League of Legends was created by Riot Games based on the famous Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients (DotA). The game was released in the year 2009, which gave Riot the first mover advantage in the battle against Valve. Dota 2 would be presented two years later, at The International 2011.
But there’s a lot more to Riot’s success. Over the years, the company made many excellent decisions that resulted in the mass adoption of LoL by gamers from around the globe. Today, it’s estimated that 120 million people play League of Legends. By contrast, only 8 million play Dota 2. So what made LoL such a huge success?
The Early Days of LoL
Back in 2009 – 2010, LoL was not an esport. Just a successful MOBA based on a previous game’s mod. But it was pretty good, even in its unpolished state. And the fact that DotA had a vast following helped a lot. Many people playing the Warcraft III mod regularly switched to LoL and became devoted to their new digital home.
The first LoL leagues were created around the year 2013. Many people tuned in to watch the action and bet on League of Legends matches. That was when the massive expansion of the game started to occur.
But even before this happened, Riot Games organized world championships. The first edition of Worlds took place in June 2011, just two months before the first edition of Dota 2’s world championship, known as The International.
Because of the popularity that Riot was gaining at the time, Valve was forced to do something desperate as a counter-move. And their decision was to offer the largest prize pool in gaming history. Until then, a $1.6 million esports event had been unthinkable. But Valve couldn’t let Riot steal the whole show.
More than ten years later, we know that Riot Games’ strategy was much better. The two games are very close to each other in terms of quality. But on the marketing side, Riot’s decisions proved to be effective.
In the early days, Riot did everything it could to bring people not just to their game but also to its tournaments. They gave away free skins and encouraged their growing community to get involved.
The skins offered back then are now considered ultra rare items and cannot be obtained anymore except by purchasing an existing LoL account that owns them.
Advertising the Game
One of the things that Valve failed to do and Riot entirely took advantage of was advertising. To this day, Riot continues to advertise its game in every way it can.
Meanwhile, Dota 2 maintains its player base primarily thanks to the fact that every gamer knows about Steam. And since Steam is owned by Valve, it’s hard not to find Dota 2 on it because it’s one of the most played free games on the platform.
Another thing that led to Riot’s success was their involvement in creating official leagues in places like China, South Korea, North America, Western Europe, and eight other essential regions. Riot didn’t just wait for local players to self-organize. Instead, they took control and persevered until everything was perfect.
Regional leagues that feature weekly matches for 6-8 months per year are a guaranteed way to attract attention. And the bigger the player base gets, the harder it is for new players to choose something else. So how could you pick Dota 2 or some other MOBA when all of your friends play LoL?
The brilliant move made by Riot was to then unify the regional leagues in a professional circuit. Their system is built around two tournaments: Mid-Season Invitational and Worlds.
MSI brings together the winners of the 12 leagues, while Worlds does the same but offers more teams the chance to compete. One great thing about the LoL World Championship is the duration and the number of locations.
Instead of having a compact event in just one location, Riot prefers to use the occasion for advertising the game to multiple audiences from very diverse cities. So, for example, the Semifinals of Worlds might be held in Paris while the Finals will be held in Berlin. This guarantees that a lot of new people will hear about the game at every edition of the tournament.
Investing in the Product
There’s a massive difference between the first version of League of Legends and the current one. The game has evolved not just visually but in every single department. As a result, someone who picks up LoL today will enjoy the game a lot more than someone who picked it up in 2009.
New champions are constantly added to the pool, the game’s mechanics are frequently polished, and there’s a genuine desire to make everything as balanced as possible. A new patch gets released every several weeks. The developers and the community communicate and strive to improve the product in every way possible.
Investing in the Art related to the Product
One of the things that people love about LoL is the art. Riot learned much from companies like Bethesda, Blizzard, and Games Workshop. The company understands that excellent cinematics and beautiful music play a huge role in advertising. So they brought in highly talented people to take care of them.
Riot’s music is some of the best not only in the gaming industry but in the music industry as well. Some of their songs have hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, and people often joke that Riot’s just as much a music company as a gaming company.
Every year, the significant leagues and tournaments are accompanied by new music and new cinematics. This means that a player who wants to recommend the game to a friend can send them one of the brilliant songs and then show them how everything works.
Games like League of Legends refuse to die because they genuinely are legendary. The LoL saying (and song) that legends never die genuinely applies here.