Teamfight Tactics is, in many ways, a natural extension of League of Legends. Riot Games' take on the emerging autobattler (or auto chess, depending on who you ask) genre features a large helping of iconic League of Legends heroes, sprinkled into a familiar world that requires a bit more strategic planning and a bit less APM. If League of Legends is the dunk contest, then perhaps Teamfight Tactics is the 3-point competition.
For those unfamiliar, Teamfight Tactics is part of the autobattler craze. The new genre actually came out of a Dota 2 mod called Auto Chess that originally released by Drodo Studio way back in January 2019. From there, the mod began to pick up steam after a number of Hearthstone pros, tired of the card game's perceived instability and stagnant meta, began to gravitate towards another stream-friendly title with a lot more strategic flexibility. Auto Chess is a game where players choose different characters with a wide range of abilities and place them on a board. At the end of each turn, those heroes auto-fight other characters while the player simply observes what happens. It's entirely strategy-based, requires no APM whatsoever, and requires the management of strategy and resources, like XP, rather than careful teamfights or impressive reflexive maneuvers.
Autobattlers are also easier to stream, as evidenced by the number of people currently picking it up. As of this writing, Teamfight Tactics has over 95,000 viewers on Twitch, placing it just behind League of Legends itself while simultaneously wreaking havoc on Riot's Public Beta Environment. There have been long login queues, the kind usually reserved for the launch of an MMO expansion, and errors besides:
Another day, another login queue.— Richard Henkel (@RiotMapleNectar) June 20, 2019
We are so sorry for everyone that's been unable to play so far, especially those that get to the front of the queue only to get an error :(. We're going to try to slowly raise our cap on the pbe to get more folks in but will be doing so slowly
And here's a look at the viewership numbers, as of June 22, 2019 around 10am EST:
Part of that sudden spike in popularity is likely because streaming games like Dota 2 and League of Legends is inherently difficult: the focus required at every second of the game to be a top-tier player (and thus garner the kind of views that make streaming appealing) makes it hard to entertain on top of that. There's a reason streamers like imaqtpie are so popular—the number of people who can carry a conversation, keep fans interested, and play at a high-level in games like League of Legends are few.
Teamfight Tactics bridges the gap in a remarkably simple but effective way. There are still teamfights, but they're not manually controlled. Visually, they're still appealing, but the person playing is now free to discuss what's happening, why they made the choices they did, and sweat out the combat with everyone else watching. Teamfight Tactics and the autobattler genre as a whole are inherently built to support streaming in a way that few other games are.
That, coupled with accessibility, could launch Teamfight Tactics into being bigger than League of Legends itself. Whereas League can be daunting to pick up for new players thanks to its massive roster of heroes and dynamic gameplay—where teammates can also comment on mistakes—Teamfight Tactics is new, has a smaller roster, and is insular in that the player is really only answering to their own expectations. It also doesn't require adept use of a mouse and keyboard, which means players who previously felt frustrated by knowing what to do but being unable to translate that into quick responses don't need to worry about that invisible wall anymore. Planning is the name of the game, and anyone can plan.
Is it a long-shot to suggest Teamfight Tactics could surpass League of Legends as Riot's number one game? Absolutely. League of Legends is a cultural phenomenon that won't be easily unseated. The players are superstars, the team's are sponsored well and drive sales of whatever products they advertise, and the fanbase is passionate and devoted. League of Legends isn't going anywhere either way, and the much shakier bet is on Teamfight Tactics, as it could just be part of another craze that dies down in a year. Even Richard Henkel, the product manager of Teamfight Tactics, told USGamer he's unsure of where the ceiling is on the genre:
"We don't even know if it has legs. It could be in 12 months, maybe it's gone."
Still, it's hard not to imagine the potential peak for Teamfight Tactics. It's addictive, free, and ties in with one of the largest games in the world already. In its first couple days, it's broken the League of Legends PBE and is already neck-and-neck with the game for Twitch viewership. It blends the relaxed, easier-to-access gameplay of a card game with the dynamic visuals fans love about MOBAs. It also lends itself really well to the mobile platform, which could increase playerbase by quite a bit should Riot choose to pursue that route.
Make no mistake: if autobattlers are here to stay, there's an outside chance Teamfight Tactics can surpass League of Legends. The next few months should be incredibly interesting for the entire industry.