League Of Legends Is Too Expensive

League Of Legends Is Too Expensive

Here's a sad truth: Unless you have thousands of hours or hundreds of dollars, it's impossible to enjoy more than a sliver of League of Legends.

Yes, obviously League of Legends is a free-to-play game. That's always been one of its defining characteristics. The unique problem League faces now, which it didn't face when it first left its beta testing phase, is that its grown an incredible amount over the past five years and hasn't done enough price-wise to adapt to its new ungainly size.

League of Legends pulled back the curtain on its newest champion over the weekend. Character reveals inspire two things in League's massive fanbase. First, people pick apart relevant trailers for hints and clues. Second, they sigh upon reflecting on just how expensive League has become.

"Expensive" is a tricky descriptor to stick onto any ostensibly free-to-play game like League of Legends, so let me be clear about what I mean here. The prices a game like League exacts from players aren't just monetary. Indeed, since the game makes a handful of playable characters freely available every week and regularly rewards players with virtual currency, you really can play League of Legends without spending a dime on it.

Does that mean you can play it effectively -- i.e., in a way that gives you a fighting chance to succeed in its competitive environment and is also, ya know, fun? Trying to answer that question is where things become more complicated. You need to have regular access to champions to play well with them. And as you level up and enter into the more seriously echelons of League's community, you also start to need special enhancements known as "runes" that beef up your base stats (damage, magic resistance, stuff like that) if you want to hold you own competitively. And so with every new character reveal, every addition of yet another thing to spend money on or grind for, the label "free to play" feels less and less appropriate as a descriptor for League of Legends.

League of Legends makes money by using two different currencies: Riot Points (RP) and Influence Points (IP). RP is far more valuable than IP -- meaning that if I buy a new champion, I can either spend a few hundred RP or a few thousand IP to do so. It's also the only currency you can use to buy premium goodies like alternative character skins, which look super snazzy but are inconsequential for actual League gameplay purposes. The catch is that you only acquire RP by exchanging it for real money. IP, meanwhile, is the currency you gradually accumulate over time.

The chief factor that lets League of Legends get away with calling itself free is the fact that everything but purely aesthetic enhancements (think: alternative character skins) can be acquired with IP. But how much does purchasing in-game characters and items either solely or primarily with IP actually end up costing people?

One thing vocal League of Legends players love to do whenever a new champion is rolled out is measure out just how demanding the game's economy has become. In a popular post on the League subreddit yesterday, for instance, someone suggested that "it takes roughly 46 hours to gain 6300 IP," that being the price of new champions like the just-revealed Ekko after their first week on the in-game market (they cost even more then):

If you consider the average game takes 35 minutes, and you gain about 80 IP per game (Discluding first win of the day).

During this time you could:

Watch about 23 movies.

Travel from England to South Africa back and forth 4 Times.

Watch 30 european football games nonstop.

Any other suggestions?

Shortly after Bard, the second-newest League champion, made his way into the game, another player remarked on Reddit: "When the next champion [i.e., Ekko] is released, you need over 1 million IP to unlock everything without spending money."

The player continued:

As of right now you need 996,855 IP to unlock everything on your account without spending money. At the next champion release, this number will exceed 1 million.

All champions: 478,950 IP All T3 runes: 404,505 IP All runepages: 113,400 IP

According to Riot, the average game length of Summoners Rift is 30-45 minutes, and the average IP you earn per game is 60-90 IP. In other words, you have to play approximately 8,418 hours of League of Legends to unlock everything with Influence Points. I did not count any other game modes other than Normal Summoners Rift in, and I did not include First Win of the Day. I'm also aware that a lot of the runes in the game are useless, but it doesn't really change much, the price would still be close to a million.

TL;DR: The IP prices are insanely high, isn't it about time they get toned down? It's hard to focus on the LP grind when the grind for IP is endless.

The numbers in both these players' examples might be slightly off. Riot's support page on IP and experience gains says that "on average, a 37 minute win will earn approximately 100 IP, and a 37 minute loss will earn approximately 68 IP." It's impossible to give a perfectly clear image of how much time time League's IP grind costs sure since specific IP rewards vary in everybody's individual experience. One thing's for sure though; whatever the exact cost may be, it's extremely high.

(Of course, there's always the alternative to just unlock things with money. But doing that can easily run you several hundred dollars as well.)

OK. You might be wondering: Why is League's always-expanding economy a problem? Here are the two most important deleterious effects that astronomical IP prices have on the game and its community.

It creates a prohibitively high barrier to entry for new players.

