League of Legends’ card game is the key to expanding its universe

With an MMO, a fighting game, and even an animated series on the horizon, the League of Legends universe is on the verge of branching out into totally new territory. And while the original League of Legends MOBA may be the game that kicked things off, the secret key to Riot Games’ expanded universe is actually Legends of Runeterra.

Riot’s digital card game, which will get a new expansion pack next week, is already successful on its own. It was named one of 2020’s best apps by Apple, and last week at the DICE Awards, it took home the award for Mobile Game of the Year. But Legends of Runeterra has also helped create the foundation for the League of Legends universe, expanding its fictional world of Runeterra and the characters within it.

Image: Riot Games

Last week, Polygon had the chance to sit down with Legends of Runeterra executive producer Jeff Jew to talk about how it builds a bridge between the present of the League of Legends MOBA and Riot’s future projects.

Jew is a 14-year Riot veteran and even founded the company’s Magic: The Gathering club, which made him a natural fit to work on the company’s card game. Jew also happened to served as a DICE Awards usher once, nearly a decade before he became a DICE Award winner last week.

According to Jew, even from its early days in development in 2014, Legends of Runeterra was always a place for Riot to expand Runeterra, the world where League of Legends is set, in a way that the original MOBA never could. Through flavor text on the cards, copious amounts of artwork, cinematics, and the introduction of smaller, non-champion characters, Legends of Runeterra helps fill in gaps too specific for League to get to.

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“All that really existed before Legends of Runeterra was the Champions,” Jew explained, referring to League of Legends’ playable characters. “I think [that] gave us a lot of freedom to build up the world and actually invent these regions and characters. […] One of the earliest parts of the game, and the most fun parts, was building a world and making it a real cohesive-feeling place.”

In the process of building out the world, the development team ended up making massive style guides for each of Runeterra’s many civilizations, complete with artwork, stories, writing, and side characters.

“For every one [thing], you actually end up seeing, there’s likely 10 pieces of concept art or illustrations that we didn’t take all the way,” Jew explained. “All that is just getting to be leveraged by developers across Riot on different League of Legends IP games and other things.”

Image: Riot Games

And for the first time, at least publicly, there are a lot of “games and other things.” Over the last 18 months, Riot has announced that the world of Runeterra is branching out into an MMO, a fighting game, and a TV show, and all of them will rely on the lore that Legends of Runeterra has helped create.

“When I playtest an early R&D game at Riot, if it has illustrations or characters, most of it is being subbed in with Legends of Runeterra artwork,” Jew said, laughing. “It helped set the foundation and over the years we hope to do the same thing with the MMO. […] We’re going to borrow [from them] and hopefully you can see your favorite Champion, or character, or region, in multiple games.”

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