Project L — the 2 vs 2 fighting game lined up as industry giant Riot Games' next big release — is still a ways out. There’s no release date yet, only a handful of characters, and via our last major update we know the team have only just locked in the foundational gameplay and have moved onto full-on feature and character creation. The reality of people jumping on stage to play Project L for money is still a distant vision. However, does this mean Riot Games haven’t been setting up the groundwork? No way mate - I certainly didn’t think so.
As such, since I was in Sweden for the LEC Summer Finals where the best European teams were battling it out in top-of-class League of Legends, I thought it best to do some digging. Sitting across from me in a curtained interview room was senior director of esports for the EU Alberto Guerrero, who was the perfect person to question about what their plans were for Riot's yet-to-be-release fighting game, what they had done in this primordial pre-release stage, and what special stuff they had in mind for the Fighting game community (FGC).
But why should anyone care? Sure Riot Games is working on its fighting game right now, but why does its future esports vision actually matter to those who play fighting games right now? Well, it doesn't take a fortune teller to predict that Project L will send shockwaves across the genre. It's free to play, which means it'll have a strong initial base, and with pre-existing Riot Games fans — and Riot Games money — behind it, how it stands on the big stage will likely influence or outright alter how other developers and publishers approach their own titles.
Not to slap a damper on the piece right at the start, but Alberto made it crystal clear how it’s “too soon” to speak about any specific rulesets, competitive structures, or how they’d tackle quirks like the Open Bracket, a culture of bringing your own gear, and yes, controller vs stick vs hitbox. However, this doesn’t mean they’ve not looked into the scene from a competitive angle. For many the open bracket especially (meaning literally anyone can enter a tournament and make their way to the top) is a crucial part of fighting game culture. It's also something Riot hasn't touched in over a decade.
“I cannot share much more than what is already in the public knowledge. We don't have a date and the only thing I can say is that we are going to be prepared. Project L is a fighting game. Yeah, the fighting game community is different. Competition in fighting games is different from competition in FPS or mobile titles. Everybody knows that we hire and we partner with incredible professionals for developing the game — we are doing the equivalent on the esports side…”
“...We're going to understand what the fighting community is looking for. How they are used to organising the tournaments and competitions. I think we are going to give a proper answer. It’s too soon to share the way we are going to produce it, but you can imagine we are not going to do a split season and roadshow. We are going to adapt the way we offer the opportunity to compete and watch to the players.”
One question I absolutely wanted to run by Alberto is whether he had ventured out to some events to see how they are run in person. Events like VsFighting, Celtic Throwdown, and a whole host of central European tournaments have been running for a while — and since we know that Riot have met with numerous key members of the global FGC — have they also taken the time to see the fruits decades of grassroots effort produces. There is a concern among some that, in spite of Riot hiring some massive names in the FGC pantheon, that they will disregard many longtime aspects of the scene, replacing them with something alltogether different.
“Not me. I would say that three members of my team have been travelling this year to learn and prepare, but not only my team: in every region. Globally from even years ago we were doing this research. Remember externally we announced this on the ten-year anniversary, but we, as a company, knew [about it] before. So [throughout] this period, I can tell you, we knew we needed to be there. Evo is a good example, but there are many other examples.”
While Alberto wouldn’t comment — even hypothetically — on things like how to approach an open bracket, he did make sure to mention that people were looking at it carefully. “ I have experts that will know much better than myself, right? But at the moment it is too soon to talk about this. But it is going to be for sure, different from what we are doing with League of Legends or Counter Strike and much closer about what is happening today with the fighting game community.”
“That's why FGC is already established because they are community that are used to specific things, so we will need to adapt to that and follow most of that. Sure we'll try to innovate and do something a bit different, but that aspect is going to be appreciated. We're not going to apply the same [approach] we're using for our FPS, like Valorant or League of Legends.”
Closing out the topic, I wanted to ask Alberto how confident he was that Project L would make a big splash. It was, admittedly, a bit of a bait question to try and squeeze out some juicy deets, but since Riot Games has always set its sights on overtaking current genre leaders, I was curious as to how that mission statement would be championed in an esports sense. How do you make a 2D fighter, which in spite of mainstream casual appeal has never hit the heights of competitve FPS or MOBAs, Riot Games' next star game?
"It is our purpose. Our purpose always is to make it better to be an esports fan from every angle, the watch experience and the competitive experience. So I'm not sure how we are going to do it, but it will be our goal for sure. Our focus right now is to understand the fighting game community, what they are doing now, and what they are expecting. Then we will see how we convert this into our proposal."