LEGENDS OF RUNETERRA #1: DIVE INTO CCG

In April 2020, Riot Games released a collectible card game called Legends of Runeterra. And despite mixing many concepts from both Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone, LoR is a unique beast, with several innovative and exciting gameplay dynamics.

And what is equally interesting is that LoR follows a unique business model, different from any other digital CCG. An extremely user-friendly model rooted in the core values of Riot Games: Play for free. Play forever. And pay if you want.

This is the first of a trilogy of articles that aims to breakdown Legends of Runeterra:

  • This article will review the current CCG market status and Runeterra’s position on it.

I have wanted to write about LoR for quite a while. After finishing my work for the GDC 2021 and other conferences, I finally have the time. Hopefully, this will also help me justify the insane amount of time I’ve dedicated to LoR.

For these articles, I’m teaming up with my partner in crime and editor, Victor Freso. And of course, remember that we’re not affiliated with Riot Games in any way, although this is our second article about them. These are just our thoughts as fans.

THE COLLECTIBLE CARD GAME MARKET

There’s no better way to map a sector of the market than to put together multiple titles that target the same genre and audience.
If we do that for CCG, we see that the market is divided into 4 categories based on their business size. (Number one may surprise you!)

(Note that this analysis is exclusively based on mobile, which is an incomplete picture since most of those games are cross-platform. Nevertheless, even if PC represented 75% of their revenue, the rankings would remain the same.
Also, it doesn’t include Collection RPGs that have card themes, like Rage of Bahamut or WWE Supercard of Honor. Only CCG).

The Jade Emperor: Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links

  • When it comes to revenue, this is the undisputed ruler of the genre, by virtue of the only one of the group that is extremely popular in both the West and Asia.
In mobile, Yu-Gi-Oh! cashes in more every month than Hearthstone, MTGA, Legends of Runeterra, and Gwent combined. But because it targets a different audience than other CCGs, it tends to fly under the radar. Source: Market estimation.

The Two Kings of the West: Hearthstone and MTG Arena

  • Next, we have the big two names that will pop up on any conversation among fans, locked in an eternal discussion of which one is better.
    Indeed, both games compete for the same audience and same market spot.
Hearthstone is in a bad spot at the moment: There is a noticeable decrease in downloads since the release of MTGA. The following months will be critical for them. They will have to contain any incoming drop in revenue, while they reawaken player interest. Source: AppStore Rankings.

The Lowborn Warlords: Legends of Runeterra and Gwent

  • On a third level, we find another layer of excellent games. Engagement is not the reason why they’re below. In some cases, they have even better gameplay than the games that generate way more revenue.
    But they’re far from the top positions in the category because they don’t have enough reach.
LoR and Gwent have significantly fewer downloads than the bigger CCGs, which have decade-spanning legacies. So even if they were as effective at monetizing their DAUs, they would still lack enough players to reach the high positions of the category.

The Fallen: Eternal, The Elder Scrolls: Legends, Artifact, etc.

  • Finally, the fourth layer is composed of CCGs that are too small to consider they’re really competing with the previous ones (Eternal) and products that are being discontinued (TES: Legends or Artifact).
Press F to pay respects.

So why would Riot want a CCG?

To summarize the previous segment, the digital CCG genre is extremely monolithic, and it’s dominated by few well-established products that regularly renovate their gameplay through systems of content rotation, limiting the chances for competitors to disrupt.

So why in the Shadow Isles would Riot Games want to enter there?
Compared to other genres, they can’t get to the top!

In my opinion, there are two main objectives that Riot pursues with LoR:

#1: It contributes to the Riot gaming ecosystem.

  • While League of Legends may be the core business of Riot and is a game with a massive audience, it’s not a game for everyone in the gamer spectrum.
    Specifically, MOBA it’s a genre that is not very attractive to old and strategic players because of its focus on high-speed reflexes and high APM.
    And those are vital audiences, as they are incredibly passionate about games and are big spenders.
One of the recurrent comments from the ~300 players we interviewed in our article on autochess was that MOBAs were too fast-paced for their reflexes. To captivate those audiences, Riot requires games that provide a different experience.

#2: It’s a long-term investment

  • Although investors and fans may look disappointed at seeing LoR not being a category leader, it doesn’t mean it can’t be there one day. This is a kind of game that can take many years to flourish.

WHAT’S NEXT?

In the two following articles of this trilogy, I will proceed to defend this insanely bold statement I just made. First, by breaking down LoR gameplay: Is it good enough to last?

Stay tuned because that one should be coming soon!
(Perhaps even next week, depending on how much do I want to sleep over the weekend. It’s about 70% done as I write these lines).

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JBDev

I’m a game designer, economist and F2P specialist with +10 years of experience on the games industry. I write at https://jb-dev.net/