Dev
/dev: League's Business Model in 2023

We're here to share how League's business model has evolved over time.

DevAuthorjust a capybara
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In 2017, we published a blog about League's business model. In recent years, we've seen growing feedback that our decisions don’t always feel connected to an underlying approach, meaning the model we shared in that blog are no longer top of mind. We're here to address that feedback and share how our model has evolved over time alongside League and the community.

TL;DR:

  • We care about making a great game, above all else.
  • Winning in League is about playing better, not spending money.
  • You should feel good about what you buy.
  • What you get out of League reflects what's important to you.

Let’s dive into what these mean to us.

We care about making a great game, above all else.

We aspire for League of Legends to be one of the greatest games in the world for decades to come. This isn't just about being a premier competitive PC game. League is also one of the world’s leading esports, it is music, it is cinematics, it is a deep and growing IP, it is a community of incredible fans fueling everything from cosplay to a TV show. Your investment gives us the means to make these awesome experiences.

Winning in League is about playing better, not spending money

The core of League of Legends is competition and mastery. Any form of power that can be purchased (like champions) can also be unlocked for free over time just by playing. You can be the best player in the world without spending anything on the game.

When we wrote our last article, we talked about runes and champions not being pay-to-win because we believed players could easily get enough of them to compete on a level playing field, even if they didn't have all of them. Since then, we removed old runes and made champions easier to unlock, both by making most of them cheaper and by adding ways to unlock them for free. You should win or lose because of how you play your champ, not which champs you own.

We also still hold a firm line against selling power through cosmetics. There'll never be a Teemo skin that gives him a different range on Q, or a Lux skin that gives her more damage on R. That said, we know we've missed the mark on gameplay clarity with several skins in the past. We’ll be investing time in 2024 to correct some of these. For example, we're using Lee Sin's ASU as an opportunity to address issues with his Storm Dragon skin.

Many players will never spend a single dollar in League of Legends, and we believe this should be the case for a free-to-play game that doesn't sell competitive power. We aren't in the business of forcing you to spend to enjoy League.

You should feel good about what you buy

We make money by offering optional extras that are so cool, you buy them (we hope) even though you don't need them. If you buy something in League, you should feel good about what you got for your money even when you look back months later.

This isn't a promise that you'll always be happy about how much something costs, and we acknowledge that the line of affordability is highly personal. For some folks, buying a 1350 skin might mean skipping plans with friends. That's a hard decision to make. We understand that tying content to bundles, purchase milestones, mission completions, or time-gating can feel just as bad as an unaffordable price tag. But when you load into game, it should feel worth it.

Loot is also designed with this principle in mind. You can expect good value from each individual chest, orb, or capsule that you buy, and if you max out a rewards track, the total value from that set of purchases will always be higher than what you spent on it. Sometimes you'll get lucky and score something like Mythic Essence or an Ultimate skin on an individual purchase,, but the 'worst' outcome will still give good value for your money. And for things that don't have a direct price tag, like rewards on a track, you'll always know the maximum possible spend needed.

We’ll also continue to put safeguards in place to protect people who want to spend their money on League. We have strong protections against accidental purchases because we don’t want to trick you into buying something without realizing it. We have daily purchase limits on loot to prevent unhealthy spending decisions and protect players whose accounts have been compromised. We offer refunds on things that people bought but haven’t used, because we don’t want to sell you stuff you don’t want. We also offer a limited number of refunds on purchases that fall outside that policy because spending money on League should feel worth it.

What you get out of League reflects what's important to you

Different players care about different parts of League, and spend their time and money accordingly. We will make things that are specifically meaningful to the parts of League that you care about.

For many of you, your relationship to the game has changed over time. Some of us who started off buying skins with their allowance as teenagers are adults now, with jobs and families, and it’s understandable that those changes can shift how someone relates to a game that they’ve played for more than a decade. We want to make sure that League remains rewarding for you, even as what you're looking to get out of it changes with time.

