#15: League of Legends
More than a few games have started their lives as mods, Team Fortress and DayZ being just two examples. Sometimes they even give rise to whole genres. Defense of the Ancients, or DotA as it is commonly known today, is one such mod.
It was about a decade ago that a handful of developers realized that they had created something special with DotA All-Stars and began work on what would eventually become League of Legends. The final product was released in 2009, and it wasn't long before it succeeded StarCraft as the undisputed king of eSports. It was a perfect fit for a period of radical change in gaming, benefiting from both the rise of download-only games and streaming.
On the face of it, League of Legends was quite similar to DotA All-Stars at launch, but it brought with it a number of smart tweaks. Among other things, it did away with so-called "denial tactics" in which players would attack their own minions to deny foes XP and gold, rankling some longtime fans of the genre but overall smoothing out the pace of the action. League of Legends also took a page from Blizzard's book by matching an attractive engine with graphics that could run on a wide variety of computers.
"[League of Legends] was a perfect fit for a period of radical change in gaming, benefiting from both the rise of download-only games and streaming."
Perhaps their most significant contribution to gaming, though, was their free-to-play model. By making a handful of heroes available on a rotating basis, Riot Games created a system that meshed well with competitive gaming, regularly refreshing the metagame while ensuring that players could enjoy the game without spending a dime. In the process, it made Riot Games one of the industry's richest studios, their free-to-play model regularly cited as one of the industry's best.
Still, Riot's free-to-play model wouldn't matter if League of Legends weren't built on a solid foundation. The MOBA genre has proven popular over the past few years because it combines a variety of disparate elements - teammwork, real-time strategy, and RPG-style min-maxing among them. To that, League of Legends adds memorable characters like Ahri the Kitsune Mage/Assassin, accessibility, and strong support from a studio that is now more than a thousand people strong. The DotA 2 versus League of Legends debate rages on, but their dominance of the MOBA genre and eSports in general speaks to their overall quality. The one that you favor frequently comes down to taste.
Ultimately, it's League of Legends that continues to stand out as the best expression of the millenium's most popular new genre. That it has managed to hold on to its spot at the head of the pack in the face of such strong competition is a tribute to its strong pool of heroes, comparatively gentle learning curve, and deep strategy, as well as Riot's determination to foster the growth of eSports. DotA 2 is pushing it hard; but after six years, League of Legends is still as popular as it is for a reason - it's just that fun. Hail to the king. - Kat Bailey