I have been trying to write this article since the beginning of the year and every time I was almost done Riot decided to throw us another curve ball.
Now it's as much a “is the game dying” as it is a “what the hell is actually going on" article. This year has seen more twists, turns and rugpulls than an afternoon soap opera. The short answer is we don’t really know, but through some investigative journalism we can attempt to peek behind the curtain to see what can be learned.
Before I begin, I felt the need to once again express how much I love the game and want to see it succeed. I have spent thousands of hours and thousands more dollars trying to help grow the game and the community around it. Our community is truly second to none, and it’s the reason I think many of us have stayed around despite the game not always going in a direction that we agreed with.
It’s important to note that we can be critical of something and still be supportive of it.
Before we can discuss where we are and where we are headed, though, we first have to look back at how we got here and who/what has changed along the way.
State of Worlds
Things started to take a turn for the worst/weird around Worlds last year.
Looking back, the qualifying period leading up to Worlds was a bit of a golden age for LoR. It seemed like the game was starting to hit its stride, and the qualifier season was probably the most fun that I have ever had playing the game.
The stakes were high, and the competition was fierce as we headed towards crowning our first ever Legends of Runeterra World Champion!
Worlds took place in mid-September 2021. While the lead-up was a disaster – culminating with my friend and teammate Kevor and one other player not being entered into the open rounds because of miscommunication between Riot and the company they hired to run the Open Rounds.
Not to mention they didn’t stream said Open Rounds, which was a huge missed opportunity. The top 16 however was some of the best LoR we’ve ever witnessed. It ended on a high note with Alanzq being crowned Champion in what seemed like a Hollywood ending.
And then it just ended without further ado…
There was no announcement about what was coming.
There was no announcement of whether we were going to have another Seasonals, and once there was a Seasonal there was no announcement for what, if anything, it would qualify us for.
We hit a fevered pitch of excitement and interest in the game, and then just tumbleweeds. Talk about missed opportunities.
And then came this infamous article: “What to expect from Competitive”.
Path of PvE
Looking back now I think it’s clear that the wheels were already in motion to take LoR towards PvE. Labs had been out for a while and had a lot of different functionalities like 2v2 Co-op and Lab of Legends, which would ultimately become Path of Champions.
The "What to Expect" article had some lines such as:
“Outside of that core mission, though, it’s clear we have a lot of work to do. We’ve seen a lot of passionate feedback around the communication and execution of the tournament’s rules, format, timing, general expectation-setting, and broadcasts, and we’ve taken it all to heart.”
I have to wonder how much of that passionate feedback refers to my record-breaking Reddit post. Riot's article went on to say that we would hear back from them at the beginning of the next year and that Seasonals would no longer qualify for anything. Oh, and the ominous inclusion that they needed to make Seasonals “sustainable”. AKA they needed to cut some stuff for its longevity.
TPOC 1.0 arrives
Fast forward a couple of months – it’s now November 2021 and Lab of Legends has launched.
I didn’t realise at the time what this might mean for the rest of the game.
Sure, it was clear they had spent time and resources away from the “core” game to develop TPOC, and while this wasn’t what I wanted to see I didn’t mind because it was another awesome feature, and us “core” players were going to get ours in the new year. We just needed to be patient… Not that this stopped me from yet again posting on Reddit, trying to get the community to help guide the new competitive roadmap that they were surely working on, and badgering every Riot employee in Discord range to get more info or try to influence it for the better in some way…
The new year hits, January passes.
Announcements about announcements come and go.
We are late into February when it finally happens. We finally got the long awaited roadmap and update for the game! Will we get a Pro scene?
Will we get best-of-three ladder?
Will we get increased prize pools? New formats to play? A kick in the junk with a frozen Santa Braum boot?
You guessed it…
After seven months, not a single thing has changed in Competitive play.
Except that we no longer have Seasonals coverage.
AND they are now focusing on PvE because it's sooo popular.
Are. You. Fucking. Kidding Me.
I completely lose it, Majiin has me on a wild cocktail of 1980’s quaaludes, The Cradle Series on tape and poro snacks. I can’t sleep. I write to my local Congressman/Senator/Private Doctor asking what shall be done about this heresy (Only to later find out I live in Canada and we don’t have any of those).
Light and Dark
It’s a truly dark time.
But through this madness comes a light. I forgot to mention that they’ve also pushed back the next Seasonals, so we basically have absolutely nothing to do in March and the game hits its lowest low. Literally the whole Mastering Pro Team isn’t even playing the game, and we aren’t alone. There just isn’t really any reason to play.… and yet there is hope. A thought flickers across my sleep-deprived mind: “It can’t keep going like this”.
So I realise that eventually something will change. Riot didn’t become the behemoth it is today by being a bunch of idiots. EVENTUALLY someone will take notice that player numbers are in the dumpster. Either heads are going to roll OR new people and money are going to come into the game to help out. BUT IT WILL NOT STAY LIKE THIS. With this new crazed amount of hope I decide to bide my time and wait.
I didn’t have to wait long….
Andrew Yip, the face of LoR, current design director and former Game Director, had left the company.
The official reason was that he left to spend time with his family on super-short notice. Which is usually PR speak for "asked to leave". I have however been contacted by anonymous sources claiming to have insider info that this is not the case.
He did have a new job about a month later.
It begs the question if he was asked to leave, or if he wanted to leave because he was unhappy with Riot. There are of course a bunch of other reasons that this could have happened but it leaves a question unanswered.
Speaking of people leaving, where did Jeff Jew go? Remember him from every announcement video except the last one?
