We’ve seen two major drops this week from Riot Games, both of them outside of the game itself. The first is the Yorick relaunch, bringing the tired old gravedigger back with new visuals, voice, and a whole new kit. Yorick’s relaunch is accompanied by something much more interesting: another Shadow Isles “event”, with new lore backgrounds for some of the more neglected champions from that particularly spooky region.
The second release isn’t quite official yet, but was leaked accidentally: a board game called Mechs Vs. Minions. Both of these projects are ambitious, and they’re both outside of the ‘game’ of League of Legends itself. After years of League’s greater universe being a tangled yarn around the game itself, the company is sorting things out, piece by piece, and archiving these stories. While they’ve got a lot of work to do, the rewards of making League a place full of rich stories that are actually accessible has huge potential rewards.
Last week we discussed how some of the new stories could make for a Warcraft-style blockbuster movie. While that could still potentially happen, the Shadow Isles event (Yorick included) and Mechs Vs. Minions give some tantalizing clues as to the path that Riot is on.
No champion left behind
There are three champions with new content during the Shadow Isles update: Yorick is the notable one, but there are also major lore updates for Elise and Evelynn. Yorick was one of Riot’s least popular champions, a concept up there with Urgot in terms of lack of appeal. There are, of course, players who are absolutely into playing as the Gravedigger or The Headman’s Pride and what he represents... But Riot could have let him continue to slide under the radar for a while, choosing to focus on more profitable champions. Tackling Yorick (and targeting Galio for a further update) makes a statement.
The Elise and Evelynn stories are also exciting. There have been many champions from the days of short biographies relating to the League of Legends who just never got updated. (Singed, for instance, floats in a weird lore limbo where he exists outside of current canon despite being an important part of other champion’s stories.) Elise and Evelynn were both in sore need of updates, and their stories build the world around them.
Archiving and organization
If you head to the Shadow Isles page, you get to see all of the champions, read their stories, and catch up on stories about the Black Mist and the Shadow Isles scrap with Bilgewater. This sounds pretty boring, but if you’ve been following Riot’s lore for a while, it’s actually a godsend.
For a long time, League’s stories floated around, loosely connected to each other and difficult to scrounge up. If someone said they were pretty interested in the world that Riot was building up, you’d have to dig for links and present them. “Well, it started with Freljord, and then, uh, there was the first Shuriman event... Wait, was that before or after the Bilgewater stuff?”
Things still need a lot of love, but Riot seem to be aware of the huge task ahead of them, and this is a major step in the right direction.
No one could have predicted that Riot would be coming out with a board game. Board games are a weird kind of market, and definitely considered to be a little more dangerous to invest in than League’s microtransaction based money machine. (Although their potential profit is nothing to sneeze at, with the hobby game market racking in a mean $880 million in 2014 - a 20% growth over 2013).
This is especially true of elaborate looking games like Riot's planned Mechs Vs. Minions, that seems far more complex than a classic like, say, Twilight Struggle. Still, board games are undergoing a bit of a renaissance thanks to games like Risk and Pandemic Legacy, Coup, or Dominion. Riot throwing their hat into the ring for board games shows that they’re willing to expand on the IP they’re building in new and unexpected ways.
This builds into the archiving: once they have the regions of the world built and accessible, they can begin to make new games or stories off of them. Imagine, say, a tactical, Risk style board game about the war between Noxus and Ionia. Or a pen and paper RPG about playing a character in the high-stakes, low-striking unofficial war between Piltover and Zaun. If we’re getting crazy, think about a sleek, small little first player game in the PROJECT universe.
Foundations and building
While Riot Games have said that it wants to put the plural in their name and release new products, most people haven’t been sure of what to expect—or whether there’d be a new game at all. While there have been little side games like Blitzcrank’s Poro Roundup or the cancelled deck builder Supremacy, coming out with something more substantial seemed like quite a task.
Now, like a hibernating beast, the team is rising and shaking off the dust. There’s still a lot to be done, but their new lore direction and archival is finally at a point where they can build an empire of lore off of League. Once all of their ducks are in a row, there’s enough intellectual capital to create any number of stories branching outwards. Riot have shown that they’re willing to tell these stories outside of the game itself, using short movies, stories, and now board games to expand on the world of Runeterra.
If you’ve ever wondered why the Foundations team is called such, it’s because Riot will be building on the lore. Their champions will come out in time with events, they’ll be releasing new products and games, and building a veritable empire based off the League IP—not only the main world, but the PROJECT or Elderwood side universes as well The question at this point is not one of ambition, but of ability to continue on their momentum and innovate into new products and projects.