League of Legends studio Riot Games is suing Shanghai Moonton Technology Company, developer of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, claiming that the studio is engaged in a “deliberate and sustained campaign to take advantage of Riot’s highly valuable video game rights for free.” mobile League of Legends: Wild Rift”. “
The lawsuit, available in full on Polygon, is actually rooted in a five-year beef between Riot and Moonton over Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and another game called Mobile Legends: 5v5 MOBA. In that lawsuit, Riot said Moonton “developed and distributed a succession of mobile games designed to trade Riot’s well-known and valuable intellectual property,” and that he took aggressive steps to cover up his illegal activity: after Riot notified Google of the 5v5 MOBA, for example, Moonton removed it from the Google Play Store, then immediately released a new game, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.
“However, Mobile Legends: Bang bang wasn’t a new game at all, but in fact it was the exact same game as Mobile Legends: 5v5 MOBA, with some modest changes,” Riot said in the 2017 suit, available from Dot Esports. “This ‘hide the ball’ scheme is part of Moonton’s deliberate business strategy, designed to hinder Riot’s ability to protect its intellectual property. Meanwhile, even though Moonton has now received multiple infringement notices from Riot, he continues to infringe and profit from his offense.”
That case was thrown out after a California court ruled the case would be more appropriate in China. Riot’s parent company, Tencent, then got involved and won a $2.9 million judgment against Moonton CEO Xu Zhenhua. Mobile Legends: Bang Bang remained available, however, which brings us to the latest trial.
It’s not just the game itself that Moonton is scamming, according to Riot. The lawsuit also accuses the Chinese studio of copying “promotional materials, trailers and even esports content”. After Riot transitioned to a new logo for League of Legends in 2019, for example, Moonton made a similar change to the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang logo, adopting a more austere look in all-caps in a gold font.
The lawsuit also notes a number of similarities between League of Legends and Mobile Legends characters, some subtle and some less so.
“Riot has invested and continues to invest significant time, money, resources and creativity in the development, design, promotion and maintenance of LoL, Wild Rift and related content. During this time, Moonton freely capitalizes on Riot’s investment. And Moonton has no incentive to innovate and create original material, as long as he continues to be able to copy from Riot. Allowing Moonton to continue to freely and unfairly profit from Riot’s creativity. Riot directly contravenes the purposes of the Copyright Act and will undoubtedly deter others from making a similar creative investment in the future.”
It’s unclear how Riot aims to prevent this lawsuit from being dismissed on jurisdictional issues, like the first one was, but it does note that “the audiovisual elements of Wild Rift and LoL” were primarily developed in California, where Riot is based, and that Moonton also has “significant connections” in the United States, including a US division based in California. It also claims that Moonton contracted with Akamai Technologies, a US-based company, to host servers and network services for Mobile Legends: Bang Bang’s North American website, “revealing Moonton’s intent to target MLBB in the US market”.
Riot is seeking an injunction against Moonton, damages including any profits made from the infringement, and court costs. I have contacted Riot for more information and will update if I receive a response.