League of Legends, similar to other mechanics-borne games, is a competitive, team based, multiplayer-online battle arena (MOBA) that features a large cast of characters equipped with powerful move sets designed to clash head-to-head in an arena style game area, or “map.” The game’s creators originally created the game out of the idea to perfect the popular Warcraft mod, Dota. In the words of one of Riot’s engineers, Tyler Wright, “[League of Legends] founders were avid Dota players (the original Warcraft III mod) and recognized that the passion of ‘core players’ extended beyond the game. They hoped to build a competitive game that was fun to play, fun to watch and had a long mastery curve that allowed players to improve forever – a game that could never really be ‘solved.’” While the initiative to create a game with such hopes in mind is honorable, and while Riot has done an amazing job at fulfilling these hopes, I’ve noticed that the physical game itself (in-client game play) does not actually include a story line, but that there is a considerable amount of lore and narrative released on the game’s home website.
Periodically, new characters are released and made available to play in-game. Along with the reveal of new characters, fresh lore is made available on the franchise’s home website, allowing Riot to continue efforts to build, shape, and deepen their world of Runeterra. Inside the client during matches, players click away undisturbed by quests, story line, or drama, while on the website, players who are interested can get a hearty fix of Runeterra history, indicating Riot’s unique approach to storytelling. As the world grows and continues to be built upon by the team’s lore historians and developers, Riot’s spotlight remains adamant on keeping players at the center of attention. In the article “LoL Esports Now and In the Future,” Riot places its fans at the top of their list of priorities stating “…at its core, LoL esports succeeds by following a three step path: Fandom, Economics, Stability…” (Bradmore, Magus). However, without that special drop of magic that central narrative can add to any game’s cauldron, one would imagine that the game would lack the wherewithal to draw in the fan-base they so need for success. Yet this lack of central narrative is just the beauty of it.
For Riot, that special drop is added in by immersing players through placing them in control of the realm’s most extraordinary individuals. As players foster feelings of awe for their favorite characters as the result of these champions stunning move-sets, they begin to realize that the true champion at play has actually been themselves the entire time. The central narrative of the game is not necessarily built upon the backgrounds of the champions or the politics of the multiple factions in Runeterra, but instead is built upon the heart-racing bouts of battle that players experience every time they play the game.
In these mechanics based games, I have come to believe that the player generates the narrative (and one that’s more unique and form-fitting than most game writer’s can produce at that), and as the player creates their experiences, they translate them and incorporate them into their everyday activities. Stories will begin appearing on tumblr feeds, in blog posts, in Facebook statuses, or even in conversations among friends. As the result of this transpiring of events, touch points are generated for the game along the way, attracting in more players. More touch points, more potential chance of generating revenue. With more potential chance of generating revenue, more profit made typically closely follows suit. In return for their participation, and therefore promotion, of the game, the highest watched and most skilled professional players are rewarded by Riot with increased cash pools, publicity, and meaningful experiences.
Interestingly enough, the same trend can be traced to Blizzard’sOverwatch, also a mechanics-borne game. Examine the “Krusher99” ad campaign for example. At the heart of the action is you, the player. In your hands lies the power to rise to the top of the leaderboards. In your hands lies the power to spread your name, your identity as player, your story, across the globe.
Using this fandom-based approach to storytelling, games can take already existing trans-media franchises, and evolve them to beasts of tremendous size, allowing narrative to flow across any platform so long as users are inspired to talk about and document the experiences undergone in the game.
A Brief Email Thread Between Riot Staff Member Tyler Wright