League of Legends is already ridiculously popular. But that doesn't mean the game's developers and publishers want it to stop growing. How many potential players does League lose simply because people are frightened away by the idea of playing something for months, if not years, before they can start to feel like they have truly acquired enough stuff to really get the most out of their experience with it?

It limits diversity.

On one level, that Redditor's claim that it'd take "approximately 8,418 hours of League of Legends to unlock everything with Influence Points" is nothing more than a rhetorical exercise. That's because many people who play League of Legends -- even highly skilled and experienced players -- don't go into the game expecting to acquire everything it has to offer. You only need to own 16 champions to play ranked games, after all. And at a certain point in the process of levelling up to 30 and preparing oneself for ranked games, many players come to think that it'd be better to start spending any additional IP they acquire on runes rather than additional champions.

The very fact that habits like this exist is evidence of how League's high prices can often end up damaging the game. Many players have come to accept the fact that they're not going to unlock all of the characters in the game. They may not even unlock most of them.

League of Legends has more than 120 playable characters at this point. The size of the game -- the enormity of its scale and the diversity of its humongous cast -- is a big part of what I find fascinating about it. The thought that many people have to limit themselves in terms of who they can actually play simply because they can't afford to spend the time or money this otherwise fantastic game demands of them isn't just sad. It's also an uncomfortable contradiction to the statements Riot keeps making about how it's trying to expand on the "strategic diversity" at play in League of Legends whenever the game's developers set about redesigning or rebalancing something (like the jungle).

There are certain problems League of Legends is always going to have simply because it's so gigantic at this point. Having tons of playable characters, for instance, will scare off newcomers simply because it makes the scale of the game seem intimidating in and of itself. So I can't say for certain that, say, suddenly making every character in League freely available like its competitor Dota 2 does would solve every problem the game currently has.

At the same time, it's always worth remembering that there are more business models available for a game developer than the one Riot is currently leaning on for League of Legends. And that means that are other ways to monetise an ostensibly free-to-play game than the methods League currently employs -- ones that would make the game cheaper simply by placing less pressure on individual players. One super easy alternative? In-client advertising. But I have a hard time imagining League of Legends going for that, at least any time soon. Currently, the game is far too pre-occupied with using every virtual inch of its client's precious real estate to advertise more League of Legends stuff: upcoming events, new skins you can purchase, and so forth.

That's the saddest realisation on can come to when playing a free-to-play game, even a great one like League of Legends: the game can only afford to be free when it's relentlessly badgering you to spend money on it.

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Comments

    "Discluding" is not a word. I actually stopped reading the article upon seeing that, I'm a bad person :(

      It's a direct quote of the Reddit post.

    Only complain i have, is they need to balance the IP/RP on some of the older champs. There are some champs that are "old" now, yet still cost almost full or near full IP/RP.

    Other than that, riot are a gaming company that need to make money some way (advertising would just piss everyone off, especially the 'e-sports' element) and as far as im concerned, its an excellent business strategy that works well for both parties

    That's why I have been playing Dota for 10+ years, and have never touched LoL. Cosmetics are great and all for more dedicated players (I have spent more on Dota over the years than I care to admit, easily more than any other game), but any game where you can pay to win is just terrible. I would hate knowing that I outplayed my opponent in every conceivable way, but still lost because they sunk $100 into in-game items that gave them an insurmountable advantage over me.

    Dota makes stacks of money just off cosmetics, in-game league tickets, etc... just look at the prize pool for TI5 - I think it's already up to $7.5 million, based off players spending money to buy compendium packs. There is obviously a strong business model that allows you to make money off a F2P game without players spending money to gain in-game advantages.

      The best bit (for Valve) with the compendiums is that only 1/4 of the money spent goes to the prize pool. Once you take away the money Valve seeded, there has been $6m added to the prize pool by users. That means $24m has been spent in less than two weeks and $18m of that is going into Valve's pockets. Sure, not all of that is profit but it's still a stupid amount of money.

      And they consider The International to be advertising for Dota. The real money comes from the thousands of daily Steam Marketplace transactions. Hats! Glorious hats!

        How good does Enigma's new Black Hole look!?

          I do love me some particles and an excuse to imitate Tobiwan.

      LoL doesn't actually sell stuff that enables pay to win. The only things that you can buy with real money are cosmetic skins, champions which you can purchase with in-game currency that you earn (as highlighted by the article), and other runes which you can also purchase with in-game currency. There is nothing that makes a character objectively better because someone spent real money on some add-ons. LoL charges people real money for quicker access to stuff that they can acquire without spending any money. The only difference is the time it takes to access this stuff.