What this means is that, just as some skins are granted to Ranked achievers at the exclusion of non-Ranked mains of those champs, we'll add other things to the game that distinctly reward other kinds of commitment to League.

Deep Dive: Supporting specific motivations

Since this is new to the model, we want to break down a few of the spaces where we think we're doing an alright job of rewarding player investment, and where we know we have room to improve.

Playing the Game

We want to reward you for playing League consistently over time. In the past, we gave out IP and runes and champions. Today, we give out Blue Essence, Orange Essence, skin shards, emotes, icons, and Mythic Essence. Beyond that, we have a bunch of systems—Summoner Level, event metagames, and event missions—that are designed to reward the time investment of people who just want to play the game, as well as Event Passes for players willing to spend a bit to get more out of their time during events. While the specific currencies and systems may change over time, you should feel like your time is well spent.

Competition

We think our Ranked exclusive skins are in a good spot and a strong, longstanding example of a reward tailored for a specific type of player. We’ll have more to share about Ranked rewards in 2024.

Veterancy, or "I was here when"

Most of how players show off how long they've been playing League is through rewards that were only available during specific moments. These can be controversial—nobody likes missing out—but what makes something like Black Alistar really cool is that you can’t just decide to buy it in the shop today. Having Black Alistar means that you were with us at the start of it all.

We've been hesitant to embrace this motivation because League doesn't have many commemorable moments aside from ranked seasons, which makes it hard for time-gated rewards to feel like they're celebrating anything. (If we could go back in time, we'd make it clearer that Black Alistar was tied to the digital Collector's Edition of League.) With Victorious skins reserved for Ranked achievers, non-ranked players in particular don't have great ways of showing off how long they've been part of the community. We don't have any immediate updates to share on how we're going to better serve this motivation, but it's an area we're looking into.

Champion Maining

Players who play a champion a ton should be recognized for their dedication. We know our current Champion Mastery system isn't doing the job at the moment and are exploring upgrades in 2024.

Luxury Goods

(Yes, we know we just coined a new meme. Don't take credit.) The vast majority of our paid stuff is at lower price points, and things will stay that way. That said, we dropped Mythic Variants on you out of nowhere and didn't explain what we were doing.

So here's what's up: By making it more rewarding to invest time in League, we've chipped away at the uniqueness of what you can get through spending. For example, the original Prestige K/DA Kai'Sa and Akali skins required significantly more time or money to unlock than Prestiges nowadays, which are essentially 'finish lines' for standard events. Prestige skins are more common now because of our choice to make them more accessible.

This created a gap in our catalog for players who want to set themselves apart through luxury goods. These are the players that Mythic Variants like Dark Cosmic Erasure Jhin and Breakout True Damage Ekko are meant for.

With that said, there's no way that a $200 skin in League can be fully 10x better than a $20 skin... mostly because we can’t add 10x the features of a Legendary without utterly destroying gameplay clarity. The bar should still be high, though, and we know Dark Cosmic Erasure Jhin fell short. We shot ourselves in the foot by betting that a less-impressive skin would be less upsetting to folks who couldn't afford it than a really-impressive skin would be. Based on those results, we pivoted mid-development to level up Breakout True Damage Ekko.

We will continue to refine our offerings in this space to serve players who want these sorts of luxury goods. Part of that is hitting the right quality bar, and part is making the right number of these skins per year. We know most players aren't able to (or just don't want to) flex how much they can spend on one skin. We're keeping the number of luxury goods low because it makes more sense for everyone to keep the vast majority of our time focused on content at lower price points. We want to deliver optional, desirable cosmetics along the entire price curve, not just the high end. While some things will be highly priced, other things will be at a variety of lower prices, and others will be free.

To recap:

  • We care about making a great game, above all else.
  • Winning in League is about playing better, not spending money.
  • You should feel good about what you buy.
  • What you get out of League reflects what's important to you.

As we evolve and improve in the future, we'll explain how new features and changes fit with these values. We look forward to continuing this conversation with you.

Thank you for playing, thank you for reading, and thank you for trusting us to keep improving.


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