Riot just put the entire gaming industry on notice

Riot is on its way to creating a whole League ecosystem.

Image via Riot Games

Riot Games’ 10th anniversary celebration was one of the most epic events we’ve seen in gaming. The company, which has been endlessly memed for only having produced one game, didn’t just reveal a second title during the event. A whopping four different games, all in separate categories, were revealed or teased, and that doesn’t even count games like Wild Rift that are takes on existing game modes but brought to new platforms.

It was the type of broad-reaching reveal that’s typically reserved for things like E3, where multiple game developers get together for a huge show. But this was just one night for one developer. You could argue that it was even bigger than BlizzCon, Blizzard’s annual convention in Anaheim.

With sights set so high, it’s clear that Riot isn’t taking aim at any one competing developer. After focusing on just one game for so long, it’s clear that Riot has its sights on revolutionizing the whole video game industry.

The sheer breadth of it all

Image via Riot Games

It’s hard to understate how ambitious Riot’s moves are. In the next few years, Riot is hoping to ship a collectible card game, a first-person shooter, a side-scrolling fighting game, and a mysterious RPG. This type of ambition simply isn’t typical, even among the biggest game developers.

Take Blizzard, for example. Years before the company became part of Activision and started developing more AAA titles, it was known for two things: real-time strategy and RPGs. Think about how hard it was for Blizzard to break out of that mold: In one of the greatest epic fails in game development, the company started development of a shooter called StarCraft: Ghost. It even released some early-stage footage that drove the StarCraft fan base into a frenzy. But after years of development, the company failed to produce anything, letting the project idle before officially killing it in 2014, more than a decade after its announcement.

Riot is taking a cautious path with some of these releases. The card game, Legends of Runeterra, is the easiest lift and it’ll come first. The shooter looks like it’s next on the docket and there’s precedent for what Riot is creating in that space. The fighting game is less defined, though Riot did acquire significant technical know-how in this department. And the RPG was barely touched on at all during the event, with only a brief snippet of action and some vague language on what it’s supposed to be.

The lead time will likely be years before some of this stuff makes it out of the pipeline. But it’s still impressive that the studio is doing so much at the same time. And that’s even before we consider the wrench that must have been thrown into the process when Riot dove headfirst into the nascent autobattler genre earlier this year, launching Teamfight Tactics—technically a game mode, not a game—in just a few months of development.

By announcing a lineup so varied, Riot is saying that it can do game development better than single competitors like Activision Blizzard and that it can take on a whole industry at once. It’s trying to grow from an indie company into a behemoth in a matter of years, which is an extraordinary task by itself. The good news? The foundation has already been set over the last 10 years of its history.

League at its core

Image via Riot Games

It’s notable that of all the new games and modes, only one—the first-person shooter—is entirely non-League related. Riot is taking a huge gamble by betting on its own ecosystem to create crossover fans and entice new players.

Player acquisition has become a problem for the studio as League ages. But over the last few years, the company has made significant strides into strengthening the bonds of the core champions, lore, and assets within the game. Now, it’s hoping that work will pay off as players who try the new titles find a universe and community that’s developed and flourishing.

The only other company that’s tried this to a significant degree is Blizzard with its Warcraft property. Warcraft lives on as an RTS and in World of Warcraft, the only really successful MMO ever created. Its influence can also be felt in the design aesthetic of games like Hearthstone (and we also have to acknowledge that Heroes of the Storm still exists).

Riot’s looking to one-up Blizzard with an even greater focus on League in its new titles. This will be a challenge—in many cases, League’s lore was hastily put together as new champions were thrown in with old ones into a shared universe. That’s led to a fairly active retroactive continuity component to the development of League stories over time to ensure that everything fits. But it’s one that Riot hasn’t fully solved yet.

It also remains to be seen just how convincing the League universe is to players who haven’t lived within it for the last 10 years. For example, one of the key features of LoR is the ability to combine two factions within League’s lore to fight together. But to those who aren’t aware of the significance of those factions, or just don’t care altogether, that doesn’t seem like a significant reason to start playing the game.

Putting League at the forefront of all of this development is a risk with tremendous upside and downside. The good news is that Riot isn’t running this alone.

Partnerships to take over the world

Image via Riot Games

Before the craziness that erupted during the 10th anniversary event, one of the biggest announcements of the last year was Riot’s partnership with Marvel Entertainment. After producing a comic series in visual format telling the story of Ashe, the two companies re-upped for at least three more champion stories, including the recently concluded Lux saga.

And along with the game developments, Riot is working on an animated series called Arcane, which will take place within the League world. These multimedia efforts make it clear that Riot isn’t just focusing on video games—it’s aiming to become a multimedia empire.

The company’s ability to secure partnerships with successful storytellers like Marvel is a good sign that League’s intellectual property is valuable and can be leveraged beyond Summoner’s Rift. Once upon a time, Blizzard tried to do the same thing, but it took years before the Warcraft movie was made.

That movie took 10 years to make as it was bounced between Blizzard and various directors. With Arcane, Riot is taking a portion of the production into its own hands. And it won’t likely stop at just one animated series. If Riot’s growth depends on League going mainstream, it’s going to have to up the multimedia ante even more than what we’ve already seen.

Riot just celebrated 10 fantastic years of League. But the company also knows that, unlike Blizzard, it doesn’t have another 10 years to produce its next big hit. By moving swiftly and in so many areas, Riot is trying to ensure that when the last project drops, League will still be relevant, if not bigger than ever. If it can achieve that goal, the company has a shot at completely revolutionizing the game-making business—if not taking it over entirely.