League of Legends is rolling out something called "champion mastery" across the game's many servers this week. It's an experimental feature that sounds like it could scratch an itch that League players have felt for a long time: the desire to toy with their favourite characters in immediate, tangible ways.
Champion mastery adds a fresh layer of gamified goodness on top of one's League of Legends player profile. "You now get points, ranks, and rewards for the champs you play," reads the description from League developer Riot. "Finish a game of League and you'll earn points for your champion based on your team's performance as well as your own contribution. Earn enough points and you'll level up that champ's mastery level, giving you rewards as you progress."
Simple enough. As you increase a champion's mastery level, players will earn bigger and better crests that will rank their performance with that champion compared to others. The system is starting out with five snazzy-looking crests:
...with the possibility of more to come later. Each champion also receives honorific titles based on the specific role in which they play — support characters go from being an "aide" or "protector" at low ranks to becoming a "defender" or guardian," while a fighter can start from the bottom as a "scrapper" and ultimately rise to the level of a full-blown "destroyer."
The promise of the system — and the thing that makes it an exciting addition for League of Legends — is that it gives players more opportunities to assess their own performance and get a sense that they're actually making progress in the game over time. The way League has worked so far, the game doesn't give its players much of anything in that regard besides the overall level they're able to achieve in the fiercely competitive ranked mode. Since it takes a long time to reach a level where you can even compete in ranked games (let alone compete effectively), it's hard to stay motivated if you find yourself chugging along with a preferred champion or two for months on end. A new character-specific levelling system is a good way to help players overcome such moments of discouragement.
Crests, honourifics and letter grades are still all fairly superficial outcomes, though. Riot isn't as specific about how champion mastery rewards will work once the system is up and running. Here's how they touch on the subject in their FAQ:
What other kinds of rewards are planned for the future?
We are going to see how people enjoy using the system and what they like about it before we finalise our future plans. We'd love feedback on this.
Will skins ever be a reward?
It's not something we're considering right now, but we are exploring other ideas for unique rewards we think you guys might like.
Many Leagueplayers were either hoping or expecting that Riot would add some sort ability that allows them to unlock special skins or other aesthetic variations for their favourite characters once champion mastery. The pricy "chroma packs" that change the colour of champions' clothing seemed like an easy option — especially considering that Blizzard's competing MOBA Heroes of the Storm already makes those sorts of colour variations free in its character-levelling system. That, and the fact that many League of Legends players were upset that Riot had the audacity to charge five bucks a pop for something so seemingly simple in the first place.
It's telling that Riot has shied away from tying anything so tangible as champion skins or skin colours — i.e., things they could charge money for — to a system meant to give players a better sense of how they're progressing in the game. It will be interesting to see if the champion mastery's crests and letter grades are enough to command players' attention until other types of "unique rewards" show up.