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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: League of Legends

Justin McElroy

Being a giant, beloved video game blog has its downsides. For example, we sometimes neglect to give independent developers our coverage love (or loverage, if you will) as we get caught up in AAA, AAAA or the rare quintuple-A titles. To remedy that, we're giving indies the chance to create their own loverage and sell you, the fans, on their studios and products. This week we talk with Riot Games co-founder and president Marc Merrill about how he and his team turned their passion for a Warcraft III mod into a full-fledged game.

How did your company get started?

The idea to create League of Legends and open Riot Games both started around the end of 2005. We had been playing DotA (Defense of the Ancients, a user-created mod of a popular Warcraft III map) and been very active in the community for a while and believed that the gameplay was so fun and innovative that it represented the spawning of a new genre and deserved to be its own professional game with significantly enhanced features.

Riot's CEO Brandon Beck and I co-founded Riot and partnered with some of the key creative minds behind the creation of DotA-Allstars – Steve "Guinsoo" Feak and Steve "Pendragon" Mescon to accomplish this mission – and League of Legends was born. It took almost a year to get Riot off the ground and open our initial office in September of 2006, which is really when we began to build the team to start on development.

Why did you want to make games?

Everyone at Riot has a passion for video games. And I can honestly say that every single person on our development team had dreamed about making video games since they were young. For me personally, it's a labor of love. One of our goals with Riot was to deliver extremely high quality games to users for FREE. This is easier said than done because it creates an extremely tall burden on us as developers. If our game wasn't extremely fun, no one would spend any money because everyone can try it and then move on if they don't like it. But we fundamentally believe that when you do create an extremely fun game and have only opt-in purchases, you can build a strong community that you can continue to serve with ongoing content, new features and things that the users really want to see. We also wanted to make a company that interacted with users in the way that we as players always wanted companies to interact with its fans – two-way, direct communication with transparency.

And have I mentioned yet that it's free?

Why be independent rather than try to work for someone else?

We had a vision of creating a game in an emerging genre that many publishers were not familiar with and with a revenue model that was even more alien. We also have a community engagement philosophy that is at odds with how many of the traditional publishers operate. Thus, it really wouldn't have been possible to execute on our vision unless we did it ourselves. We're thrilled to have the freedom to do what we believe is right for the user, because our entire philosophy revolves around that.

What's your game called, and what's it about?

League of Legends
, our debut title, takes elements of RTS and RPG games, combining them into a competitive multiplayer experience. Basically, two teams of players each choose one of more than 45 Champions to take into battle. Over the span of a 20-40 minute match, each player controls their Champion, upgrading their spells and abilities and equipping them to beat the other team's AI-controlled minions and destroy their base. It's the evolution of DotA.

While each match is a fast, intense team battle, over time you also build up a Summoner, which is your in-game persona tied to your individual account. Your Summoner can bring spells and enhancements into each battle to help your Champion, so you grow more powerful over time.

How long did it take you to create?

We began development of League of Legends in 2006 and the title officially launched in October of 2009, but we aren't done working on it. We are creating new content such as Champions and maps to keep content fresh and exciting as well as adding a host of new features centered on making the game more competitive. In the same vein as many companies update MMO's, we are constantly improving the game and reacting to what the users want to see.

What are you proudest of about your game?

We're extremely proud that we've been able to create such a high-quality, highly replayable game that's attracted such a large, vocal and loyal following. When we created the game we never imagined we'd be receiving the praise we've started to receive (multiple Readers' Choice awards from IGN and GameSpy, a nomination for the Game Developers Choice Awards, and more). We believe we created one of the best online gaming experiences around, and with more than a million players in League of Legends, our beliefs are being validated. The best part though, is that we feel like we're just getting started – there is so much more we want to do and so many things that our players want to see.

What one thing would you tell someone to convince them to get your game?

League of Legends
is a fast-paced, competitive game that has tons of ever-evolving content and experiences, so each time you log in you will feel like you are trying something exciting and new. It's like WoW PvP boiled down into the best and most fun elements. And have I mentioned yet that it's free?

What's next?

We've got some really exciting features launching in League of Legends in the next few months. We just launched Twisted Treeline, a new 3-v-3 map into matchmaking so you can expect new tournaments and types of game play. Season 1, the beginning of competitive League of Legends play, will kick off in the first half of the year and include some eagerly anticipated features like Draft Mode, Leaderboards, Ladders and Ranked Games.

If you'd like to get on board, you can sign up for free right here. More information about the company and game are available at the official pages for League of Legends and Riot Games. If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email justin aat joystiq dawt com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

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