I’ve played League of Legends in the past at the advice of friends, but I have never picked up the game on my own. It’s always been a “You should play LoL with me,” followed by an hour of me clicking hopelessly like I’ll maybe find a sweet spot in the game that will magically make me not suck. I’ve yet to find it, and every game of League of Legends I’ve ever played ends with me on the losing end. So when I was asked to cover the Riot booth at PAX Prime, I was a little skeptical. Not of the booth, but of how badly I was going to embarrass myself.
Let’s be clear about a couple things in regards to League of Legends and the Riot Games crew: The game has become a phenomenon and the team may be as big of fans of their supporters as their supporters are of their game. To give you an idea of just how big this game has gotten, it was featured as a demo game for multiple companies that were showing off new hardware, it was a staple at any booth focusing on competitive gameplay, and by Sunday it seemed as if there were more shirts and lanyards sporting the “League of Legends” name than those sporting gear of the actual convention. When Scott Kurtz of PvP mentioned it during a game of Dungeons and Dragons with Jerry “Tycho” Holkins, Mike “Gabe” Krahulik, and Wil Wheaton, it received quite possibly the loudest response of the night. The game is huge.
If any company has mastered the free-to-play model, it is Riot Games. They’ve created a game that has such ridiculous depth and strategy built into it that once gamers get hooked, they cannot help but buy new skins, champions, and boosts. And holy balls are gamers hooked. I’m not an expert by any means but I have taken some math classes and I can say with a fair amount of confidence that based on the size of the League of Legends community and the amount of matches that are going on at any given time, combined with the fact that it is an emerging powerhouse on the eSports circuit, multiplied by the sheer amount of available items for purchase, Riot Games has pulled in $11.4 septillion in the past year. I may be lowballing that a bit.
For everything their fans have given them, these guys have given back. There was no shortage of lines around their booth at PAX, with non-stop games of LoL being played from Friday morning to Sunday’s final call on the show floor. These guys didn’t have one of the bigger booths compared to the big names that surrounded them, but they outclassed everyone in interaction and pure excitement. The entire team of developers were around all weekend, chatting it up with anyone who wanted to talk to them. Here’s how cool these guys are: I was talking with Jason Cohen (aka: “Rayven”), a UI designer, and once it became pretty clear I knew nothing about his game, we chatted about football for the remaining duration of a match. This was after I referred to the character of Annie as “the little girl with the bear thing and fire or something,” because there is no situation in which I cannot find a way to make an ass of myself. It was also about 20 minutes after leaving the booth that I realized he probably went by “Rayven” because he is from Baltimore and a fan of his hometown Ravens. It was shortly after that when I realized I’m an idiot.
Almost every match that took place at the Riot booth over the weekend was narrated by the developers. It was specifically Morello who seems to be attempting to get his hand into color commentary. This was something completely unique, and was clearly a rush for every player that got his hands on the keyboard and mouse at the booth. It was clear that for many of the gamers that graced the chairs and donned the headphones at the booth, there was nothing more rewarding than having an impressive kill called by one of the creators of their favorite game.
The party for Riot didn’t end when the doors to the Convention Center closed every night; We accidentally ran into them (and then intentionally re-ran into them once we realized what was going on) at Pike’s Place a few blocks down from PAX for the first stop on a night of bar crawling. They brought their fans with for the entire thing and it was, for lack of a less pun-y description, a riot. Watching the crowd filter out of the bar and down the street in blob-form like some sort of nerdy, drunken amoeba was probably the most invigorating experience at PAX. Their fans were happy to be there with them, they were happy to be there with fans, and everyone was happy to have alcohol. The interaction that the fans of LoL and the team that made it have is the definition of symbiotic. The community and developers fed off of one another’s energy at the bar in the same way the development of LoL feeds off of community response. The more Riot gives the players in content and community, the more the players give to Riot in feedback and, of course, cash.
As for the match I played at the Riot booth, let’s just say my team lost and I made a very quick exit for fear of being booed. Lucky for me, Jason didn’t ask the outcome. He just asked what I though of the game. I told him “it’s great,” because it is. But it’s not the gameplay that made me answer that way. It was everything else. The booth, the meet up, the line of fans, the developers, the community, the play-by-play. The game is great. It’s the culture that makes this game shine, and for many gamers and Riot employees alike it’s becoming just that; a culture. But I still suck at the game.