Side Quest: Chasing Louis

Where digital fashion and games collided, I found only a long hard slog.

Last year it was announced that one of the senior designers for fashion brand Louis Vuitton was himself a big gamer and would be designing a new avatar “skin” for the video game League of Legends. Since this was a game I was familiar with, and given my previous experiments with digital fashion, I set myself the goal of acquiring said skin. It proved to be a long and less-than-fun experience, to the point I quit playing the game altogether.

First Time

I started playing League of Legends for research, as in my day job, we were prototyping eSports themed video games. For those unfamiliar with League of Legends, it plays a bit like a team sport. There are two teams of 5 players each, and a single match lasts around 30-45 minutes.

The game can be fun and pretty addictive, but being a modern competitive pvp (player vs player) game, it has matchmaking: You’re unlikely to have a group of 10 friends who want to play at any one time, so the game finds other players who are also looking for a game and matches you up with them.

But far from being random, it tries to assess how good you are as a player – based on your number of wins/losses in previous games, how many kills you got or teammates you healed etc – and match you up with similarly proficient players. These other strangers then become your new teammates and opponents for the match you’re about to play.

That’s fine if your main motivation is to constantly improve your skills in the game and/or to rise up the ranks. But for me, mastering a game isn’t that interesting. I prefer to play games where you’re rewarded for ingenuity and quickly adapting to or anticipating situations. There’s only one level/map to learn in League of Legends, and after a while, you’re expected to play a specific role in your team, and play that role in a specific way. This in itself limits exploration and experimentation.

However, a specific incident brought this home to me. I usually play in the role of “support” player, but I was bored of playing the same four champions over and over (In League of Legends, you don’t play as yourself, but instead pick from one of 100 odd “champions” to play as, each with their own unique abilities and personalities). I wanted to try out a new champion that is not normally used in the support role (Karthus), as I had an idea it could just work given the champion’s abilities. At least it would be interesting to try.

By this point though, I’d played the game long enough that I’d won a lot of matches and my ranking was quite high. High enough at least that the game’s matchmaking would put me in matches with people who were more than just casually or occasionally playing the game. I was put with people who cared too much about winning, and were at too high a skill level for me to be trying out something new and unusual.

The game mismatched me because it didn’t take into account my motivations. My experimenting failed, but in the process, I got so much abuse from the other players for “not playing properly” or being bad – those who were supposed to be my teammates – that I quit completely. I uninstalled the game. This was just not for me.

Events Take a Turn

Maybe a year or so later, I heard about the Louis Vuitton partnership with League of Legends, and I thought “ok, let’s give this game another try.” I was especially keen to actually play the game, to see how this partnership translates into the game itself, since the initial press release announcing the partnership was so vague.

Designer Trophy and Case

There were suggestions that unspecified Louis Vuitton branded in-game items would be added to the game. Which I assumed meant champion skins, maybe a special logo I can display next to my avatar, and/or perhaps an emote to use when chatting to other players in game. Run off the mill in-game sponsored/branded content stuff.

The only concrete thing from the announcement though, was that the Louis Vuitton designers had made a “trophy case” for an upcoming League of Legends “Worlds” – A tournament for the best players and teams in the world. A bit like the football world cup, only it runs every year.

Being as it were, a live-service / ongoing game, League of Legends has lots of special events spaced throughout the year. Things like Christmas theme in the month of December, where everyone can throw snowballs at each other in-game, buy Santa hats for their champions, etc. As part of many of these events, players are given special tokens for winning games or completing special missions within their normal play. Some of the limited edition skins, logos etc are then only available if players earn and spend enough tokens during the time the event is running.

This was the case when I started playing again, with the “Worlds” event themed around the eponymous afforementioned tournament. The Louis Vuitton announcement seemed to also be themed / linked to this tournament. So off I started, shaking the rust off and playing League of Legends again. Though this time sticking to “conventional” champions, and mostly avoiding the toxic players that put me off last time.

Missing Louis

After a few weeks of spending the odd evening or Sunday afternoon playing, I had amassed a healthy 300 odd “Worlds” tokens. I went onto the in-game store to see what special Louis Vuitton goodies I could get.

Only there was nothing I could see that was in any way related to Louis Vuitton. I figured maybe they designed some of the “Championship” skins that were available to buy with my tokens, since “Championship” and “Worlds” seemed like they kinda fitted together maybe? Perhaps? So I spent my tokens on that (specifically a “Golden Chroma” skin for champion Ashe), and concluded that was the end of that.

Seemed like I’d read too much into the press release, thinking there’d be all this designer stuff in game, when actually Louis Vuitton would just provide some trophy case and that would be all.

Instagram Debut

Then, a couple of weeks later, one of the lead designers at Louis Vuitton announced on instagram the new skin that he had designed for League of Legends. And shortly after, it appeared on the in-game store!

