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League of Legends’ most controversial sales may actually be its best

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But you have to be willing to be a big spender to see the value

You can only get the Hextech Annie skin through crafting
Riot Games

This week, Areeb “Bubobubo” Pirani, the revenue lead for League of Legends developer Riot Games, published a post on Riot’s /dev blog explaining the game’s business model and values. He explained that Riot’s goal is to assure that players can be competitive at the game even if they don’t spend any money on it, while assuring that players who do choose to spend feel they get a good value when buying League’s huge array of champions, skins and other cosmetic items.

Riot’s values are admirable, and its free-to-play model is relatively generous in comparison to those used by many other successful free-to-play games. But this post comes at a time when Riot is facing backlash from the community over changes to its store, and Pirani’s explanation may be a response to that backlash.

But, ironically, the currently-running event that has many players up in arms actually seems to be one of the better sales Riot has done in League in quite some time.

Riot has replaced popular sale events with events built around its Hextech crafting system

Last year, Riot introduced a new system for gambling on random items from its shop, called Hextech Crafting. Hextech crafting lets players buy chests which contain “shards” of champions or cosmetic items like champion skins, ward skins and profile icons. These shards can be: upgraded into full items using a currency called essence; disenchanted in order to give essence to the player; or players can do a “reroll” of three shards to obtain a permanent item that they don’t already own.

On top of that, there is a special kind of item called a “rare gemstone” that shows up in about 5 percent of Hextech chests. There are a couple of exclusive skins that can only be obtained via the Hextech system, and cost 10 gems each, which means these skins are considered to be the most expensive cosmetic items currently available in the game.

This system is pretty confusing; it adds several new currencies and gives players a set of complicated choices that may result in inefficient allocation of resources they’ve spent real money to obtain.

You spend your cash to buy RP, the real-money currency for the League store, and then you spend your RP to buy chests, which contain the shards, and you disenchant the shards to get the essence. And when you get to that point, it’s hard to tell how much money essence costs or is worth relative to the price of just buying the skins you want for full-price or waiting for one of Riot’s half-off sales, which are generally the best deal for League cosmetics.

Buying Hextech boxes generally results in savings over full-price items and, since you can break stuff you don’t want into essences, you have a little bit more control over what you end up getting from Hextech than you do from Mystery Skins, League’s other gambling option. Hextech boxes can also contain shards for the newest skins, which will not be included in sales anytime in the near future, as well as the highest priced legendary and ultimate skins, which aren’t included in rotating sales.

Since this system came out, Riot has been structuring its holiday sales around Hextech stuff, and the sales make things even more complicated by adding special kinds of event-specific Hextech chests and adding new kinds of limited-time currencies.

For example:

  • In July, to celebrate the release of a new batch of its popular PROJECT skins, Riot released special Hextech chests containing currencies that could be used to purchase special “first strike” loading screen borders for the new skins, and sold bundles of them that were guaranteed to include a rare gemstone.
  • During the World Championships, in November, Riot sold Hextech boxes that contained yet another kind of currency that could be spent to obtain and upgrade special profile icons with the logos of different professional teams.
  • During the “Snowdown” Christmas event, Riot sold special boxes that cost more than regular chests, but were guaranteed to drop skin shards from a narrower pool of skins, meaning most of the least impressive skins weren’t in the pool for these, and they also had a chance to include a special fragment which could combine to form another kind of special chest that contained a permanent skin. On top of that, these chests also contained a special type of currency that could be used to create exclusive profile icons.
  • The “Lunar Revel” lunar new year’s event, which is running until Feb 2, 2017, offers special Lunar envelopes that cost 250 RP, which is more than the 195 RP price of regular chests — about $1.92 instead of $1.50 — but only contain skin shards and will not include icons or shards for champions and wards. Additionally, these envelopes each contain a new currency called a Lunar revel relic. There are three kinds of relics: A pauldron, a gold bar and a gauntlet. Three pauldrons combine into a random Hextech shard for an epic ($10) tier skin. Four gauntlets combine to roll a random full permanent skin. And five gold bars combine into a rare gem. Or you can combine any three relics into a regular Hextech box.

With all this stuff going on, it’s very hard to break out the value of the different currencies and figure out how much you’re spending to get the bonus exclusive icon or an extra skin, and when events introduce new limited-time packages at new price points, it’s hard to figure out how good a deal the event goods are compared to the regular chests or to sales and promotions outside of the Hextech system.

On top of that, Hextech seems to be replacing some popular event sales: the “personalized shop,” which offered players a selection of six skins they don’t already own at discounts between 30 percent and 70 percent off has been part of previous Snowdown and Lunar Revel events. These sales never included the newest or most expensive skins, and you only got the option to buy one skin at the cheapest discount level, but the random roll to determine what your store contained happened before you were asked to spend any money. The sale was easy to understand, and the top-tier discount in the personal shop was the best deal in League.

