Tuesday, April 19, 2016

League of Legends and the Growth of Esports

In 2006, two men, Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill came together to form the video game publishing company “Riot Games.” And after years of their own work, as well as the collaborative efforts of game designers, Riot published a brand new game: League of Legends. Both the company and game started out small, but since 2009, Riot has grown to house over 1000 employees across the globe, and close to 67 million people are playing the game every month. In 2015, League of Legends grossed the massive total of 1.6 billion dollars through in game micro-transactions, though the game remains completely free to play. For a company that started with just two founders, Beck and Merrill have managed to not only make one of the most successful and popular video games of all time, they’ve also revolutionized the world of e-sports.

            League of Legends was originally based off of a custom map made for the video game Warcraft III. The map, called Defense of the Ancients (DOTA), was a game genre all on its own, and many people wanted to capitalize on the popularity and make a standalone video game within that genre, though one that stood independent rather than a modification to a current game. Beck and Merrill partnered with one of the original designers of DOTA to attempt to make this game. It was through these efforts that League of Legends was born. It was released in North America on October 27th, 2009, and has since been released in several major countries across the world, such as Europe, Australia, and South Korea. As far as creativity goes, while Beck and Merrill were heavily influenced by the DOTA game, League stands as its own game within the industry. And the game is constantly changing and evolving every month, and Beck and Merrill are always involved in the games major changes.
            The success of League is largely driven by the motivation of its founding members.  As Collins and Amabile said in their work, Motivation and Creativity, “creativity is motivated by the enjoyment and satisfaction that a person derives from engaging in the creative activity.” It’s clear that both Beck and Merrill love what they do. They are both die-hard gamers, and that mentality is reflected in their work; they make sure to tailor the experience so that it is best for the player. In a time where most gamers would have to pay $60 to play a game, League of Legends is a free to play game. There are in game transactions to purchase additional content, but none of those purchases are necessary. The full game is available without having to pay a cent. It’s clear this idea has caught on, seeing as free apps dominate the mobile stores on our smart phones. Beck and Merrill are driven almost exclusively by intrinsic motivation; they do not seek to make a profit, as much of the money they make goes back into the game to create a better player experience. They are always concerned with making the game even better.

            The creative process of both men also heavily relies on collaboration, the game could not be as successful as it is today without the help of other people. The game consists of a number of ‘champions’ that the player controls, and they release new champions every few weeks. Rather than leaving this creation to a handful of people, Merrill says that they open the creation process to everyone in the company, and allow all the employees to have a voice in this aspect of the game. Beck and Merrill do not have separate offices in their building. They sit among the other game developers, and maintain an open door policy so that they are always accessible to employees.

            The game was not only revolutionary in its free to play model, League has also revolutionized e-sports. Shortly after the creation of the game, Beck and Merrill established the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) which is currently in its sixth season. The creation of LCS was heavily influenced by professional sports such as European soccer and the NFL. LCS has its own world championship, minor league system, as well as an All-Star Game and a Collegiate Championship, which offers scholarship money to participating students. Riot has also hired broadcast commentators, as well as an analyst desk that discusses every game. To go with over 85 million players, hundreds of millions of viewers frequently watch LCS games, and the championship events typically sell out major sports venues, such as Madison Square Garden. Thanks to the efforts of Beck and Merrill to legitimize professional video gaming in the eyes of the public, League of Legends is at the forefront of the e-sports movement.

Collins, M. A., & Amabile, T. M. (1999). Motivation and creativity. In Robert J. Sternberg (Ed.) Handbook of Creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.


  1. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy a good video game or two. While I have never played League of Legends, I am fascinated with how it has become a huge phenomenon in what seems like such a little time. Five years ago if you asked me what competitive gaming was I would say when I beat my friends in Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Never did I imagine that it would lead to sold out stadiums. On a side note, I once heard a story that before the FIFA world cup, the Japanese team brought in competitive League of Legends players into the locker room to pump the players up. I guess it just goes to show that in some cultures gaming is a big deal!

  2. I had no idea that League of Legends was a free game. That is really impressive, as it took longer for their efforts to actually have a pay-off that wasn't intrinsic. The whole enterprise of making the game was pretty risky then, as the game could have flopped and then they would have lost a bunch of money, it seems. It really shows the dedication of the creators, especially is this was one of the first games they tried to make. I wonder if there is a correlation between financial standing and creativity? For instance, are those who have more financial security more willing to take creative risks that might be unsuccessful--or even costly?


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