League of Legends finally launches on mobile, but only in Asia

League of Legends: Wild Rift, one of the most highly anticipated games of 2020, gets a beta release in Asia.
PHOTO: Riot Games

League of Legends: Wild Rift , the long-awaited mobile adaptation of the hit PC game League of Legends , finally got a regional beta in seven countries across Asia on Wednesday. The title from Tencent Holdings subsidiary Riot Games has been highly anticipated since it was announced in 2019, 10 years after the launch of the original.

The game is now available to download on Google Play in Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. Riot Games said on Weibo that five other countries – Laos, Cambodia, Brunei, Myanmar and East Timor – would also be part of the open beta test.

Gamers elsewhere in the world will have to wait a little longer. Riot Games said the release in North America, South America and India has been delayed until 2021 because of challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. The company did not specify a release date for other regions, including China.

“It has turned out to be an incredibly tough year for all of us. And it’s presented some unique challenges for launching any new game, let alone a global competitive mobile game, with some very unprecedented server and infrastructure needs,” said Michael Chow, executive producer at Riot Games, in a video posted to Twitter.

He added, “It has become a much more complex and multifaceted problem to bring service to your regions in particular.”

Similar to other titles in the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre, the original League of Legends pits two teams of five heroes against each other. It has long been a leading e-sports title, drawing in hundreds of millions of fans worldwide.

This is why the mobile adaptation has been garnering so much attention. The game has already served as inspiration for other hit MOBA titles on mobile, most notably Honour of Kings .

Since launching in 2015, the Chinese game Honour of Kings has become one of the most lucrative mobile games in the world. But Tencent reportedly first approached Riot Games about a League of Legends adaptation before being rebuffed because the developers did not think the game would work well on mobile.

Now Tencent has proven that gamers are willing to play MOBA games on their smartphones and, in some cases, spend lavishly on them. However, an attempt to bring Honour of Kings to the world under the title Arena of Valor has not seen the same level of success.

This is why some experts see League of Legends: Wild Rift as Tencent’s new global push for mobile MOBAs.

League of Legends: Wild Rift features gameplay mechanics similar to those of the original PC game, but each match lasts for a shorter period of time. PHOTO: Riot Games

If interest on social media is any indication, Tencent could have more success this time around. Just two hours after the game launched, the trailer was viewed more than 120,000 times on YouTube and retweeted more than 3,000 times on Twitter.

The game was only available to download from Google Play on Wednesday, but Riot Games said iPhone owners will be able to get it on Apple’s App Store very soon.

Early impressions also appear to be mostly positive among those who have tried the game.

“There’s definitely a little bit of a learning curve if you’ve never played a mobile MOBA or any MOBA in general,” said Warren Lee, a 29-year-old from Dallas who works in the e-sports industry. “But I do think that by far it’s certainly the most polished mobile MOBA that’s been released so far.”

The controls are straightforward, according to Lee.

“Standard floating joystick, tap, hold drag controls for skills with some aim assist,” he said. “I was playing as Ziggs, and after I cast his ultimate [moves], it gave me a little picture-in-picture pop-up so I could see if it hit properly or not.”

These controls adapted for touchscreens are key to success for mobile games, which can have a difficult time replicating the gaming experience of playing on PC or consoles.

Global success is not guaranteed for League of Legends: Wild Rift , though. The popularity of mobile MOBAs in China does not mean the rest of the world will necessarily share that interest.

Honour of Kings was the world’s most profitable mobile game for many months over the last two years, according to app tracking firm Sensor Tower. The game raked in US$240 million (S$3.3 million) in September, but 96 per cent of its revenue came from China.

Success for the new mobile MOBA could hinge on the continued popularity of the game it is based on. In 2016, Riot Games said League of Legends on PC had more than 100 million monthly active users. The company has not disclosed the number of players since then, but the popularity of e-sports in general has grown tremendously over the last few years.

And if the game ever does get a launch in China – which is becoming increasingly difficult – there could be a fair number of fans waiting for it. In 2018, more than 200 million people in China tuned in to watch the finals of the League of Legends World Championship, according to the state-owned broadcaster CCTV, which saw the Chinese team Invictus Gaming take home the trophy.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.