Riot Games has confirmed that it sent a formal cease-and-desist letter to the operations of Chronoshift, a fan-operated League of Legends "legacy server" that enabled fans to play a ten-year-old version of the game. It denied an accusation on Reddit that it attempted to "extort" the developers, however, saying that its policies regarding such things are clearly laid out in its legal guidelines—and that it warned them not to go ahead with the project when it was announced last year.
"Hijacking to say please don't do this," Riot Gene wrote (opens in new tab) in response to the Chronoshift announcement in 2020. "We have very simple and easy to read policies around developing products around Riot Games. Please read the Legal Jibber Jabber (yes that's what it's called) and the policies on developer.riotgames.com."
The project went ahead anyway until the past weekend, when the Chronoshiftdev account posted a message saying the developers had been contacted by Riot's security department, who "tried to extort us into handing over our code and website to them."
"We have been working on this project for almost 5 years and thousands of hours," Chronoshiftdev wrote. "We never asked for even as much as a donation during all of this time, paying all of the expenses out of our pockets. We have refused and banned people that offered us thousands of dollars to gain access to the project."
The message includes a link to a screen capture of a conversation with Zed, someone claiming to be a member of Riot's security department employee. It starts off well enough, saying that Riot's legal team "isn't super thrilled about your project unfortunately and is looking for a way to come to a mutually acceptable end to it."
But the tone changes quickly when the developer involved refuses to immediately play ball: Zed first implies that Riot is watching the Chronoshift team's actions in real time (including purported efforts to delete chat channels), and then makes a flat demand for the chronoshift.dev website, the source code, and all identifiable information that had been shared with other developers.
"Give me what I'm looking for and we won't sue. Refuse and we will," they said. "I'm not interested in dragging this out. If you feel you'd like to speak to legal representation you are certainly capable of doing so. I'm on the security team. I find people and things. I don't practice law and have little/nothing to do with any legal proceedings Riot is involved in. We can come to an agreement to end this today or we can both hand this off to counsel. To be honest I don't care either way."
Handing off to counsel is how it ultimately went down: A Riot rep confirmed today that the studio's legal team sent a letter to the Chronoshift developers yesterday, "formally requesting they cease development on the project."
"Our stance on projects such as Chronoshift is also explicitly called out in section 3 of our legal guidelines," the rep said. "We understand the Chronoshift team is disappointed, but they shouldn’t be surprised by our request."
The rep also acknowledged that the screencapped chat with Zed did take place, but said that Riot is "disappointed with the tenor of the conversation."
"We’ll be addressing this internally," they said. "We often attempt good faith reach-outs prior to issuing legal documentation. In this case, however, given the Chronoshift team’s response, we have proceeded through more formal channels."
The letter sent to the Chronoshift creators says its intellectual properties are "extremely valuable, and thus Riot takes this matter very seriously." It demands a halt of all development of Chronoshift, closure of the server, removal of all related materials from the group's social media, and a handover of all software related to the project, including modded clients and source code.
"While we know that this may be disappointing for you, please bear in mind that Riot and its developers, designers, artists, and employees have spent countless hours creating a fun and compelling experience on its authorized, official serviers," the letter says. "Unauthorized servers such as Chronoshift harm Riot, its business, and, ultimately, its employees."
"While we hope to resolve this matter informally, please be advised that Riot is prepared to take any action it deems necessary to protect its rights, including, if necessary, by commencing litigation in the US federal courts."
The Chronoshift team complied with the demand, although it is clearly not happy about it. A message posted to the Chronoshift website emphasizes the amount of time the developers have spent working on the project—five years—and that it refused all offers of financial support throughout. It also denies that any of Riot's copyrighted material was ever illegally distributed, or that Chronoshift was ever meant to compete with the League of Legends live game.
"We are incredibly disappointed by the way Riot chose to handle this situation," it says. "Instead of opening a conversation about the future and interest in this kind of project, they attempted what could be seen as an attempt to take advantage of our work for free and start taking legal action against us."
Riot's letter says the request for the Chronoshift source code "is a standard demand made to all developers engaged in unauthorized activity," but it's led to some speculation that the studio is actually looking to launch its own LoL legacy server, possibly using Chronoshift's work as a foundation. That seems unlikely: I'm sure Riot is perfectly capable of coding its own legacy server, for one thing, and while the rep allowed that anything is possible, they added that the studio's position has not changed since this 2017 Q&A.
"We can’t just pull in old data and expect the current game engine to play nice with it all. We could almost certainly make it work if we had a bunch of smart engineers working to make it happen, but then those engineers would not be working on other features that might be more valuable to you guys in the long run," Riot Ghostcrawler, aka head of creative development Greg Street, said at the time. "Likewise, we could have designers create versions of existing champs that tried to mimic the old data (Season Two abilities, items, tuning, etc.) but that’s a mountain of work for something that might only be fun for a few games or so."
"So philosophically, we aren’t opposed to playing an older version of LoL, and it might be fun for a short period of time (because we might very well discover that the reasons we made all of the Season Three, Four, and Five changes still exist), but there is a good chance it’s not worth the development effort that it would take."