League of Legends changes in big ways with alarming frequency. The game’s tens of millions of players have learned to never be shy about letting Riot know they don’t like something, therefore—usually by writing a strongly-worded forum post. This week, angry fans are doing something much more elaborate. And awesome.
The whole dramatic episode was sparked by an announcement for something Riot said it’s bringing into League’s “Public Beta Environment,” or PBE, very soon: Chroma Packs. These are bundles of different-colored versions of a given champion’s skin. They change the champion’s in-game appearance in a small but important way. Here’s one Chroma Pack for Lee Sin:
And another for Lucian:
League of Legends players have wanted something like Chroma Packs for a while now. The whole reason Riot is even adding them is because they surveyed players about adding such a feature. So what’s the problem, then? The price.
Riot’s announcement said that it would make Chroma Packs available to purchase with Riot Points, one of League’s two currencies and the only one that player’s can only get in exchange for real-world money. Riot said in its announcement that people will only be to buy Chroma Packs for 590 RP a pop. That’s a little less than five bucks in League’s weird and wildly successful free-to-play monetization scheme:
League players gaped at the price of Chroma Packs. Adding almost five bucks, per individual skin, for a few different color variations? Many implored Riot to make the new Chromas attainable with Influence Points, the other main currency in League and the one that can easily be gained over time by simply playing the game. Competing MOBA games like Heroes of the Storm and Smite make their similar features almost entirely free—color variations for a given character in Heroes, for instance, are unlocked as you play with them in games and level them up. At the very least, disappointed League players demanded, Riot should let people pay a piecemeal rate to get the specific color they actually want, rather than spend five bucks to get a bunch of extra stuff they don’t plan to use.
Ok, so...Riot makes an announcement about something it’s doing to League of Legends, players get upset and fume about it online, “Rito Pls” threads proliferate on the game’s forums and its subreddit. So far, this is just another day in the League of Legends community. What made the Chroma Pack saga uniquely interesting was what happened next.
There was one key detail in Riot’s Chroma Packs announcement that really ticked people off: the reason the company gave for setting such a high price point for a feature that, while certainly appreciated, seemed more like something anyone with basic Photoshop skills could work up than the ornately gorgeous champion skins fans eagerly spend loads of RP on. In its FAQ for the Chroma Packs, Riot said the 590 RP price was established on account of “the work we put into crafting them.” The full statement:
The community has been asking for recolors for a long while, but despite testing and experimenting with a few internal ideas, we couldn’t find a way to build them that satisfied our high standards. The current price reflects the work we put into crafting them.
Yeah, it’s possible to do a quick and dirty overlay, or shift a slider left in an editing program, but we think you would call us on that bullshit real quick, and as players ourselves, we wouldn’t be satisfied with such a hacky solution.
The League community didn’t buy it. “You were right, Riot,” one player wrote in a post on the game’s forums. “This is in fact bullshit.” To prove the point, this player went ahead and made some Chroma Pack-esque custom character designs of his own, and showed them in the game in case there were any doubts about the dolled-up champs being playable:
His original post, which was published just three days ago, quickly picked up steam online as other disappointed fans circulated it.
It might have begun as rhetorical exercise to call bullshit on Riot for making something overpriced. But the custom fan-made chromas quickly became something more than just that. On Wednesday night, Westborn, a 20 year-old German League player with experience creating custom visual designs for champions, put out an open call on the League of Legends subreddit saying he was “creating whatever Chroma you want for you.”
“Name it, I make it,” he promised. Whether to try and call his bluff or just to get a snazzy new champion model, people took him up on his offer. Westborn, whose real-world name is Max, was quick to oblige. Others hopped in to make some too. They started out with simple ones, like a green version of Volibear:
Or a pink version of Zed the ninja:
And since this is League we’re talking about, there was plenty of room for silliness once people started talking about stuff like a “happy ninja of rainbows and kittens.”
To give a better sense of the range of options available for players who want to make their own work or just try out other people’s, Westborn pulled together a short video showing off a bunch of the new champions he’s made so far:
Custom fan-made Chromas started to pop up online on Wednesday night. Come Thursday morning, the League subreddit was so heavily inundated by people clamoring to show theirs off or asking other players to make a specific model that the forum’s massive audience decided to move things over to a dedicated subreddit, “Chroma Requests.”
