On Having Caught ‘Em All

There are 119 League of Legends champions. As of this week, I own them all, and I have never spent a dime on a single one.

League of Legends is a free-to-play Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, in which five players on each team take on the role of five champions for a 30-40 minute match. Riot Games makes money in the game by selling champions and skins for champions, essentially mere aesthetic upgrades for those characters. Skins can only be purchased with real money. However, champions can be purchased with real money or by earning points by playing games and unlocking them one at a time.

I wrote a few months ago about the temporal cost of free-to-play games like League of Legends, how its “first win of the day” bonus points that can be used towards unlocking champions are one of the major hooks that keep the player queued up in games of this sort day after day (”Tick, Tick, Tick: The Temporal Cost of Free to Play Gaming”, PopMatters, 19 February 2014). That being said, I certainly wouldn’t have merely played League this long if the game itself weren’t such a good one. Grinding is grinding, but there has to be some pleasure In the grind itself after all (Nick Dinicola, ”The Perfect Grind”, PopMatters, 23 August 2013, or G. Christopher Williams, ”Living for the Short Term Grind”, PopMatters, 5 October 2011).

Or, at least, I think that is the case.

To be honest, when I finally completed my collection of League champions, I didn’t even bother to play with the most recent one that I bought. (Do those spoiled kids whose parents buy them a complete run of action figures ever touch them all?). Instead, I downloaded a copy of Smite, another MOBA that I’ve had a few different people recommend to me, and I started into that.

I didn’t play League again until I unlocked two champions in Smite, and I did so largely to make sure that I still got my “first win of the day” bonus in League. (There will eventually be a 120th champion released after all, and I certainly need to update my “completed” collection when that happens). Additionally, I have largely spent a lot of the time that I would normally spend with League the last few days by playing more Smite. I’m about halfway to one of the more “pricey” (in terms of in game points) champions that has caught my eye in that game.

Now, I really don’t think that Smite is as good a game as League, and I am still convinced that I haven’t kicked my League habit. However, this once again has made me question the sorts of things that motivate myself as a gamer to play (”I Don’t Know How to Play”, PopMatters, 13 October 2010 ).

I’ve never been comfortable with open ended play. I’ve always been drawn to board games, card games, and single player video games. Games with defined rules and most importantly, an end goal.

Collection is a major feature in a lot of video games, but it is also often a side goal, especially in the single player games that I play. I remember quite clearly spending a great deal of time collecting all 100 rubber bands hidden throughout the open world of Bully, which led to the eventual creation of a rubber band ball, one of the best weapons in the game and also a weapon that I hardly used since the game was essentially over by the time I found them all. At that point, I was done with it anyway. The goal was to get this fabulous weapon. However, it made me realize that that is the intended designed goal of that collection, but for me, the goal was really just to achieve the goal itself.

Again, I can’t complain too much about my nearly two year grind to collect all the League champions. While I have spent probably a really unhealthy amount of hours with the game, I’ve played a lot of great matches, and I felt a real sense of satisfaction in unlocking that last one. However, it all does make me realize that I need to reflect on what accomplishment means to me in gaming. Am I playing games or merely at times simply enduring them?