How Riot Games Started and Grew League of Legends

© | Patrik Slezak

While examining Riot Games and their popular game, League of Legends in this article, we will look at 1) Riot Games, 2) League of Legends and 3) how did League of Legends become so popular?


An American Video Game Publisher, Riot Games has been in business since 2006 with the head office based in Santa Monica, California. Other office locations around the world include St Louis, Sydney, Dublin, Berlin, Seoul, Istanbul, Sao Paulo, Moscow, and Taipei.

The company has one game under its belt, the popular League of Legends. This online PC game was released in October 2007. The company manifesto is:

  • Player Experience First;
  • Challenge Convention;
  • Focus on Talent and Team;
  • Take Play Seriously;
  • Stay Hungry, Stay Humble.


The company began as an indie game developer in Los Angeles. It was created by Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck, and the company’s first game was announced in October 2008. League of Legends was released a year later.

The game is free-to-play and contains neither ads nor boxed copy sales. Instead, revenue is generated from microtransactions. The company was listed number 4 on the list of top 25 companies to work for by Business Insider in 2013. Employees were partly veterans of Defense of the Ancients, the founder of the website DotA-Allstars and some former Blizzard employees including a Lead Systems Designer for World or Warcraft.


Game Types & Maps

Game Modes

The game features two modes of play. These are Classic and Dominion.

The classic mode is a base defense in which the player tries to battle gradually his way towards the nexus of their opponent. The main objective for each map is the Nexus, and to win the opponent’s nexus must be destroyed. This can be achieved with the help of minions who are expendable allied or enemy units. These units spawn automatically to charge into battle to attack the enemy in assigned lanes. To achieve this goal, the player has to get through turrets and inhibitors. Turrets or a tower is a heavy fortification that blocks minion waves from the enemy and also path to the nexus. This is one of the core components of the gameplay. Inhibitors are structures meant to block Super Minion training by enemies.

The Dominion mode is a capture and hold game in which players battle over strategic area of the maps. When an area is captured, or an enemy killed, the opponent’s nexus is damaged.


In League of Legends, the maps are called “Fields of Justice.” This is the arena in which champions of the game battle each other to achieve victory. The maps have a fixed number of lanes and put two teams with a fixed number of players against each other. The lanes connect the two teams and minions move through these lanes to engage enemies. Turrets line the lanes and engage enemies that are within range. Turrets are destroyed permanently and cannot respawn. Inhibitors are present at the end of each lane and respawn every 5 minutes. Maps also have jungle areas that have neutral monster camps. A champion can kill these monsters for gold or to gain experience. Another area within the map is a brush that blocks line of sight to allow champions to hide and set up surprise attacks.

These fields include:


  • Summoner’s Rift – This field has three lanes and supports 5 players on each side;
  • The Twisted Treeline – This is a smaller map supporting 3 players on each side in 2 lanes.


  • The Crystal Scar – This map supports 5 players per side and is a fast paced game of capture and hold.

ARAM (All Random – All Middle)

  • The Howling Abyss – This is a similar gameplay to classic mode with just one lane and no jungle.


  • Magma Chamber;
  • Proving Grounds.


Champions are controlled by players with one player controlling one champion. At present, the game has 124 different champions. Each champion has a unique set of characteristics and certain attributes that describe their style of play such as mage, support or fighter. More than one attribute may be present in a particular champion and they can be played in a variety of ways. Champions are selected at the beginning of each battle, but choices are limited by the progress that has been made by that player in unlocking them. After a certain amount of experience is gained by the champion it goes up a level and there is an increase in the champion’s stats.


The summoner is a persistent element in the game and has the ability to summon champions into the battle arena. The summoner maintains a mental link with the summoned champion.

Business model

The game has a unique business model, and the company insists on keeping player experience above revenue generation. This has led to a collective spending of US$122 million in August 2014 alone by a player base of 67 million active users. This data is provided by SuperData. This philosophy has helped the company become one of the few to bring in US$1 billion in revenue in 2014.

Some elements that factor into this model are discussed below in some detail.


The game has a free-to-play model and has other means of bringing in revenue. The game was generally well received at launch by both the audience and critics. Since then, it has continued to grow in popularity and by 2012, it became the most played PC game in terms of number of hours played inside Europe and North America. 67 million people play the game per month, 27 million per day and over 7.5 million do so concurrently at peak hours, according to figures from January 2014. About 90 percent of the players are male, with 85 percent in the 16-30 age range.


Prior to the game’s release date, it was announced that it would be based on a free-to-play model with no hidden catches. The basic game can be downloaded digitally. A collector’s copy was also offered for $29.99. This included exclusive skins, $10 credit for Riot Points, access to 20 champions without needed to unlock them via gameplay and 4 special runes. The game does not feature any advertisements or boxed copy sales and instead relies on microtransactions and other modes of revenue generation. These are discussed in some detail below.

