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Why it took a decade for Riot to follow League of Legends with a new game

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Illustrations by Alex Castro / The Verge

A decade after League of Legends first debuted, Riot Games is finally ready to announce its next release — or releases, as it turns out. At its 10th anniversary celebration this evening, the company unveiled a huge slate of upcoming games.

There are multiple League spinoffs, including a fighting game, digital card game, and animated series. There’s also a mysterious, in-the-works shooter codenamed “Project A” that takes place in a brand-new universe. If the first 10 years of Riot were defined almost entirely by a single game, it looks like the next decade will be about building on that foundation.

“It feels awesome,” Riot co-founder Marc Merrill tells The Verge of the company’s new lineup announcement. “It is a really exciting time as a developer when you’ve been working on things for, in many cases, years, to finally start to expose those things to the rest of the world.”

Of course, following up a game like League is an intimidating task. Despite its age, it still ranks among the most popular titles in the world, with an estimated 8 million peak concurrent daily players and vibrant professional leagues spanning multiple continents. That long-term success will inevitably put a lot of pressure on any follow-up game, but Merrill says that isn’t necessarily the reason it took so long to announce Riot’s next title.

League of Legends: Wild Rift.

“Riot is probably the biggest game company ever to only have one game,” he explains. “I think that there are very valid ways to look at that and critique it. On the flip side, I think there are very valid ways to talk about why that focus actually may be part of the secret sauce of the company’s success.”

According to Merrill, the scale of League allowed the company to attract new people, which in turn made it possible to form new teams around specific projects. “In order to deliver and create incredible games, you need the best people, you need the best teams,” he says. “And you don’t do that overnight.”

Along those same lines, the ongoing success of League gave the company the luxury of time. They didn’t have to rush out a new game, but instead could figure out what made sense to tackle next. Merrill says that Riot’s R&D department has explored many different ideas, the majority of which don’t make it to the actual production phase.

“It only makes sense to do something if we’re confident that we can elevate the experience for players,” he says. “Riot is only going to do a few big games over time, because we want players to know what to expect from Riot in terms of commitment: quality of service, great IP, really high-quality gameplay.” (He notes that smaller projects like animated shorts were a way to “build the muscle” for these more ambitious ventures.)

“Project A”

One of the more surprising announcements Riot made was the aforementioned “Project A.” Every other title the company spoke about today was related in some way to League, whether it’s a card game set in the same fantasy universe or a 2D fighter starring familiar characters. But “Project A” goes in a different direction: it’s a tactical shooter set in a brand-new universe. Merrill says the reason for this is simple: the world of League — in particular the silhouettes of its characters — wouldn’t work for that kind of shooter experience.

“We believe that the [intellectual property] needs to support the gameplay,” Merrill says. “In many cases, League of Legends really enhances a particular game. We think that’s true in Legends of Runeterra, we think that will be true in ‘Project L.’ With a super competitive tactical shooter, that has incredibly tight gunplay, where the skill ceiling is kind of an infinite curve, League IP would actually do a disservice to that game.”

According to Merrill, it also made sense to announce a group of games, rather than one title that would have the burden of being the game to follow up League of Legends. As the company looks toward its next decade, this was a chance to show a new direction for Riot, one that aims to build off of the success of League in a variety of ways. “We think that when people see it all together, rather than one in isolation, they’re going to understand it more,” says Merrill.