Riot Games Finds Key To Delighting Gamers With ‘League of Legends’ Sales On Track For $1 Billion

When it comes to the video game industry, no other game comes close to the success, and install base, that League of Legends has. Developed by Riot Games and released back in 2009, the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game is estimated to boast around 67 million monthly players and according to Riot, their success is because of the company’s focus on player experience over revenue that, according to market research firm SuperData, could net them $1 billion in 2014.

An example of this approach to business would be the World Championship Series tournament. At the WCS 2013 championship, which was held at the Staples Center, thousands attended the event, paying $15-$50 for seats, while around 32 million viewers watched online. These are statistics that, on paper, sound good. But in reality, the developer is losing money for its League of Legends tournament where the first place team walks away with $1 million.

But rather than look at the tournament as a failure, Riot sees it as a huge marketing opportunity to bring in new players according to Riot Games co-founder Marc Merrill. The tournament is there to inspire enthusiasts and grow the player base that, according to the developer, is 90 percent males aged 15-25.

For a fee, you can unlock alternate costumes for your favorite Champion

The fact that anyone can pick up the game for free is another reason for its exponential growth. With that player base, Riot is able to turn a profit through the selling of skins, which are alternate outfits, for the Champions that gamers pick and choose when playing the game. Champions, of which there are around 120 to choose from, are the ingame avatars that players pick to battle it out against others and is what Riot banks on. Many of these payers are willing to pay for those digital costumes and are the people that the developer of centers on.

"If you’re really into cars, you don’t mind spending $50,000 to soup up your Honda. That’s the player we’re tapping into," says Merrill.

The tournament series, along with LoL’s free-to-play approach, is working for Riot Games. According to SuperData, Riot’s large player base of 67 million players spent around $122 million in the month of August.  

“Whenever I talk to executives at Riot, it’s like a mantra: ‘Revenue is second, the player experience is first,” said SuperData chief executive Joost van Dreunento. “The paradox is that by putting revenue second, League will be one of the very few games to bring in $1 billion in 2014.”