clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why Riot removes League’s popular new game modes

There’s a method to the removals

Splash art for the Soul Fighter Samira skin, which shows a young woman with an eye patch and two guns that surge with blue and red color. Samira is dressed in a cropped jacket, shorts, spikes, and boots. Image: Riot Games
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Riot Games has debuted a number of new game modes in League of Legends over the years: Twisted Treeline, Dominion, Ascension, Invasion, Odyssey: Extraction, Black Market Brawlers, Nexus Blitz, and more. A rare few have returned — or, like Teamfight Tactics, managed to break out and become a permanent part of the League client. It begs the question: Why spend so much time creating game modes that won’t stick around?

This summer, Riot debuted another new game mode: Arena, a 2v2v2v2 game mode where teams face off in quick, chaotic 2v2 skirmishes. Every few rounds, players get wild augments that transform their play style. Chauffeur, for instance, permanently links you to your ally — you go where they go, and you get some buffs for the trouble. Eventually, only one team is left standing. Arena is yet another mode that players enjoyed, but Riot once again took it off the menu until a limited-time return in December. But that was intentional — and it’s a part of Riot’s greater strategy.

“In the past, modes have been measured by hitting a certain number of game hours, or a certain number of purchases per account,” says Eduardo Cortejoso, a game producer at Riot Games, in a call with Polygon. “With Arena, especially how League was going through a rough patch at the earlier part of the year, we really wanted to use this as an opportunity where our goal was to rebuild player trust.”

A shot of Arena in League of Legends. Soul Fighter Samira is making a cameo on the map, introducing a new element to the 2v2 brawl. Image: Riot Games

Arena was part of a larger mea culpa after Riot released a disappointing cinematic at the start of 2023. Fans complained that the game was stagnating, and that League’s lore was falling by the wayside. We learned about the new game mode later in January.

Developers who worked on many of the previous modes have since moved on from Riot or on to other Riot teams, like Teamfight Tactics. As such, when it came to Arena, the League team wanted to come up with something attainable that they could build, launch, and then build upon in subsequent iterations.

League is at its best when it’s paired moments of being on a team competing against someone else, or having a moment with someone else,” says Cortejoso. “So we knew that we didn’t want to do a solo-oriented experience; we wanted to maintain the team aspect.” After testing with different combos, the team settled on 2v2. “It’s the minimum amount of people you need to feel like it’s a team-oriented game, while reducing the barrier to reach what we believe is the high point of League gameplay, when everyone’s on the same page and you can coordinate your efforts.”

The core formula proved solid; Arena was well received by fans. Yet, after the mode’s initial run, it too vanished from the client. The good news is that Arena disappearing doesn’t mean it’s gone for good; both Nexus Blitz and Arena are slated for a return. The next Arena will be an evolution of the formula, with some tweaks and new twists — like new augments for players to experiment with.

Arena also represents a shift in the way Riot treats temporary game modes. In the past, they’ve either been twists on the typical PvP match, like One for All or Hexakill. But Arena shakes up that format further. “We’re refocusing our efforts a little bit for modes on trying to explore some of the more underserved audiences or unmet expectations or motivations,” says Cortejoso. “This is why you’re seeing something like Arena where we are explicitly targeting something that has a shorter time frame and is much more randomized through the augment system.”

While Cortejoso acknowledges this is a riskier approach that will serve fewer players, Riot hopes that it’ll lead to a better bounty of varied player experiences. “We do expect to actually keep things a little bit on the lighter side from a development angle and do a lot of learning in the next few years,” he says. “So expect more of that out of the League of Legends team, with modes in particular.”

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon