Legends of Runeterra is almost two months into its open beta. While the game itself is in a healthy state with a vibrant meta and regular patches, there's a lot to be desired when it comes to its competitive field. Without a spectator mode, only a handful of grassroots tournaments have taken place, and the currently ongoing Riot Games Korea Invitational stands as the largest tournament to date.
One of the players who made it to the Invitational's top eight and is still in contention for the crown, is Sebastian "Xixo" Bentert. The German, who conquered the Hearthstone scene and stands as one of its all-time greats, has now shifted focus to Legends of Runeterra. He spoke to us about his experience playing the game, and how he views its growth and future as a new title taking on the card game esports market.
Legends of Runeterra has been in Open Beta for about a month and a half now. What do you think of the game?
I have enjoyed this game so far. I mostly just like competing though, so for me, it doesn't matter that much what the mechanics of the game are. I just want to be competitive. As long as I can be competitive in a game, it doesn't matter too much to me what the game is like specifically. I'm not the best judge, but I have enjoyed it.
You have competed in other card game titles too. Compared to those games, how does Legends of Runeterra feel to you in terms of gameplay, depth et cetera?
It's a mix of Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering, I would say. The UI is closer to that of Hearthstone than that of Magic, but the way defending and stuff like that works is closer to Magic's mechanics. It's hard to speak about depth in Legends of Runeterra. We only have the basic set right now, and there are only so many decks. It's hard to say how the game will evolve. I think that the rules of the game allow for quite a bit of strategy, but I think right now the meta isn't too hard to play.
You said you didn't really mind what the specific mechanics of a game are, as long as you can be competitive. Let's look at the game from that angle then: which mechanics in the game do you think are healthy for competition?
I guess Fast Spells, being able to react to your opponent, are nice. Slow Spells can't react, and you can't react directly to Burst Spells. Fast Spells allow for a lot of interaction. I can see how for a viewer it may be a bit disturbing. Hearthstone is very easy to follow, since it's only one player's turn at a time. But I enjoy the interaction.
Spell Mana is pretty interesting. You can skip through turn one and turn two if you want. Some decks just start their curve on turn three, which you obviously couldn't do if there wasn't something like Spell Mana. It's nice that you can even out your curve a bit. I think that maybe in the future it would make more sense if you couldn't play spells that are more expensive than your mana. Being able to play The Harrowing on turn seven shouldn't be a thing perhaps. But it's too early to tell. The basic concept of Spell Mana is pretty nice.
The community hasn't been kind to mechanics like Elusive. Do you agree that something like that takes away from what makes a game fun to compete in?
I have enjoyed Elusives. Before and after the balance patch I got to #1 on the European server with Elusive decks. Like I said, I like competing, I like to win, so I'm enjoying it. *laughs* It's a bit weird, still. If you look at the concept of Elusive you'd think it's bad against Aggro decks because those have higher stats, and that it would be good against Control decks. But it's the exact opposite. Control decks are able to remove your minions, but Aggro decks usually die to you because you can just stall by blocking, but they can't block your Elusives.
I think the mechanic is fine, but they need to balance it better. Right now the match-ups are very one-sided. I'm not sure if I have a big problem with the concept itself, but the fact that match-ups seem to be one-sides is an issue.
Let's talk about the meta. If you look at the top players, and what they reach high ranks with, it seems like quite a few strategies are viable online. How balanced do you think the meta is?
I don't have a big issue with the card balance. Maybe there are a few individual cards that are a bit overtuned, where some decks are only viable because of a single card that's too strong. But overall the deck balance seems pretty good. There are a lot of viable decks. It's pretty good.
"If you look at the basic rules of both games, Runeterra is much better than Magic"
The developers have said that they plan on balancing the game every month. Is that something you like, or would you appreciate it if they let the meta settle for a bit?
I like changes. I like winning, and I think whenever there is a change there is an opportunity to get a big advantage. For me it's good. Whether it's good for the casual player base: I don't know. I'm not the right person to ask about the casual side. I'm pretty selfish in the assessment: I like winning, so I like changes.
So far there hasn't been a whole lot of Legends of Runeterra esports. How do you foresee the development of the game's competitive scene? Does it have potential to grow into something big?
I think the game definitely has potential. For example, I think M:TG is a pretty bad game. I know that there is a lot of history in the game, and the developers make a lot of interesting cards, so it adds up to be quite playable. But if you look at the basic rules of the game, it's not very good. It's a million years old though, so you have to cut them some slack. You can't expect them to make a perfect game back then. If you look at the basic rules of both games, Runeterra is much better than Magic, and Hearthstone is also better than Magic. Still, Magic is pretty big, proving that it's about more than just the game.
Strategy games have been performing kind of poorly in the last few months. After autobattlers fell down, I think card games have started to slow down with them. That's just my assessment. There's always a chance that a game gets big but it depends on how much the publisher pushes it, how it's advertised, how many big streamers play it.
Right now there isn't a very big streamer in Legends of Runeterra. There is Swimstrim who maybe gets like 2k viewers or something. That's good, of course, but it's not huge. I don't stream much at the moment, but when I stream I still get more viewers than when I stream Hearthstone. There is some interest, but there aren't many big streamers from other games streaming Runeterra now. There's not that one streamer like Thijs or DisguisedToast who satisfy the interest of many. Long term, that could be a bad factor.
What do you think the reason is for this absence of a big streamer?
There are always a few factors. But it could be that, in most cases when a new game is released the big streamers get contracts from the developers to stream their game. I guess that hasn't really happened in this game. For a big streamer, who gets thousands of viewers in other games guaranteed, there is not much of a reason to risk switching to Runeterra. I think there also hasn't been enough time yet for a big streamer to develop. Most Hearthstone streamers who are big right now entered the scene through Hearthstone. So maybe Legends of Runeterra needs some more time to develop its own streamers.
Which competitive format do you think could work well for Legends of Runeterra? You're currently playing in one hosted by Riot Korea, which forces you to use all six regions across three decks. Is that a format you like?
I think it's nice that I have to play every region. That way I don't lose to some one-trick, someone who just plays one deck and gets to a high rank with it. It was quite stressful to prepare though. It's Conquest, so you have to win with every deck. I feel that Noxus is pretty weak right now, so I was pretty scared that people would just lose three games with their Noxus deck, and that's how matches would be decided. But that's not how it went, it hasn't been a problem. Still, it was pretty stressful because I didn't want to have one deck that screwed everything up for me. It's still a pretty good format though.
Last Hero Standing is also a decent option. I feel like, if you would be allowed to play the same factions multiple times, it would be a problem. You'd basically have the same decks for 30 cards, but only some tech cards different. You can cap that, but it would be too messy. Capping it by regions is probably the way to go.
The other option is to have some single deck format with a sideboard. I'm not a big though. I think it has some advantages, but after seeing how Hearthstone implemented it with the Specialist format, I feel like I'm kind of over it. I would be fine if Riot decides to change to a one-deck format, but I don't think it's necessary.
Now let's look at the future of competitive Legends of Runeterra. How do you think Riot should approach the game if they want to grow its esports scene?
Well, the tournament I'm playing in, the Korean invitational, is kind of their first tournament. It's at least partly paid for by Riot Games, so they are invested in the esports scene. That's nice to know. There's no way that there's going to be just one Korean tournament and nothing afterward. I'm sure they'll do international tournaments, and European and American tournaments too.
I hope they know what they're doing. It seems like they are supporting the scene, but we'll just have to see what's on their mind.