Mindless bots, I believe it's fair to say, are a scourge in team-based competitive games like League of Legends. Fraud is also, um, not cool. By revamping LoL's refer-a-friend program, Riot is hoping to squash both with one giant fly swatter.
Previously the refer-a-friend program gave rewards to players who invited friends to play League of Legends, particularly if said friends stuck around and leveled up. If your friend hit level five, you'd get 250 Influence Points, level ten would get you better prizes, etc. But to get the best (and for sellers, most valuable) rewards, you needed to refer a lot of friends and have them level. The Grey Warwick skin, for instance, would only grace your inventory if you referred 25 friends who then each reached a summoner level of 10. And the Medieval Twitch skin? 50.
Now Riot is about to scale the program back significantly so as to benefit normal humans with a few close friends and not evil robot hivemind conglomerates. This is because people had taken to abusing the system to create large-scale bot operations (to farm for skins) and, eventually, sell off loaded accounts. Bots, unfortunately, both aid illicit activities and ruin matches by being wholly incompetent.
Riot explained what it saw happening as time went on:
"Any rewards program like RAF runs the risk of some participants trying to game the system, and ordinarily we might tolerate low levels of fringe misuse if it meant we were still doing right by the vast majority of players. However, RAF abuse was increasingly degrading the average players' experience, forcing us to contemplate changes."
"We'll start with the symptoms of RAF abuse — things like account selling and botting (i.e. the use of scripts, programs, or other hacks to automate playing a game of League of Legends). The two are closely related in the case of RAF, as botting referrals enables account sellers to create accounts loaded with currency and skins."
Due to the rising number of people doing this, new player matches and modes like Dominion, whose community has felt especially neglected in part due to rampant botting, have been hit hardest in recent times. Moreover, Riot said that while only 1.4 per cent of total users abuse the system, the number skyrockets to 70 per cent with people who've referred ten or more friends and a whopping 99 per cent when you hit the chilly peak of 100 or more referrals.
The big change, then, is that you now you're only dealing with small groups of friends — not small armies. Riot explained:
"We found that the majority of League players refer between one and five friends, and we've designed the RAF update to reward you for bringing those friends into the game. With the new update, for every friend you refer who reaches level 10, you'll earn 1000 IP. You can refer a total of five friends, and with three successful referrals, you'll unlock the Grey Warwick skin. Recruit five friends and you'll unlock Medieval Twitch."
Yes, you can only refer five friends total. That might temporarily put the kibosh on large-scale referrals from folks like YouTube bigtimers, but Riot said it's looking into other means for referrals to suit them as well.
And, of course, Riot's not blasting fireworks out of champagne bottles and declaring victory over bots and sellers just yet. There's still a lot of work to be done.
"Botting, account selling, and other forms of fraud have causes beyond RAF, and we continue to cast a wide net when it comes to investigating and fighting them," Riot wrote.
Here's hoping this is only just the beginning.