How Riot Games Came To Be A Billion Dollar Company From An Idea: Insights with Co-Founder, Marc Merrill

How Riot Games Came To Be A Billion Dollar Company From An Idea: Insights with Co-Founder, Marc Merrill
Credit: 100 Thieves via YouTube

Marc Merrill has shared his journey of developing Riot Games to become the billion-dollar company it is today on the show ‘Selfmade with Nadeshot’.

‘Selfmade with Nadeshot’ is a podcast created by the founder and co-owner of the 100 Thieves Organization, Matthew ‘Nadeshot’ Haag, who invites members of the community to share their opinions and insights on what’s going on in the industry.

The idea appeared when Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck first met at USC. They were taking classes that led them to careers at banks and investment firms. But this is not what bonded them over; it was their passion for video games – especially multiplayer-focused games like Starcraft and Everquest.

For a short time after college, their roads were different, following the career paths they’ve studied. Brandon Beck went to work for a large consulting firm called Bain & Company, while Marc Merrill went to work at U.S. Bank. They didn’t spend a lot of time in their corresponding jobs, becoming dissatisfied with their activities and looking for something else.

They rebounded and rented out an apartment together in West Holywood. ‘It was there that Riot kind of began. […] Two huge gaming desks that formed a little ‘L,” said Marc Merrill.

As the two friends fell more in-depth into the video game industry, they started becoming dissatisfied with the developers who weren’t listening to their fans. Over time, small ideas began to appear, such as ‘We could do this ourselves.’

While the games they’ve played had a lot of different issues, one common problem was developers abandoning their product, alongside active and passionate communities. ‘We were becoming frustrated when developers would call it quits on the current product and move onto something else,’ accentuated Marc Merrill.

The duo spent a lot of time playing Blizzard games such as Warcraft 3 and Starcraft. While Blizzard kept the games alive with expansion packs, the community created add-ons to expand the gameplay possibilities. Two of those add-ons which Merril alongside his friend Beck wanted to spend time with were: Aeon of Strife for Starcraft and DotA: Allstars for Warcraft 3. These modes introduced a new type of gameplay: character-based, high-action, high-strategy, which created a massive community in a span of a few months.

When Merrill decided to start the game company alongside Beck, they brought in one of the creators of DotA: Allstars, Steve ‘Guinsoo’ Feak. The Riot Games studio staff members were this trio alongside some community members of the add-on. With this small team, they started working on their first game, called Onslaught.

Onslaught was the earliest form of the game, which became League of Legends later on. The game took four months to work and was presented at the Game Developers Conference in 2007. ‘It was terrible,’ Merril mentioned, ‘We had a metal music track. The minions were little undead things. […] It was just bad,’ he added.

In the following years, the studio started expanding slowly and after extensive beta testing released League of Legends in late October of 2009. The game was very different compared to other existing games, and the co-founders, alongside their colleagues, had no idea what success would be waiting for them.

Within two months of launch, the game reached 100,000 concurrent players. Week after week, the player base kept growing and growing, and so the co-founders started expanding their infrastructure to handle the additional server load. With this in mind, Riot Games raised venture capital funding in 2009, including from a Chinese partner, Tencent.

‘The next years could be compared to the concept of ‘building the plane while flying,” said Marc Merrill.

Due to their experience with other games, the co-founders knew about the esports side of games and how there were players who had the drive to win it all and prove to everyone that they were the best. As a result, by the Summer of 2010, the League of Legends esports scene grew big enough to have the ‘Season One’ of competitive play.

‘We decided to stream the games and ended getting up to 100,000 concurrent viewers,’ which blew our mind, said Marc Merrill. The next years were trial and error, the infrastructure for the second World Championship in October 2012 failed during a match between Team WE and CLG. The venue’s internet connection went down, and so a lesson was learned.

Over the following years, the esports scene grew, and Riot has developed as well with their approach across all regions, they launched major and minor leagues, such as LCS(NA), LEC(EU), LPL(China), LCK(Korea), and many more.

A small idea and dissatisfaction grew to be one of the greatest motivators for the co-founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck.

Marc Merrill, alongside his friend and co-founder Brandon Beck, made a promise to the League of Legends community, they’re not going to turn away and will continue supporting it, even if they undertake new projects. The ambitious ideas, motivations, and values of the co-founders allowed the game to grow to the current stage, and the studio is making expansion to other game genres.

Hopefully, the new projects will be as successful as League of Legends and will uphold the same player-driven values.