It is now 11 years since Riot Games revolutionised the video gaming industry by unveiling League of Legends. The popular multiplayer online battle arena title has enjoyed remarkable longevity within the notoriously fickle gaming sector, and it continues to go from strength to strength with each passing year. These are the key reasons behind its uncanny ability to spend so long at the top:
LoL has long dazzled players with its ferocious pace, intensely strategic team play, variety of champions and rewarding progression systems. It pits two teams of five against one another on an intricate map, and players have to work together to destroy the enemy base. Each player controls a different champion, whose skills and abilities develop over the course of the match. The level of strategy required is thrilling, and players love working in tandem to overcome challenges and achieve a common goal. Each match generally results in a chaotic final few minutes, featuring brawls amid tattered bases and toppled Inhibitors. It is competitive, varied and supremely addictive. LoL is also easy to pick up, but it boasts a high skill ceiling, meaning you can always improve your skills, climb the ladder and strive to achieve a greater status within the flourishing LoL community.
A Free-To-Play Model
University of Southern California graduates Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill broke the mould for western video games when they launched LoL in 2009. They mimicked the commercial strategy that had started to gain traction in Asia, whereby the game is released on a free-to-play basis and the publisher makes money by charging for in-game extras. However, they were keen to ensure that players could not simply pay for a competitive advantage, so they only offered gamers the ability to personalise the experience through cosmetics, know as skins, along with some champions, icons and a few multi-game boosts. The business model proved extremely successful. Chinese conglomerate Tencent paid $400 million to acquire a 93% stake in LoL publisher Riot Games in 2011, and it has reaped the rewards of that investment. The game generated $1.6 billion in 2015, brought in $1.8 billion in 2016 and then peaked at $2.7 billion in 2017. It has since dipped slightly, to $1.4 billion in 2018 and $1.5 billion last year, but it is still an economic juggernaut. Only Fortnite generated more revenue in 2019, and it is a much younger game. The free-to-play model ensures that millions of new players can enjoy it without any barriers to entry, while Riot reinvests a portion of its profits in constantly improving the gameplay in order to keep fans excited.
Beck and Merrill deliberately set out to create a game that could enjoy unprecedented longevity. They were sick and tired of the traditional video game publishing cycle, which saw developers pour their heart and soul into a game and then quickly ditch it in order to start on the next project. They wanted to nurture a passionate community around LoL by providing constant updates. Crucially, they took player feedback on board from day one, treated the community with respect and tweaked the game accordingly. They have been bold in pushing the game in new directions, but they hold their hands up if they make a mistake and quickly rectify it. LoL is therefore a constantly evolving ecosystem, with a permanently shifting meta and a growing roster of champions. This helps keep players interested for many years. Several studios have since followed this format, but LoL benefited from being the first major game to do so.
First Mover Advantage
LoL was by no means the first MOBA. It took a great deal of inspiration from Defense of the Ancients (Dota), a mod for Warcraft III. A number of similar MOBAs flooded the market at that time, but they have fallen by the wayside, as they could not compete with LoL’s superior gameplay. The MOBA genre has now essentially boiled down to two key games: LoL and Dota 2. LoL was released four years before Dota 2, and it therefore has first mover advantage over its rival. Players that initially developed a love for LoL have been reluctant to switch to Dota 2, as it would mean turning their back on the skills they have honed for so long. Many of their friends play LoL, and they do not want to abandon the community. LoL is also more fun and colourful than Dota 2, and it is easier for beginners to pick up, which has helped it remain top dog within the MOBA genre.
A Thriving Esports Scene
LoL is now firmly established as the world’s most popular esport. It has four big leagues – in China, South Korea, Europe and the United States – and many minor leagues around the world, while international tournaments are huge events. The World Championship has been known to attract more viewers than the Super Bowl. It features big teams, with major sponsorship deals from several of the world’s largest companies. It is popular around the world, so there is always something for people to watch, at any time of day, 365 days a year, and even a pandemic cannot halt its upward march. You only have to take a look at the League of Legends betting options to see how frequently big matches take place. This phenomenon has yielded a number of superstar LoL players, from legends such as Faker and Uzi to new stars like JackeyLove and Rookie. Their exploits inspire gamers to follow in their footsteps, while generating a great deal of publicity and a huge social media buzz for LoL. There are other popular esports, including Dota 2 and CS:GO, but LoL is top dog within that flourishing sector, and that will not change any time soon.
Ambitious Expansion Plans
Riot spent a decade as a one-game studio, with a team of developers devoted to constantly improving LoL, which helps explain its success. However, it has now realised the need to branch out somewhat, and its new first-person shooter, Valorant, is showing plenty of promise. There are also ambitious plans afoot to use LoL as an umbrella brand and create several exciting offshoots. This year, Riot will launch a mobile version called LoL Wild Rift. It also has plans for a digital card game to rival Hearthstone, and it introduced a management sim called LoL Esports Manager. There are further plans to transcend the gaming sector and launch an animated TV series based upon LoL’s roster of popular champions. All this activity will reinvigorate LoL, and it would not be surprising to see revenue climb back above the $2 billion mark in the years ahead, while new generations of players should be inspired to give this grand old game a whirl.