League of Legends is one of the most popular games in the world, and it has been in the better part of a decade. But it’s also incredibly scary: a 5 on 5 competition experience with all sorts of complex rules and peculiarities. It’s not a game you pick up and understand right away. That’s part of what it does Wild Rift, a new spin-off for mobile, so surprising. It takes the core off League and packs it in a way that makes it much more accessible to newcomers. This is without a doubt the best way to start playing.
First, it is important to note Wild Rift is not a direct port of League. Instead, there is a new version designed specifically for mobile (and at some point in the future consoles). It still feels like League in many ways, but there are some important differences. The core is identical: it is a team game where groups of five go up against each other with the goal of taking down the opposing team̵
But the changes, even if they seem small, are noticeable. First, the map is smaller, so it takes less time to clear paths on the way to the enemy base. In my experience, the fights last around 20 minutes Wild Rift, compared with League on PC where they can extend the last 45 minutes. It’s about the ideal length to play on the phone.
The addition of touch screen controls is also a big shift. Riot has replaced a mouse and a keyboard with many and many buttons on the screen. It’s a virtual joystick for movement – it can be used, but like all virtual joysticks it can sometimes not respond – and buttons for all your different attacks. There are also auto-attack buttons, so you can focus on killing nearby minions or destroying towers, one to turn back to base, as well as a mini-map and pop-ups when you can buy a new item. It’s a lot, and the screen can get quite cluttered on a phone. (It’s a little better if you use a tablet; I played on an iPad Pro, and the user interface had a lot more room to breathe.)
Surprisingly, but apart from a few minor issues, the controls have worked well for me over the course of a dozen games. The joystick can get sticky, and it’s easy to accidentally start remembering yourself back to base, but other than that I’m not had any problems. As long as you do not plan to become a professional, you should be fine. Riot seems to have found a nice balance between streamlined controls and giving you a lot of information. The game also has fewer characters to choose from – around 60, compared to well over 100 in the PC version – simplifies another aspect of the experience.
So basically, Wild Rift is a light light touch League. But apart from the controls and the smaller map, that’s what really makes boarding work. Wild Rift has an excellent training series that teaches you the basics – how positions work, why you might want to wander to kill a dragon – and it even gives you some rewards in the game to complete it. You can also take up a version of the map in the game at any time and update yourself on everything from how the monsters work to what a top planner should do. It’s still an incredibly complex game, and you do not learn everything from the tutorial, but it does an excellent job of facilitating new players by explaining the basics in simple terms.
A mobile version of League makes a lot of sense – so much so that it’s surprising that it took so long. Most of the major online games are available on smartphones. Sometimes, as with Fortnite and Genshin Impact, these games offer an identical experience across platforms. Others, who PUBG, Rocket League, and now – League of Legends, has chosen a mobile-specific spin-off. (That strategy worked for PUBG, which recently celebrated 1 billion downloads.)
It may be a decade old, though League is without a doubt as popular as it has ever been, with several spin-offs and even an animated series in the works. Wild Rift may be a little late at the party, but it seems to be an important part of the game’s next decade.
Wild Rift is currently in open beta on both iOS and Android.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Riot had a Netflix series in the works; while it is an animated League of Legends shows in development, Riot has not yet announced which platforms it will be available on. We regret the mistake.