League of Legends (LoL) is not only a game, but a place where people gather to be themselves. It's a place that enables people to enjoy what they do, and with whom they do it.
There has always been a stigma with video games: parents and society see kids who played video games as unproductive and anti-social.
But, LoL Origins explains that it is quite the opposite. Friends, relationships, and even businesses are made through video games. Normally, one is confined to making relationships with those geographically around them. But in LoL, you can make relationships with anyone in the world.
85% of people come to LoL through word-of-mouth, through a friend. LoL has over 100 million active players every month. That is over 1% of people on Earth. LoL Worlds draws in more money than the Stanley Cup Finals, the World Series, and the NBA Finals combined.
LoL was founded by Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill and Brandon "Ryze" Beck.
Merrill started playing games when he was 7 years old, noting that games felt like magic puzzles and that it was a huge passion of his.
Lession in follow your feelings and passion. Finding yourself and sticking through with it creates great things, just like it did for Merrill.
Beck also had a huge passion for games at a young age, fascinated with its limitless possibilities. Video games were an outlet for Beck to express himself.
Merrill and Beck met in a summer program in Los Angeles in their mid-teens. They both were passionate gamers, keeping connected even after the program, through video games.
Merrill was an Eagle Scout, the captain of the football team, had straight A's, and was a tabletop Dungeon and Dragons nerd. Beck was a business major and had a keen eye for spotting opportunities.
Their favorite game at the time was Defense of the Ancients (DotA). DotA was a custom-modded game for Warcraft 3. Blizzard created Warcraft 3 and shipped it with a map editor, which enabled game developers to create DotA.
DotA is considered a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA). A MOBA is an action real-time strategy game that enables a player to control a single character, as part of a team competing against another team of players.
Beck saw an opportunity here, in that many video game companies at the time didn't focus on the gamer. Beck and Merrill started asking themselves:
What does the gaming company of the future look like and how can we potentially build that? -Beck and Merrill
Beck and Merrill spend 9 months putting together a plan trying to talk themselves out of it. They wanted to unapologetically embrace the hard-core gamers, a niche at the time that they believed wasn't that small. There were a lot of pain-points that they can solve as a company that cared about that type of player experience.
Video games are an outlet of expressions for our generation. It allows us to open up to be ourselves, connect with others, and find inspiration. People needed this kind of player experience so Riot Games opened up to fill this gap.
Riot Games started operations in 2006 in West Los Angeles. Their headquarters was a tiny office, with a stained floor, having only one conference room with a leak in the ceiling. Investors would call it capital-efficient, aka shitty.
They had passionate, smart, and inexperienced interns. They had to learn everything from scratch and do it with a very young team - all while having to present a key milestone.
Merrill and Beck demoed the game, on the street of San Francisco, on a newsstand. The game demoed was terrible, cheesy, and clunky - it was awful. But, they managed to do more in 3 months and the fact they got out a demo was more than what other industry professionals did.
The amount of software they wanted to write was crazy. They built matchmaking, inventory, champ select - the gaming engine was a mess and barely ran. The founders (Merrill and Beck) and the employees never shipped a game before.
Champions were inspired by pop culture. They built mood boards of things that captured powerful archetypes from history, folktales, and fables.
LoL is a multiplayer 5v5 battle arena, where you control a character and play with 4 other teammates, against another team of 5 players. The goal of the game is to destroy their base before they destroy yours.
LoL can be compared to popular sports, such as basketball. In basketball, there is the basketball court - in LoL, there is Summoner's Rift, the map that players battle on. In basketball, you have player roles: point guards, centers, power forwards, shooting guard, and small forward. Similarly, LoL has player roles: top, bottom, middle, jungle, and support.
When you're building a community, you have to start with the individuals. On day one, Riot Games developed a personal relationship with the first people who gave their game a try. They love talking to the users, sitting down with them and getting their feedback live, all while trying to promote the niche game.
Riot Games went 3 years without making any money, spending investors' money. Then they didn't sell LoL, but make it available for free.
A lot of the free games at the time had a stigma: it was scammy, it was pay-to-win (P2W). The only other popular North American free-to-play (F2P) game at the time was Maplestory. Most popular games at the time were going towards the console, such as the Playstation and Xbox. LoL went against the herd, by going F2P.
There was a conversation in Riot Game's conference room, suggesting that players can buy Frost Annie (an LoL Champion), which would have higher damage and lower attack speed than Fire Annie. Beck notice Steve didn't give any feedback on the idea and asks him how he felt about it.
