Riot Games likes to make a big claim about their popular game League of Legends. It’s a simple one, but important: You can’t buy power. Don’t get me wrong, I love League of Legends, and have recently got back into it and have been playing frequently again. I also had a great time watching the recent playoffs and world championship, even with all of the issues that arose during the broadcast. But I must disagree with Riot’s claim that you can’t buy power. I think it’s fair to say you can’t buy power above what can be earned in game, but you can most definitely buy power to put yourself out in front in a variety of ways.
First, there’s buying champions. By purchasing champions with real money, you quickly expand the pool of champions available to you, which provides greater versatility in your options in character select. In draft pick, it gives you a better pool of counter-picks, as well as let’s you choose from a wider array of your preferred champions that aren’t countered by the picks of your opponents. In blind pick, it allows you to be more flexible with your champion choices to work with your team. In addition, some champions are pretty clearly more powerful than others, and often become flavor of the month until the nerf bat comes down on them.
Next, there is buying rune pages. These are pretty much necessary to be able to make the most effective use of your characters. After all, you only start with two, and must make them quite generic if you want two to cover every champion you play. A larger number of rune pages lets you create more specialized pages for each role you wish to play, or even which specific champions you wish to play, which makes you more effective in game. At 6300 IP (the free currency earned through playing matches) a pop, these bad boys cost as much as the most expensive champions. Or you could pick up seven for a mere 20 dollars if you don’t want to spend months grinding out the IP needed to get them, and don’t have time to play marathon sessions of League of Legends. Of course, it should be noted that even after buying the rune pages, you still need IP for the runes to fill them.
Speaking of runes, they will cost you a pretty penny in IP. And runes can not be purchased with real money, so this kind of power is special in that it truly can not be bought. However, if you’ve been buying your champions and rune pages with IP, your ability to purchase runes is still greatly diminished compared to someone who spent real money on the above mentioned items, because those making real money purchases can save all of their IP for their runes, and therefore have more rune pages to fill, and a wider selection of runes to fill them with.
Finally, there are the IP and XP boosts. The XP boosts will help you move to level 30 faster so you can use full rune pages and masteries. Not a big deal, as hitting level 30 can be done relatively quickly if you play often. I play off and on, and am at level 28, so no biggie. IP boosts have been shown to be an inefficient use of RP when aiming to buy champions or rune pages. But, IP boosts will let you get the IP to purchase runes much faster than those not paying.
Of course, then we get to the question, “what’s the big deal?” After all, people who don’t pay can still earn all of this stuff in game, right? Well, yes. But it’s not easy. Nor is it practical. Here is an analysis on Riot’s forums of what it would take to buy all the champions with IP, and how much using RP (purchased with real money) can speed that process along. This was created in April of 2012, and as such, the release of new champions has increased the time needed. Of course, no one needs to play all of the champions if they are merely trying to maximize their power. But the analysis is telling, none-the-less. Included is a snippet below:
I found that including RP even in small amounts made a really big difference. For example, our player earlier who had to play 10 games per day for 22 months can cut the number of games he has to play per day to 6 just by purchasing $5 worth of RP per month, or 2 by purchasing $10 of RP per month. That means $10 of RP per month improves the rate at which he collects champions by 500%. Huge!
I then sought to find a realistic timeline within which a truly devoted collector can reasonably collect all of the champions. I feel I’ve found the sweet spot at 2 games per day and $20 of RP per month. At those rates, an avid collector can expect to own all of the champions in under a year, including those champions released during that year.
This illustrates how much spending money on the game improves your progress toward acquiring new champions. Similarly, purchasing rune pages with real money is way more efficient than grinding them out, even more so than with champions, and all that saved IP then goes straight to buying a larger variety of runes to customize your champions to be more effective in your matches.
Now, in the end, Riot Games is a company, and they need to make money. I don’t begrudge them that, and I actually do think their system is relatively fair. You don’t pay, you get a game that is perhaps not as good for lack of variety, and you sacrifice some power. With time, both of these are remedied, but you’ll need to play quite awhile before that happens. Of course, if you don’t pay, Riot isn’t really getting much out of you, aside from some possible word of mouth. For those who pay, they do get the full experience faster, and are getting what they pay for. I just don’t think it’s fair to say you can’t buy power, because you can, it’s just much more limited than in many other free to play games.