For nearly five years, a group of League of Legends fans have been working on Chronoshift, a “legacy server” that would let players travel back to a decade-old version of the ever-evolving MOBA, not unlike the unofficial servers that preceded (and continued in the wake of) WoW Classic. Now, though, it seems like Chronoshift has abruptly reached the end of the line, courtesy of Riot.
Speaking with PC Gamer, Riot said that it has sent a cease-and-desist request to the developers of Chronoshift after one of them posted an exchange with a Riot employee to Reddit earlier this week. The post showed a back and forth over Discord, during which a member of Riot’s security department named Zed wrote to a Chronoshift developer that Riot’s legal team “isn’t super thrilled about your project unfortunately and is looking for a way to come to a mutually acceptable end to it.”
A few lines later, Zed took the conversation in a decidedly bizarre direction, claiming that their team had archives of chat channels the Chronoshift team tried to delete. Zed followed that by saying, “you’ve obviously put a lot of work into Chrono shift, but I assure you that the chrono break is coming.” When the Chronoshift developer asked Zed to dispense with the “scare tactics,” Zed demanded that the developers hand over Chronoshift’s website and source code to Riot, as well as “all identifiable information” they shared with a specific developer. Zed then made the stakes of the situation clear: “Give me what I’m looking for and we won’t sue,” they said. “Refuse and we will.”
On Reddit, Chronoshift’s developers said Riot had attempted to “extort” them despite the team’s efforts to keep the project free. “We never asked for even as much a donation during all of this time, paying all of the expenses out of our pockets,” a Chronoshift developer wrote, adding that Chronoshift does not interact with the live version of LoL in “any way, shape, or form” and is not designed to compete with the live game.
In its statement to PC Gamer, Riot said that it’s “disappointed with the tenor of the conversation” that took place, but that it is nonetheless “formally requesting” that Chronoshift’s developers “cease development on the project.” In Riot’s letter to the developers, which leaked despite the developers’ apparent wishes, the company also noted that Zed’s grab at the game’s source code was “a standard demand made to all developers engaged in unauthorized activity in order to assist Riot’s security team to understand the precise nature of the project, the manner by which it infringes Riot’s intellectual property, and other rights, and the extent to which the code has been shared or disseminated online.” In other words, it does not appear that the company is planning to use the work of fan developers to form the backbone of its own legacy servers, despite fan speculation to the contrary.
In the letter, Riot further explained that it is compelled to defend its “valuable” intellectual property from conduct that “enables and encourages acts of copyright infringement,” which in turn “harm Riot, its business, and ultimately, its employees.” This is similar to what Blizzard said when it infamously shut down popular fan-run WoW server Nostalrius back in 2016. However, Blizzard has seemingly eased off fan-run servers like Elysium in the wake of WoW Classic’s release. Kotaku reached out to Riot with questions about why the company could not be more permissive of fan projects or, for example, create an apparatus like Blizzard’s StarCraft arcade (which led to a multiplayer game with its own Kickstarter, among other things), but the company did not reply in time for publication.
Riot’s letter ultimately demanded a halt to Chronoshift’s development, a complete shutdown of the game’s server, and removal of all marketing and publicity for the project from sites like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. It also reiterated Zed’s demand for Chronoshift’s source code.
Chronoshift’s developers have complied with Riot’s legal demands, but the whole interaction has clearly left a bitter taste in their mouths.
“This project has always been about the preservation of the early seasons of the game that can not be experienced anymore, a time capsule for something long gone that people still express a lot of interest in to this day,” the developers wrote on Chronoshift’s now-blank website. “Instead of opening a conversation about the future and interest in this kind of project, they attempted what could be seen as an attempt to take advantage of our work for free and start taking legal action against us.”
“We are incredibly disappointed by the way Riot chose to handle this situation,” they said.
Update: 4/29/21, 5:00 PM: A member of the Chronoshift development team, Norak, replied to Kotaku’s request for comment, saying that while nothing is set in stone and one of the developers is still speaking with legal council, “it is unlikely the server will be returning.”
Norak went on to express disappointment, especially in light of League of Legends’ own history as a product of fan works and mods.
“There were so many better ways to handle this, and the project put so much effort into avoiding doing wrong by Riot (as much as you can while creating an emulation),” Norak said in an email. “Especially since most of Riot’s products and game modes are based on mods and the community. Imagine if Blizzard prevented modding of StarCraft or Warcraft 3. So many great maps and games would never have existed, including League of Legends. Riot stood on the shoulders of giants, climbed a ladder they were holding to the top, then pulled the ladder up from beneath them and said, ‘I climbed this ladder first, therefore the ladder is mine.’”
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)