I don't like it, but I'm having a hard time saying why. It feels bad. -Steve
From that point on, Riot Games decided that they would not seel power. They didn't want the person with the most money to win the game. Instead, they provided other ways for players to spend money, by engaging them deeper with their product and content. Because the game was free, and because the players get so much value out of it, the players are more than happy to spend 5 dollars on a skin because they had thousands of hours of fun playing the game.
There was a time when the store in LoL didn't work (the store is where players go to purchase champions and skins). It was a time-pressured situation as many people were complaining about it in the chat channel. Riot Games' employees thought to themselves - "If we were a player, what would we want to happen?" As gamers, they decided to make everything free and fans were ecstatic about that. This is an important lesson to make decisions as if you were in the customers' shoes.
LoL was not an instant success. It was marginally bigger than the day before. And the next day was marginally bigger than the prior day. A lot of people thought Riot Games was dumpster fire, you log into the game - can't play, servers are down, the store is down again, the client is full of bugs. Every time something went wrong, they try to fix it immediately because they didn't want to lose momentum.
LoL in North America was stable, but were doing poorly in Europe. That is because Riot Games published LoL through a partner that had misaligned interests - servers would go down on Friday and wouldn't be up until Monday. The partner didn't operate in the same way as Riot Games: caring about the players.
On the forums, players complained:
Eu player here. League of Legends even being associated with GOA is SERIOUSLY hurting Riot's reputation, and I can't even fathom the financial loss this results in. I can only speak for myself and for the people I play with - spending money on a game that doesn't work just won't happen.
After months of bugs crashes and other problems the worst still is GOA ignoring people being fed up and getting more and more pissed off. How is it possible that GOA cannot handle this at all? How is it possible that it's somehow acceptable for them to ignore unhappy customers for days, weeks or months? Please explain.. -Demagnetize
From the player's perspective, it seemed Riot Games didn't care. The player doesn't care about the nuances between Riot Games and their partners and other stuff. The players want someone to be there. It helps to give the players updates every 15 minutes on the situation - that's how Riot Games showed they cared. Players are human beings deserved to be treated with respect.
For example, Riot Games wanted to have the servers up with no down-time since they would be unplugged from their partner's server. They had to fly in servers, but the weekend they were supposed to do so before the unplug, a volcano went off in Iceland, canceling all flights. Riot Games, caring about the player, didn't delay the servers but planned alternate flights from Africa to the Middle East circling all the way to get to Europe.
Riot Games figured out they were able to do a good job by themselves and that the player wanted a direct relationship with Riot. Riot Games established a forum as a way to have communication between players and also Riot. The forums were important because they enabled Riot Games to collect and act on players' feedbacks.
Riot Games quickly realized their community had a high level of interest around eSports. They set up Season 1 World Championships and 400,000 fans came - they weren't even expecting that much.
Riot Games challenged themselves asking "What does eSports look like for LoL and Riot". They had no roadmap and a small, inexperienced, but focused team. Players said that tournaments were unreliable, there was no consistency in the venue. Riot knew at the time they wanted to build out the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), where there was a consistent schedule of events.
Riot Games knew it was a big task, as fans said they were taking on too much, too quickly. So they wanted to end Season 2 strongly with a good championship. Unfortunately, a situation came up with the internet kept disconnecting the game - causing the best of 3 games to go on for 7 hours. View it live:
Riot Games had to send everyone home without deciding a winner that day, and clearly, all fans were impatient, exhausted, and disappointed. Beck knew the first step he had to do was to make an announcement to their fans, letting them know exactly what happened. Again, Beck puts himself in their shoes, asking "What would a player want Riot Games to do in this situation". Beck wanted to do something for them: he refunded their tickets, gave everyone 25 dollars in Riot Points, and gave all the merchandise in the store for free, and ordered pizza for everyone there. The fans were ecstatic and very happy, they even started chanting!
The Ryze (rise) of Riot Games proves that you don't have to have a team of industry professionals to make a small business successful. The most important ingredients are a team that is passionate and having your values aligned - in Riot Game's case it was caring about creating an exceptional player experience.
Riot Games followed their intuitions and feelings, along with acting on player's feedback to grow their fan base. They were not an overnight success, only growing marginally from the day before.
Many of the decisions Riot Games made turned out to be good because they put themselves in the gamer's shoes and ask themselves what they would want Riot Games in that situation.
How do you know if someone is passionate?
Why Being passionate is important?
How do you align with someone?
What does it mean to follow your intuition?
What does it mean to put yourself in another person's shoes?
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