Great! There was more to it after all! I was a bit annoyed at having spent my tokens previously on the wrong thing. As well, the Louis Vuitton branded skin was for a champion I didn’t actually play. But at least now I knew what to aim for.

Nicolas Ghesquière with his new skin design for champion “Qiyana”

However, when I checked the price of this skin, my heart sank. They wanted 2000 “Worlds” tokens for it. In several weeks of playing just for fun, I’d earned a mere 300 tokens. Furthermore, I found out it was only possible to earn these special “Worlds” tokens for the limited time that the tournament was running.

Pricey

In fairness, this skin was a special partnership one-off, limited edition. Make it too easy to get, and it wouldn’t be so special anymore. That balance of being hard but not impossible to attain was also weighted by the developers towards the average player of the game, rather than someone like me, who at this point was just playing occasionally. And of course, League of Legends being a “free” game, they have to make money somehow. Selling extras like fancy skins is one of their biggest earners.

However, once again, my motivation for getting this skin was different from most people. It was for research, and to have a bit of fun along the way. I figured I could play a few games and earn a few more tokens until the “Worlds” event was over, then pay the difference for however many tokens I still needed. Except it wasn’t nearly that simple.

I could not simply buy the special “Worlds” tokens I was short of. Instead I would have to buy “bundles”; each of which included a number of “Worlds” tokens, plus a lootbox (lucky dip for in-game items) and some other junk.

To buy a bundle, I needed to spend “Riot Points”, which are the game’s “premium” currency, that you can only get by paying real money (not by earning them from playing). But 1 “Riot Point” is not one-to-one equivalent to 1 Euro or 1 Dollar or something sensible like that. Instead I need to spend €2 or €5 or €10 etc to get x thousand “Riot Points” plus some bulk-purchase bonus amount depending on how much I spent.

Which is to say, I needed to do some maths to convert Euros to Riot Points, Riot Points to Bundles, and Bundles to Worlds tokens. The resulting calculation looked like this:

2000 Worlds Tokens needed for the skin
minus ~200 existing Worlds Tokens (from playing a bit more).
divided by 450 Worlds Tokens per bundle.

equals ~4.5 bundles, so round that up to 5 bundles.

1 bundle costs 7500 Riot Points each.
multiplied by 5 bundles
equals 37,500 Riot Points.
minus 1300 Riot Points that my account already had from before I quit the first time.
equals 36,200 Riot Points needed.

7200 Riot Points cost €50.
310 Riot Points for €2.50.
so €252.50 gives me 36,310 Riot Points

No way was I paying €250 odd for a skin of a champion I didn’t play, in a game I was not actually that fond of, by a fashion label that I only knew of because they were famous!

The accompanying in-game art for the champion skin

Season Pass

I was pretty close to giving up at this point, when I discovered that I could also buy an “Event Pass” for the “Worlds” event in League of Legends. This pass only cost around €20 worth of “Riot Points”, but meant I earned “Worlds” tokens not just for completing special missions, but for just about every match of the game I played, as well as a few other in-game activities too.

This seemed much more reasonable. €20 plus some playing of the game. Even better, it back-dated from the start of the event, so I got all the tokens I would have earned had I had the pass from the beginning. I instantly gained around 1000 “Worlds” tokens, taking me already over half way to my goal of 2000 tokens. Everything was going to be alright after all!

Long Slog

Only it wasn’t alright, because of the event time limit. I had by this point maybe 2 weeks to get the remaining tokens. And as the days ticked down, the tokens simply didn’t accumulate quickly enough. I spent far more evenings after work than I really wanted to, just playing the game for the sake of these tokens. I spent almost all of the last weekend before the deadline for the event ending just playing the game over and over. Grinding out these “Worlds” tokens in game. I went to sleep with images of Garen and Darius (two of the champions I played) spinning around in my head, and of the game’s blue spell-casting arrows pointing everywhere. And I got headaches, which is very unusual for me.

Moreover, the all the fun and enjoyment drained away from the game. When I finally got enough tokens, the day before the deadline, I used them to forge a “skin shard”. Which in turn I needed to activate to actually get the skin (because of course just giving it to you would be too simple). I played one round with my new skin and promptly uninstalled the game again.

Schooled

Aside from getting the skin itself, it was interesting to see how the thought of getting something unusual and different brought me back to a game I’d previously rage-quit. I learned a lot about live events in video games. How players are motivated by them to keep returning to the game, and how developers then monetise that.

However, it was not nearly worth the drudgery and pain of those final few weeks. The skin itself looked quite nice in game, but since it was for a Champion I didn’t play in a game that was no longer fun, it was ultimately a Pyrrhic victory.

All that effort, just for this…