League of Legends is the most popular video game in the world. It’s became so because Riot Games focused entirely on developing the game and the competitive scene, placing little focus on all other monetization possibilities. That single-minded focus has proven wise as the game has continued to grow in popularity, with the eSports scene drawing increasingly substantial mainstream coverage while growth of the player base remains robust thanks to developing markets. As a game, League of Legends has achieved more than anybody would have thought possible. But as a pop culture phenomena, League of Legends should only just beginning. Thanks to the astonishing success of League of Legends, Riot Games has the potential to become a Mass Media Corporation, with properties spanning television, film, and literature. Not to mention the massive merchandising opportunities available to them at any time. There’s a reason they continue to make increasingly awful Transformers movies. The films make a billion a piece, and the merchandise from those films double the take. These are massive growth opportunities that, considering the existing international fan base, are almost guaranteed successes if executed properly.
One of the most popular pieces of content Riot releases each season is their yearly cinematic. The past two releases have scored a combined 46 million views on youtube. These cinematics essentially function as trailers for League of Legends, and their popularity shows just how much potential a League of Legends film has. As a point of reference, the trailer for Frozen has 24 million views and Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time. Not that I’m saying a League of Legends film is going to gross $1.2 Billion dollars at the world-wide box office, but there are plenty of reasons to think one would be highly profitable. A films domestic performance ceased being the only metric of success about half a decade ago. Most blockbuster films now make two-thirds of their money in the international market place. China is now the 2nd largest film market in the world, and its growth has been even more impressive than that of League of Legends. The latest Transformers film made over $300 million in China, more than it earned in any other country including the United States. Incidentally, China is also League of Legends largest region. When considering the potential of a League of Legends feature film it’s important to take into consideration the game’s international appeal. Now, I have no doubt that a League of Legends film would gross $100 million at minimum in the US, which is a traditional bar of success for most Domestic films. The international gross would likely push $300-$400 million. If paired with the right film company as a distributor, the right animation studio, and a plot that doesn’t require viewers to know intricate game details, its easy to see how a League of Legends film could perform far beyond those expectations.
The biggest impediment would likely be cost. Riot Games is an extremely succesful company, but they are in the middle of an aggressive expansion, building themselves a brand new headquarters and trying to get a new region established in Japan. The cost of a major studio animated film starts at $100 million, and usually appraoches $150 million. It’s very likely that Riot just doesn’t have that kind of money. Instead, the best situation would be a partnership with one of the major films studios similar to those between Legendary Pictures and Universal. Riot provides the property while the studio helps fund the production. It doesn’t take a genius to realize the potential benefits for both parties. A League of Legends film would function as a massive advertisement for the game, providing exposure to a mainstream audiance and drawing in gamers outside League of Legends primary demographic. The general rule of thumb for a film is that it needs to make twice its budget to be profitable. As a League of Legends film would be all but assured $300 million worldwide, assuming they don’t bungle it on the level of the live action adaptation of Avatar: the Last Airbender, the film would be undoubtedly profitable. Why am I so confident that a League of Legends film would be successful? The last two Resident Evil film adaptations have each grossed over $240 million, and all five that have been released topped $100 million. As video games go, Resident Evil isn’t nearly as popular as League of Legends, nor does it have the potential mainstream clout of League. There are far fewer animated films released each year than live action films, and those that do get released typically perform well even if they are not well made. While a League of Legends movie would not be your typical affair thanks to the violence, the success of other video game adaptations shows the potential is there.
The upcoming Japanese server presents a unique opportunity for Riot to introduce League of Legends to a new market. Anime would be the perfect starting point for Riot as they look to branch out from being just a game developer. The Japanese game market is difficult. Handhelds are king. Consoles struggle to perform. But computer gaming is a force, and League of Legends appears to be ideally placed for success there. An Anime would be a great way to introduce League of Legends to the uninitiated. All Riot would have to do is license the game to one of the major animation studios in order to ensure a prime time slot, and a significant viewer base. A 12 episode run would be sufficient, possibly in the Winter Season where the competition is less fierce. Merchandise tie-ins with figurines and plushies would likely prove extremely lucrative as well. Considering Riot’s international popularity, the smart thing to do would be to release an english language version simultaneously to ensure maximum exposure and popularity. Riot has already employed voice actor’s for every Champion, so while coordinated all those people might be difficult, the foundation is already in place for Riot to make it happen.
League of Legends Lore has been disregarded for a long time as Riot focused on balancing the game, upgrading their infrastructure and global expansion. For many fans, the Lore was the reason they got into League of Legends. Lore gave each Champion a personality and a purpose, providing meaning to their abilities and interactions with other Champions, and Lore is what’s always separated League of Legends from other MOBAs. Novels based on other forms of media are not new. Most films these days have a novel adaptation, and so do many video games. But the closest comparison to a League of Legends novel would be the Magic: The Gathering novels that are released with each new set. Like a potential League of Legends novel, the MTG novels utilize a preestablished lore to craft new stories for the characters. Indeed, MTG’s expansive lore and how they utilize it in the card game and novels is the perfect road map for Riot Games to follow. All the worlds are interconnected, and major characters weave in and out of the stories, often appearing on just the periphery of the action. Similarly, League of Legends has a substantial number of characters with well known histories and prior interactions with each other and a fleshed out world around them. Indeed, part of what makes the Lore so interesting is that Riot has not only created a Lore for each Champion, but they’ve tied those Lores together to world build. Runeterra is a fully fleshed out world filled with a variety of city-states, tribes and villages with unique cultures (ninjas, pirates, warrior states, indigenous tribes etc) vying for their place in the world. If Riot really wants to give fans of Lore what they desire, a series of novels would be the pinnacle of what the Lore has always striven to be.
To the outside overser, it’s always seemed like Riot Games charted their course from the very beginning, with each subsequent move long planned with guaranteed success. Their decision to focus entirely on a single game, and only the game has proven wise, as has their methodical yet aggressive expansion over the past 3 years. Riot isn’t going to pursue any of the above opportunities until they believe they are ready. League of Legends was created out of Beck and Merrill’s frustration with game developers creating a game and then abandoning the player base to build the next one. Riot Games will always place a heavy focus on the constant development and improvment of League of Legends, and it would be easy to say that they just aren’t ready to expand beyond those goals yet. Perhaps the safe thing would be to wait for the completion of their new headquarters, wait for all the new updates to the game to hit the rift, and wait for the the completion of the Japanese Region. But while Riot has always done the smart thing, that’s rarely been the safe thing. As a company that constantly strives to go where no video game developer has gone before, the path to the future is clear.