In its ongoing war against the toxic parts of League of Legends' community, developer Riot Games has kicked off a promising initiative to encourage teamwork and collaboration between players. For the next two weeks, people who play games with teams of friends are eligible for big Influence Points rewards.
"Influence Points," or IP for short, are one of the two currencies in League of Legends, the other being Riot Points (RP). RP and IP are the things you use to purchase in-game characters and, with RP specifically, special skins like that fancy new DJ Sona outfit. While RP are mostly available through real-money purchases, players accumulate IP by just playing games. Most League players I've spoken to have told me the common practice is to use IP to unlock champions and, at higher levels, purchase useful "runes," while saving the comparatively valuable RP for special skins for your favorite champions. The specific amount of IP you earn depends on factors like the type of game you're playing, what map you play on, and whether you end up winning or losing. The biggest IP boosts tend to come from winning player-versus-player games on Summoner's Rift, which is also the most popular (and also most competitive) way to play League of Legends.
Riot's new team-friendly initiative propels IP rewards ever higher—provided that players go into games with their friends. The rewards scheme ties an IP multiplier to the amount of League-friend teammates you play with. Here's how Riot explained it in a blog post this morning, emphasis added:
We all know playing with friends makes for a more friendly League, so we're sweetening the pot for teaming up. For the next two weeks [sic], queue up with friends both new and old to rack up IP with Party Rewards. The new system awards bonus multipliers based on the size of your premade party. In this trial period, we'll look to see if features like this one can give you more opportunities to crack nexii with friends and make for positive games.
Here's how it works:
Enter any matchmade queue with a premade party and the entire group earns a chance at multiplying [sic] the standard IP reward. Party Rewards work a lot like normal IP rewards—there're different scales depending on the queue. For example, Summoner's Rift queues award more IP than Twisted Treeline or Howling Abyss queues. There is a chance your group earns no Party Reward, but larger premade groups win higher tiers of IP rewards. Some lucky players will even earn rare, massive IP prizes. If you queue alone, you won't be eligible for Party Rewards.
A table breaks down the specific rewards:
Riot has toyed with a number of different ways to discourage toxic behavior and encourage positivity. This new rewards scheme sounds like one of the best ideas they've come up with for the latter mission, because of how tangible its feedback will be. Or at least, should be. It's still just a trial. But unlike other rewards like, say, the recent announcement that they were giving special in-game gifts to players who made it through 2014 without incurring any serious behavioral punishments, the IP boost seems like the sort of thing that will be easy for players to understand and therefore latch onto.
Let me explain. Because pvp matches have the highest stakes (IP-wise) attached to them, they're the League games that run the biggest risk of devolving into gross types of toxic player behavior. That's certainly been my experience since I started playing League. Fights can easily break out during the pre-game champion selection phase if people disagree about who should play what position. Those arguments provide all the more fodder for spats if ensuing game isn't going well, either—someone yelling at a teammate for underperforming, the target of criticism lashing back that they told everyone they shouldn't be playing on the mid-lane anyways, etc.
Playing with friends on its own could help ease the tension throughout all phases of a given League game. But it could just as easily make it worse. Many of the most frustrating League games I've played, for instance, have been with three or four other people who were friends beforehand. Coming into a pre-existing group made it harder to stand up for myself during the team building phase, which therefore made me more liable to get chewed out by the whole team once the game got going if I was messing up. Hands-down the worst game I've ever played happened when I got stuck playing the middle lane as Shyvana, a champion who is not meant to play that position, due to a series of miscommunications with a group of rowdy friends during champion selection. I ended up getting crushed by the opposing mid, and my team wasn't shy about letting me know how disappointed they were.
"But wait," you might be asking right about now, "isn't the whole idea to incentivize forming teams of friends?" Well, yes. But the thing about the IP rewards is that they don't just do that. They also put a big incentive on actually winning a given game. The thing about toxic behavior like a whole team ganging up one person who's underperforming is that it takes time and energy away from actually playing the game and trying to win. All the time players devote to typing out horrible insults and epithets is time they're not spending strategizing or doing something with their champion. Every millisecond in League of Legends counts, so being a jerk can come at high cost.
In the best-case scenario, then, teams with toxic players will see the IP rewards multiplier and think to themselves: "Hey, maybe there's a better way to help the one guy on my team who was struggling than piling on him with my three other League bros." Or just: "Maybe I should stop being such a massive tool."
Things might not always work out that way, though. The prospect of earning massive IP boosts could also add so much pressure to win a game of League that players (even groups of friends) lose their patience even faster than many already do once they start to feel like they're losing. Playing through the end of a game your team is convinced they're not going to win is one of the easiest ways to run face-first into horrible toxicity—especially if, like in my botched Shyvana mid-lane game, you're playing with a group of people who a) already know each other and b) are convinced you're the sole reason they fucked up so badly.
Also, I should note that my experience as a new League player is very different than the ones experienced fans have in the game. There are a ton of champions (more than 120, with new ones still being produced regularly) and runes, but if you've played for a long time there's a decent chance you've unlocked pretty much everything you can with IP for the time being. IP boosts don't offer much of an incentive for these sorts of players—though if they've managed to accumulate so much with one account, it seems ok to assume they've managed to play by the rules enough to at least hold onto that same account.
Riot's announcement of the new plan wasn't all that detailed, so I'm not sure what (if anything) the developer has done to anticipate those sorts of situations. The prospect of gaining massive chunks of IP, however, has already encouraged many League players to go in search of new in-game friends—people whom they'll presumably want to treat nicely if they hope to remain friends. As one player put it on a popular Reddit thread about the announcement: "Well, time to make some friends."
The new rewards system will run for the next two weeks, Riot said. "After the trial period, we'll temporarily disable the feature and sort through the data and learn what the partying hath wrought."