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Riot Games suing NetEase over Valorant ‘copy’

Weapon stats, characters, and maps all cloned, Riot says

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artwork of Viper and Brimstone from Valorant walking toward the camera with the game’s logo in the background Image: Riot Games
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Riot Games is suing publisher NetEase over the Chinese company’s Hyper Front, a five-on-five mobile shooter that Riot alleges is a Valorant clone. It’s also bringing the case to courts in the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, and Singapore, Riot Games lawyer Dan Nabel told Polygon. The lawsuits vary slightly in each country, based on their respective copyright laws, but the thrust of the issue is the same — that Hyper Front is a “copy of substantial parts of Valorant,” as Riot’s lawyers claim in their U.K. filing.

Hyper Front, like Valorant, is a free-to-play first-person shooter where teams of five play against each other in a number of different modes. Riot Games released Valorant in 2020 on Windows PC, and it’s currently working on a mobile version, announced in 2021. As of that year, Valorant averaged more than 14 million players per month.

Hyper Front was released in 2022 on Android and iOS. Player data for Hyper Front is not available, though it’s listed on the Google Play Store as having more than 1 million downloads and more than 48,000 reviews. It’s not currently available to play in the U.S., where Riot Games is headquartered. Riot lays out a number of similarities between the two games in its U.K. lawsuit — characters, maps, weapons, weapon skins, and charms, even going as far as comparing weapon stats. The studio claims in the lawsuit that NetEase did modify Hyper Front slightly after Riot’s first complaints, as demonstrated in the images below. Still, Riot says the copyright infringement goes beyond just that.

“All of our creative choices are mirrored in NetEase’s game,” Nabel told Polygon. “We don’t think that changing the color of a character ability or slightly modifying the visual appearance changes the fact that it’s copyright infringement. It’s like that old saying, ‘You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.’”

NetEase has not responded to Polygon’s request for comment.

Nabel compared the Hyper Front lawsuit to another case between NetEase and PUBG Corp. over NetEase’s Knives Out and Rules of Survival, which PUBG Corp. said were infringing on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. That case, filed in a U.S. court in 2018, was settled in 2019, but the terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Riot Games is looking for the courts to force NetEase to shut down Hyper Front, and for “substantial” damages — Riot didn’t specify a figure. Nabel told Polygon that the company is litigating the issue in multiple courts because “copyright is territorial,” with different laws in different areas of the world. “We don’t want to rely on one particular market to have this issue resolved,” Nabel said. “NetEase is a global publisher, as are we. We want them to know that we take the matter very seriously.”

Riot Games has certainly proved that in the past, as it’s filed a number of lawsuits against companies making copies of its games. Earlier this year, Riot sued over a League of Legends “ripoff” and a Teamfight Tactics “knockoff.” In 2018, Riot, through parent company Tencent Holdings, won a $2.9 million lawsuit over a different League of Legends lookalike.