The Expansion of the Loot Crate

Remember back when you could just buy what you wanted? Yeah, I do too.

It was a short while ago in around 2009 that Team Fortress 2 introduced the concept of the loot crate. A box you could unlock with real-world money to get some rare items. Since then, almost every game worth its salt has a loot system. Be it a free-to-play mobile game to a cosmetic churning machine like Overwatch. Earnest and honestly: This sort of thing has to stop.

A Disguised Purpose
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The concept of the loot crate inherently isn’t a bad one: A gatchapon of gear that you unlock for all sorts of random goodies. Perhaps you get that rare item you wanted. Perhaps you get wrecked and get a pretty meh item. It’s a roll of the dice every time. In idea, you’d think it’s a cool thing! Wow, free cosmetics for playing the game! Boy oh boy it’s just what I wanted…that said, in practice it’s never truly worth it.

When you consider loot boxes in games, they very rarely are for giving you exclusive, free loot. They’re a revenue generation device. People LOVE to gamble and video games are no exception. It’s why CS:GO gambling became such a big deal. The worst part about this is people hold up the excuse that this is a free system for a (usually) free game that gives you free loot…but you rarely get exactly what you want.

A perhaps sinister way to look at things, the “loot box” system is a way out for companies. It’s a tool they can point to and go “See, we give you free stuff all the time!” when it actually doesn’t change your income of loot items all that much.

Competitive Games and Loot
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Perhaps worse yet is “competitive” games reliant on loot. I decided to give Clash Royal a try and see what the fuss was about…and frankly, it often feels awful. Having card-based unlocks and “items” makes the game either painfully one-sided or a slugfest between people with wet noodles. This feels like a TCG except you can upgrade cards and make them more powerful. Imagine if you could get between a two damage, four health Brann Bronzebeard or a ten damage, thirty health Brann Bronzebeard.

While I don’t like the loot systems in other games, THIS deserves a special note because of how it’s made. It’s made to force money out of you to win, as are many mobile games, and it feels truly awful.

Can the System be Fixed?
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No idea.

Alright alright, let me go further: This system is honestly far deeper and far more complex than I can earnestly say. There’s a fine balance to be had between “giving free items” and “giving so much free stuff nobody pays for your game”. Too much in one direction, you lose money. Too much in the other direction and…you lose money because people feel like you’re greedy and money-hungry.

Overwatch is likely the closest the system has come to work in a paid game while League/DOTA continue to work the best with other games. That doesn’t mean these systems are perfect: DOTA and League still have a tendency to lock time-based loot behind holidays and have confusing metrics for what a holiday box offers. Overwatch jacks up the prices for their timed loot to be three times as pricey as a normal item while only giving the base amount of coins.

Companies would need to take a fine line stance on these things. But perhaps the customer’s greatest hope is that competition breeds better environment for customers. League and DOTA have improved their boxes because of competition. Hopefully when someone steps up to Overwatch’s throne and provides better content for a fairer experience, Blizzard will have to change the way they look at things.

As it is now? This is a system with a lot of problems I’m not entirely sure can be fixed.

 

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A Post-Mortem on Grand Heist of Zaun

Grand Heist of Zaun (or GHoZ as I’ll be referring to it) was my personal labor of love and the longest thing I’ve written to date. With the massive lore changes coming to Piltover/Zaun in official League lore, I wanted to look back on this fan fiction and look through both props and criticism given to me, as well as to look back on what I could do better in the future. (One word of warning: Spoilers! If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do!)

What Worked

The Piltover Side

From what I’ve been told, people seem to think that I had done a good job with the Piltover characters. Vi and Caitlyn felt realistic and were characters with real motivations. They didn’t act drastically out of character and felt like they were coming right out of the game. In addition, I’ve been told that Piltover felt like a real place. Snobby, uptight but a real, wonderful place. If I was to go back, I’d probably keep the Piltover side fairly the same.

Mach

I was surprised by this myself but apparently people very much warmed up to him. According to the feedback I got, Mach felt like a realistic addition to the League universe. He had great motivation, he wasn’t quite like other male characters in the League universe and he had a strength that was appropriate to the story. Most of all, he didn’t warp the story and make it all about him. I can’t say how truthful this is but, from the words of others, he was pretty great.

Viktor

Perhaps my greatest success according to those that read it was my portrayal of Viktor. He apparently came off as real. A man tortured by past failures and lies. Someone who does despicable things but a man who grapples with his oncoming humanity. His creation of Mach is less to add a character to the universe but to try to learn more about himself. Honestly, I could probably cut out every other part of the fan fic and still get a great story out of it simply because of Viktor.

Numerous Side Characters

GHoZ was loaded with side characters and, to be truthful, I can’t put them all in their own category. Despite this, feedback told me that people had all sorts of favorites from the short storylines. Whether it was Zac’s starry-eyed and humble nature, Orianna and Blitzcrank’s blossoming romance or the short dialogue between Swain, Singed and Mundo. It may not be perfect but these moments were good enough to warrant feedback apparently!

