wild Rift point to Riot maintaining the “soul” of League of Legends while offering the quality of life benefits associated with portability. Undoubtedly aided by the significant mobile game development experience of Tencent (Riot Games’ parent organization), the previously leaked and long awaited mobile/console iteration of League looks highly polished and will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the title in regions of the world such as China, where smartphones are the most common gaming platforms. The company’s decision to offer Teamfight Tactics on mobile devices also seems like a no-brainer, given the game’s more measure and less input-intense gameplay.
Hearthstone for the League of Legends Universe
Legends of Runeterra is Riot Games take on the digital card game genre popularized by Blizzard’s Hearthstone and Wizard’s of the Coasts Magic the Gathering: Arena offerings. The game is designed for play on both PCs and mobile devices and will leverage the lore and IP associated with League of Legends. In an already highly crowded space with limited room for differentiation, Legends of Runeterra’s association with League of Legends may help it stand out, however, as evidenced by Valve’s Artifact (a card game based on Dota 2), provenance alone is not enough to create a successful card game offering. In an effort to avoid the pitfalls associated with Artifact, and to some extent all card games, Legends of Runeterra seeks to reward players for sustained play, as opposed to focusing on the “pay-to-win” mechanic that is prevalent throughout the genre.
League of Warcraft?
Riot teased another game in development, Project F, a pre-alpha title described as a “project that explores the possibilities of traversing the world of Runeterra with your friends”, leading many to believe that it could be a long desired MMORPG – although scant details have been offered as of yet. In the event Project F is an MMORPG, it would continue Riot Games blitz of Blizzard, targeting one of the most recognizable franchises in all of gaming, World of Warcraft.
Lastly, the company unveiled a new strategic manager offering, League of Legends Esports Manager. Similar to football manager simulations, and somewhat reminiscent of fantasy sports, League of Legends Esports Manager will put participants in the role of general manager of a team, responsible for signing and managing talent, sponsorships, and other facets of an esport team.
Source: Riot Games
Not complacent in announcing a suite of new and expanding gaming titles, Riot Games also dropped a new documentary on Netflix that looks back on League of Legends rise from indie game to a global gaming and esport phenomenon. Furthermore, the company teased a new computer animated series, Arcane, which will serve as an origin story for some of Leagues most beloved champions, such as Jinx. Riot has already gone on record stating that it is committed to developing an expansive universe for its animated series, stating that Arcane will not be a single season endeavor.
Without a doubt, Riot’s 10 Year Anniversary Riot Pls will go down as one of the most exciting game developer announcements of recent times, with an unprecedent slate of announcements that will make larger developers take note of the historically single-title focused organization’s ambitions. 2020 is certainly shaping up to be a banner year for the company, with significant changes to League of Legends, as well as the release of mobile Teamfight Tactics, League of Legends: Wild Rift, Legends of Runterra (both mobile and PC), and League of Legends Esports Manager. And while many of Riot Games’ most exciting announcements are a ways away from becoming polished products, the company has undoubtedly laid the groundwork needed for it to earn the “s” at the end of its name.
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