Riot Games has filed yet another suit against Chinese developer Shanghai Moonton Technology for once again ripping off their highly successful game League of Legends (LoL.) Over the past few months, Riot has been engaged in a game of whack-a-mole with Moonton’s knockoff mobile games – every time Riot notifies Google Play of an infringing game, Moonton removes that game, makes minor modifications, and then puts it back on the store using a different name. In the complaint, Riot specifically calls out three Moonton games for infringing on Riot’s copyrights and trademarks: Magic Rush: Heroes, Mobile Legends: 5v5 MOBA, and Mobile Legends: Bang bang.
The characters in Moonton’s games are extremely similar to characters found in LoL. For example, the hero “Emily” in Magic Rush: Heroes has a nearly identical moveset and appearance to the champion “Annie” in LoL. Both characters are young, evil-looking girls who stun enemies with fire and summon giant teddy bears to destroy their opponents. Another example is “Lux” from LoL and “Karna” from Magic Rush – both of these characters are blonde, light-wielding sorceresses who trap foes and annihilate them with laser beams, as well as shielding allies. Riot alleges that these blatant rip-offs are copyright infringement, which seems like an easy case to make.
Similarly, Riot claims that the two Mobile Legends games infringe on both their copyright and their trademarks. The map in Mobile Legends looks hilariously similar to the famous “Summoner’s Rift” map that has been used in LoL for nearly a decade. Even the monsters in the map look similar, such as the “Red Brambleback” that appears in both games. This monster looks identical and is in the same exact location, further strengthening the argument that these games infringe on Riot’s copyright. As for the trademark infringement claim – Riot alleges that the logos for LoL and Mobile Legends are so confusingly similar that consumers might mistakenly assume that Riot licensed out the Mobile Legends games. While I have more faith in consumers than that, there’s no denying how similar the logos appear; they even use the same font!
While this case seems like a slam dunk for Riot, the biggest hurdle for the gaming giant is figuring out exactly who they’re bringing this lawsuit against. The complaint names “[John] Does 1-10” as defendants in this case, since Riot does not actually know the true names of the Moonton developers. All they have is an address in Shanghai where they believe Moonton to be located. Without a proper defendant being named, it could be a struggle for Riot to get anything out of this lawsuit – but it’s the logical next step for them to take after issuing so many failed takedown requests.
This isn’t the first time this year Riot has gone after a mobile Chinese developer for copyright infringement. Back in January, Riot issued a complaint against Shanghai MoBai Computer Technology following a similar failed whack-a-mole strategy against the developer. You can read more about that case here. MoBai’s game, Arena of Battle, copies many characters from LoL – such as taking the extremely popular “Dunkmaster Darius” skin from LoL and renaming it to “Dunkmaster Dyrus” (a reference to one of the most famous LoL players, Dyrus), even going so far as to copy the “Noxus” text on the character’s jersey. While the real Dyrus might have been honored to have a character named after him, Riot was not amused and filed a lawsuit.
For their part, Moonton released an official statement on their Facebook page Tuesday morning denying Riot’s allegations and claiming that they independently own the copyrights to the material in Mobile Legends. They also threatened legal action against any media outlets and competitors who have “spread the unreal information and rumors” about their game. Based off their statement, it appears that the Chinese developer isn’t going down without a fight.
Considering how enormously popular League of Legends is, it’s not surprising that other developers want to piggyback off of Riot’s success. However, they need to be slightly more original when creating their games unless they want to open themselves up to being sued by one of the largest gaming companies in the world. Whether this lawsuit actually goes anywhere remains to be seen – but if the past few months are any indication, there’s not going to be any shortage of LoL knockoffs on the mobile gaming market anytime soon.
Author and M/L intern, Robert Daniell, is a rising 3L at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. Robert primarily studies intellectual property and entertainment law, focusing on video game and esports law.