Whenever I play League of Legends, I always see players complaining about something new every day. One of these endless complaints is that League of Legends is a pay to win game.
Is League of Legends pay to win? No, League of Legends is not a pay to win. It runs a free-to-play model where all microtransactions only grant cosmetics to players without providing any competitive advantage.
In this article, we dive into why League of Legends is not P2W and also what elements do players argue are pay-to-win within the game.
What Makes a Game Pay to Win?
To touch on why League of Legends is not a pay to win game, we must understand what the term pay to win means.
A pay to win game is any game that allows players to pay real-life currency in exchange for unobtainable or exclusive items and abilities that provide the recipient with a competitive advantage.
The two key elements here are “pay real-life currency” and “provide the recipient with a competitive advantage”.
If players can obtain a competitive advantage through items or abilities paid for with in-game currencies, it’s not a pay to win game. If what is paid for with real currency doesn’t provide a competitive advantage, it’s not a pay to win game.
If you want a deep dive into what makes games a pay to win, check out this article here.
Now with that out of the way, let’s talk about what you can pay for in League of Legends and if they provide a competitive advantage.
League of Legends Microtransactions
League of Legends is notorious for the sheer amount of money they make off of their microtransactions.
Are players paying for a competitive advantage or is it because they want to boost their ego with a shiny yasuo skin? Let’s find out.
Skins by far make up the far majority of Riot Games’ revenue from the game. With skins coming out basically every 2 weeks (each patch) and players always eyeing the new skins, it makes you wonder if they provide a competitive advantage.
Skins are also what players argue most about. In fact, Riot Games bans certain skins from the LCS. Therefore certain skins must be pay to win, right?
Not exactly. We will speak more about poorly designed skins and bugged skins below, but skins themselves don’t technically provide a competitive advantage. Although I’d admit some do, but we will speak more into why that doesn’t turn League of Legends into a pay to win game.
One major reason is that Riot Games has been consistently fixing their problematic skin lines and ability animations.
Take for example Lux. In the image above, Luxanna received her skin line rework and you can easily tell the difference between the glittery Q and the minimal E.
Prior to that, Lux’s skins (especially Steel Legion Lux) were very difficult to differentiate, specifically in-game. Take note of the image below, where the bottom two are the Q and E of Steel Legion Lux.
For skins like that, they are a problem. But since Riot Games has been cleaning up most of those skins in Season 8 and 9, that argument is no longer very valid (we will touch more on the problem with skins below).
In a post on sportskeeda.com, popular streamers IWDominate (also known as IWillDominate), Thorin and JordanCorby all complain about how League of Legends feels more like a pay to win due to their champ releases.
We will touch more on that below, but in essence the general argument for champions resulting in a pay to win game is that champions can be purchased with money and since you don’t get all the champions at the start, League of Legends is a pay to win game.
And sure, having all the champions is a competitive advantage, therefore you’d think this makes League of Legends a pay to win. But in League of Legend’s case, getting more and more champions is like leveling up and getting new weapon classes in open-world MMOs.
By not having all the champions doesn’t put you into a competitive disadvantage once the game exceed champion select. Not to mention that all champions are primarily paid for with Riot’s in-game currency which Riot provides an abundance of as you play their game.
It’s like you are playing an open world MMO and complaining you can’t use a bow as a mage. Not being able to equip a bow may seem like a disadvantage, but if you haven’t advanced enough to be able to do so or decided for your character that you will only be a mage (in games where you can’t equip multiple classes), that’s your choice and the alternative can be acquired through free means.
With that all said, champions can slightly feel like a pay to win element from time to time. We will break that further down below, but champion purchasing in of itself doesn’t make League of Legends a pay to win game.
Icons and Emotes
Do I really need to touch on this? I know there will be one person who will say “you can pay money for them, so League of Legends is a pay to win game”.
To that one person who thinks that these cosmetics have no impact on gameplay whatsoever, resulting in no competitive advantage. Hell, buying emotes and icons are such a waste of money considering you always get a bunch of them from loot boxes.
These by no means should be seen as an element to make League of Legends pay to win.
How is League of Legends Like a Pay to Win Game?
Okay, now that we dispelled the notion that League of Legends is a pay to win game, let’s talk about how paying players may occasionally and potentially obtain competitive advantages.
These elements alone are far from making League of Legends a pay to win game, but they can provide players with a slight advantage.
Poorly Designed Skins
Riot Games pump out so many skins and create so many designs, as a result there a slew of skin based bugs and many poor designs that look visually appealing but are atrocious to play against.
