Since Season 3 worlds League of Legends has taken on a form of untouchability in the world of Esports, and gaming at large, with a form of growth which too most looking on from the outside seems unbelievable jumping from 8 million to 11 million viewership. This seemed like a game and company in ascendancy. Achieving a size of the player base for League was at 67 million players per month, this figure is clearly an almighty feat of achievement considering that the previously largest online game was Blizzards World of Warcraft which only achieve at its peak 12 million. However, all signs point to Leagues numbers declining, Riot previously a company that took great joy in publishing info graphs of its monthly viewers have failed to do so since 2014. This combined with the selling off the remaining shares to Tencent doesn’t exactly seem like those who are steering the ship think it is going in the right direction or at very least are hiding this the public. All these signs point to a game that has either began to decline or has at least hit a plateau in numbers.
Where did it all go wrong?
Whilst many would argue that nothing is wrong at Riot and that all is fine, the evidence points to the contrary. So where has league gone wrong, the first place must be looked at is the game itself, and what has changed with the game to effect the player base? The answer is nothing has changed and therein lies the problem, a lack of change in the game itself. The game itself has essentially remained the same since its inception since it was created in 2009, with changes to the main game being confined mostly new skins, changes to the balance and having a new layer of graphics placed, nothing to exactly get the heart stirring, but many popular esports have gone on for years after their final patches, look no further than Counter Strike 1.6 where the esports remained hugely popular for years after its final patch, so what is that makes leagues lack of change a problem. It is due to its player base being a more casual type than is seen in other esports, because of the games lower age demographic and generally more simplistic nature than other esports such as Starcraft II, and CS 1.6. Casual fans of the game will get bored with it which is fine providing there is still more people to pick up the but as with any product, this untapped market once tapped will diminish and the need to hold on to players with new modes becomes more apparent.
Whilst there have been no massive game modes added, there has been a level of constant tinkering and balance changes which have been attributed to keeping the game fresh for players. This, however, after a certain amount of time will wear thin. Whilst more hard core players will like the variety, the casual player who only plays every now and then will be put off, if every time he comes back he finds a patch to download and a previously strong champ weak, abilities changed and whole new champions with abilities that sounds and are ludicrous (Kindred looking at you). Sooner or later this will have a negative effect and as previously mentioned facts state, it may already have happened.
Maintaining the Supremacy
So what can Riot do, any real change could alienate the people loyal to the game by making them unable to play the game they love. Riot have always stated they will not release a League of Legends 2, but this no longer seems a viable business model with no other game being released approaching 7 years since the release of the company’s first game. A new game could be Riot games sounding the death bell for its own game, or worse still could potentially create the situation Valve had with Source and 1.6 where neither game becomes as big as they could be, as the community split between two games due to their similarities. A split would mean that League of Legends would cease to be the dominant game at the top of esports but could create a riff at the very heart of this genre. Combining this with the fact there already exists MOBAs for more casual players, Heros of the Storm, and a more mechanically challenging one, DOTA 2, makes you question what a Leage of Legends 2 could potentially offer that would make it relevant enough to surpass its predecessor.
The key to League of Legends maintaining its stop as number one game lies purely in the esports side of the game. This is a game that’s sole purpose is to be better than the other people, there is no story, no single player, just you and the opponent. If it were to happen that the esports side declined and people felt the best had left many would begin to question the relevancy of the game itself. If another game were to take over the mantle of being a more attractive esport then this could spell the demise of the league esports scene, there is after all a finite amount of people to watch all games. At the moment this seems like the most credible way that league will fall, especially with the rise of CS:GO, where over the last few years it has risen to second most viewed esport and now has a fully televised league in the form of the Eleague. If this trend continues as a game which is much simpler to watch understand from a non-player view point it could start eating in to the League of Legends viewing numbers. A declining viewership and esports scene would spell disaster for a game where the competitive aspect is the only aspect to keep players grinding and working hard at their skills, and would see the game begin to fall out of favour.