Splitting his schedule between journalism and filming Summoning Insight, esports historian Duncan "Thorin" Shields, shared his views on Riot Game's 10th year anniversary announcements.
Hey Thorin, what are you doing in LA?
I’m here to do The 9s - Summoning Insight Presented by AT&T, as you’re supposed to apparently pronounce it. Obviously just doing Summoning Insight again with Montecristo, because he already did the show - The 9s - I actually didn’t watch it, apparently no one did. It’s super well produced, all the stuff is done with Cloud 9, so as far as I can tell the concept of the show wasn’t doing well enough in terms of views, so they had the idea of “why not just do Summoners Insight, Monte’s already in LA, he doesn’t work with League of Legends anymore and he has the off season from the Overwatch League”, so I thought it was a fun idea and when we had the concept of doing it two months short, it’s a lot easier if it’s just a podcast, and in a studio it would be a lot harder to carry the show with just two people since I already do my show with Loco anyway, it just made sense to put all three people together, and we strictly don’t get hired by Riot, so…
Did you watch the #League10 Anniversary Stream? What’s your opinion on the announcements?
Let’s start with Wild Rift, the mobile League of Legends game:
That’s actually of all of the announcements they made, to me that was the most obvious one, I actually thought this was a massive misplay that Riot Games made, which is that immediately they did not port the game to mobile version anyway, because for people who don’t know, there is a version basically of mobile LoL called Arena of Valor, just re-skinned. In fact what people don’t know is also, it’s owned by Tencent, and it was leaked internally that before they made that game, they had asked Riot “just make a mobile LoL”, it would be obviously huge in their market, because people are always commuting and playing games.
So for whatever reason Riot decided not to do it before, that blows my mind, because the example I always give is in Counter Strike, the community is very elitist, and they look down on League of Legends, even DOTA, to some degree, are for newbs or worse players, they think Counter Strike is the top pinnacle game so normally you would think those sorts of people would hate League of Legends, but because Arena of Valor is a mobile game, I’ve seen so many of the CS talent, the big name commentators and analysts in a green room, with nothing to do, the amount of times I’ve seen them play literally Arena of Valor on their phones. They hate League of Legends but probably don’t know what League of Legends is, but that’s the point. The kind of person who wouldn’t play on PC or home they might play on mobile, I actually think if League was a mobile game I would play more at like a bar that’s boring, or waiting for a flight. It is a really clever way to deliver a game like League of Legends and it doesn’t have to be the most full-on game ever, and that was the other thing I didn’t realize until I saw someone play it like that, is that League isn’t really that super mechanic of a game, you can pull off most of the moves even on the screen, not necessarily with mouse click.
I can’t really see a downside for this game, except for Arena of Valor’s market share at the moment, seems like a pretty obvious idea, it should succeed.
How do you think that the amount of time it took for Riot to put out Wild Rift will affect them on the long run?
That’s obviously one of their biggest problems, literally the joke we used to make in the last 10 years was “Why is called Riot Games if they only ever made one game”, the other thing that was silly about what they did for many years is that a number of these projects were known about for years and years and years, I heard about the Riot FPS game, the Counter Strike styled one about four years ago, so a long time ago. And everyone knows in the meantime they had a game that was going to be a card game, that got killed when Hearthstone came out, so the sad thing is that they have been researching and developing and trying to make other games but for whatever reason whoever was at the top was just killing these projects which is kind of a bit depressing. It reminds me of the movie studios with all these really cool directors on projects that just right before the movie gets made, the idea gets killed.
I would imagine that Riot has their own way of doing things and it has to be exactly their way and they are really stubborn, so if I have to guess why they now came out with all these games, is because before when they used to own most of the company and had all the say, they wanted to do things in a very particular way, if you notice in the last couple of years, Tencent has been heavily in control, they’ve been doing these very different things, I imagine if a massive game developer buys you, they want you to make more than just one game.
And what are your thoughts on Runeterra? Do you think it will make Hearhtstone kick the bucket?
I mean, Hearthstone didn’t do enough of a good job about themselves as far as I can tell, the biggest mistake with all the Hearthstone stuff from Blizzard, as far as I can tell is they killed it in the first couple of years, they got all that market share, I saw so many people with iPads and iPhones playing that game and it had a really insane market penetration. The key for me was that they should never even been the big name in that field to begin with. Obviously Wizards of the Coast with just Magic the Gathering in the way they do now with their Hearthstone-like game they could have had that market share years ago, that would have been a massive game. The problem with their older game was if you remember, you had to buy the cards online, even if you owned them in real life, so people went “oh f*ck this”.
For me, they had a free period where it felt like they didn’t know what to do with Magic the Gathering so Hearthstone took over, but what have they done since then? It just plateaued, it never became the biggest esport or went much further. It’s always a worrying sign to me when a game becomes a bit more popular on the streaming side than in the actual esports side.
I think in theory Runeterra is likely to succeed, specially because it is backed by Riot, you know all these League of Legends players will give it a try anyway, the only thing is that I don’t know if it can actually beat those other games, Magic the Gathering is a pretty strong game and the community is very niche, maybe people can transition from Hearthstone.
What about Project A? You’re close with CS:GO, I am particularly interested in your thoughts for this shooter.
