League of Legends’ Nami – Why Cosmetics are Important in Gaming

     League of Legends, a name of a game you’re tired and sick of at all times. It’s one of those games where it’s heard of by everyone, but known by few. Unlike Fortnite, which managed to break the inner circle barrier to be known and played by those allover the world consistently, League of Legends is a game that has never been able to truly break that inner circle besides countries like Korea and China. Could it be Riot’s failure to produce proper merchandise until 2016? Perhaps. Could it be because the MOBA market has never really captivated western masses after the Dota and Season 1 LoL craze? Very likely. Regardless, League of Legends continues to be a driving force in the videogame industry. Much like Team Fortress 2 and later expansions of World of Warcraft, League of Legends showed the world that games could live on much longer than a just couple years, thus starting an era of the Live Service, a trend that would later become the scourge of the gaming industry as we know it for over a decade – and has no signs of slowing down.

That is to say, whether you like it or not, League of Legends has been a very influential game in the industry. More importantly, its skins market has and always will be detrimental to how the game industry is today. Why am I mentioning this? You may have heard the argument: It’s just cosmetics, it doesn’t impact the game whatsoever. Not only is that a lie due to news and statistics we will get to shortly, it is also a poor excuse on the gaming industry’s constant predatory behavior on their audiences due to it “just being cosmetic.”

     So why mention it now? Well, lately, a skin for the lovable mermaid character Nami recently gained a skin from the Sacred Sword skin series, known as Splendid Staff Nami. Ever since its announcement picked up from Surrender@20, the skin has been seen widespread throughout Twitter with fan art, reactions, comments and the like. Due to its stunning visuals, cute recall and wonderful outfit, Nami is truly transformed into a Human Nami of sorts (originally being a sea creature-like mermaid, now its a real mermaid). The fandom has gotten crazy for her, so to speak. Why mention the skin? Because it’s gotten Nami on the trending tab in Brazil. It shouldn’t be a surprise, Brazil and Nami go a long way back. To the point where Nami released with a skin based off of Brazil mythology, the Lara. So Brazil, needless to say, has lost their shit over the character ever since, but in a good way. It’s surprising here because not only has Nami reached the very top of the trending tab, but has also surpassed the iOS 13, literally fucking Apple as a company could not compete with the height of this skin (though to be fair, I highly doubt anyone in Brazil can afford the Iphone 11, let’s be real here).

     The point is, a single skin has received an incredible amount of hype all on its first day, 2-3 weeks before it’s even going to be released. And when it comes out? It’ll mostly likely sell a lot and a good chunk of the playerbase will most likely play Nami for the following weeks. This was suggested by former Riot Skins Producer, Janelle ‘Stellari’ J: “and I was told her playrate wasn’t high enough :^) I truly believed a beautiful, elegant skin for Nami could overcome her playrate (just like SG Soraka and Pug’Maw). But I suppose we’ll have to see if people actually buy her lol.” This skin could very well affect its playrate and the state of the meta just as skins in the past have done before, in this case it was Star Guardian Soraka and Pug’Maw statistics-wise. From personal experience, skins like Star Guardian Jinx, Star Guardian Ahri, Odyssey Malphite, Odyssey Kayn, Arcade Kai’sa, Battle Academia Ezreal and especially KDA Akali, a skin that became more popular than it’s base champion equivalent, are recent prime examples of getting players to play their respective champions much more often, whether it’s intentional or not. Statistically, we see this for the Shota Invoker persona item that I covered a while back for the International 2019 battle pass.

     So what’s the point? What’s the gig here? The point is that skins always have and always will effect the play experience of others, even you, yourself. Whether you care about skins and cosmetics or not, they have been a driving force in the videogame industry. Whether it’s Hat collecting in Team Fortress 2, a primary force of longevity for the game to this day, to unlocking cheats in the old Spyro games to make him black (you better do that next time you play it, racist fuck), Arcanas and Dragonclaw hooks in Dota, customizing your character in the old GTA games and, most importantly here, skins in League of Legends. Skins are important when it comes to individuality, even in collectivism; duo skin packs , team skin packs and large thematic skins have been prevalent in recent team games like Overwatch and Apex Legends. These skins allow the player or group of players to customize how they look. Changing those looks give a personal connection to the character. Like I said, these skins and cosmetics can outlive the character itself like with KDA Akali, or give an iconic look for OCs like with Uncle Dane and LazyPurple as youtubers. These skins breath life into their games. They give players a fantasy to customize and see themselves as entirely different entities.

