If you’ve paid any amount of attention to fighting game fans, influencers, or players over the past year, you’ll know Project L is the looming presence thundering towards us from the murky future. It’s the elephant in the room in the purest sense, a presence that every new release, every new announcement, and every new development in the genre is measured around.
The folks at Riot Games appear to understand the environment they’re walking into; R&D Projects that end up greenlit and pushed into the forefront. The first ever bit of news we ever saw with Project L revolved around the esteemed and experienced staff that were leading development, a strategy Riot had previously used before with Legends of Runeterra and Valorant, which championed big names in their respective genres. This, as it was obviously intended to do, made every 30+ year old buster with an arcade stick a little hot around the collar. Follow that up with announcements of free-to-play, great netcode, and a 2v2 format, and the pants came off.
But, while Riot may have the crowd with boxed copies of Street Fighter 4 hyped, it is arguably far more important for the long term success of Project L that it wins over the non-fighting game crowd. The League, Valorant, Runeterra and Wild Rift communities not only dwarf the FGC, but are most likely the first group of truly fresh players who’ll pick Riot's foray into fighting games up first, too. The big question on my mind regarding Project L right now is simply, 'do League of Legends players actually give a s**t?'
To find out, I FADC’d to a plane to Copenhagen and safe jumped on a train to Malmo, Sweden to the League of Legends LEC Summer finals. The first event with a live crowd in two years, and a hotspot for competitive-minded Riot fans who — in theory — should be buying what Project L is selling.
“I don’t really like the Street Fighter games” admits Alex, who travelled to Sweden with their three longtime gaming friends Kate, David, and Owen, to watch the finals. “I’m more of a fan of RPGs, and League has RPG elements in it in a way.”
“I think it’s just easier to play together!” follows Kate. “You can’t really play together with a fighting game, whereas in an MMO you can. We play a lot together in WoW, New World… games like that”. Of the group, none were particularly excited for the fighting game based on the genre itself or its link to the wider LoL universe, regardless of their long term experience with League and competitive online gaming.
However, there were some 'What Ifs' that raised excitement levels among the group, and which apparently would go a long way in winning them over. Alex brings up the idea, which in turn has his friend group nodding in agreement: “Maybe if they had a feature like in Tekken Tag Tournament where you can swap out between players and tag others in – if we could queue up as a five or four and tag each other in, that would be awesome.”
It is worth noting that amongst the Riot Games catalogue, the vast majority (with the exception of Legends of Runeterra, which we’ll touch back on later) allow for groups of friends to actively play together, simultaneously, at once. Fighting games like Mortal Kombat have attempted to bring the whole gang into the experience with King of the Hill modes, but even that still leaves the vast majority of players in a spectator position, more often than not. The overwhelming attitude I found from those attending the LEC finals last weekend was that they would rather jump into the action alongside their friends in some way, with some emphasising that it's the ability to play with friends that keeps them playing certain Riot titles.
One attendee, one of the few diehard Rogue supporters I found standing in the expo merch line, had been keeping tabs with Project L since its release. He thought it was “really brilliant”, that the game was fixing issues that other big fighters had, but still came away with a concern. “From what we know right now, there isn’t a unique feature no other fighting game has right? Legends of Runeterra has this big single player rogue-like thing, League has seasonal events and Urf. I would like to see the fighting game really surprise people with a new idea.”
However, it’s not all doom and gloom, nor tragic indifference. Not a single person I talked to said they were against jumping into Project L due to two main reasons: free-to-play, and its connection to the League universe.
“I’ll give it a go, because why not? All of the games Riot has brought out have been good - I’ve played TFT, I’ve played Legends of Runeterra, and obviously I’m big into Valorant at the moment, and it was not having to actually spend any money that was important to me early on” said Theo, who flew over from France to support G2. “I mean, I play a lot of games you have to buy, like big single player games, but I’ll play anything that’s free. I’ve played s**t, but as long as I don’t lose money trying it I don’t mind!”
Walking around the expo, and outside the arena prior to the games during the weekend, it was a little wild to experience a crowd of people I would have previously thought were down on day one for a Riot made fighter be up for the game, but with some serious caveats. However, a few choice League players also brought up an aspect of competitive fighting games they really hoped Project L would capture. Bogdan from Romania, covered head to toe in Fnatic merch, was hoping for some of that old-school community feel. “I would like to see the hype that was around like Street Fighter back in the day, that’s what you need to create a really dedicated community.”
One other, Stefan from Germany, was like a teenager out of time. He became visibly excited when I brought up Project L, said he watched and read the recent Illaoi update, and wanted to see “the sort of great moments you got back in the Marvel vs Capcom 3 days”, andclaimed he really liked the “raw” moments he remembered seeing back then. A League of Legends fan with a deep love of early 2010’s fighting game events? It felt like a unicorn talked to me before prancing into the Malmo arena.
All of the above obviously comes from a small number of a massive event, but as hardcore League fans one and all – hardcore enough to spend some serious cash on a flight abroad for League – it’s impossible to argue they don’t hold opinions indicative of the wider playerbase’s thoughts. From what I saw in Sweden, Project L may have won major points with fighting game dorks like me, but they’ve still got to win over the the Riot faithfuls.
For more Project L coverage, check out our articles on five Leagoe of Legends characters we'd love to see in Project L, as well as why Project L may have what it takes to make it big.