Earlier this week, a highly report detailed report described alleged tensions between League of Legends developer Riot and parent megacorp Tencent. The report cites declining League player numbers and bad blood over Tencent’s desire for and (development of) a mobile MOBA. Riot acknowledges that the relationship has been strained in the past, but says it’s now “the best it’s ever been.”
Riot Games is wholly owned by Tencent Games, which purchased a majority stake in 2011 and finished the acquisition in 2015. Some time during that period, Tencent asked Riot to develop a mobile version of League, recognizing the overall greater popularity of smartphones than PCs in China. Riot wasn’t interested in making a more casual version of League appropriate for those devices, however.
Tencent released its own mobile MOBA in 2015 – the game now known in the West as Arena of Valor. People at Riot were stunned by the game’s similarities to League, according to The Information’s report. One unnamed former employee says “they were blatantly ripping off our intellectual property.”
The other issue for Riot comes in the form of declining player numbers for League beginning in 2016. The report suggests that the trend has extended across Europe, North America, and China, though Riot only acknowledges the lattermost point. “It’s been declining, but not massively,” CEO Nicolo Laurent says. “In the rest of the world, it’s either stable or growing, so it’s not that dramatic.”
However, as a former employee notes, “Riot was forged under huge growth, so non-growth is catastrophic. One year of decline is much rougher if you haven’t had declines in the past.”
In the wake of the report, Riot provided a statement to Comic Book saying “Tencent has believed in us since our early days, and together we’ve collaborated to bring League of Legends to players around the world. And we’re just getting started. We love Tencent as a partner, publisher, and owner. There have been times where there were tensions between us – including [Arena of Valor] – but we worked through those. We have an incredibly strong relationship built on collaboration and a shared vision for what we can do for players.”
In a separate statement to Dot Esports, Riot says “The relationship with Tencent is the best it’s ever been.” The company also says that “League numbers are down from their peak, but it’s still one of the most-played games in the world and we’re very happy with the numbers, and we think some of the new content we’re putting out soon can only help with player numbers. Basically, League is doing incredibly well by any measure except its own very high watermark.”
In both statements, the company makes its usual allusion to putting the ‘s’ back into ‘Riot Games.’ The studio does indeed have new games on the way – or so it keeps saying with increasing emphasis and frequency. Whatever the state of the current relationship with Tencent and regardless of League’s player numbers, the studio is shaking things up, and we’re due to see the results of those changes soon.