     And that’s changing. Drastically, in a horrible way. Recent examples like Overwatch have enclosed Skins into the Lootbox system, a system that does not let you purchase or earn skins directly. I get the design behind it, it was a chance to let people earn premium skins but still be able to buy them in some fashion. The problem was that it was too enclosed and later far too tedious to earn the skins, so it ended up becoming a stressful piece of shit system for limited time events. The lootbox, obviously, became a large trend years later and is still a tedious, grindy and ever so prevalent mechanic to this day. Lately, however, the Exclusivity has drived the predatory behavior ever so farther. While Dota 2’s Battle Pass event requires more and more levels per year to get their exclusive skins, the game is not only free to play but all their heroes are free, and there are plenty of interesting cosmetics to buy directly. However, these behaviors are stretched by the likes of Apex Legends and even AAA games such as Gears 5 as a recent example of thwarting expression through, not just a paywall, but a limited time pay wall that’s about to close its gates in 5 seconds. It’s not just capitalizing on the skins anymore, it’s outright abusing them. You’ve heard of the infamous $200 axe? That was courtesy of Apex Legends with an ability item for Bloodhound. The only way to unlock it was to spend roughly $170 worth of lootboxes (at $7 each) for the OPTION to buy the bloody thing, and having to buy it for $35 on top of that. And if it didn’t get more fucking ridiculous than that, getting exclusive Gears of War skins runs you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Getting all of them? That’ll run you $1,700 at the very least. Does that not sound ridiculous to you?

     The point is: Unlocking skins through finding them in a game is fantastic, buying them is still alright and lets you dedicate yourself to the game and character to further personalize it. However, this is abusing that need of exclusivity to the point of complete fucking absurdity. If the massive graph of Assassins Creed pre-orders wasn’t laughable enough, look at what Gears 5 requires in order to get the skins, list courtesy of Windows Central:

  • Gears 5 Collector’s Edition at GameStop ($270)
  • Gears 5 Standard Edition x4 ($240)
  • Xbox One X Gears 5 Limited Edition ($500)
  • Seagate Gears 5 Special Edition 5 TB Game Drive at GameStop ($150)
  • Razer Thresher Gears 5 Edition Headset ($180)
  • Razer Goliathus Chroma Gears 5 Edition Mouse Mat ($80)
  • Gears 5: Kait Diaz Winter Armor Action Figure ($65)
  • Gears of War: Marcus Fenix Action Figure ($65)
  • Gears 5 Crimson Lancer MK3 Weapon Replica ($150)
  • AAPE x Gears 5 Cap ($55)
  • Chips Ahoy x4 (~$10)
  • Rockstar Energy x5 (~$10)

   I won’t lie, I’ll probably buy the Rockstar Energy, I have a strange obsession of collecting drinks with videogame characters on them, especially Destiny– Regardless, do you see how ludicrous this list is? It’d be absolutely fine if you could purchase them directly ingame. And I even get the idea of exclusive skins for something like PAX, but this is just insane! The only way to get these skins is to buy that much shit and spending hundreds to thousands of dollars.

   This is what I mean by the ridiculousness of cosmetic abuse in videogames. It’s fine when you purchase them, I know many may disagree with me on that. But further and further the industry continues to stretch the likes of cosmetic purchases. It’s all under the excuse of “it’s just cosmetics, they don’t affect the game.” Lies. They do effect the game, even if it’s not directly thru stats. They breath life and longevity into the game. Fan art of the skins further advertises the game and skins. Thwarting all of this will be the doom of not only the respective videogame but the choices of customization and even the videogame industry as a whole.