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Riot Games cancels Pool Party, unannounced Smash Bros. style fighting game

A team of 70-80 employees was staffed to the project: a Melee-like platform fighter set in the League of Legends universe

Logo courtesy of Riot Games

Hi! I’m Mikhail Klimentov. You may recognize me from my past video game coverage at The Washington Post, such as my investigation into the “culture of fear” at TSM. In the last edition of this newsletter, I wrote about why it took so long for the press to crack the Dr Disrespect story.

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Riot Games canceled work on a prototype platform fighter code-named Pool Party in late May, according to current and former Riot Games employees familiar with the decision. Approximately 70-80 employees were working on the game when it was shuttered.

Sources familiar with the project described the original pitch for Pool Party as a platform fighter in the vein of Super Smash Bros. Melee set in the League of Legends universe. Riot Games saw an opportunity to build and support the game’s esports scene — unlike Nintendo, which is notoriously hands-off and even hostile toward the Smash competitive ecosystem.

“We always have a number of projects in various phases of R&D, and spinning projects up and down happens multiple times a year,” said Joe Hixson, senior comms director at Riot Games, in a statement.

A source familiar with staffing decisions at Riot said that approximately half of the team had received an offer to be reassigned within the studio, while others were in the process of seeking new positions through the company’s internal job board.

10 people had not received an offer and were not in the process of applying internally, the source said. Presumably, those workers were either laid off or had left the company.

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Pool Party’s cancelation was precipitated in part by a reassessment of consumer appetite for a Smash competitor. According to sources familiar with the project’s development, executives at Riot were spooked by what they perceived as the failure of MultiVersus, a free-to-play fighting game starring characters from franchises owned by Warner Bros.

Originally envisioned as a hardcore fighting game, the pitch for Pool Party changed over the course of development, shifting to include party game elements and casual-friendly mechanics. The change in scope and vision frustrated some staff on the project.

Pool Party bears no relation to the other fighting game under development at Riot Games, the 2v2 team-based fighter 2XKO. The developer is still working on the latter title, which is slated to release in 2025.

The video game industry has seen a swell of layoffs, studio closures, and project cancelations and delays in 2024. Though it is impossible to track every layoff in the industry, some counts suggest that by June the number of layoffs in 2024 had already surpassed the total number of layoffs 2023. These estimates are almost certainly conservative.

Coincidentally, on Tuesday, the head organizer of the Big House Smash Bros. tournament series announced that the event — regarded by fans as one of the marquee annual events in the Smash competitive scene — was going on an indefinite hiatus. The organizer, Robin Harn, cited a number of personal issues as well as broader logistical and industry-related challenges in his decision to put a pause on hosting the event.

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