With Riot Games’ sights set on the Southeast Asian region, we look at how their promise of bringing the League of Legends experience to mobile may play out. With the beta having gone live in countries like Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, it would seem that the developer is largely focused on the Southeast Asian market, where incumbents like Mobile Legends and Arena of Valor claim dominance. With the game expected to release worldwide by early 2021, we take a look at whether Wild Rift can challenge its competitors’ dominance in the region, and what it might take to do so.
Wild Rift is harder to play than its other popular mobile MOBAs like Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and Arena of Valor. MLBB’s low skill floor and high skill ceiling means that there is room for casual players to pick up the game easily and for hardcore pro players to fine-tune their skills and compete.
Riot wants to keep the Wild Rift experience as close to League of Legends as possible. Sure, they have tweaked certain champion abilities to fit the small screen but there are other aspects of Wild Rift that make it a lot more challenging than what mobile MOBA audiences are used to. For instance, the number of abilities, spells and actives are almost double of that in MLBB, calling for more fine-tuned movement and mechanical skills on your mobile device.
Also, in Wild Rift, gold can only be earned by last hitting minions, making the laning phase a lot more intense and demanding compared to other MOBAs. This coupled with the fact that you can only buy items at the base in Wild Rift makes the game times slightly longer at 15-20 minutes. If Riot wants to compete with games like Mobile Legends, it may have to lower the skill floor for the game. However, this may not sit well with their North American and European audiences who are looking for an authentic League experience on mobile.
Riot already seems to have rubbed its Americas’ audience the wrong way. The latest dev diary announcement said that players in both North and South America will have to wait for Spring 2021 for the game to go live there. Fans have expressed their frustration with more than 16k dislikes on the official YouTube video. This news was quite disheartening for Brazilian fans since they were included for the Alpha test but neither the closed beta was available nor is the open beta will be available in their region as of now.
That being said, Naga Krauser, a mobile MOBA streamer and an admin for the main Wild Rift Facebook group in India is hopeful about the Wild Rift launch. He said, ”Arena of Valor players will find it easier to switch to Wild Rift and although it may be hard for MLBB players, once they get used to it, they’ll stick to Riot."
Riot has decided to deviate from the pay-to-win business models of a lot of other MOBAs including MLBB. In MLBB, players can convert real money into in-game diamonds and max out their emblems, gaining damage, attack speed and other advantages over enemies even before the game starts. Many of the skins released by Moonton add extra damage or other boosts to a character. Wild Rift’s paid upgrades are purely cosmetic and the Runes (emblem-equivalent in Wild Rift) are free from the get-go.
Ever since Riot decided to reveal that it’s venturing into the mobile space during the 10th Anniversary Event, Moonton has taken note and invested in projects to improve its game, including Project NEXT and Operation Attention.
Project NEXT is about revamping old iconic champions like Miya and Eudora, including their kits and overall graphics, while Operation Attention is the sum of Moonton’s efforts to optimize MLBB matchmaking. However, some of Moonton's previous attempts at balancing the game have been met with heavy criticism. This may ultimately overshadow their efforts to revamp the game.
The mobile MOBA esports scene has been dominated by Mobile Legends till now. In addition to having a thriving esports league, the game became one of the first mobile games to be included as a medal event at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. The Mobile Legends (M1) World Championship 2019 attracted over 648K people at its peak and had an average audience of 165 469 viewers. The majority of the people tuned into the Indonesian live stream, which peaked at over 467,000 viewers.
While Moonton has cultivated an active Mobile Legends scene, Riot’s League of Legends tournaments are massive and their production value is largely considered to be second to none. However, Wild Rift is a new game and it will certainly take a while to develop a community and player base before Riot starts thinking about an esports scene. Riot has said that it will likely go the VALORANT way and wait for the scene to develop organically before stepping in. However, this hasn’t stopped esports organisations in Asia from already making plans and picking up Wild Rift rosters.
Riot set its sights on content creation right from the Alpha release of the game. Creators like Alodia Gosiengfiao, Dexie Diaz and Biancake were invited as Alpha testers. Looking at both Alodia, Dexie and other popular streamers like Quisquis, Riku, and Vy Gaming, we see they have received favourable responses for their Wild Rift streams, drawing in the same amount of viewers or more.
Riot has already started creating Wild Rift merchandise, as they teamed up this week with SBTG studios to produce limited-edition custom Nike Air Force 1 sneakers. The shoes featured an embroidered swoosh using Wild Rift’s blue, gold and white colour scheme and the names of the recipients hand-stencilled to the sides of the shoes. The pairs were only made for select gaming partners across Southeast Asia, indicating that Riot may already have plans to woo streamers their way. “More than half of the Mobile Legends streamers and pro players I know are waiting to switch to Wild Rift”, says Naga Krauser.
Riot is also doing a lot themselves to keep the Wild Rift hype going in the region through regular dev diary updates, introducing new champions, and working on a special Wild Rift K/DA ALL OUT skin line. The developer is also bringing out the big guns for their advertisement campaigns as seen in a recently released Wild Rift ad in South Korea featuring Faker, Teddy and CloudTemplar. Riot is regularly uploading content aimed at new gamers to the MOBA genre, to get them familiar with MOBA mechanics and the game itself.
To recap, Riot may have to make the game more accessible to the MOBA audiences of Southeast Asia if they want to make a dent. However, given that it’s Riot, after all, it may be able to tap into the goodwill it has with its Southeast Asian audiences instead of having to lower the difficulty. Riot may develop an esports scene if Wild Rift manages to build enough of a player base and a community in SEA but they are taking it one step at a time. Content creation for Wild Rift is in full flow since the closed beta went live and Riot seems to have already started wooing creators with custom merch.
If Riot manages to balance audience expectations from the game in both the East and the West, it can certainly make a huge dent in the mobile esports market worldwide. While audiences in the West may just look at Wild Rift as League on the go, it has some serious esports potential in the East.