For the past decade Riot Games has been a company trapped in a bubble. Despite having millions of players worldwide, if you don’t actively play League of Legends you probably don’t care all that much about Riot. But over the course of a single hour last night during its tenth anniversary livestream, Riot announced eight new projects including a long-rumored League of Legends fighting game, a management sim, a tactical multiplayer FPS, a card game, and mobile versions for both League of Legends and Teamfight Tactics. Some of these games are years away, but Riot’s big birthday party felt like the opening beach assault against its biggest competitor: Blizzard.
In the last 12 months, Blizzard has bounced ungracefully from one controversy to another. It started at Blizzcon 2018, when the developer known for its close-knit community massively misjudged the expectations of its audience by capping a lukewarm show with the announcement of a Diablo mobile game—an unpleasant surprise to fans who had been hoping Blizzard had some big secret reveal (even though Blizzard said weeks earlier that wasn’t the case). At the time, players were already pissed off with World of Warcraft’s latest expansion because it felt like a step back over the previous one. But the issue was exacerbated by sarcastic comments from developers like “don’t you guys have phones?” and reports that some of Blizzard’s top talent were working on mobile games.
A month later, Blizzard unceremoniously killed an entire esports scene when it cancelled plans for Heroes of the Storm’s Global Championship season. Overnight, an entire community of casters and pro players were out of the job and forced to migrate to other games. Two months after that, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick boasted of “record results in 2018” while simultaneously announcing that Blizzard was laying off 800 people.
Things were mercifully silent through the summer of 2019, with World of Warcraft Classic’s enormously popular launch being the high point. But then, just weeks before Blizzcon 2019, Blizzard created an international incident by banning and revoking the winnings of a pro Hearthstone player who called for Hong Kong’s liberation from China during a post-match interview. Instead of facing the ensuing backlash directly, Blizzard then released a tepid response on a Friday evening, quietly reducing the punishment for the player and the two Taiwanese casters present during the interview but doing little to assuage concerns over what motivated the decision in the first place.