League of Legends is celebrating its 10th birthday this year and it continues to display remarkable longevity within the habitually fickle world of gaming. Its continued success owes much to its leading position within the burgeoning world of esports, while Riot Games has managed to nurture a large and loyal community of gamers over the past decade.
The business model works well, Riot is an economic juggernaut and the pro scene is going from strength to strength. But is there much potential for future growth, or will LoL embark upon a downward trajectory as new rivals emerge?
League of Legends’ Strengths
LoL broke the mould when it stormed to prominence in 2009. Developers Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill were frustrated by the speed with which gaming companies flitted from title to title in pursuit of a quick buck. They felt passionate communities of fans were being ignored and left behind, so they set out to create a game that could thrive for years to come via continual updates.
The strategy paid dividends. Riot has taken feedback on board and made ongoing tweaks to improve the gaming experience, and LoL is still going strong 10 years on. The gameplay is far slicker now than it was in 2009, but the game is essentially the same. It feels vibrant, dynamic and alive, as players are always looking forward to new patches and working towards unlocking new runes or champions.
It is free to play, so it is hard to imagine the audience dwindling to any major extent. Riot also makes a lot of money through selling microtransactions, so it can be considered an economic success.
The professional scene is extremely healthy. More than 200 million fans streamed the LoL World Championship final last year, in which Chinese team Invictus beat European counterparts Fnatic 3-0. That saw it eclipse the Super Bowl in viewership numbers, and no other esport can come close to matching LoL’s popularity.
Riot recently signed MasterCard as a major sponsor of the LoL scene, while all manner of big brands are pumping serious amounts of cash into it. A look at Unikrn’s League of Legends odds shows just how big wagering on the game is, and that helps maintain interest among millions of fans. There is a great deal of attention focused on the four top global leagues, and international tournaments like the MSI and Worlds are huge events. There are a number of big teams spread across the world, with a growing base of professional players that act as brilliant ambassadors for LoL.
The ranking ladder keeps professional and casual players interested and gives everyone something to work towards. LoL is a fun game with a high skill ceiling, and fans love watching the top players like Faker, Uzi and Rookie battling for glory on the big stage, as it is supremely entertaining and they can also learn something.
The Challenges Facing League of Legends
In 2017, Riot Games made $2.1 billion in revenue, but that dropped to $1.4 billion last year. A 33% decrease is somewhat alarming. Riot is a one-game studio, with 2,500 staff solely dedicated to LoL, and they will need to work hard in order to improve its commercial performance and safeguard its future health.
One challenge is that the veteran players have already bought everything they want from Riot. The firm either needs to be creative in selling new extras that appeal to the LoL veterans, or recruit new players to buy the staple skins, or ideally both.
It has a large and talented team, so it should be able to devise new extras that appeal to fans, while there is still a lot of untapped potential around the world for it to explore.
Its fan base is concentrated in Korea, China, North America and Europe, but there should be plenty of scope to recruit new players in Africa, Latin America and other parts of Asia.
Another challenge is winning over new generations of players, while keeping the existing player base happy. It would help if Riot could communicate a clearer and more consistent meta, and it perhaps needs to improve its tutorials. The High Elo bracket is important, but it cannot ignore the masses of casual gamers either.
Riot also needs to strike the right balance between making money and respecting its players, so it cannot bombard them with dull extras, rather it needs to come up with genuinely innovative concepts that excite fans. It could also bolster its commercial performance by improving its merchandising efforts, as it arguably lags behind on this front.
Members of the community have various gripes. A quick look at a recent forum post shows someone complaining about Zed being too strong, another lamented the removal of the revive function, one player ranting about the mechanics being overpowered, a few gamers expressing frustration about the state of the honour system and some arguing that recent changes have not worked. But these issues can be overcome in future updates if Riot continues listening to the players.
The player base is now very large and players have a diverse range of goals. Diversity can breed toxicity, and sniping from within the community can upset people. Yet that is a challenge every game has to face. Other communities are far more toxic than LoL’s, and it should not be enough to kill off the game.
There are various obstacles for Riot to overcome, but it does retain a large, loyal player base, and it has a pretty good track record of taking feedback on board and making necessary improvements.
The MOBA genre is shrinking after Blizzard pulled support for the Heroes of the Storm esports scene and moved developers elsewhere. Heroes of Newerth is also in its death throes, leaving only LoL and Dota 2 left standing. Dota 2 will always have a passionate community of its own, but LoL is far more popular.
It is brighter, easier to access and a lot more fun for newcomers to play. Dota 2 fans enjoy the added complexity of Valve’s flagship title, but LoL has many more players and its esports scene attracts a lot more viewers. It was also released four years earlier than Dota 2, so it has first mover advantage and some of the older players cannot be bothered to start again with a new title.
Outside the MOBA scene, there is increasing competition coming from the emerging battle royale genre. The likes of Fortnite, Apex Legends and PUBG have done well, but it is far too early to say whether they can come close to matching LoL’s longevity.
There is room for MOBAs, first-person shooters, battle royale games and many more to all thrive at the same time. Gaming is only growing in popularity, and a competitive, vibrant scene benefits everyone. It is also worth noting that MOBA games work far better as spectator sports than battle royale games, which can be extremely difficult to follow.
League of Legends’ Future Prospects
LoL should be able to enjoy a long and healthy future. It faces a number of challenges, but they are by no means insurmountable. It has carved out a dominant position within esports, which is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.
If Riot can continue to foster a flourishing professional scene while paying the requisite respect to the masses of casual gamers that love playing LoL then it should have at least another decade at the top, if not more.
It is constantly updated to take advantage of technological improvements, so it has every chance of appealing to new generations of gamers. It also has a wealth of untapped markets across the globe to target, while it provides gamers with a unique, exciting experience, so it is in no danger of dying out any time soon.