What I’m Not Sold On

Viktor’s Robots

As much as I like these characters, I think they were a bit…one-dimensional. Robot jokes beside, I don’t think I wrote these two to the best of my ability. Too much peaceful messiah-ness from Quantum and Omega was just “Cool robot doing cool things until he dies”. I think these two could still work but I really want to go back and take another crack at them to make them a little less flat and a little more human.

Jinx

While people told me Jinx was true to character and she was fun to read, I can’t shake the feeling that she was more plot lubricant than an earnest addition. She had foresight and capability perhaps a little too great for her character. More importantly, she served to move the plot and throw wrenches in everyone’s plans. While I definitely think Jinx is smarter than she lets on and that she is a formidable foe, giving her too much power for the sake of the story is just wrong. She can work, she just needs to be tuned.

C

Woah boy. If there was one character that had incredibly polarizing reception, it was C. Some told me he came off as a wounded soul with tons of backstory, just the right amount of fluff and backstory to make him a compelling anti-hero. Others told me he felt like a stupidly powerful get-out-of-jail free card with no danger associated with him. I can’t say I lean too far either way. All I can say is that if I’d ever revisit this story, I -really- want to try this again. There is a working character here, I just need to get it right.

What Didn’t Work

Janna

I royally ruined League’s mistress of wind. Looking back, I didn’t give her enough moments for her own. I defined her too much by her past connection and should have given her more power on her own. She felt more like Q from James Bond; the side character providing gadgets for Bond when she should be in the limelight in her own right. In revisiting this, I would give Janna her own spotlight and work more on making her story her own. Just with some interactions with others.

Jayce

Jayce wasn’t QUITE as ruined as Janna but I’d hardly say I did him justice. Frankly, my own bias shined through and Jayce came off as far more of an egotistical moron than he actually was. While I liked the idea of a fake hero, I neglected the actual real-hero aspects about him. I treated him as a joke when he was a far deeper, far more complex character than I gave him credit for. While he’d still serve a similar role in the story if I was to rewrite it, I’d give more honor and power to Jayce. I might still think he’s not as earnest as he appears but he still deserves more.

The Storytelling of the Climax

If I had to hit a single part in the story that most needs rewrites, it’d be the Zaun climax. What I HOPED would happen would be a rotating view with the events happening from the eyes of various characters. What ended up happening was the same events being rehashed over and over. The rest of the story was fine or workable in some way…but this writing was sloppy and prioritized what would be cool over what worked. Perhaps next time I’d focus more in putting it all in a single chapter than making each chapter separate.

Overall

To this day, I still love GHoZ. It’s even looped around to be noticed by others and I still occasionally get people telling me they love it. However, the story isn’t without its faults. Do I love it? Absolutely. Would I rewrite it? Again, absolutely. Not just because of new lore forcing me to alter major parts of it. No story is perfect in the first draft and GHoZ is no exception. I don’t really have time and have been working on an on-again-off-again story (That keeps getting pushed back with each lore rework!), but perhaps if there was enough desire I might rewrite it.

At the end of the day, I’m glad I wrote it and that it improved my writing…even if there are major parts I’d change.

 

 

The MOBA Scramble: Surviving Decline

If you saw Startale’s podcast which I frequent, you’ll have heard me talk about the “MOBA Decline” and how the genre has plateau’d. I feel this could use some background and why I feel this way, albeit some of this will be less raw and heavy facts and more so looking about to infer meaning.

King of the Ring

For just under a decade, MOBAs have been the most enormous and possibly profitable genre bubble to hit video games. League’s explosive success in 2009 followed by the arrival of DOTA2 and more caused a scramble to get into the MOBA industry. It harkens back to the days of World of Warcraft where the MMO caused the entire genre to explode, albeit nobody expected it to last forever. Just as the MMO slowly phased away, so too would MOBAs eventually die out.

Now, to their credit, MOBAs are a part of the free-to-play explosion that has rocked gaming harder than any scandal could. League of Legends still makes money hand-over-first despite being almost a decade old. In fact, the only game that comes close to it is…WoW. A game released in 2004. Granted, WoW has a subscription fee but the sheer money coming in still speaks volumes. Along with that, DOTA2 is still the most played Steam game of the year and regularly smashes the prize pool record from each previous international.

You’d assume that there is nowhere but up, right?

The Scramble

Well, not quite.

If I had to put it to a single thing, I’d say the advent of the “hero shooter” (A FPS game with MOBA-esque mechanics like abilities and ultimates) has caused the biggest alarm for this genre. A genre that erases some of the biggest complaints people have about MOBAs such as long match times, steep learning curves and painfully annoying “It’s everyones fault but my own” mentalities. Sure, some of these still exist in hero shooters, but not to any degree they do in MOBA-style games.

It’s difficult to gain actual data but compare Google Trends for how often League and DOTA have been searched for. Since their peak around 2013, the games have slowly been looked for less and less. Sure, there are major tournament spikes, but people have either found their game or avoided the genre. New blood isn’t really coming into these games and they hold a static playerbase save for the occasional investigative “taste test” of the genre. Interesting enough, when I looked at DOTA2’s Playercount, the number spiked to nearly 14 million unique players. Yet according to Steam Charts (While they don’t tell the whole story), the average player count has dropped since December’s big announcement. What was December’s big announcement?

