I’ve been grappling with the idea of penning this article since the beginning of the year, but every time I neared completion, Riot would throw another curveball. So now, this piece has transformed into not only an exploration of whether the game is on a downward spiral, but also an attempt to make sense of the recent tumultuous events. This year has been filled with more twists, turns, and surprises than an afternoon soap opera. The truth is, we don’t have all the answers, but through some investigative journalism, we can try to peel back the layers and gain some insights.
Before I dive in, I want to emphasize how much I adore this game and how passionately I want it to thrive. I’ve invested countless hours and dollars into helping it grow and nurturing the vibrant community around it. Our community is truly exceptional, and it’s the reason many of us have remained steadfast, even during times when the game didn’t align with our expectations.
It’s crucial to recognize that we can critique something while still supporting it.
To understand where we’re currently situated and where we’re headed, we must first take a step back and examine the journey that brought us here. Let’s reflect on the changes and the key players involved.
The State of Worlds
Things took a turn for the worse, or rather, the bizarre, around the time of Worlds last year. Looking back, the period leading up to Worlds marked a golden age for LoR. The game seemed to hit its stride, and the qualifying season was a joyous experience for many, myself included. The stakes were high, and the competition was fierce as we marched toward crowning our first-ever Legends of Runeterra World Champion!
Worlds took place in mid-September 2021. However, the lead-up to the event was marred by mishaps. My friend and teammate, Kevor, and another player were excluded from the open rounds due to miscommunication between Riot and the third-party company responsible for their operation. Furthermore, the failure to stream the Open Rounds was a missed opportunity. Despite these setbacks, the top 16 showcased some of the most phenomenal LoR gameplay we’ve ever witnessed. The tournament ended on a high note with Alanzq being crowned Champion—an ending straight out of Hollywood.
And then, the momentum abruptly halted. There was no announcement about what lay ahead. We were left in the dark, unsure if another Seasonals event would even happen, let alone what it would qualify us for. We had reached a crescendo of excitement and interest in the game, only to be met with silence. It was a missed opportunity of colossal proportions.
And then came the infamous article: “What to expect from Competitive.”
The Path of PvE
Hindsight allows me to see that the wheels were already in motion to redirect LoR toward PvE. Labs had been around for a while and offered various functionalities, such as 2v2 Co-op and Lab of Legends, which eventually evolved into Path of Champions.
In the aforementioned article, Riot addressed the passionate feedback they received about the communication and execution of tournaments, rules, formats, and more. I can’t help but wonder if some of that feedback was in response to my record-breaking Reddit post. The article also hinted at forthcoming updates and the need to ensure the sustainability of Seasonals. Translation: certain aspects needed to be trimmed to ensure the game’s longevity.
Fast forward a couple of months to November 2021, when Lab of Legends was launched. At the time, I failed to recognize the potential implications for the rest of the game. While it was evident that resources had been allocated from the “core” game to develop Path of Champions, I didn’t mind because it was an exciting addition. Nonetheless, I continued to voice my opinions on Reddit and Discord, hoping to contribute to the shaping of LoR’s competitive roadmap.
January passed, and announcements about announcements came and went. It wasn’t until late February that we finally received the highly anticipated roadmap and game update. The big questions loomed: Would we have a professional scene? Best-of-three ladder? Increased prize pools? New formats? Or perhaps a shocking revelation? But alas, after seven months, nothing had changed in competitive play, except for the removal of Seasonals coverage. Furthermore, the focus had shifted to PvE due to its popularity.
This turn of events left me in utter disbelief.
I reached my breaking point, consumed by frustration and an overwhelming sense of dissonance. I felt like Majiin had slipped me 1980s quaaludes, tied me to a chair, and subjected me to a marathon of The Cradle Series while force-feeding me poro snacks. Sleep eluded me as I desperately sought answers. I even went as far as contacting my local Congressman/Senator/Private Doctor (only to realize later that I live in Canada, where such positions don’t exist).
Light and Dark
It was a dark period for LoR. However, amidst the chaos, a glimmer of hope emerged. I neglected to mention earlier that the next Seasonals had been postponed, leaving us with virtually nothing to do in March—plunging the game to its lowest point. Even the entire Mastering Pro Team had lost interest. There appeared to be no reason to play… and yet, hope persisted. A thought flickered in my sleep-deprived mind: “This can’t continue like this.”
I realized that change was inevitable. Riot didn’t become the behemoth it is today by making foolish decisions. Eventually, someone would take notice of the dwindling player numbers. Heads would roll, or new resources and personnel would be injected into the game. Rest assured, LoR would not remain in this state indefinitely. Fueled by this newfound hope and a touch of madness, I decided to bide my time and wait.
I didn’t have to wait long.
Andrew Yip, the face of LoR, the current design director, and former game director, stepped down from the company. The official explanation was an abrupt departure to prioritize family. However, anonymous sources have contacted me with insider information suggesting that there may be more to this story.
Within a month, Yip had a new job.
