About five years ago, not long after the debut of League of Legends, we launched the refer-a-friend program to reward players who invite their friends to play the game. For bringing friends into the game, players could reap rewards from forum flair to free skins (50 referrals) to a commemorative plaque in Riot’s office (500 referrals) to a piece of named content (1,000 referrals) to a trip to Riot’s offices in Los Angeles to help us develop a champion (10,000 referrals).
Thanks in large part to passionate players telling their friends about the game, League of Legends grew faster and larger than anyone could’ve predicted. We’re extremely grateful to every player who encouraged even a single friend to play League of Legends -- we couldn’t have done it without you.
As we sunset the original refer-a-friend program, we’re checking in to make sure we’ve fulfilled all of these promises. At the higher reward levels, we’ve still got some work to do. We're nearly finished with the plaques. The wall of plaques outside the Riot PC Bang looks great and is a frequent stop on tours.
We’re still naming content after players as promised. So far, we’ve named seven pieces of in-game content after players, and have 11 more to go. As we head into the 2015 season, we’ll be looking for opportunities to name some more content after players and we’ll continue to do so in future seasons as well.
Regarding the ultimate promise to develop a champion, the idea itself was pretty flawed -- we were a young company five years ago, and didn’t really think through how we were going to successfully deliver the “develop a champion” promise. We now know 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 we still want to fix this in a meaningful way.
Some time ago, we did make an attempt to to fulfill the ten thousand referral promise, but we didn’t really hit the mark. We flew uber referrers to LA for a day including a tour, review of work-in-process content, a collaborative design sesh, and a trip to an amusement park.
We’re going to try again, and this time we think we’ve got a way to make it truly reflect the weight of champion development as was intended with this program reward. We'll be reaching out to everyone who legitimately earned the top reward, but we’re sharing the plan here as well.
So here’s the idea. There’s this thing Rioters do called Thunderdome. We’re going to invite every uber-referrer to a Thunderdome event next year in which they’ll get to spend at least three intense days designing and developing a champion, getting it to at least “paper prototype” status.
Working with a dedicated team of Rioters including a champ designer, narrative writer and concept artist, the participants will build concept art, a paper kit (champion abilities), champion bio and any extra story elements that help define the character.
After Thunderdome, we’ll commit to carrying these champion concepts forward into further design and development. We do need to set expectations by noting here that fewer than 2% of champion concepts ever make it into the game and can’t show any favoritism. The Thunderdome concepts will have the same chance as any internal design to make it into League as a realized champion. However far the concept makes it, we'll keep reward winners updated.
We’re also going to add a bunch of bonus extras to the trip including swag, noms with Rioters, a visit to the NA LCS, and gaming with Rioters in the PC Bang. We're still hammering out the specifics, but we’re going to make damned sure that the core champion design experience delivers on our promise.
We all know League is more fun with friends, and these players brought tens of thousands of friends into the game. We want to make sure that these players feel that Riot’s a company that keeps its promises. We didn’t want to just say sorry and move on. It might’ve taken five years, but we're gonna do it right.