Riot worked on this for several years before finally giving up. The story of one of LoL’s biggest failures

How did it happen that the project, which was devoted to many years, enjoyed so little interest from LoL players?

There are many different game modes in League of Legends that are intended to provide a break from traditional Summoner’s Rift gameplay. In the history of LoL, you can find modes such as One For All, URF, Hexakill, or PVE gameplay in the style of Star Guardian Invasion or Doom Bots.

Although each of the modes was unique in its own way and the developers tried to surprise players with an innovative approach to the game more than once, in the end, such novelties did not work very well.

The statistics revealed by Riot show that the new modes are very popular only in the first days after launch. Then it gets much worse until nearly nobody plays them. A great example could be the Odyssey released a few years ago, which presented a really refined and aesthetic map, interesting missions, ideas for remaking the skills of the heroes, or a spectacular fight with the final boss. Despite this, the mode was not very popular with the community, which resulted in Riot announcing that it would no longer focus on these types of modes.

These are the modes that make a big difference to the core gameplay of League, but won’t be of much your interest for a long time. In other words, gamers are eager to test the game modes, but when the allure of the novelty wears off, they quickly return to Summoner’s Rift.

It’s worth mentioning that with the release of TFT, many Riot employees who were responsible for LoL’s modes moved to that game. It is not something like a mode but a standalone title that takes place in the same universe as League of Legends or Legends of Runeterra.

Many people wonder why create many smaller modes if there has been ARAM in the game for years, which has enjoyed uninterrupted interest from a huge number of players. Why doesn’t Riot decide to put together a team and spend time and money on a bigger project that would replicate ARAM’s success or even compete with Summoner’s Rift? Why don’t the developers try to create something refined, extensive, and interesting, which would give new mechanics and a new map? It turns out that such a project has already started in the history of LoL and failed. Why?

The story of the Nexus Blitz mode

Perhaps some LoL players do not know that in the history of the game there was an idea to create something innovative – a new map, new mechanics, a completely different approach to the game. Something that the creators will put not only a lot of time and work into, but also their heart and soul. Nexus Blitz – a huge project that took years to complete. And yet the players did not appreciate it as much as expected by the developer.

But going back to the beginnings – the last game mode that was permanently in the client appeared in the game 10 years ago. Dominion, which took place on the Crystal Scar map, appeared in 2011. Meanwhile, ARAM was also added to the game, but this one wasn’t invented directly by Riot – it’s a mode that originally came out of a community idea, and because it has caught on well, it was made into something official. So today it may seem a bit strange that the developers didn’t design anything that has been added permanently for 10 years. It is worth mentioning that Dominion was removed in 2016.

Many players hoped that the creators were working on something big that would fill the space after the removed mode. And it happened. In 2018, the first tests of Nexus Blitz began on the PBE server. Although the mode did not look like it does now, it was already playable and it is safe to say that the creators spent many long hours on it.

While there is no official information on what exactly the individual works looked like before the alpha version was published, it can be concluded that it was not a short period. Some time ago, Riot revealed that it takes up to 6 months to create a PvE mode such as Star Guardian Invasion, and as you know – the map of the mode was not particularly extensive. In addition, the mode used a lot of previously created resources, which saved a lot of work.

The use of existing assets is normal in the gaming industry. However, Nexus Blitz was supposed to be something special in this regard. The creators faced difficult choices and asked themselves many questions, such as:

  • how to divide an area on the map,
  • how many lines to create,
  • where and how should the jungle be placed,
  • what roles will appear in this mode,
  • will it be possible to choose them before the game,
  • how many heroes will be on one team,
  • should there be bans during champion selection,
  • how long will the average match be
  • whether there will be a linear phase in the game.

As you can see, there were a lot of issues that had to be worked out while designing the mentioned mode.

In the early stages, the name of the Nexus Blitz was not as it is known today. The creators called it Project: Slime. The main assumption for the map was to create something with one line, which, however, is divided into two sides, which was to give a really unique gameplay experience. The game is therefore much more condensed and chaotic, but the linear phase itself is not as confusing yet.

It can be assumed that the beginnings of Nexus Blitz development are at the end of 2017 or the first months of 2018. From the beginning, the goal of this mode was to create something new, experimental, which would provide a breath of fresh air, but also fill the gap in the modes that are added to the client on a permanent basis.

In an official post created by Michael “SpaceNorth” Chu it was specified what kind of place in LoL was Nexus Blitz supposed to take. It was supposed to be something exciting combined with gameplay that lasts no more than 15 minutes. On the map, you can find one split line and a jungle that is intended for two players.

In addition, random global events are included in the game to encourage players to cooperate. The team that wins receives bonuses that increase their chance of winning. They weren’t just added to implement completely unnecessary RNGs, but rather to add variety to each Nexus Blitz game. Chaos was something deliberate, as the mode’s name suggests – the word Blitz can mean that the gameplay is fast-paced and doesn’t last long.

The open testing phases started in late July, and it was a really important moment for Riot as players were in high demand for something new and preferably permanent. The layout of the map resembled the old Twisted Treeline, which was a plus for the creators, because the old map, despite its disadvantages, was much more popular than its revised version. The mode also brought back many of the old items that players had been longing for.

All the distinctive features of the Nexus Blitz gave the feeling that the mode would be a great success and would become the second preferred mode after the most popular Summoner’s Rift, or at least share it with ARAM, which has 20% of the games, 10-15% each.