        Yes, but if I go into the game now, with no RP and no IP, I am going to be at a big disadvantage compared to someone that sinks $200 on day one to buy every run, character, etc., no?

        Compare that to Dota, where I can play against someone that has 10,000 hours of game time, and have access to the exact same heroes, with no runes/powerups/etc. that put me at an instant disadvantage.

          Considering if you go in and play right now, you'd be starting at level 1. Everyone would be at the exact same level you are. Just because someone might buy access to all of the champions immediately doesn't mean they have an advantage. They have more variety to choose from but variety doesn't constitute an advantage, especially early on when a beginning player is still learning the mechanics of the game and each individual champion.

          Runes are the only thing that would give you an in game advantage and you can't actually use real money to buy them. You can only use IP to buy runes and you cannot buy IP using real money. You can earn IP by playing more games. Also, you'll only be playing against other low level/beginning players so it would be very, very unlikely (if not impossible) that you are playing against someone that has 10,000 hours of game time on a low level character.

            Cheers for clearing that up. The dota players on Kotaku are always quick to call out LoL for issues that don't even exist.

            I haven't played LoL so I don't know the specifics, but in Dota some heroes are hard counters to other heroes... if you didn't have access to all the heroes, then you wouldn't be able to choose counters to other heroes, which makes them inherently stronger.

            As for IP, it seems a bit silly that they would force you to grind out hundreds/thousands of hours to get an advantage. If you are really good at the game, you may still be at a disadvantage against someone that isn't as good but hasn't got a job and just plays the game all day and has better runes.

            Also, how does the whole rune thing work in competitive play?

              By the time you are at a competitive level you would have had enough IP to buy runes needed, it's really not an issue. The difference between a basic rune set or two and having dozens of specialised rune sets is not that significant. So it's easy to be competitive with runes.

              The standard LoL PvP mode is blind-pick so it's really difficult to predict if you're going to be able to counter someone else. You effectively don't know who you're playing against so it's best to just play who you are good at.

              IP isn't that hard to grind and individual runes aren't that expensive at only about 300 or so. That's about three wins worth of IP there, not including any bonus IP received from first win of the day bonuses. And again, if someone is playing all day then they are likely to level up and your chances of playing that person diminishes as matchmaking is structured so that you play with and against people of a similar level. The level cap is 30 and you play against those people most of the time.

              Runes in competitive play work by allowing certain players to customise their play style to an extent. You can buff yourself a marginal amount in defense, attack, HP, etc, but runes have their greatest effect early on in a match (around the first ten minutes). After that the game is more dictated by item choice than anything else but there have been a few players who have structured their runes to have a lot of extra damage early in a match. Pro players generally have stacks upon stacks of IP so they can use whatever rune combinations that they find are most effective for the champion they're playing at the time.

    It honestly depends how you view your time spent, and sadly the league of legends subreddit is full of sweeping statements and noise that try to garner attention in the front page spotlight.

    I haven't played every champion in the game but I've seen every champion so far. I've only unlocked maybe about 2/3 - 3/4 of the roster. People might wonder how boring it must be playing a small number of champions (I only play about <15 champions decently) -- well for me, in League of Legends, those small number of characters are my protagonists for league, similar to your party in a game like Dragon Age. Every other character is an npc I have no interest in.

    While it does cost a lot of time to acquire runes, at least Riot had the sense to actually only allow their purchase with Influence Points.

    What concerns me the most about League is the limited hero pool each week. Coming from DOTA, HoN and DOTA2, I've come to enjoy the fact I can play up to nine or so games a day and each of them having a unique variety of heroes. It allows a more diverse set of skills to be developed.
    Still, that's only one side of the problem. The other is that Leagues current system hinders skill development with a single hero unless you want to buy access to the hero or wait until it comes back into the rotation.

      How does it work in bot games? Does LoL even have bot games?

      I wouldn't mind so much if a new hero came into rotation, and I could play a few bot games until I got the hang of him. Forcing people to jump into a PvP game having never played a hero before seems a bit much...

        There are bot games. In fact, I've heard people reach the highest level in LoL by never even playing PvP. You are still limited to the free champion rotation each week and whatever champions you decide to purchase with either IP (in-game currency) or RP (real life money).

