It’s safe to say people are excited about the prospect of a fighting game based on the vibrant cast of League of Legends and the extended universe of Runeterra. As I write this post the Twitter window in the corner of my eye reminds me that “Project L” is trending with over 15.5k tweets on the subject. Just the tweet with the most recent trailer has garnered 2.6 million views in less than 3 whole days. What the hype cycle is forgetting is that we’re not going to be seeing this game again for a long time and it could come out the other end of the development machine looking very different. Let’s talk about the announcement.

What is Project L?

Project L is the codename for the fighting game based on the League of Legends universe of Runeterra. It’s being developed by an internal studio that is a result of Riot’s acquisition of Radiant Entertainment and with it the minds of Tom and Tony Cannon who are better known for and EVO. The first news of Project L came to us at EVO 2019 in what seemed like a casual mention of a Riot Games fighting game, and then a brief video confirming the game is in development and that they would need time to figure it out.

At the recent Undercity Nights media event to promote the Netflix show Arcane, Riot aired a new trailer featuring Tom and Tony discussing the current state of development, core concepts in the gameplay and their priorities going in. Take a look:

This new trailer establishes a few key points: Ekko has joined the confirmed roster of playable characters, Jinx has been redesigned to complement her appearance in Arcane and the game will be a 2-on-2 tag team style fighter using simple directional inputs for all techniques. Oh, and netcode is a big priority for development.

If you don’t know, Tony Cannon is the creator of GGPO which is essentially the grandfather of all rollback netcode implementations in fighting games and remains an important reference for developers. While he explained rollback is a must, he also goes into detail about a unique server system to route traffic efficiently between players for the smoothest possible experience. It all sounds like it’s planned out, and whether or not the gameplay pitch shown in the trailer appeals to you is obviously up in the air.

As a writer with my ear to the ground in the FGC it’s safe to say I can’t go a single week without hearing a murmur about Project L for one reason or another. Some people think it’s going to completely change the way we think about fighting games, others think it’s just a cash in to go along with Riot’s other entries in competitive gaming genres. I said my piece about this trailer on The TO Desk a few days ago, but I want to stress a particular point made by Tom Cannon in his /dev blog post: This game is not even close to shipping in any capacity.

A vertical slice is not a special move

If you compare the 2019 footage of the game to what we have in 2021 it’s obviously a very different beast. A new graphical style and tag team system are the big additions, but why did it all change so much? It’s because there’s hardly a complete game here, and Tom is very clear about this in his blog:

…the gameplay clip that we aired at Undercity Nights is still what the gaming industry calls a ‘vertical slice.’ We built this to hammer out the final look of the game, in advance of actually going in and building all of our content like characters and stages. Our vertical slice might give you the sense that the game is ready, but we actually still have a lot of work ahead of us. So, although we’ve made a great deal of progress, we will not be shipping in 2021 or 2022.

The speculative mind could take many things away from this: Will the roster be large at launch? How much attention will be paid to quality of life changes for release? Will 2023 be the year of release? What we know for certain is that we’re not going to get another update on this game until at least the second half of 2022. While I’m sure it’s going to linger in the minds of League fans until then, I urge my readers to enjoy what’s in front of you and let them cook. It’s going to be a while. We’ll be back with more Project L news whenever we get it.