The Executive Producer is typically the person at the top of the pyramid. This is the person that decides on direction and oversees the entire project. Remember this as titles will come up again soon.
Finally we get to May.
Riot decides to slowroll the announcement that they are going to have at least one more coverage round for Seasonals (like, seriously: why not announce this earlier?). So, other than Seasonals being bug-infested and falling apart, everything is kind of the same.
Nothing feels too out of the ordinary.
Despite this, there are obvious rumblings from the community about why PvE is the new direction for the game and what does that mean for us “core” players (Again using their definition for whatever "core" means).
So much rumbling that Riot decided to address it directly during the patch release on MAY 24th…
Take a moment to zoom in on that "no plans to reduce investment in either" part…
Because you guessed it!
A mere 10 days later we get this recent PvP announcement that PvE will be getting back-burnered, with most of its staff relocated to other Riot projects and the game will once again focus on PvP and its “core” players.
Not 10 months…
… not 10 weeks: 10 days.
Brett Freeman, Director of Strategy, will also be moving away from the project as well.
So, Let's Recap
In a matter of two months, the game pivoted to PvE, lost its Design Director, launched Path of Champions 2.0 stating that no resources would be cut from either game mode, and then pivoted back to PvP, cutting its PvE staff in the process, and lost its Director of Strategy, AND Dave Guskin, who was Game Director is also now promoted to Executive Producer (which as you may remember was Jeff Jew's role; I assume because Jeff was too busy playing Riot's new MMO… or something).
Now, I’ve never worked in a PR role (except that I have) and I’ve never started a company in the gaming vertical (except that I did). But I have to guess that this is not a great outlook. Quite obviously, the community is a little spooked, with many thinking this is the death knell for the game.
I’ve also heard a lot of reasons for why people think this happened and I want to disprove some of them, because it makes it a lot easier for us to get closer to the truth if we unmuddy the waters.
First let's address the theory that not enough players were playing PvE.
Riot stated in March that PvE was wildly popular (more popular than all other modes combined, which btw is basically just ladder so why would anyone be surprised by that), and from all accounts Path seemed like it was very popular. There is no way that they release Path 2.0 and just days later decided not enough people were playing it and did an about face.
There’s zero chance this is the case.
Even if NO ONE, and I mean ZERO people played Path, they wouldn't have the time to make such a monumental decision. They would have needed to do a lot of investigating and hold discussions before anything like this happened.
Second is the theory that Path wasn’t making them money, and thus it got cut.
Once again, this doesn’t hold water. Riot has continually said they want to make good games first and monetize them second. Riot’s whole revenue model is based on the fact that if they can get players playing their game, then they can monetize them down the road. There are lots of ways to make money off of a large active player base. So again they wouldn’t have done exactly what they set out to do – acquire players – and then just abandon it halfway down the road to success.
So with these two out of the way, what’s left? Could it be that Riot needed the Dev power on its never-ending amount of other projects?
Could it be that the new Executive Producer (who worked at Wizards of the Coast for seven years) wanted to bring the game back to its origins as an amazing PvP CCG?
Could it be because the game is being cut and somehow this is the first sign?
It turns out we get to find some answers to these questions rather quickly…
*Fast-forward three days*
As I was editing this last Wednesday, we got even more new information!
It was confirmed by some PvE devs that Davetron (Dave Guskin) has been finding them new positions in other projects in the company. This dispels the theory that someone high up wanted more devs on other projects and just took them. Which again made no sense to begin with – it’s not like people aren’t trying to hammer down the doors to work at Riot and take pictures with Tibbers.
Dave has been very active on Twitter answering questions from the community, and even responded to my DM asking him to come on the Mastering Runeterra Podcast (Soooon). Something which others who preceded him in the role never did, I might add.
He even posted on his personal Twitter trying to clear up some of the looming questions.
My theory from the beginning has been that a new head of LoR (Dave) was now in charge and he saw the writing on the wall that they needed to go back to PVP.
His 5th point above really drives this home, and it makes perfect sense. I think the reason that they couldn’t focus on PvE and PvP at the same time on a large scale was probably a technical one. Remember when Riot had to get rid of cross-shard because it was interfering with them building other things on the platform? I can only imagine the insane amounts of code that it must take to make LoR come to life.
We have seen this play out recently in Seasonals – the last of which, as mentioned, was so buggy that it won't grant points for Worlds – and with new card releases having more bugs than previous ones.
At a certain point there is just too much going on to figure out how changing or adding features will affect the rest of the game. Thus they had to pick a route to go down, and I think Dave picked the correct one.
LoR could and should be eating Magic the Gathering’s lunch. It solves a bunch of the pain points that a thirty-five year old game has. The mana has been smoothed, it’s not tied to paper, it’s not ridiculously expensive to play, etc. All Riot has to do is reach out and take it. Just make the stuff that Magic Arena has that makes playing the game great. Things like playing for stakes, more formats to play, and an organised play system that has something for everyone, for players of all levels from casual to pro.
Dave worked on MTG and is obviously intimately familiar with its strengths and weaknesses. So while many in the community are afraid for the future because of this most recent announcement, I have never been more excited for LoR’s future.
The game should be way ahead of where it is now, and I saw its decline happening in real time. I think finally we have a chance to make it to the promised land and we are now on track to get there. They promised a new roadmap by the end of Summer so we won’t have to wait long to see who’s theories are correct.
I hope you enjoyed this piece, I will be writing weekly from now on so expect to see more from me!
… To be Continued.