          I'm one of those players that got to LV30 pretty much from playing Custom Games and Co-Op vs AI. The only problem I find with LoL is the amount of wasted IP you'll use at the start before you get to LV30. It doesn't amount to much in the long run, but for new players every point of IP is precious.
          You'll buy champions that doesn't work for your play style, since you don't even know what your play style is yet (not Riot's fault), and spend IP on Tier 1 and 2 runes that are absolutely useless (is Riot's fault).
          They should offer a full IP refund of Tier 1 runes when you reach Tier 2, and refund Tier 2 runes when you reach Tier 3. The stupid random rune refund just hurts new players that are experimenting with the game.

            Yeah have to admit that the Tier 1 and 2 runes are just traps for new players. Better off just not offering runes at all until Tier 3 unlocks at level 20 to save people wasting time, effort, and IP.

      Buying access to the couple dozen heroes you will want to use isn't that hard. After a few years or by spending less then you would on a AAA game you can have easily majority of the champions.

        But that's exactly the point of this whole article.

    As someone that owns all but 2 champions, most I have never touched, the rest I have only played once or twice and a few I regularly play.

    Strictly speaking while LoL is a pay for convenience model, it does amount to a level of pay-2-win. It's honestly not that big of a deal because there are other ways to offset it and it's true you can spend hours grinding, (I think reddit recently had a post that suggested 6300 ip champion is roughly 48 hours of playing). However the issue isn't really whether it is pay 2 win or not in my opinion, because it's a symptom of the bigger problem at hand. The levelling and in game currency. While it was originally perhaps a good idea, LoL honestly has no need for it now.

    Just to preface, I'm a Level 30 who started playing at the end of season 1 and haven't been playing much since the start of Season 4. I own most champions, bar maybe 10. I moved to Dota 2 at that point, and honestly believe that LoL could benefit from a Dota 2 model.

    A few of my friends from Dota 2 tried out the game briefly and the would come up against teams who had access to far more champions simply because I was playing. These friends would be playing against level 21~28's and only had access to the basic 10 free week champion pool. LoL is a social game, often players will be tutored (through duo queue) by older more experienced players when being introduced into the game. While they will always be a disadvantage to players who queue with higher MMR players, watching them having to create a team out of 10 free week champions was honestly sad. They were disappointed that they only had access to a tiny proportion of champions to each role. Even worse, no access to flash, ignite or smite against players who did have access to them. There should be no reason they're locked to any player.

    The other thing is runes. There should be no reason why a level 3 does not have the same in game advantage as someone who is level 30. While this problem is more to do with low level players (under level 20) vsing anyone who is level 30 and was smart enough to sink their IP in runes on the way up from 20-30.

    The level system sucks. It doesn't do anything useful that an MMR system doesn't do better. Once you hit level 30, the levels mean nothing. Same with IP. Once you purchase everything, IP is meaningless. You could have 300,000 IP and it means nothing since there's nothing to spend it on.

    The overall issue with the current system is that you're punished for being new. You're punished for playing against higher level players, you're punished because the system forces you to either grind or pay to make up these small disadvantages that shouldn't be there in the first place. LoL should move towards all the core gameplay elements being free and instead pushing for the skins and cosmetics aspect of the game and we wouldn't even need to have this argument about LoL being too expensive to get into anymore.

    incoming article about hearthstone for the same reason

      If there were digital TCG games that gave you unlimited access to every card but you had to pay for shiny cosmetic versions, I'm sure there would be.

      You're comparing apples to oranges.

        He's not really. Hearthstone is free to play, but you either pay with real money or time of you want access to all the cards. Not to mention that without a huge amounts of card packs of extraordinary luck you have almost no hope of being competitive.

    Here’s a sad truth: Unless you have thousands of hours or hundreds of dollars, it’s impossible to enjoy more than a sliver of

    Isn't this true of almost every MMO out there? That's the reason why I completely stopped playing games with a big multiplayer component. I, who has a life, work, relations, duties, etc. and can only dedicate a few hours per week to a game, had no chance ever to compete with college and highschool kids that literally can put hundreds of hours per week nor access a big percentage of the content, unless I paid big money.

    I dunno if i agree.

    Time wise, you get a free rotation of characters to try out a buncha new ones. You then find one you like and you pick it up with free IP and you play the character you like.

    Its more about unlocking the things that you like to use, i don't think the goal should ever be to unlock everything.

    If you have one champion and you have access to PvP, that's a pretty much the majorty of the experience. More champs add more variety and more things to learn. After a week of playing I think you can easily get a good idea of what the game is all about.

    Nothing close to a slither.

    Last edited 13/05/15 10:05 pm

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