League of Legends is one of the most popular games in the world, and it has been for the better part of a decade. But it’s also incredibly intimidating: a 5 vs. 5 competitive experience with all kinds of complex rules and quirks. It’s not a game you pick up and understand right away. That’s part of what makes Wild Rift, a new spinoff for mobile, so surprising. It takes the core of League and packages it in a way that makes it much more approachable for newcomers. This is by far the best way to start playing.
First, it’s important to note that Wild Rift isn’t a direct port of League. Instead, it’s a new version designed specifically for mobile (and, at some point in the future, consoles). It still feels like League in a lot of ways, but there are some key differences. The core is identical: it’s a team game where squads of five go up against each other with the goal of taking down the opposing team’s base. You still navigate a map made up of three lanes, with a jungle full of creatures to kill in between, and you have to choose between a variety of heroes with unique skills.
But the changes, while seemingly small, are noticeable. For one thing, the map is smaller, so it’ll take less time to clear out lanes on your way to the enemy’s base. In my experience, matches last around 20 minutes in Wild Rift, compared to League on PC where they can stretch out past 45 minutes. It’s just about the ideal length for playing on your phone.
The addition of touchscreen controls is a big shift as well. Riot has replaced a mouse and keyboard with lots and lots of on-screen buttons. There’s a virtual joystick for movement — it’s serviceable, but like all virtual joysticks, it can be unresponsive at times — and buttons for all of your different attacks. There are also auto-attack buttons so you can focus on killing nearby minions or destroying towers, one for warping back to base, as well as a mini-map and pop-ups whenever you can buy a new item. It’s a lot, and the screen can get pretty cluttered on a phone. (It’s a bit better if you’re on a tablet; I played on an iPad Pro, and the UI had a lot more room to breathe.)
Surprisingly, though, aside from a few small issues, the controls have worked fine for me across a dozen or so matches. The joystick can get sticky, and it’s easy to accidentally start recalling yourself back to base, but other than that, I haven’t had any issues. So long as you aren’t planning to go pro, you should be fine. Riot seems to have found a nice balance between streamlined controls and giving you lots of information. The game also has fewer characters to choose from — around 60, compared to well over 100 in the PC version — simplifying yet another aspect of the experience.
So basically, Wild Rift is a slightly lightweight take on League. But aside from the controls and smaller map, the thing that really makes it work is the onboarding. Wild Rift has an excellent tutorial series that teaches you the basics — how positions work, why you might want to wander off to kill a dragon — and it even gives you some in-game rewards for completing it. You can also bring up a version of the in-game map at any point and refresh yourself on everything from how the monsters work to what a top laner is supposed to do. It’s still an incredibly complex game, and you won’t learn everything from the tutorial, but it does an excellent job of easing in new players by explaining the basics in simple terms.
A mobile version of League makes a lot of sense — so much so that it’s surprising it took so long. Most of the biggest online games are available on smartphones. Sometimes, like with Fortnite and Genshin Impact, those games offer an identical experience across platforms. Others, like PUBG, Rocket League, and — now — League of Legends, have opted for a mobile-specific spinoff. (That strategy worked out for PUBG, which recently celebrated 1 billion downloads.)
It may be a decade old, but League is arguably as popular as it’s ever been, with multiple spinoffs and even an animated series in the works. Wild Rift may be a bit late to the party, but it looks to be an important part of the game’s next decade.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Riot had a Netflix series in the works; while there is an animated League of Legends show in development, Riot hasn’t yet announced what platforms it will be available on. We regret the error.