It’s not good business to advertise companies you perceive to be your competition, that’s just a simple truth. Major television stations seldom, if at all, advertise the series premieres of adversarial networks. Similarly, Red Bull will likely never allow images of athletes drinking Monster energy drinks to be shown at their sponsored extreme sporting events. It’s because of this longstanding precedent that it’s unrealistic to expect Riot Games to be kosher with their contracted players advertising other industry juggernauts, regardless of how long it’s been going on for.
There was a large snafu on the internet earlier as the website onGamer revealed that, in the most recent round of contracts Riot Games sent out to their top players, their chosen few are essentially forbidden to stream certain games. That list of games includes all of the modern Blizzard titles, competing games in the MOBA genre such as DotA 2, Smite and Heroes of Newerth as well a slew of other popular titles. At present, Riot Games has yet to make an official statement about the terms of the contract which are, admittedly, vague, but the fact remains that this contract clause could say more about the company’s current mindset then they might’ve initially intended.
While there’s no doubt in my mind that Hearthstone is a top tier, polished product (aside from some UI bugs) despite being in closed beta, the title admittedly received a very helpful boost from famous streamers. These included some high tier League of Legends players, showing off the game via Twitch. Riot Games seems aware of this, and apparently believes that their contracted players showing off competing titles is enough of a thorn in their side to essentially put an end to it. Regardless of the reasoning behind the decision, there has already been a great amount of speculation, and until Riot Games comes forward to explain their stance, it will be very much open to interpretation.
It’s entirely possible that Riot Games has seen some invisible writing on the wall that spells out their doom in the coming years. This decision could be one of fear and a desire to stop the potential growth of future competing titles by removing outlets for free advertisement. I’m less inclined to agree with that sentiment, at least in its entirety. It’s reasonable to believe that the company, which has honestly held an iron grip on the MOBA market for some time now, might be concerned about titles such as DotA 2, and even the upcoming Blizzard character brawler Heroes of the Storm. But at the end of the day, it seems more likely that Riot Games simply decided that enough was enough when it came to their contracted players doing free advertisement for others titles.
Unfortunately for Riot Games, this mandate has come at a time when Hearthstone has taken off, largely exceeding all expectations. Also, Heroes of the Storm has received a number of positive reviews, even while in its alpha build. There’s a decent contingency on the internet even claiming the the title could do substantial harm to the League of Legends player base numbers because of the impressive differences between the two games. Both of the Blizzard titles have taken a stance that’s totally contrary to much of the market right now. ‘Build a game that accommodates casual players, and then from there make the title in-depth enough to where veterans and competitive individuals can find a sufficient challenge’. This philosophy is in total opposition to a title such as League of Legends, which frankly chews up and spits out individuals who don’t have the time and thickness of skin to endure consistent verbal abuse in order to become skilled at the game.
Again, there might be a legitimate reason for Riot Games to go this route. It might be that because of the vague verbiage in the document we don’t have all the details. The bottom line is, what they are doing is totally legal because these are individuals they are paying to play their game professionally. This ostensibly makes them Riot Games employees. That said, a lot of negative press could be fixed if the MOBA behemoth simply took to the stage to explain their reasoning. Gamers might still not agree, or even believe it for that matter, but it would help repair their image which frankly took a beating today across the internet. It might also help curve the very popular idea that Heroes of the Storm is a ‘League of Legends’ killer.
Update 9:42 PM CST: Since some people on Facebook are saying our reporting here is incorrect, please keep in mind that Director of eSports at Riot Games Whalen Rozelle commented on this Reddit thread that what they have laid out is absolutely true.
We say this all the time: we want League of Legends to be a legitimate sport. There are some cool things that come from that (salaried professional athletes, legitimate revenue streams, visas, Staples Center), but there’s also a lot of structural work that needs to be done to ensure a true professional setting.
We recognize there may be some differences of opinion in the perception of pro players’ streams. In the past, pro gamers only had to worry about their personal brands when streaming and, at most, may have had to worry about not using the wrong brand of keyboard to keep their sponsor happy. Now, however, these guys are professionals contracted to a professional sports league. When they’re streaming to 50,000 fans, they’re also representing the sport itself.
I can’t stress enough how these guys in the LCS are on the road to being real, legitimate athletes. This is new territory for a lot of teams (especially in esports), because the transition goes from being a group of talented individuals to being real icons of a sport and a league. Similarly, you probably wouldn’t see an NFL player promoting Arena Football or a Nike-sponsored player wearing Reebok on camera. Pro players are free to play whatever games they want – we’re simply asking them to keep in mind that, on-stream, they’re the face of competitive League of Legends.