So, we have talked about the history of Dota, Counter-Strike, PUBG and Dragon Ball FighterZ – now is the time to talk about the arguably biggest esports in the world (at least by viewership): League of Legends. In this series, we’re taking a look at some of the biggest esports in the world. Games that have changed the concept of sports forever. Games that have solidified esports in the annals of history. We will take a look down memory lane – from the birth of the games to how they look today.
The dawn of a new MOBA
The story behind League of Legends transition from a spin-off to a behemoth that is played by millions of people across the globe is fascinating. If someone were to make a movie about it, it would be a Cinderella story rivaled by almost none. But how was it even possible? What made League of Legends stand out amongst the myriad of similar games? What was the reason for the game's unparalleled rise to fame? Well, we’re glad you asked. Here’s the story of League of Legends.
League of Legends wasn’t the original Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, MOBA, or even the game that drove the genre forwards in the beginnings. However, it was a driving force which enabled distribution through fame and hype to keep the flame burning, and helped esports grow for that matter, across the world. The game seemed to take a hold on people, and keep that hold for a long time.
For those of you who don’t know the concept of the MOBA games – here’s a quick summary. For those of you who know it by heart - skip to the next chapter. Generally, you play in an isometric battle arena, from a helicopter perspective, in which there are three lanes (the primary battle locations) with a jungle between them (a forested area filled with static NPCs). In the most common game mode there are two teams consisting of up to 5 players each. Each team has a base (the primary building) and several defensive structures known as towers. The primary objective of the game is to destroy the opponent's main structure in the heart of the base.
Before the game begins, you need to choose one champion to play (there are currently 132 in League of Legends) who has unique abilities. Depending on which role you play, and what tactics your team chooses to go with, your character should be chosen with care. Typically, three of the five roles are the lane roles: top lane, mid lane and bottom lane, then there’s the jungler role – a roamer who stalks the uncharted territories between the lanes, always ready to help a teammate - and a support role who helps where he/she is best needed. This is the basics of the game.
An epic partnership
Anyways, back to the story. The idea of League of Legends emerged when the original developer of the Warcraft 3 mod Defence of the Ancients, or DOTA more commonly known by, Steve ‘Guinsoo’ Feak and the mods administrator of support base Steve ‘Pendragon’ Mescon met with the newly founded video game company Riot Games in 2005. Feak and Mescon wanted to create a stand-alone MOBA game, not dependent on the ageing Warcraft 3 engine. Feak and Mescon wanted to create something without restraint, and Riot Games have had their eyes on the successful pair for a while - themselves being fans of the popular DOTA mod.
However, it took Feak and Mescon, together with Riot Games developers, four years to materialize their idea. League of Legends was announced in 2008, much to the joy of MOBA fans growing tired of the ageing and limited DOTA mod. The fans who had followed Feak in the dawning years of DOTA helped drive the hype around the game so, when the beta came out in April 2009, it was an immediate success. The fans finally had a new and shiny toy to play with. Riot Games had made a lot of effort into balancing the game so, back then, League of Legends only had 17 Champions (playable characters) to choose from.
The full game finally came out in October 2009, now with 40 playable Champions. League of Legends was immediately praised for its exciting character designs, accessibility and innovative take on an already proven genre. Being a Free-To-Play game helped League of Legends to establish itself as more people could try it out – and, according to history, fall in love with it. And the accessibility made it fun for hardcore MOBA professionals and amateurs alike. As with the best games: it’s easy to learn but hard to master.
League of Legends becomes household
But how was Riot Games able to stay afloat and make a profit of the game if it was free? Like many other modern games (DOTA 2, Fortnite, Hearthstone to name a few) Riot Games main revenue is coming from in-game purchases and microtransactions, mainly of skins (cosmetics for the characters). As you progress in the game, or reaching a higher level of expertise, you might want to stand out amongst the rest. You might also just like the look of the cosmetics.
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After the release, League of Legends quickly became one of the most popular games in the world. It was played in Asia, Europe, NA, SA - everywhere. Competitions were held and leagues started to form - enabling professionals to solely focus on being the best of the best. According to Riot Games, League of Legends had 15 million players by 2011, a little bit more than a year after its release. Ten new games were started every second. Just think about it. 10 new games EVERY 1 second?! That is wild. It also shows you the incredible range and potential of the world of gaming.
The first ever international tournament was held at DreamHack, known as Season 1 World Championship, in 2011. It would be a continuously held tournament which, to this day, serves as the most premier League of Legends competition in the world. Last year it recorded a total viewership of 100 million people, averaging 21,8 million viewers a minute and a peak concurrent viewership of 44 million. Yeah, that's 44 million people watching a game at the same exact time. With the exception of the World Championship, or Worlds, League of Legends has several other major international tournaments annually: the Mid-Season Invitational and the All-Stars, to name a few. There's also several regional competitions, tournaments and leagues: the biggest and most well-known being LEC, LCS, LCK and LPL - the premier leagues of Europe, North America, South Korea and China. The meta usually differs region to region, so when international competitions takes place, we're often spoiled with amazing mash-ups of gameplay.
Always played, always relevant
But, perhaps the biggest achievement that Riot Games’ ever done with League of Legends is that, even eleven years after its release, people are still playing it - and new players are joining, and bigger competitions are being held. League of Legends is as relevant in the gaming world as it ever was. One proven and very successful way of doing that is the constant updates and changes made to the game. Almost every two weeks, Riot Games releases a new balancing patch which nerfs or buffs the Champions, adds or removes items, game mechanics, systems or something else. Also, every now and then, Riot Games updates the visuals - just to keep everything fresh. They even present new Champions quite regularly - to constantly make it interesting and change the most current meta. Riot Games sure knows what to do in an ever-changing gaming world.
So, we've seen why League of Legends was created, how it was developed, as an esports and how it keeps its relevance in this crazy world of ours - but what’s next for the MOBA behemoth? Frankly, at this point, who knows what Riot Games’ got in store for us in the future. League of Legends has been branched out and expanded into new territories before: Digital card games, comic books, merchandise, music videos and the most recent venture: an animated series on Netflix. So again, who knows what will happen with the franchise. Riot Games' ability to constantly be relevant, ever-changing and most importantly, keeping the players, fans and viewers content, will see League of Legends celebrate a second decade of unbelievable success. And you know what? I don’t have a doubt in my mind that we will watch Worlds 2030 with the same enthusiasm, joy and appetite as Worlds 2020.