This raises the question: Was he asked to leave, or did he choose to depart due to dissatisfaction with Riot? Numerous other possible reasons hover in the periphery, leaving us with unanswered questions.
Speaking of departures, where did Jeff Jew go? Remember him from every announcement video except the last one? The executive producer typically sits atop the pyramid, deciding the game’s direction and overseeing the entire project. Keep this in mind, as titles will become relevant again soon.
Finally, we arrive in May. Riot decided to gradually reveal that Seasonals would receive additional coverage rounds (Why not announce this sooner?). Apart from Seasonals being plagued with bugs and falling apart, everything seemed relatively normal. However, rumblings within the community grew louder, questioning the shift toward PvE and what it meant for us “core” players (whatever “core” means, according to Riot).
The community’s concerns prompted Riot to directly address them during a patch release on May 24th. Pay close attention to the statement that they have “no plans to reduce investment in either” mode…
But guess what?
A mere ten days later, Riot dropped a bombshell announcing that PvE would take a backseat. The majority of the PvE staff would be reassigned to other Riot projects, as the game refocused on PvP and its “core” players.
To recap, within a span of two months, the game shifted to PvE, lost its design director, launched Path of Champions 2.0 with a promise not to divert resources from either mode, then abruptly pivoted back to PvP, resulting in staff cuts in the PvE department. Moreover, Brett Freeman, the Director of Strategy, would also be leaving the project.
So, let’s summarize:
In a matter of months, LoR experienced haphazard transitions, lost key figures, and rearranged leadership positions. Understandably, the community is apprehensive, with some questioning if this is the game’s death knell.
I’ve heard countless theories regarding the reasons behind these changes, and I want to debunk a few of them. By untangling the web of speculation, we can inch closer to the truth.
First, let’s address the theory that PvE lacked sufficient player engagement. Riot stated in March that PvE was immensely popular, surpassing all other modes combined. Path appeared to resonate with players, and it would be inconceivable for Riot to release Path 2.0 only to reverse course days later due to lackluster engagement.
This theory holds no water.
Even if not a single person played Path, Riot would require extensive investigation and deliberation before making such a monumental decision. In reality, there are other factors at play.
Another theory posits that Path was not generating enough revenue, leading to its demise. However, Riot has consistently emphasized their commitment to creating great games first and monetizing them second. Their revenue model relies on cultivating a large player base and subsequently monetizing it. Multiple avenues exist to capitalize on an active player community. Thus, abandoning a project midway, just as it was gaining traction, contradicts Riot’s established strategy.
With these theories debunked, what remains? Could it be that Riot needed to divert developer resources to other projects? Is it possible that the new Executive Producer, possessing seven years’ experience at Wizards of the Coast, sought to restore LoR’s origins as a remarkable PvP CCG? Could this signal the beginning of the game’s demise?
Thankfully, answers to these questions have come to light sooner than anticipated.
Fast-forward three days…
As I revised this article last Wednesday, new information came to the fore!
PvE developers confirmed that Dave Guskin (known as Davetron) was actively assisting them in securing positions within other projects at Riot. This debunks the theory that high-ranking individuals reallocated developers to different projects arbitrarily. Such a move would defy logic, considering the demand for opportunities to work at Riot and capture snapshots with Tibbers.
Dave has been remarkably active on Twitter, engaging with the community and even responding to my DM, where I invited him to appear on the Mastering Runeterra Podcast (soon!). This level of transparency is unprecedented.
Moreover, he took to his personal Twitter account to address lingering questions.
From the beginning, my belief has been that Dave, the new head of LoR, recognized the need to refocus on PvP. His fifth point in the Twitter thread reinforces this notion. It aligns with the logical choice: attempting to balance extensive PvP and PvE developments on such a massive scale may have proven technically challenging. Remember when Riot had to abandon cross-shard functionality due to interference with other platform-related endeavors? The staggering complexity of the game’s codebase likely presented obstacles. Recent instances of Seasonals’ bugs, as well as the increasing number of issues accompanying new card releases, support this hypothesis.
At a certain juncture, the sheer complexity undermines the ability to gauge the impact of implementing or introducing new features. Thus, a decision must be made, and I believe Dave made the right one.
LoR has the potential to surpass Magic: The Gathering. It resolves many of the pain points associated with a thirty-five-year-old game. LoR offers smooth mana mechanics, freedom from paper constraints, and accessibility without exorbitant costs. All Riot needs to do is reach out and seize the opportunity. Implement the features that make Magic Arena enjoyable—high-stakes play, diverse formats, and an organized play system catering to players of every skill level, from casual to professional.
Dave’s experience with MTG equips him to navigate its strengths and weaknesses. While some in the community harbor concerns about the recent announcement, I’ve never been more optimistic about LoR’s future.
The game should be far ahead of its current standing, and I witnessed its decline unfold firsthand. Now, we have a genuine chance to reach the promised land, and our trajectory is aligned accordingly. Riot has promised a new roadmap by the end of summer, so answers to our theories are imminent.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and please look forward to more weekly pieces from me!
… To be Continued.