Like other longtime League players, Westborn has been making custom stuff for years. He told me over Skype today that he first began tinkering with this aspect of the game three years ago and discovered he was suddenly able to change many parts of League to his liking. He wanted to see unique icons for the character Udyr’s rejiggered abilities in the game at one point, for instance. Riot hadn’t added new icons, and since the developer has generally been cool with players adding their own stuff as long as it doesn’t mess with the game (say, by giving a champion an unfair advantage), he went ahead and did it himself:
Custom League stuff can get a lot crazier than that, too. To give me an idea of how wonky fans visions can really become, Westborn told me to look up a special skin for the mage champion Ryze. It’s called “A Bowl of Ryze,” and it certainly lives up to the name:
It’s very easy for anyone who knows their way around basic image-editing software like Photoshop GIMP to do things like this, Westborn insisted. And it’s even easier to take other people’s work and bring it into your own game—all you have to do is use a third-party application called “Skin Installer Ultimate.” Doing this involves a persistent risk that Riot might decide to wield a banhammer and start patching custom work out of the game or punish the players who’ve adopted it. But, again, that hasn’t really been the case so far for League of Legends.
There’s an existing world of player-created goodies for League of Legends, then. The only difference now, Westborn told me, is that he felt a special obligation to start putting out custom work en masse because Riot had fucked up.
“My thread’s original intent was to just show how easy it actually is to create these,” Westborn said. “This random nerd from Germany can do it and so can anyone else that cares enough to learn the absolute basics of picture editing.”
The price of Chroma Packs seem particularly egregious to longtime League players like Westborn, meanwhile, because being charged for something as small as base-level color variations feels like a real slap in the face after you’ve given years of your life and hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars to the game.
“This is not a work that is worth 5€,” he continued. “This should be a nice thing they do for the community to give back. I invested close to a 1000€ in the game and there are many more like me. And I never minded to spend that Money. I had the option to, I was never forced to buy myself into the game or get crazy advantages for 5 bucks.”
“It’s the same with chromas,” he concluded. “But unlike skins, chromas are something you don’t have to invest tons of resources and time into. Chromas are a plaything—something small that just makes people happy. Charging Money for them is a, pardon my language, absolute dickmove.”
It’s not the chromas in and of themselves that’ve upset League fans, then. It’s not even the fact that they’re charging for an option, aesthetic update. League players normally love it when Riot does exactly that. There’s a reason why players like Westborn happily spend upwards of $1000 on the game by buying optional visual flairs, even when they could easily acquire similar types of things scot free or even make custom skins themselves: they love the game. They want to spend money to support League of Legends and applaud Riot’s best work. But there’s a world of difference between a very pricey but also very cool character skin like DJ Sona and a minor color adjustment: the former is clearly worth its price, because Riot put a ton of time and energy into rebuilding Sona’s entire physical appearance and making her into an awesome futuristic DJ.
“I love the work Riot is doing and it just struck me as a surprise that they would Charge this amount for simple recolors,” Westborn insisted. “I bought Pulsefire Ezreal and Spirit Guard Udyr because, at the time, the work they put into it really showed. It doesn’t show in recolors.”
I asked Riot if the developer has any plans to change the price of League’s Chroma Packs given the community’s overwhelmingly negative reaction to it so far, and if they’ll continue to allow players to use custom-made stuff in the game given just how much is showing up at present. Representatives from the company did not respond by press time.
Regardless of what Riot chooses to do with its Chroma Packs now, though, the League of Legends community’s spin on the new feature has already taken on a life of its own.
Now that his work has taken off, Westborn is planning to start building a new website that’ll serve as a hub for the League community to come and find custom work for any given champion that they can download and install for their personal copy of the game.
“The entire thing was surprising,” Westborn said of his custom chroma’s sudden explosion in popularity. “I never expected it to blow up like that. Now there’s a entire subreddit specifically for requests. Players are discovering their creative talents and it’s just amazing. The thought that I am partially responsible for creating such an interest is truly humbling and a bit surreal.”