For poorly designed skins, there are two main issues that arise under designs that weren’t fully cleaned up. The first would be misaligned hitboxes to animations.
The most classic case of this is iBlitzcrank.
In the image above, even though Kai Sa isn’t even close to the Q, it still landed and pulled her in. Thankfully Riot has now fixed up the skin, but this was a bug that lasted for a significantly long amount of time and was banned from many tier 2 and 3 tournaments.
When other skins have this kind of interaction, it can come off as annoying and seem like a pay to win. The one thing to remember when assuming these skins are pay to win is to note that the players aren’t intentionally using the misaligned hitbox and the ability itself has the same overall hitbox. It’s purely a graphical error. No competitive advantage is actually present, but it is harder to dodge not being able to properly see it.
Despite what ProGuides what you to believe with their “pay to win skins” video series:
The second case is when skins have particular animations or particle effects that either make it easier or harder to see what’s going on.
A simple example that gets the point across is Dreadnova Darius (although you can’t pay for it). On most Darius skins, it’s difficult to see how many bleed stacks you have on a champ without counting or clicking on them.
With this skin, they are exceptionally noticeable, which makes it easier for the Darius player to keep track.
This doesn’t necessarily provide a competitive advantage since everyone can see the stacks better, but it does really mostly just matter for the Darius (since the player with the bleed stacks can easily see the stacks on his hub).
That said, these kinds of things are so unimpactful it’s really honestly sad to see these as a pay to win element.
Bugged skins are an actual problem since they create real impactful advantages and disadvantages to the players encountering the bug.
When bugs arise, those skins and champions are even banned from pro play, take for example the tweet below.
Lux and Syndra will be disabled for #LEC Week 1 and until further notice as they are currently suffering from potentially game-altering bugs for competitive play.
Sett will also be disabled for Week 1 to ensure all #LEC teams have proper time to practice with & against him.
— Maximilian Peter Schmidt (@RiotMAXtheX) January 15, 2020
That said, the things about bugs are that they generally come up unexpectedly, become disabled if are game-breaking and typically get patched relatively quickly.
Although they can make massive competitive advantages when occurred, they aren’t very intentional. And if they are intentional and abused, the abuser will actually be punished and banned by Riot Games as per their ToS.
In conclusion, despite what Vandiril says in his videos (linked above), bugged skins aren’t enough to call League of Legends a pay to win game but do provide occasional unintentional benefits (or consequences, as they don’t always help the player) for the players that paid for skins (typically newer skins).
Overpowered Champions Upon Release
Remember that article with IWDominate, Thorin and JordanCorby talking about champion releases being pay to win. That originated from this video below:
To summarize, the argument goes like this: a Riot employee admitted that they release new champions strong to build hype around them and have more players play it. The 3 streamers complain that when it comes to those champions, you either have to play it, ban it or lose to it.
Although that argument is sound and it actually sounds unreasonable for Riot to do that (and as we’ve seen, it’s likely something Riot isn’t continuing as we saw with Gwen’s release), this again doesn’t make Leauge of Legends a pay to win game.
In the end, BE (blue essence, the in-game currency earned by playing games) is abundant and any player can save up for the champion.
Yes, players who don’t play the game as much likely won’t be able to save up for every new release and puts them at a disadvantage, but it’s undoubtedly an overstatement to call League of Legends a pay to win game as a result.
That all said, I can appreciate the frustration of these three streamers and the players playing against these newly released champions.
Locked Champions Unable to be Played or Traded
To me, this one is actually decently fair argument. Basically, if a player is requesting a trade in a solo queue lobby, both trading players must have each other’s champion, otherwise the trade cannot take place.
This causes newer or unpaying players to be unable to perform champion trades and can result in a “loss in champion select” game as Riot has been putting a lot of focus on counter picks in seasons 10 and 11.
Thankfully, firstly this issue can be resolved by playing enough that you have all the champions. That way, you don’t have to spend a dime.
Additionally, this only affects champion-select. Your pool of champions has no effect whatsoever on the gameplay itself.
Someone who 16 champions will play the same Yasuo as the Yasuo main with all characters.
Once again, although it does put newer players at a disadvantage, it’s nowhere close to making League of Legends a pay to win game.
League of Legends is not a pay to win game as purchasing skins and abilities don’t provide players with a competitive advantage. The game is a free-to-play game that makes money off of selling cosmetics to players, and all cosmetics can be obtained through in-game means such as loot boxes.
It’s fun to complain and blame others for why we lose, but in the end we have to accept that League of Legends is purely a play to win game with a few bugs and limitations for newer players.