But what were the feelings after the first phases of testing? It was okay, but at the same time, it wasn’t as perfect as it might have been expected. The mode was fun and its fast pace made the games really dynamic, but players started to notice some flaws on day one. The biggest one during the first phase of testing was that the mode was too complicated for an alternative to Summoner’s Rift or ARAM.

ARAM has been so popular for a long time because it is a different experience from the standard Summoner’s Rift, but it isn’t any more complicated. Five players fight in a lane and they can’t even choose their heroes. Not being able to return to the base will immediately make you understand what you can and cannot do in this mode. It’s hard to be surprised during the game.

Even though the Nexus Blitz looked simple on paper and its small map with one split line was meant to make the mode have a smaller entry threshold, in practice it didn’t. There are a lot of things going on in the game that players just needed to learn. Not because of the champions, but because of items, events and two junglers. The players had to develop a strategy and decide what items they want to build.

Another problem was that the players did not know exactly how to treat the new map. Many of them asked themselves: Should I look at the build from meta just go with the flow?

Some of the players took the gameplay really seriously – at the level of Twisted Treeline’s Ranked Play. Others, on the other hand, just wanted to have fun and played only for entertainment.

A month after the map was released, Riot shared the statistics about which game modes players choose most often. It turned out that Nexus Blitz did not reach the level that the game developers thought. The mode was supposed to be a worthy rival to ARAM, URF or One for All, but as it turned out, it failed to reach the bar set by them. The graph below is from 2018 right after the first tests were completed.

Like ARAM, the Nexus Blitz received identical balancing changes. Some champions deal more damage, some less. The thing that has always caused Riot a lot of trouble was how to balance heroes in several different modes at once, while keeping in mind that each of them was designed with Summoner’s Rift in mind, and not necessarily with other maps.

Ornn and Qiyana will be a good example here. They interact with the environment. On the base LoL map, these champions have a lot of tight jungle spaces that they can use to their advantage. When looking at the next mode, which is ARAM, you can see that the relatively small line is delimited by two walls that stretch across the map. The characters mentioned here have a lot of potential and many opportunities to use their abilities due to the fact that the fights often take place near one of the walls.

At the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, the Nexus Blitz made another debut after many improvements. However, the feelings of the players have not changed much. Some found the mode fun and had a great time playing it, while others played a few games and found it not for them. But what was the reason for their reluctance to play Nexus Blitz and why the mode was not able to engage and interest players for longer, despite the fact that URF or One for All are doing well?

Over the years, League of Legends has received many modes, and the gameplay in some of them was completely different from LoL – we’re talking about Dark Star Singularity, which could as well be a mini-game from a completely different universe, and it would be played the same way. Next, you can distinguish modes that resembled the standard gameplay, but had enough differences to make the experience different – Hunt of The Blood Moon, Ascension or Project Overcharge, etc.

Nexus Blitz is completely different from Summoner’s Rift. Players were given a new map, other items, strategies or a jungle (which for this time two junglers were selected) and mini-games. All these aspects are unique to Nexus Blitz, but it’s hard to disagree that many players simply preferred to play Summoner’s Rift in “real League of Legends”. Gamers have been interested in this mode for over 10 years, and Nexus Blitz seems to be only its weird spin-off.

Here it is worth returning to the topic of casual players and those who treat the game much more seriously. In the new game mode, you could find both in every game. The second group was trying to discover the most effective strategies and win as many games as possible while the first group didn’t care “because it was just Nexus Blitz”. This led to situations where a team with Master Yi funneling in the new mode was playing against a group of friends who just wanted to spend time together having fun while not paying much attention to the outcome of the game.

League of Legends’ community just didn’t know how it should treat Nexus Blitz. Unlike many game modes, which made it clear that they were purely for entertainment, here the player decided which hero to play in a given match and chose their runes and items.

It is highly likely that ARAM has retained its popularity as the player cannot choose their hero freely. The charm of this mode is when the player deals with a character that he would never choose of his own free will in his life, and then may find that it is quite enjoyable to play with.

Coming back to the topic of Blitz’s Nexus – looking at the defined division into roles, multiple strategies and the banning phase, it’s hard not to notice that Riot was thinking about making ranked matches in this mode in the future. The last attempt to bring the mode into the game took place during the Spirit Blossom event in 2020. The map has been completely reworked, and it’s hard to disagree that it’s one of the most beautiful maps Riot has ever made.

For the duration of the event, the creators introduced missions that were to encourage players to play more matches on the new map. After a week, the amount of hours the community had spent on it looked fine, but after turning off the missions, the popularity of the Nexus Blitz had dropped back to around 3-5%.

Riot probably can’t shake the feeling that it took too much of their time and resources to work to make the mode a success, and yet the result was still not satisfactory. At the moment, players can try Nexus Blitz once again, but this time the mode does not offer any unique items for it. This is both good and bad news.

The upside is that players do not need to learn new items and as long as they have mastered the items offered since preseason, they can easily find their way to the mode store. On the downside, new items like Stat Stick and DFG made the mode more unique and fun.

At the moment, Nexus Blitz is a rotating mode regularly returning to League. Riot points out in their articles that although the mode was supposed to be an experiment, they were hoping that it could be permanently in LoL. Due to the fact that it did not quite turn out as expected, they decided that it would be better if the mode would be added to the game from time to time.