Press Play to Start: ‘Arcane’ shows Riot hasn’t stopped making League of Legends for everyone

Can you believe this semester is almost over?

Everything flew by in such a flash. From returning to in-person instruction to the seemingly endless midterms, all of it feels like it happened just yesterday. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean we are out of the woods just yet. After all, the end of classes just means that finals are coming at record speed. Unlike midterms, however, finals are usually accompanied by a period of relative calmness, where professors intentionally assign less work and allow students to study. This semester specifically, I was lucky enough to have this period span all the way until the beginning of November, giving me ample time to review the material.

Or, marathon a Netflix series.

OK, look, I understand that I might not be using this time too effectively, but cut me some slack. I’m sure everyone is also extremely tired and could use some mindless watching of a random series or two. 

If I were a psychology major, I would certainly start talking about how taking a rest every now and then is actually beneficial to your overall performance. Still, it doesn’t take a scientist to tell that procrastination is an intrinsic part of college life, whether we like it or not.

So imagine my surprise when I, mid-procrastination, found a series that actually had to do with my job? Of course, I’m talking about “Arcane.”

Now, for those of you who aren’t aware, “Arcane” is the newest endeavor by famous video game studio Riot Games, who you all might know as the people behind “League of Legends.” “Arcane” is an animated series that addresses some of the lore behind a few of the characters in their game. Currently, only its first act is out, with the rest to be released later this month. 

And it’s been a massive success. 

Sitting on top of the most-watched list in 38 countries and with a rampant social media presence, the show has already proved to be a worthwhile investment for Riot, even though it is far from its conclusion.

But, how exactly does this relate to esports?

Well, it should come as no surprise, but most esports games are not necessarily the most beginner-friendly pieces of media out there. This is especially true for a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game like League of Legends which, even though practically synonymous with the term esports, still has intricacies that are hard to follow even for gamers themselves. 

All this complexity makes it difficult for the average person to properly recognize esports as a genuine sport, let alone actively consume it. A lot of companies look at this scenario and decide to double down on serving their niche audience, usually yielding a dedicated, yet small, following.

Riot has done the opposite. For a long time, the company has tried to increase the overall perceived accessibility of its games through championships that mimic traditional sports in their grandioseness or projects that focus more on the young, Twitter-savvy audience (who could forget their K-pop inspired music group K/DA?). While they did experience massive success, a lot of those projects still shied away from approaching the general public. 

That is until Riot released “Arcane.” 

Of course, I’m not foolish enough to believe that simply watching that series is going to make people want to play “League of Legends.” In fact, I don’t think even Riot itself planned for that to be the case. What “{Arcane’s]” success does provide, however, is a higher cultural relevance and acceptance of “League of Legends.” As such, it normalizes the game, making it more likely for an average person to hold positive feelings towards it.

In other words, it makes “League of Legends” seem like something that not only nerds would enjoy. 

I know it sounds like I’m making fun of League of Legends players, but that genuinely isn’t the case. A lot of us esports fans surely have had to explain to someone how what we were watching was worthy of being called a sport. 

Riot recognizes that there is still a huge misconception of the esports scene, and projects like these are its way of diminishing them. While “Arcane” might not be the deciding factor that makes the general audience suddenly see “League of Legends” as a professional sport, it will help in making it a household name distinct from more casual, childish titles. 

Once “League of Legends” has achieved that status, it’ll be a lot easier to convince people that perhaps the original game should be taken seriously and, at the same time, can be easily enjoyed in its own way. And once you’re interested in the “League of Legends” professional scene, it is extremely easy to become a fan of esports as a whole.  

This is definitely still far off in the future. As things currently stand, the obstacles to mainstream consumption are still extremely high. But keeping in mind Riot’s track history, this change is definitely achievable. After all, Riot knows more than anyone that the darker the night, the brighter the stars. 

Guilherme Guerreiro is a junior writing about esports. His column, “Press Play to Start,” runs every other Wednesday.