The missing personal shops may not be directly related to Hextech; Riot is currently rolling out a new front-end client for the game, and many players are now using the beta version of the new software, which apparently doesn’t yet support the personal sales. But with Hextech front-and-center and the popular personal shops MIA, players on Reddit and the official League forum are complaining.

Nonetheless, Lunar Revel crafting compares favorably to some of League’s better deals

If you like cosmetic skins in League of Legends and you’re comfortable with random outcomes, however, the Lunar Revel deal is the best that Riot has ever done for Hextech components.

Riot is selling these envelopes for 250 RP, or 11 envelopes for 2500 RP, resulting in a cost of 227 RP per envelope. Regular chests cost 195 RP each, or 11 for 1950; 177 RP each when buying the largest bundle.

It’s hard to figure out the value of each component
Riot Games

Although the envelopes cost more than regular chests, since these boxes only contain skin shards — no champs, wards or icons — they eliminate many of the worst-value outcomes you can get from regular chests, which results in a much higher expected value per envelope.

On top of that, the relic currencies are all worth significantly more than the difference in price between regular chests and the event chests.

  • Three of the Pauldron items combine to form an epic skin shard. An epic skin shard disenchants into 450 cosmetic essence, and the price to upgrade a skin shard to a permanent skin is always the skin’s RP price minus 300. So one essence is worth about one RP. That means if you combine the Pauldrons, it’s fair to say each Pauldron relic is worth about 150 RP.
  • Four of the Gauntlet relics combine to form a permanent random skin. This seems to function similarly to re-rolling three hextech shards — it won’t give you a permanent of a skin you already have, but, unlike Mystery Skins, it might give you a skin for a champ you don’t own. Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to value this at being roughly the same as a mystery skin, especially since players who are likely to be spending on crafting are probably players who have most or all of the champions. A mystery skin costs 490 RP, so this relic is worth about 122 RP.
  • Five of the gold bars combine to form a gem. This is the hardest reward to put a value on, because there is no RP price for the Hextech skins. Players chasing the exclusive Hextech Annie and Soulstealer Vayne skins can expect to drop at least $300 and frequently more on chests before getting enough gems to buy the skins, so some players consider the gems to be worth more than $30 each, although that calculation completely ignores the value of the hundreds of Hextech shards that those players collected while chasing the gems.

Assuming you have an equal chance to get each kind of relic, players should reliably be able to get an extra gem for every 15 envelopes they open. With the 5 percent chance of getting an additional gem from each Lunar chest, you can expect to get 10 gems out of about 90 envelopes, which will cost about $137 if you buy RP in $100 increments. You’ll also get 90 skin shards directly from envelopes, about 10 extra epic shards from pauldron relics, and about 7 random rolls for permanent skins from the gauntlet relics.

To put it another way, if you choose the re-roll option for every single shard you get and didn’t upgrade any of them to permanent skins, you’d get 33 random rolls out of 100 shards plus the seven from the gauntlet relics, for a total of 40 skins.

This is the least efficient way to use most shards, and the only reason you’d want to re-roll any shards except those for the cheapest tier of skins is if you owned nearly every skin in the game and therefore had little use for more essence. 40 mystery skins cost $130, so buying the envelopes and getting the 10 gemstones would be $7 more than the cost of the 40 mystery skins. Not $7 for each gem. $7 total.

If you like buying League skins and you’ve been lusting after those Hextech exclusives, this might be a good time to get out your credit card.

If you don’t re-roll all your skins — and most players won’t — shards are worth, on average, about twice as much to disenchant or upgrade than they are to re-roll; about 300 essence per shard. If you value one cosmetic item essence as being roughly equivalent to 1 RP, then the Lunar Revel chests have an expected value of about 390 RP, even if you treat the gold bar relics and gemstones as being worth zero.

If you place value on getting to choose which shards to break for essence and which to upgrade into permanents, and especially if you covet those exclusives, this compares favorably to mystery skins.

Hextech events offer a solid deal for League’s heavy spenders, but are confusing for most

For heavy spenders, events like this offer a chance to get a lot of skins at a decent discount, and to collect skins that are cost prohibitive for most players to obtain. But you have to buy a lot of Hextech stuff to get a robust set of shard choices to upgrade into permanent skins, or to ever have any hope of getting enough gems for an exclusive skin.

That means a Hextech holiday like Lunar Revel 2017 isn’t much of a holiday at all for free-to-players and light spenders (give or take a free icon). The opportunity to get Hextech Annie with a $140 spend isn’t much of a replacement for the personal shop if you’re a frugal player who consider a $20 RP purchase to be a splurge.

Crafting is complex and intimidating and rewards those with the most resources. The value is getting better, and Lunar Revel is the best Hextech deal yet, but the value will need to be more persuasive if Riot hopes to make Hextech as attractive as other types of deals for modest spenders.