League of Legends Origins is a feature-length documentary released as part of League‘s 10th anniversary. Directed by Leslie Iwerks, the documentary tells League’s story through the eyes of people responsible for what the game is today. From publishers, developers, and artists, to the community, the casters, and the pros, the film doesn’t leave out anyone. I won’t keep you waiting any longer – let’s dive straight into this masterpiece.
I’d like to start my recap by first pointing out that your viewing experience may vary depending on your involvement with the game. I started playing in Season 2, watched the game along with its esports scene rise from nothing, and experienced all its ups and downs. However, someone who hasn’t been following the esports scene for long or recently started playing might not like it at all. Either way, I recommend you still watch it by yourself and form your own opinion on the film.
The story of League of Legends Origins can generally be divided into three parts. A note I’d like to make here is that the third part, the community, is intertwined into the story throughout the entire film. This shows Riot’s appreciation of the community, knowing they would be nothing without the people that support the game.
Starting off, the first part of the documentary talks about League before it even existed. It begins by showing the public perception of gaming at the time. It was thought of as anti-social, with no interaction between the people playing. The beginning also shortly touches on esports, showing news reports of the huge viewing numbers, comparing them to traditional sports, etc.
The most important part of this segment starts with founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck talking about Riot’s beginnings. As one might expect, their start wasn’t as bright as you might think. A small, dirty office with designers, publishers, and interns worked long hours to get the first samples of the game done in time for presentations. A fun fact mentioned by the founders is the way the game was first presented to a potential investor. They traveled to San Francisco and showed the investor a crappy demo on their laptop. While it didn’t seem like much, the investor saw potential in it and decided to invest.
A good part of the first segment is dedicated to issues League had at the start. While their first public presentation at PAX went well, troubles followed as more and more players logged on. From the store crashing to servers crashing in the middle of games, League saw it all. Riot emphasized how important interacting with the players in these times was, hence the creation of the forums and the tribunal.
Another fun anecdote told by the founders revolves around the opening of the European server. With the company being based in North America, a flight had to be booked to transfer the game to a data center in Europe. However, at the time of this happening, a volcano erupted in Europe, making airlines cancel many of their flights. Alternatively, Riot had to book flights from North America through Africa to make it to Europe avoiding the volcano issues.
The team actually worked for the first three years without any revenue. And you can’t even imagine the shock that followed when the team decided to make the game free-to-play. A negative stigma followed free-to-play games at the time, with many seeing them as either poor quality or pay to win. While Riot had the idea of making skins impact stats, they disliked the idea and quickly scratched it. Fortunately, the option of purchasing cosmetic items for money made Riot enough money to keep the servers running. The game wasn’t an overnight success, but the growth of its esports scene, as well as players’ contributions, made it rise astronomically.
At the time of League of Legends’ release, esports as an industry didn’t exist in western markets. The problem seemed to mostly lie in internet infrastructure and the negative stigma that surrounded gaming. However, at the time, eastern markets already had esports tournaments in Starcraft. Riot saw this as an opportunity to expand this non-existent industry to the west. Little did they know esports would become a huge deal in the next few years. The documentary went over past World Championships, as well as the idea of a league that would eventually become the LCS.
Of course, their entrance into esports wasn’t as swift as one might think. With the first World Championship taking place at Dreamhack, Riot knew they had to do something bigger for next year. In the courtyard between Staples Center and Nokia Center, Riot organized the season 2 World Championship. Back then, tournaments were still played on the same servers that regular gamers played on. This obviously meant trouble, and it happened right at Worlds. In game 3 of the quarterfinals, a freeze occurred after 50 minutes of play. The internet had gone out, and the game had to be remade. Everything would be fine if it went smoothly, but the game kept crashing after the remake.
This series lasted seven hours, with the casters having to fill in the time between the pauses. What’s more, the issue couldn’t be fixed, and the fans had to be sent home. While their tickets were compensated and they received free merchandise, this prompted Riot to do something about it. The next tournaments were played on offline servers and had backups in case of failure. Even though there were still issues, it was an important step to the stability we know today.
The remainder of the segment shows how Worlds finals got bigger and bigger year by year. It’s gone from a basement-like event in season 1 to nearly filling an Olympic stadium in 2017. Beijing’s National Stadium – also called the Bird’s Nest and once known as the stadium that Usain Bolt broke his sprint record in – now hosted an event for an industry that, at the time of Bolt setting his record, didn’t even exist. A wild atmosphere, Riot’s dragon animation, and an exciting series that saw Samsung dethrone SKT in three one-sided games were all important factors to one of the best Worlds finals to date.
Last but not least, Riot dedicated the final segments of its documentary to the community. Showcasing some of its popular streamers, content creators, cosplayers, and fans in general, Riot wanted to show its appreciation for the community. It’s the community that somewhat changed the public perception of gaming and esports. They have made League of Legends more than just a game, more than just an esport. It’s a lifestyle that impacts so many people worldwide and is here to stay.
I’d like to wrap up this recap with a thought that we saw at the end of the documentary: “The community is the game.” It’s a message so simple, yet so strong in meaning. It easily sums up everything that League has gone through – all the ups and downs, all the highs and lows. In the end, it is the community that keeps the game alive, and it’s without the community that it would have never risen to what it is today. And we can be thankful that it did.
League of Legends Origins is available to watch on the Netflix streaming platform.
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Vince Koyle is an esports writer, tech nerd and future CompSci student. He often likes to compare traditional sports to esports, showing his love for both kinds. Also tends to sometimes try too hard with explaining what esports is and how it isn’t any different than traditional sports. He mainly covers the League of Legends scene, with an emphasis on European and Asian leagues.