1. The Game Store

One way of purchasing extra material within the game is to use influence points that are collected during gameplay. This is the soft currency. Another method is to use Riot Points, the hard currency. These points can be purchased using actual money and can be used to buy items that can help make things more convenient and add extra customization options, as well as diverse experiences. Some of the items that can be purchased include champions, champion skins, and boosts. Riot Point cannot be used to affect directly the gameplay.

Points can be purchased in different amounts such as $10 for 1380 RPs or $50 for 7200 RPs. These can be purchased at places such as Best Buy, Walmart and Gamestop as well as online using credit/debit cards and PayPal.

2. Championships

League of Legends is played at a world championship event, the first of which was held in 2011 in Sweden. $100,000 in prizes were distributed to the winners with the first place earning $50,000. The event was streamed around the world with over 1.6 million viewers. Price money for the second season was announced to be US$5,000,000 with US$2,000,000 being paid out to partners such as IPL and other eSports associations, US$2,000,000 to qualifiers and champions and the last chunk to small organizers who apply to host the tournaments. The game is the most popular e-sports game in South Korea. The United States also recognizes the games pro-players as professional athletes and has a simplified visa process for them.

Riot Games controls all aspects of the professional league even those details as minute as the music composed for live events. Several tournaments are held all over the world with commentators and highlight reels much like traditional sports events. Though the tournament does not generate revenue it serves to enhance the player base and keep already existing players loyal.


History of League of Legends

The game began as League of Legends: Clash of Fates and is a multiplayer online battle arena or MOBA game. It was initially designed to be operated on the Microsoft Windows operating system. The game was announced in October 2008 and released a year later in October 2009. The game remained in beta testing phase from April 2009 till its release.

Among the game developers were Steve “Guinsoo” Feak and Steve “Pendragon” Mescon who previously worked on several successful games like Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients: Allstars and DotA. The game was inspired by the same mod. A few DotA community members recognized the potential in the mod to generate its one genre and hold its own as a professional game with enhanced features and options. The founders or Riot Games worked with the two Steves on the core development of the game.

The championships began in 2010 and have been gaining success and traction every year since. The game continues to offer new options and champions despite being free to play.

Reasons for League of Legend becoming so popular

Some of the reasons behind this game’s immense popularity are:

  • Easy to Master – A player can easily pick up on the story, the maps, and the champions. It has a user-friendly interface, and there are also very good tutorials available. A new player can easily log in and play an initial few games against low-level computer controlled opponents for experience. This allows them to get used to the landscape, the controls and the gameplay under a low-stress situation.
  • Variety – The game offers over 90 champions and several maps to choose from. This prevents the less involved gamer from getting bored too easily and keeps people coming back for more. One champion can also be used in a multitude of ways depending on the team and the opponent.
  • Championships – The game has an active esports league and a yearly championship where a large amount of prize money can be won. Professional sports have been propelled into the spotlight with Riot Games’ focus on this area. This has led to a sustained increase in interest among those who play the game and a proper professional player status for league players.
  • Free-to-Play – This model is a big draw for many people as there is no need to invest in a platform, pay for a download or a subscription. Ever power and champion can be obtained without spending any money if a player chooses. The only items that need to be paid for are cosmetic ones such as skins and themes. The most important items, champions, and runes can be obtained through both influence points riot points. Influence points can be collected through the gameplay.
  • Player Experience – The company places a lot of importance on the player experience. This emphasis means a constant focus on new items and attempts to keep the game engaging. This has resulted in the game’s popularity. This is a game best played with a team, and a happy gamer will bring in their friends, therefore increasing the number of players.
  • Competitive and Strategic Nature – MOBA games allow for a lot of complex, strategic and dynamic gameplay. This is also the case for League of Legends and it is competitive right from the beginning. From team selection to the choice of masteries and runes, the entire game needs to be carefully planned and executed. With over a 100 champions and multiple ways to play each, there is an immense variety of choices when picking a team and playing the game itself.
  • Frequent Updates – The game developers send out a new patch frequently with game updates. The aim is to even out and improve gameplay as well as to introduce new elements. From new champions to changes in visual landscapes and the nature of key features everything is updated and reworked as needed. These changes keep people interested as they need to adapt and change with the changes in the game.
  • Quick Games – Another appeal of the game is that it is more limited in an individual session than other more sprawling and open-ended games. This means that a battle can be concluded in 20 to 35 minutes and the main battle ground, or map is the same simple, square shaped grid. There is no infinite journey or new worlds to explore. A player can choose to play one game, five or even 100 but it is easy to conclude each one.
  • Social Appeal – Most video games see a player by himself taking out enemies. In a MOBA game, players have to band together to form a team to defeat the enemy. This allows for more socialization and a strategic effort towards a common goal.

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