Project L: could it dominate fighting games?

Project L is a name those of you who have your finger on the pulse of all things fighting games are most likely already aware of.

If you’re not an avid follower of the fighting game community, though, then you may have missed the rather huge news that there is a League of Legends fighting game in development. It’s one of many League of Legends-related projects Riot announced a few years back — and now it seems it’s finally coming to fruition.

Project L - Could it Dominate Fighting Games?

Why is this a big deal?

Fighting games, despite having one of the richest histories in the world of competitive gaming, aren’t anywhere near as affluent as some other genres when it comes to eSports.

eSports has come a long way since the early days of competitive StarCraft, and now we’re seeing yearly tournaments for Dota 2 and League of Legends raising millions of dollars for their prize pool. We’re at a point where almost every team attending these events goes home with considerable winnings — with many becoming millionaires. 

Even the most casual of gamers who have zero interest in eSports or competitive gaming has more than likely heard of League of Legends before — it’s that big. Riot has also become something of a master when it comes to their marketing strategy and their ability to bring in players through means that aren’t character trailers. I’m sure many of you remember K/DA, the virtual K-pop group that consists of a handful of the champions from the game — I’ll be the first to admit that I started dabbling in the game after that happened.

So why is it such a huge deal that Riot has decided to make a fighting game? Considering what I said about them not being as commercially successful as other game genres, it seems like an odd choice right? Wrong. As it stands right now, much of the money circulating around fighting games as eSports comes from the developers of those games as well as tournament sponsors, and none of these developers have anywhere near as much money as Riot does. 

Riot has also managed to get Tom and Tony Cannon working on Project L — and these two are legends of the fighting game community. Not only were they members of the team that created and launched Evo, the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, but they also created the middleware online play solution GGPO, also known as Good Game Peace Out. This was a solution to the laggy online functionality that plagued most fighting games in the mid-2000s; GGPO created an almost lagless online experience in fighting games and emulated arcade games, and is praised by many for the things it has done for the online fighting game community in general. 

These things combined, Riot’s newest game Project L has a very good chance of not only dominating the competitive fighting game scene, but also the eSports circuit in general as well. The game will no doubt sell incredibly well; with its potentially enormous player base that draws from League of Legends, the fighting game community and newly acquired fans from the Netflix series Arcane, the game is pretty much a guaranteed commercial success. And should Riot decide to invest big into the eSports side of things, then competitive fighting game players won’t be able to look away.

Project L

Opinions so far?

We haven’t seen much of Project L yet, but in the recent developer update from the Cannon brothers, we were given some information on how the game will play, some of its focus features, as well as a look at some of the characters in motion. 

The video showed us 4 characters — Darius, Jinx, Ahri, and Ekko. Although this is only a small handful of characters, it actually gave us a nice look at some of the game’s dynamics, such as differences in character heights and playstyles. For example, Darius is a huge armored fella wielding a massive axe, so his reach and damage are good. Ekko, on the other hand, is much smaller and faster and incorporates a large amount of mixup into this playstyle by utilising the ability to jump back in time a couple of seconds. 

Characters and playstyle diversity are on the bottom of my list of issues when it comes to Project L — I know they’re going to do a great job in making the characters feel unique and allow players to express themselves through those characters. It also helps that the game is going to be a 2 vs 2 team fighter, allowing for even more creativity and craziness.

My main issue comes in the removal of traditional fighting game motions. If you don’t know what I mean by this, it’s the inputs required to perform certain moves — with probably the most famous being the “hadouken” from the Street Fighter. To perform it the player is required to move the control stick down, down-forward, forward, creating a quarter-circle motion. It’s not difficult per se, but you will have to practice it for a little while as a new player. 

Project L plans to remove the motions and replace them with different inputs, and I apologize if I sound like a fighting game elitist or boomer here, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. Most fighting game developers seem to have it in their heads that lowering the barrier to entry by removing difficult to perform moves will solve all their problems, but I feel like that’s wrong.

Most players will be pushed away by poor online and bad matchmaking. Practicing a move and then taking that newfound skill into a real match and using it is really fun and rewarding — what isn’t fun or rewarding is a laggy online experience, or one that puts you against players who are miles away from your own skill level.

Thankfully, with the talent behind Project L, it seems like those latter issues should be well taken care of — it remains to be seen how well the community as a whole takes to it, though, particularly with the influx of fighting game newcomers and casual players that Riot seems keen to court. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

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Conor Evans
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