Obviously the esports industry has been booming over the course of the past couple of years, something that the shutdown caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic has only added to. As such, it makes sense that Riot Games, one of the biggest video game companies out there, has also boomed. In a single year, the company went from producing only one gaming title, League of Legends, to producing four. Not only is Riot Games now behind the release of four different, successful games, each of these games have successfully become pillars of the esports industry in their own right.
League of Legends was first released in 2009, taking inspiration from DotA and going on to become what many consider the largest esport in the world. Ten years later, in October of 2019, Riot Games officially announced they would be releasing a slew of new games and now, a year after that, three of those games have already made an impact on the global esports industry. Now, in addition to LoL, Riot Games has Teamfight Tactics, Legends of Runeterra, and Valorant, quite literally changing the game.
A recent article from The Esports Observer takes a look at how, over the course of a single year, Riot Games has managed to quadruple their hold on esports. It would seem that their strategy is to embrace something at the heart of the games they’ve created: collaboration. Considering games like League of Legends which, on a competitive level, require teamwork and Teamfight Tactics, which literally has the word ‘team’ in the title, this makes a lot of sense.
How that translates to actual marketing strategies for their games is relatively simple. As opposed to “leaping out of the gate with million-dollar prize pools or franchised leagues, the publisher has given each title some breathing room – communicating with teams and organizers.” By trusting the collaborators who are actually the folks playing the games and organizing the tournaments, Riot Games is allowing the community to feel a sense of ownership and invest into the growth of these games on a personal level.
This “community-focused initial growth strategy” is something that was inspired by the way League of Legends developed into an esport. According to the senior director of global esports for Riot Games Whalen Rozelle, “Understanding our communities – through listening, participating and partnering – has been critically important in identifying how to maximize against the strengths of each of our titles” The specificity this requires is ultimately what makes the difference.
The fact of the matter is, esports is a global phenomenon that exists in different areas all over the world. While competitors may be playing the same game, the ways the communities approach a game in different areas affects the way a game is received there. As Rozelle notes, “To develop competitive ecosystems that can engage our fans and players for years to come, our approach needs to be tailored to fit each game while also drawing on the full scope of Riot’s global esports infrastructure.” It’s interesting to note that esports as it now exists, complete with “global esports infrastructure,” is something that has roots in the community. Its origins lay in independent tournaments organized by enthusiasts and uplifted by communities of gamers.
It must be noted that the forebearer of League of Legends, DotA—or Defense of the Ancients—started as a mod for 2002’s Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. The fact is that mods are developed as modifications or variants on existing games created by fans, gamers, and the sorts of enthusiasts who’ve now developed into “competitive ecosystems” of today’s esports industry. Riot Games has made a smart move in tapping into the industriousness of those communities “through listening, participating and partnering.”
This strategy has allowed the company to have officially “hosted four global championship events across four games in four entirely different genres” by the end of 2020. In terms of what’s to come in the future, Riot Games still has a couple more games they’ve announced to be forthcoming as well as some big name partnerships brewing: Mastercard and Louis Vuitton, for example. Amazing what a little teamwork can make possible.