Back when Riot first released League of Legends it had a referral program. Bring your friends and associates into the game, they said, and we'll reward you justly with things like Riot tchotchkes or a plaque in the home office.
Bring in 10,000 players and Riot promised to let you design a champion. It was an offer that they later rescinded.
That ruffled a few feathers, so Riot is taking another stab at making good on their original offer... with some conditions.
Today, five years after the offer was made, LoL has become an international gaming phenomenon. It's one of the most played games in the world and perhaps the single most lucrative esport around. But it is delicate. Simply changing one map can create ripples across the whole franchise.
If LoL were a rainforest, the champions would be a rare, apex predators. Disturbing their careful symbiosis with the other animals could upset the entire ecosystem. Then players might begin to die off.
Bottom line? Riot's not about to let some knucklehead muck around with their cash cow because they happened to convince a bunch of people their game was fun. There's simply too much at stake.
"We now know," Riot wrote Monday on their company blog, "that champions take an average of about six months to develop, during which time close to a hundred people have a hand in the design and development of that champion, cumulatively contributing well over 10,000 hours of work to each champion that ships, so the idea that a single person could completely develop a champion in a two-day trip was frankly rather silly."
But the offer is still out there. Riot tried to make good on it in the past. They flew these so-called "uber referrers" to the home office for a tour, a review of upcoming content, a session with a designer and a trip to a theme park. But it seems that left a sour taste in everyone's mouth.
Now, Riot says, they "want to fix this in a meaningful way."
Instead of letting each of the uber referrers shoehorn their champion in, each be given the opportunity to prototype a champion with a Riot design team "including a champ designer, narrative writer and concept artist." Then, uber referrers designs will be tossed into Riot's "Thunderdome."
Thunderdome is a cross-disciplinary scrum that takes place inside Riot over the course of a few days "every once in a while." More than 100 employees gather to work on several dozen projects at once. Not every one gets finished, but Riot says that "the Thunderdome concepts will have the same chance as any internal design to make it into League as a realized champion."
In addition to working with the design team, uber referrers will get Riot gear, a meal with Riot staff, game time with Riot staff and a visit to the North American League Championship Series. With luck everyone leaves happy, and maybe a new champion is born.