"Building a self-sustaining global sport requires more revenue generation opportunities for all parts of the ecosystem, and we know there’s more we can do to further unlock the value of the leagues for owners and pros."
- Riot Games cofounder Marc Merrill.
Riot Games' League of Legends is one of the most successful eSports in the world right now, but this week there's been a bit of public back-and-forth between a League team owner and Riot cofounder Marc Merrill over whether the game's design is stable enough to support long-term professional play.
The whole thing brings to light a potential stumbling block for the eSports industry; it's a bit of a complex argument that seems to have kicked off when Team SoloMid owner (and former League pro player) Andy "Reginald" Dinh criticized Riot's habit of making major changes to League (via patches) shortly before big championship tournaments.
"From an owner perspective and a player perspective, it's honestly really discouraging," he said during an interview. "If you look at like the NBA right, when they go into the NBA playoffs, it'd be essentially like changing the basketball's weight so you're shooting a bowling ball instead of a basketball."
Dinh went on to suggest that while this may make the game more interesting to watch, it's unfair for League pro players because it undermines their time spent practicing -- and potentially impacts their ability to make a living if they lose high-value matches and miss out on prize money or tournament ranking.
As Eurogamer points out, Riot cofounder Marc Merrill later published a "withering" response on Reddit (that has since been edited) suggesting that while he appreciates Dinh's comments, Dinh himself could be doing more to financially support his players.
Now, Merrill has published an open letter on Twitter admitting, with a somewhat apologetic tone, that League leaves something to be desired in terms of being a platform for a sustainable eSports ecosystem.
"This may surprise some, but I actually agree with a lot of the points Andy makes about sustainability in the LoL ecosystem," he wrote.
"League esports (in its current form) doesn't provide the long term security and sustainability that we ultimately aspire to for teams and pros. Team costs are rising faster (and in some cases are higher) than team revenues, and while this may be the short-term reality of growing a young sport (particularly as the value of teams grow), it's not what we believe the long-term state of League esports will be. "
He goes on to outline how Riot plans to change League in the year ahead, noting that the company will try to improve its patch timing "to give players more time to adjust" and build in more ways for pro players to drum up revenue.
That's important because the business of eSports is booming right now, as is the potential audience for people playing games like League. For more insight into the peculiar challenges Riot faced in trying to build a multiplayer game that's also a sustainable sport, check out this talk Riot designer Ryan "Morello" Scott had on the topic with veteran game designer Frank Lantz at GDC 2015.