SB Interview: League of Legends developer Riot Games

November 10, 2008

The Warcraft 3 mod Defense of the Ancients has attracted thousands of players and carved a niche in several professional game leagues; despite being only a mod, it has gone through hundreds of patches, several or even all of which have been influenced by player suggestion.

One of the big names in DotA’s development, Stephen “Guinsoo” Feak, moved on to participated in the formation of Riot Games, a new developer trying to carve out a niche, or even mainstream audience for this new, unnamed genre inspired by DotA and its imitators. League of Legends may be the first professionally developed game based-off a user-created genre. Combining elements of role-playing, real-time strategy, and tower-defense games has made DotA a huge success, and if the looks and feel of League of Legends have given us a good glimpse, 2009 may see the arrival of a new and unique cult hit.

Snackbar recently got the opportunity to talk with Riot Games about League of Legends, its roots in DotA, and its development progress.

Snackbar Games: So, League of Legends. When did you realize the acronym was LoL? You didn’t name it for the acronym, did you?

Riot Games: Oh, does LoL have a secondary meaning other than “League of Legends”? That’s news to us!

SB: What exactly is the history of Riot Games’ relationship with the Warcraft 3 mod “Defense of the Ancients”? How did everyone else get from there to here? Steven Feak’s story is well-known…

RG: We’re all DotA-Allstars players here at Riot Games. We love the game and we’ve been a part of the community for years. In fact, some of us met on the DotA-Allstars forums. We’re all bound by the same passion to make League of Legends as great of a product as possible and to form really deep relationships with the gamers who play our games. Check out our forums at to see this in action – we mean it.

SB: So DotA players are obviously people who want to see how this turns out. What other kinds of players and bases do you think this will appeal to? Do you worry that DotA players are the only ones will be interested?

RG: League of Legends is a fast-paced session based action-RPG requiring tactical maneuvers, cunning strategy, and cooperative teamwork. The intention is to distill the best elements of MMO-like PVP combat into easily accessible bite-sized sessions. We feel that this will appeal to a broad array of online gamers, from twitch guys who play FPS games and RTS’s to MMO gamers who love RPG-type leveling. By having as low of barriers to entry as possible, combined with deep gameplay that provides tremendous replayability, our goal is to expand on the innovative and fun gameplay mechanics that Guinsoo helped pioneer and bring them to a broad audience.

SB: Right now, the FAQ page has already given me a picture of the game with no room for imagination. I’m not one to insist that games do something absolutely new or “revolutionary”, but can you tell me about any “wow, cool” elements or details you can fill me in on? At the moment it seems “like DoTA, only better”, a sentiment I see being echoed in DOTA and LoL forums.

RG: I’m glad the FAQ gave a clear picture of the game – that was our intent. We actually perceive one of our biggest challenges to be “new user education” to explain how the moment to moment gameplay experience works, because we really believe that it is genre bending and unless someone has played DotA, they will need to learn how it works.

There are a number of features that we feel will help us stand out as something more than just a “me too” product, some of which we cannot go into too much detail about at this time. From the very beginning we knew the critical importance of both game balance and community interaction when building League of Legends.

Thus, having a persistent identity that was fundamentally tied to the gameplay experience became a core design pillar for us. This is a departure from many session based games, where usually the player isn’t at all represented as part of the game experience. In League of Legends, the Summoner system provides this and introduces a very cool meta-game element that is fundamentally tied into the game sessions. Having a persistent identity that is tied to the player account will not only deepen the gameplay experience, but it will help address balance, through matchmaking players of appropriate skill, as well as community, because when people have one reputation to look after, their online behavior tends to improve dramatically. We look forward to providing more details about the Summoner system in the near future.

SB: Your typical DotA player would never have guessed DotA would inspire more than one title in a similar time frame, but it has. Demigod by Gas Powered Games and Stardock has often been mentioned in the same breath as LoL. What are your feelings about having another DotA-inspired title to compete with in such a short time frame after LoL’s release?

RG: We hold Gas Powered Games in the highest regard and wish them the best of luck with Demigod. We believe that this is evidence that DotA’s gameplay is a fun and genre-defining experience and many products in the future will likely learn from its innovations. Perhaps we are all helping to define a new genre!

SB: Master Yi, Nunu, and Alistar look inspired by the Phantom Lancer, Alchemist, and Earthshaker. I also see a hero that looks very similar to the Drow Ranger in the background of LoL’s homepage. Is that an homage or paying of respects to Blizzard and DotA?

RG: We respect Blizzard and we love to play Blizzard games, but the characters in League of Legends are completely unique and any likeness is unintentional. Specifically, we believe that all three of the League of Legends characters that you mentioned are extremely different from the DotA characters you sited.

That being said, we recognize that many people familiar with DotA may seek to draw comparisons and look for similarities since Guinsoo created a large amount of the heroes that exist in DotA today and because it is one major source of inspiration for us. Our goal however, is to create a completely original IP and we believe that our world and the characters within it will effectively demonstrate the tremendous creativity that our team possesses as well as some of the unique features of our technology.

We’re very excited to continue to unveil additional Champions to the community in beta and as we march towards launch.

SB: Speaking of, I notice you’ve already displayed some champions’ abilities. How final are these details? Are any of these champions particular favorites or presenting interesting challenges in development?

RG: We will be continually refining and balancing the game with the help of the community. None of the abilities are final, as the product itself will never be final. We will always continue to iterate and improve the game through our close interaction with our players.

SB: What kind of multiplayer connection system will be set up?

RG: We decided that creating a new game from scratch wasn’t enough of an undertaking so we figured, why not just create a whole new matchmaking/lobby platform as well? Just kidding – this was actually a very difficult decision that we debated heavily internally. Ultimately, we decided that while we would have loved to have outsourced the ‘out of game’ experience, it was too integral to the product and the needs of the community to take lightly, and we haven’t seen anything in the marketplace that really solves all of the problems we hope to tackle. Thus, we are creating our own unique technology platform that will provide as robust of an experience as possible for our players. We are investing heavily in this platform to support our community and hope that it will push the industry envelope in a variety of ways.

SB: Your site boasts of your listening to the community at an “unprecedented level”–can you name any ideas or feedback from players that have already influenced the direction of the game?

RG: We are already receiving and reviewing suggestions from our community for champion and feature design. We are currently building a support infrastructure known as our Suggestion Engine™ that will facilitate ongoing collaboration with our community. There are a number of exciting events, contest, and opportunities that we have planned as we approach beta and the launch of our game. We encourage our players to visit our boards on for updates on how to participate in our community building initiatives!

SB: The summoners (that is, players) have persistent characteristics. Will this have ramifications for groups or guilds or the rest of a persistent world, or is simply a matter of increasing level and abilities, such as in Call of Duty 4? What kind of team set up will it be? 5v5? Free for all? Various scenarios?

RG: The summoner system is the persistent element in League of Legends that provides players with rewards and achievements for actions taken within a game. As summoners continue to engage their champions in the Fields of Justice, they will gain experience and influence which can unlock additional abil
ities, achievement bonuses, customization slots, and champion selection. Summoner abilities improve as the summoner levels up and can be used in addition to abilities of a champion.

The size of the team will vary depending on the scenario and map type, but we will offer various options to accommodate different play styles. As part of our focus on community, League of Legends will continue to improve community-driven systems such as teams, guilds, ladders, and tournament support throughout the course of its service – largely based on user feedback.

SB: How many beta applicants have you received so far? How many will you be using?

RG: We’re not releasing this information at this time, but are excited at the level of excitement and positivity expressed by our players. We encourage players to come to to sign up for beta and check out the various community initiatives on our forums!