Riot hits the development reset button for its League of Legends MMO: 'The initial vision just wasn’t different enough from what you can play today'

Blitzcrank from League of Legends
(Image credit: Riot Games)

Riot has "reset" the development of its League of Legends MMO, according to cofounder and CPO Marc Merrill. Posting on Twitter, Merrill confirmed that "yes, we're still working on the game," but that the project has been set back to its early stages to pursue a new design direction. The decision was made "some time ago," based on the studio's feeling that the in-development MMO, set in the League of Legends' Runeterra world, was too similar to its competitors. "The initial vision just wasn’t different enough from what you can play today," Merrill said. "We don’t believe you all want an MMO that you’ve played before with a Runeterra coat of paint."

The MMO's development is now being led by Fabrice Condominas, executive producer at Riot and previous production lead at BioWare and EA. Condominas, Merrill said, is replacing Technical Director Vijay Thakkar, who had been leading the MMO development team for the last year in building "key components of the technical foundation" for the game's new direction. Merrill also announced that Riot would be "going dark" about its production, and that it would likely be "several years" before the studio shares any details about the MMO. "This silence will help provide space for the team to focus on the incredible amount of work ahead of them," Merrill said.

We first learned about the League MMO project in 2020 when Greg Street, at the time VP of IP and entertainment at Riot and former Lead Systems Designer on World of Warcraft, casually confirmed via tweet that he was working on an MMO set in the Runeterra universe. By March 2021, Riot was in the process of expanding its MMO development team, with a recruiting website saying "MMOs take a lot of people to create, and we’ll need a pretty big raid team if we want to bring Runeterra to life."

News about the game was sparse until April 2022, when Street generated some concern about the state of the MMO's development by tweeting, unprovoked, that there "is no guarantee this game will ship. We are optimistic, but you just never know until it does." Realizing that maybe wasn't the most reassuring sentiment to express without context, Street followed up with a tweet thread later that April, elaborating that despite what "some players and media" who "extrapolated that the development was not going well" might think, it was actually "going great."

An X/Twitter thread from Greg Street aka Ghostcrawler, reading "A few weeks ago I made a tweet where I intended to emphasize what a commitment I had made to this MMO. Some players and media latched onto the “might never ship” part and extrapolated that the development was not going well. Spoiler: It is going great. This team is so stacked. But there is no guarantee any game in this business will ship. Anyone who makes that promise is essentially saying they will ship even if the game is disappointing. We won’t ship a disappointing game. (We also won’t crunch just to make sure the game is as good as it can be.) Do I think Riot will launch an MMO at some point? Absolutely. There are so many good reasons to do it. Maybe I am not the right leader, or this is not the right team, or our design isn’t the right one. But the company will keep at it until the game is worthy of your expectations. Thanks for your support and patience. We got you."

(Image credit: Greg Street (via X/Twitter))

That damage control effort was hampered somewhat by Street continuing to say that, even if development wasn't going great, Riot "won't ship a disappointing game," so, like, why would you worry? "Maybe I am not the right leader, or this is not the right team, or our design isn’t the right one. But the company will keep at it until the game is worthy of your expectations," he said, which—looking back—kind of says it all right there, really. Street later stepped down from his position at Riot in March 2023, saying the MMO "is in good hands and it’s the right time to hand over the reigns for the next phase."

There is, obviously, room for speculation here as to whether Street's WoW development history might have contributed to a design direction that felt too familiar, considering that WoW is still the most immediate MMO measuring stick that jumps to mind. Street has since launched a new studio with Netease named Fantastic Pixel Castle, currently developing another MMO. Since Merrill's announcement, Street has posted a reaction on Twitter to "wish the Riot MMO well. They have a great world to explore and the team is truly top notch. I will definitely play the crap out of it." 

Lincoln Carpenter

Lincoln spent his formative years in World of Warcraft, and hopes to someday recover from the experience. Having earned a Creative Writing degree by convincing professors to accept his papers about Dwarf Fortress, he leverages that expertise in his most important work: judging a video game’s lore purely on the quality of its proper nouns. With writing at Waypoint and Fanbyte, Lincoln started freelancing for PC Gamer in Fall of 2021, and will take any excuse to insist that games are storytelling toolkits—whether we’re shaping those stories for ourselves, or sharing them with others. Or to gush about Monster Hunter.