An eye-opening editorial from the perspective of one League of Legends fan who spent well over £1,000 on in-game purchases.
There’s something about the distinct GONNNNNGGG of a match being found. It’s a call to arms, a note of valor and battle. It’s satisfying. It’s rewarding. It’s a big part of the reason why people can click the shiny “Accept” button and while away the hours kicking ass and getting ass kicked. League of Legends is one of the most popular games in the world. Literally about six million people in the world play it on a regular basis. The game itself is free. There is, at this time of writing, one hundred and forty four champions. That is, not including passives, five hundred and seventy six abilities. The amount of possible team combinations and matchups scale into the millions. Each champion has a different purpose, team-function and power fantasy for their “summoner”, or player.
But while all of this data might explain to you why the game itself gets people coming back to play it, due to the sheer variety and constant different experiences it offers, it doesn’t really convey the sheer amount of money this game makes. As mentioned earlier, this game is free. You could literally unlock every champion, every game mode, even most of the cosmetic details, purely through in-game currency. There’s nothing about it that even remotely forces you to spend your actual cash. And yet, I myself have personally spent literally over a thousand pounds on this game. That number is flatly insane. Should I have spent that much? Probably not. Should I have spent that money on something else? Probably, yes. Do I regret it? Stunningly, no, not really.
Riot Games have fine-tuned, with a maestro’s precision, League of Legends and its concept of microtransactions that – and this is important – don’t harm the game’s competitive balance. In our age of modern gaming that has AAA-mainstream games with actual gameplay locked behind pointless grinding which can be skipped through the proper flourishing of one’s wallet (cough cough, EA, cough cough), the nature of League of Legends is a refreshing change of pace. A player who’s gone crazy with their credit card (*tugs collar self-consciously*) can go up against a player who has not spent a penny on the game and get thoroughly trounced – the game itself is entirely skill-based. This makes the game somewhat less of a “pay to win” experience and more of a personalized one that can be altered through additional payment from the player, which is very different. Riot Games is a company, after all, and companies need to make profit.
As a result, there’s a harmonious relationship between Riot and its player-base – Riot creates new skins, colors for them, new themes, et cetera, and the player-base spends proper money to get it rather than wait for luck to hand those things over to them. There are even loot-drops in the game called Gemstones that can’t be definitively bought with proper money, and having ten Gemstones – a feat I have not managed – grants access to the rarest set of skins in game. The point being, from a financial standpoint, the game is an experience you can customize to your own preferences without the game overall being affected by your purchases. And, in my defense, some of the skins do look SO cool.
But, even past the financial aspect, there’s something woven into the fabric of the game itself. Riot Games have often touted their “shifting meta” as part of the reason the game keeps feeling fresh, and they might very well be right. On top of updating items, adding in new ones, rotating new game modes every now and again and constantly trying to innovate creatively on possible ways to improve the game, League of Legends constantly has an amorphous competitive tier list. The process is simple.
- Find out what champions/items are doing really well in certain roles.
- Nerf those champions/items.
- Find out what champions/items are doing really badly in certain roles.
- Buff those champions/items.
- Wait and see what happens.
This half-nurturing-mother/half-mad-scientist approach makes it so that the game is never static. Champions that were flavour of the month two weeks ago are now completely overshadowed by a completely new set of rising stars that’s erupted out of the woodwork. Sometimes the champions that are weakened aren’t weakened enough. Sometimes item changes are so powerful that unconventional picks become conventional, ridiculous strategies now have a firm merit, and champion combinations that would have had you laughed out of Champion Select before are now dominating the higher echelons of play. In short, it’s repeated, barely-organized, constantly-fluctuating chaos. And that, right there, is the core of “true” League of Legends.
In professional play, or e-sports, five extremely practiced and well-synced up people are on mic with each other against a group of the exact same people, and the result is a high-intensity game that’s impressive to watch. In NORMAL League of Legends, five complete strangers are thrown together against five other complete strangers, and this ragtag band of misfits must use their abilities and skills in conjunction with each other to defeat their opponents and win the game. In this case, what you get is a marvel of gaming teamwork – where the tank can heroically die to save a character played by someone the tank’s player will never meet. Where two players who maybe don’t even like each other all that much (the game’s toxicity is infamous, after all) work together through gritted teeth to win their lane and seize the advantage. Where someone who’s not been able to do well in their last few games finally has that legendary moment where they save their team and win the game. It’s an experience that never gets old and never gets stale. And that’s not even getting into what happens when you and your friends get into it together. The fun that can be had skyrockets and the amount of nonsense exponentially so.
I’ve spent a lot of money on this game. I am honestly addicted to it. But the game itself isn’t perfect. It’s constantly being improved on, patched up, changing and swirling around with every season bringing new items, new features, new top picks and new unconventional choices. It’s addictive because it’s never the same, paying cash towards cosmetics feels rewarding, the gameplay is constantly different and evolving and you can always get better. Even if you reach the highest Mastery level on any champion… there’s still one-hundred and thirty-nine to go! And I think I hear the Rift (and my wallet) calling me again…