I am fond of Counter Strike but that’s actually a really tricky genre to make games in. The big problem with FPS games is that there is so much that goes about precision, aiming and these things that the games where fans are most likely to just not like the game based off of its engine. The reason why Quake had such a hardcore following for so many years is because the game engine had such a specific feel to it and how you moved, the atmosphere in the game was a really compelling part of playing it where a lot of FPS games is that they all look very similar, same guns, similar skins. But if you ever felt what was like to play each one of these games, you’d know exactly what makes them different. I guess the best analogy that I give for people that aren’t hardcore FPS fans is just think of the different battle royales, they all look similar but all have different engines, and that does affect how much fun it is.
If you think you are shooting with a gun and it is laggy or doesn’t aim the way it should, that’s gonna make esports people super turned off about it, maybe casual fans might enjoy it, cause it’s fun, kinda like Fornite, that’s mainly for children, obviously. So my main problem with Project A is that’s going to be really hard for it to displace Counter Strike and take their market share. It doesn’t mean there isn’t space for another FPS game, but like I said, people are not so open minded about FPS games.
And then there’s the Overwatch element of it, with spells and features that are not in your typical FPS, far from realism, it seems like this game is halfway between the two. I am not sure who the target audience for Project A is, of the people who like FPS games, it may not be their favorite. My guess is that either it will be terrible or I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ve had some really bad guesses on general gaming culture when it doesn’t relate to esports.
CS:GO aside, let’s talk about what this means to the Overwatch League. It seems that the game itself and the league are struggling. Even with rumors of Overwatch 2, what do you think this new Riot FPS means to Blizzard?
In theory this FPS game could affect it a bit, but the real problem for me is that Overwatch as a game, in terms of the everyday players, it already has failed, it had its peak and then it plateaued and it’s never going to be number one again, that was a brief thing. The esports side is obviously weird because it’s totally inorganic, it’s all propped up by all the buy-ins and sponsors, so those people clearly are not going away tomorrow, they are going to stick around for a while because they invested and they think there’s gonna be something out of this.
I actually think that generally, this game from Riot can take some of its casual share, but I don’t even know if that game itself will be a big esports hit, or if Riot even needs it to be. They are probably fine with it just being casual and they will make a lot of money off of it.
As you said, I think the next big move for Blizzard is to make Overwatch 2 and then launch the OWL in the new game. It will be a way to tell the investors “hey don’t worry Overwatch is not doing well, Overwatch 2 will come out and we’ll have all the big players ready for it”. Whether that’s true or not, it’s not a bad way to sell someone on the idea.
And what about the Esports Manager game?
That’s an interesting one. What people might not know is that in Europe, especially, the original version of that type of a game was a game called Championship Manager, basically a football simulator where you played the coach, and that was a huge game. I’m not so sure how it’s doing now because I am in the esports bubble, but when I was a kid I used to play that game a lot. Back then I didn’t have money for all the new games, so I had to keep playing the ‘93 version when it was ‘98, still trying to hunt some unknown players, I played that game a lot.
I do think that it has real potential as a game, it just matters how in-depth it goes,what makes them fun is that you have to feel like you really can trade players, rotate your team, it actually would be pretty cool if you can get Uzi or Rekkles in the same team, it sounds like quite a fun angle! The only thing is that it’s not an esports game, it’s just for fun and casual, it would be tricky to put a lot of options in it.
It seems like Championship Manager has been successful because sports have been around for so long. But what about esports? It hasn’t been around for nearly as long, it seems a bit niche.
The game I just described is an incredibly casual game, a nerdy game to play. It could fall into mainstream because of the sports managing aspect, you could launch it to a lot of people, but as you said, it may be starting with only League of Legends people, then adding other esports. For someone who isn’t into esports and doesn’t know the players it really wouldn’t be that cool to make trades. I don’t even imagine Riot would think this game would be huge, or even an esport.
Yeah, it would be very meta.
Any thoughts on Worlds so far?
I think so far it’s been interesting, every Worlds you start playing a game that feels almost completely different than it was two months ago, figuring out what’s a good pick and whatnot. It’s being one of the more confusing starts I think the meta was very very different and some teams are affected by it, obviously being Cloud 9 and Fnatic, they look pretty bad, they look like they don’t even give themselves a chance, playing very weird styles and making some questionable choices.
My usual thoughts go like this: if a player does something really weird, or they put in a sub where the sub is not as good, I don’t just assume the guys are idiots and don’t know what they are doing. I just assume they thought this was the best decision to make, and what that implies is that these teams have gotten wrecked at scrims in the bootcamp playing default meta.
Overall the hype of “I can’t wait to watch Fnatic play this team or Cloud 9 play that team” some of the hype hasn’t quite lived up it. But maybe now you can have a completely different team win the championship.
I don’t think Team Liquid is going to win, but now they have a better chance at Worlds in this meta than the one before, that we watched for most of the year.
The other thing I think we learned from this Worlds is that should have been an established fact for all of history pretty much is that people every year mega underestimate everyone who is asian who isn’t Chinese or Korean. If you’re from the LMS region or VCS everyone always treats you like a tier 700 team who could never win a game but as you’ve seen, the J Team guys already beat Fun Plus Phoenix, they have literally beaten Splyce already, GAM as well. These teams they are never going to win the tournament, but for them to make it out of groups would be a big deal, but people take that fact that they likely won’t get out of groups and go way too far with it, like they had no chance.
I’ve seen this every year. It used to be the same with the Flash Wolves guys back in the day, but then what happened is that when they did enough upsets, people remembered their names, they remembered Karsa, Maple or SwordArt. The real problem is people just don’t know the current crops, or now that they’ve seen this Worlds and they see like FoFo for example, he is supposed to be the best LMS player, so in the future I hope that as League progresses, people have more respect for top players on top teams regardless of the region.
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