League of Legends Origins review: Netflix documentary captures the human connections that make LoL special

League of Legends Origins provides a broad yet relatively concise look at the history of Riot Games and the MOBA that took the world by storm, writes Dom Sacco

When Riot Games celebrated League of Legends’ 10th anniversary earlier this month, it did so with a string of announcements and new game updates.

One announcement, buried a little amongst the talk of the upcoming fighting game, card game, shooter and mobile version of League of Legends, was League of Legends Origins: a documentary available to watch on Netflix right now.

At just under two hours, it’s a feature-length piece that explores the rise of LoL and the community that made it so one of the most-played PC games and fastest growing esports in the world.

And it completes this task successfully. If you’re a fan of League, you’ll probably already know the basics of the game’s history and the origins of its developer, Riot Games. But if you don’t, or if perhaps you want to review it again, then this is a decent watch.

It starts by showing fans talking about the game, goes on to explore the foundations of Riot, the rise of its esports operations, the expansion of League and more. But the human aspect is something it touches on throughout – and keeps coming back to. For me, this is important and I’m glad to see it.

What makes esports interesting? Aside from the action, it’s the players, the storylines, the rivalries and the character development. Outside of esports, playing League with friends – or making friends while playing it – makes the experience so much better in my opinion. So it’s nice to see the human side explored, whether it’s meeting up with friends for the first time at an event, being part of a community, or even getting to know someone so well through the game that they ask you to be the best man at their wedding.

After all, the community is integral to what League of Legends is, whether that’s player feedback on upcoming skins and modes, cosplay activities, esports fans backing their teams and so on.

Of course, life is not all fluffy bunnies and rainbows, so I’m glad the documentary also touched on toxic behaviour, the introduction of the tribunal (Riot’s now-removed player-led in-game discipline system) and how this transitioned into the honor system we have today, where players honor their favourite teammate.

While it also explored the topic of diversity, it could have done more on the culture of Riot Games and the criticism it has faced here, but I can understand why this wasn’t included.

It was fascinating to see Riot start from nothing to get to where it is today, one of the biggest games developers on the planet. The documentary covers Riot co-founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck’s first meeting, their love of gaming and, in particular, Dota, the mod for Warcraft III which inspired League.

It’s easy to take League for granted nowadays, but at the time the revenue model was brave, with free-to-play games largely associated with mobile gaming and PC gaming in parts of Asia.

One scene highlights a team meeting where Rioters discussed the revenue model and I learnt something new from this: League of Legends could have had a ‘pay-to-win’ style in-game store, or at least paid-for skins that affect a champion’s abilities and playstyle. For example, Frostfire Annie could have had different stuns and abilities, but Riot ultimately decided against this and opted for purely paid-for cosmetics instead.

“What makes esports interesting? Aside from the action, it’s the players, the storylines, the rivalries and the character development. The documentary touches on this throughout.”

There was also that time when the in-game store went live and no one was able to buy anything, at a time when Riot was desperate to pull in some revenues after spending a lot of time and resources into making the game.

Champion creation and design was well explored, but it would’ve been nice to seen other development intricacies covered, such as the origins of iconic in-game items, and also the charitable work Riot has done (like donating UK sales of the Dark Star Cho’Gath skin to SpecialEffect). However, this would have pushed the running time up, and as it stands, a documentary at just under two hours feels like a decent length. Any longer would have felt too long.

As mentioned earlier, it’s the human elements that director Leslie Iwerks captures very well. The interactions between fans and developer, the community’s involvement in the game and the rise of pro esports players.

Snoopeh, the former pro player from Scotland, talks about challenges of being a pro and the time requirements.

Why do esports pros retire so young and what can they do next? We ask Snoopeh

Scarra speaks about his transition from player to content creator and having to give it your all to be the best, with little room for a social life.

G2 founder Ocelote is asked what it was like being on the receiving end of that xPeke backdoor, one of the most celebrated plays in the game (which recently reached 10m views on YouTube).

“I’m still a bit salty about that!” he responds.

It’s human, it’s real, and for me that’s partly what I love about League of Legends – and esports in general.

On that note, the esports side of League is well-documented, as expected, from the LAN halls of DreamHack and technical problems in early tournaments to the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing and other stadia around the world. It would’ve been nice to see more regional leagues mentioned, but hey, I’m biased.

Overall, League of Legends Origins acts as a welcome reminder of the game’s significance, especially around its 10th anniversary announcements and additions. It’s definitely worth a watch for fans and newcomers alike. Here’s to another 10 years, League.

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