LoL leadership talks aging player base, looks to future with new executive producer

As strange as it sounds, League of Legends is nearly 15 years old. In many ways, the industry standard-bearer in multiplayer PC gaming and esports, once a haven for young, competitive players, is now an “old” title—and it has a playerbase age to match.

At least, that was the gist given by League‘s leadership team in a private media event held on Riot’s Los Angeles campus. Make what you will of it, but the playerbase is getting older, and with that age comes a different set of challenges. “It’s not inherently a bad thing,” game director Pu Liu said in answer to a question about the age of League‘s players going up after confirming the assertion was true. “If you have a game that retains players really, really well, and you have a consistent inflow of new players year over year, [the playerbase] should age up.”

Victorious Graves splash art LoL
Older players mean new challenges. Image via Riot Games

With that aging playerbase comes a new set of challenges that didn’t really exist for the League team a decade ago. Liu referenced the challenge of bringing new players into a game, keeping “highly skilled, highly knowledgeable” players for more than a decade. Head of League Studio Andrei “Meddler” van Roon also noted how for many older players, what they were looking for from the game has changed as well. While the game’s middle years seemed dominated by players turning their full attention to succeeding in ranked, Meddler said older players wanted a greater mix of casual and competitive experiences.

“Now for some of our audience, especially those that have jobs or kids or whatever, we’re also seeing more of a shift,” Meddler said in the same private event. “It’s toward ‘Hey, I want to be competitive some of the time, and I want other experiences as well.”

It’s in this environment, with a constant push and pull between satisfying players who have been with League from day one to also trying to welcome in newbies, that the game is also getting a new executive producer. Paul “Pabro” Bellezza comes with plenty of Riot pedigree; he was one of the company’s first interns, one of the first 10 developers to work on League, and held various positions on the game, including lead champion producer, for a decade before moving to other Riot games over the past few years.

Bellezza takes over the role vacated by Jeremy “Brightmoon” Lee, and in a Q&A with media, he also identified the new player experience as one of League‘s biggest areas of potential growth. “As a player, I think there’s still a lot we can do to make the game more knowable and understandable,” he said. “How we teach people about the game, how we make things a little more clear… there’s lots of opportunity to just clean some shit up, whether it’s visual clarity, or UI, a better tutorial. That’s probably stuff that I want to look into.”

Many of these things, as Bellezza pointed out, can go over the League team’s heads simply by virtue of the fact they’ve all been playing the game for so long. The familiarity with the beloved title can sometimes blind the devs to just how confusing a MOBA title with almost 170 playable characters can be for new players.

Milio sits high in a tree surrounded by tiny, smiling fireballs known as fuemigos.
Designing new champs for a 15-year-old game ain’t easy, either. Image via Riot Games

And there will be more new champs for those players to deal with. Designing new characters for a game that’s been around for as long as League is also a challenge in itself, and according to Matthew “Phroxzon” Leung-Harrison, the team has tried to scale back on introducing overly complex champions as the years have gone on.

“One of the challenges we tend to struggle with, and we’re getting better at it over time, is trying to strike that balance between simplicity and complexity,” Phroxzon said. While there are still avenues to create more complex characters and types of characters that more niche audiences will enjoy, Phroxzon pointed out that making that type of character over and over again will only serve to further narrow League‘s audience—again, the push and pull of pleasing an aging audience and trying to welcome in new players.

That’s not to say Riot’s never going to make complex champs; just look at Hwei, who’s not even a year old. But there is a bent towards trying to find characters that do new things in simple ways that new and old players alike can enjoy, such as Milio.

But there will be simple champions, and perhaps even in greater frequency than the more complicated ones. To compensate for that, Phroxzon said the team wanted to make sure those simple champions always bring new things with their kits.

“Definitely, it gets more and more difficult to create new champions and make sure that they’re always resonating with players,” Phroxzon summed up. “[But] we ultimately want to do a combination of both simple and complex, and we want to push the boundaries of both, and we want players to always feel like League is coming up with something new.”

New tricks, as the saying goes, can be the difficult part for old dogs. But with the energy of a new producer and a firm vision for what they want from their champions, future events, and esports scenes, Riot seems well-positioned to pull it off.

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