With all the recent talk of Fortnite taking over the world, it's easy to forget that League of Legends has quietly grown to be one of the biggest games in the business, expanding and iterating its way throughout the last decade to become a hugely popular game with an army of players and a huge esports scene where the best of the best are watched by millions.
And now, with the game celebrating its 10 year anniversary this weekend, what better time to take a step back and consider the impact that League has had on not just the MOBA scene, but on gaming in general.
League emerged from the same fertile grounds that have created so many PC-focused titles: the modding community. Specifically in this case, we're talking about the Blizzard community, who made a mod for StarCraft called Aeon of Strife, which later migrated to Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, an RTS with a hero focus that provided powerful editing tools. The new mode was called Defense of the Ancients, and so the term "DOTA" was first coined, and a whole genre was born.
The key members of the community would eventually go their own way, with IceFrog later going on to work with Valve on Dota 2. Many of those key early players, however, joined the newly formed Riot Games, and over a number of years the likes of Brandon "Ryze" Beck, Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill, and Steve "Guinsoo" Feak began working away on the game that would become League of Legends, which made first contact with the public via a beta that started in April 2009, before launching fully on October 27.
And what a ride it has been since then, with millions and millions of players flocking to League to try their hand at the game that everyone was talking about. When acknowledging the origins of the MOBA genre, we have to credit Defense of the Ancients as the game/mod that laid down those first, all-important foundations, but then again, it's indisputable that the scene wouldn't be what it is today without the work of Riot Games and its League of Legends.
Over time the roster would swell with new heroes added the mix, new players would up the ante and change the meta for casual and pro players alike, Tencent took control of the studio in 2011 (and full ownership in 2015), and in 2014 there was a lore reboot as the Riot consolidated their position and looked to improve things around the core experience, with new elements added that added colour and vitality to the wider universe of League.
Throughout the whole process, however, the game has always harked back to the core gameplay elements that made DOTA an insanely popular Warcraft mod. Players would pick a hero and join with allies to fight against another team, attacking the enemy base down defined lanes, all while players levelled up and grew more powerful throughout sometimes long-running and tactical matches. It was the very microcosm of an RPG with constant progression, spiced up with intense PvP combat that channelled the spirit of the RTS genre. This intoxicating mix of elements catapulted LoL to the top, and there it has stayed.
It's impossible to consider the success of League without talking about esports. Indeed, they are one and the same thing, and League's place at the top table of online gaming is assured thanks to a pulsating competitive scene.
League of Legends is one of the most successful esports in the world because of its extensive history of competitions around the world. The past decade has seen leagues established in North America, Europe, Korea, and elsewhere, and all of this culminates each year in the Mid-Season Invitational and - most importantly - the World Championships, which are currently taking place in Europe.
Throughout the history of League of Legends some of esports' greatest teams have emerged, from Team SoloMid and Team Liquid in North America to SK Telecom T1 in Korea, and Riot has constantly innovated when it comes to delivering content, providing regular streams and a professional broadcast setup.
Ten years on from the launch of League, and Riot Games is a very different kettle of fish to what it once was, and the future looks bright for both the studio and its flagship title. That said, there are plenty of other irons in the fire over at the Tencent-owned studio, and it's clear that Riot's ambitions are bigger than just keeping League ticking over.
To that end, we've seen the recent release of Teamfight Tactics (a reaction to the popularity of Auto Chess and Dota Underlords), League of Legends: Wild Rift is an upcoming mobile MOBA, and Legends of Runeterra is CCG designed to take on the likes of Gwent and Hearthstone. With Valve and Blizzard both offering competing games across similar platforms, it's clear which companies Riot considers as its rivals, and if that's not enough anecdotal evidence, the studio's unannounced "Project A" is a team-based hero shooter a la Overwatch. With Blizzard currently going through a little wobble (perhaps that's putting things kindly), it's clear that the leadership team at Riot senses an opportunity to expand on all fronts.
And that brings us just about up-to-date. Next up is the conclusion of the World Championships and, looking beyond that, the esports scene seems to be in a healthy place with the venues for the next few majors already confirmed. Beyond that, the free-to-play game's legion of fans will continue to meet on the expanding range of battlefields on offer, and as long as that continues to happen, League of Legends is going to keep its place as an industry forerunner. Recent behind-the-scene scandals at Riot may have taken their toil on how the studio is perceived by many, but few can argue with the success of League, the ten-year-old jewel in Riot's crown.