A Triage Situation

I’ll be blunt: Both games are attempting to triage the situation in their own unique way. While you could argue they’re just trying to keep both games “fresh”, reading between the lines shows more factual information that neither company would truly care to admit.

On League’s side, they’ve basically been making good on promises they made years ago: Replays and Practice Tools have come out alongside a new client, as well as increased bans for pro play.

For DOTA2, the 7.0 update includes a far-cleaner HUD, visual updates for heroes who have desperately needed it, and new gameplay updates that speak more of more casual games than of DOTA2.

When you step back, the intentions are quite clear. League is pushing updates to entice their more hardcore fanbase while DOTA is making a push for the more casual fanbase. Both games are attempting to draw in fresh faces as well as re-incentivize those who may not have wanted to play the game.

But most of all, these updates come off the back of one major thing: Overwatch. Blizzard’s hero shooter has blasted all expectations and has become a worldwide phenomenon. For how long, nobody can say, but it’s more than a coincidence that this game explodes onto the scene and suddenly two industry titans suddenly make sweeping changes to appease the other side of the fence.

Death Knell?

For those who fear for the game you love: Relax. These aren’t going anywhere. MOBAs are far too large to up and die. It’s arguable that they won’t even truly die, just not be number one anymore. Building on this, it’s possible League/DOTA will forever exist as esports. Games we watch rather than play. They still pull in enormous numbers and both games are still considered the pinnacle of esport play along with Counter Strike.

But Overwatch was a wake-up call. They won’t be number one forever. You can’t get by with just what you have as your game gets older. There will be challengers to your playerbase and throne…and that has sparked a massive change-of-pace in both games. MOBAs still have plenty of life in them and we’re not going to see them rot away too fast…but the question is how long they’ll be at the top as time goes on.

And that? I have no idea of.

Viability vs. Optimal

A common error I see when people talk about video games is mixing up viability and optimal picks. This extends to both League and Overwatch but it’s an important distinction that needs to be made, especially when one is arguing about the state of the game.

“Viability” Being Misused

Often, when people talk about viability, they look at it from the perspective of “Is this character in the best spot they could be right now?” which isn’t the case at all. When it comes to viability, it simply means “Can I play this character to an effective level?”. In nine-out-of-ten circumstances? Yes! You can use almost any character in these games. League’s massive one hundred and thirty-plus roster is filled with playable, workable champions. I’d argue about ninety percent.

“Optimal” Being Understood

Optimal, however, speaks strictly about the power behind a single character. There are only a handful of optimal picks in Overwatch right now, the common combination (If I am remembering correctly) being Lucio, Ana, Reinhardt, D.Va, Roadhog and Zarya. This DOES NOT MEAN that all the other heroes are bad, per say. This simply means that in your best state, you’d want to play these heroes.

Blurred Line

The best question to ask is how did this get so mixed up. The answer? Esports. Simply put, since the advent of esports, people look to the pro leagues and the highest echelon of play to determine the state of balance. But balance for the common masses and balance for the top tier is a vastly different ball game. As an example, DOTA 2 balances strictly around the pro scene and results in an incredibly diverse game for them. However, for the common players, some heroes shine far brighter than others. During The International 6 (The biggest DOTA tournament), Omniknight was picked once and lost in all games. However, in normal queues, he was boasting an incredibly high win rate.

In this regard, people will look at the LCS or the upcoming Overwatch Pro League as a metric of what is “viable”. The truth is that in your silver games, anything can be played effectively. Offensive Torbjorn? Sure. Bot lane Yasuo? Go for it. You’re playing at a level where comfort picks are far more useful than any sort of meta strategy.

Balance is a different story but just remember: Just because something isn’t optimal doesn’t mean it isn’t viable.

On Sexual Diversity in Video Games: “Vi stands for…Bi?” (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my last musing article so if you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. Don’t worry, it’ll open in a new tab.

Following up from last week, I wanted to talk about sexuality in another game I play (being League of Legends) and how sexuality gets assigned when it comes to a void. I actually wrote a paper on this back in college when it came to a class so some of this might be recycled.

In the Void

When it comes to a game like League with hundreds of characters and not enough time to write a novel for all of them, you cut corners. For most characters, a single short story and background page is all we have outside of the core game’s VO and how they play. As such, sexuality gets left on the cutting room floor. It is, after all, one of the lesser aspects of a character.

When you think about it, only a handful of characters have actual sexuality when it comes to the game; Illaoi was dating Gangplank and flirts with Braum. Taliyah has small flirtations with Ekko. Garen and Katarina are in some sort of lovers feud. Lucian had a wife. Tryndamere and Ashe are married. In these cases, even the revealed facts are pretty bland. Which does make sense. After all, a majority of the populous is heterosexual.

When it comes to characters, we have two prevailing schools of thought: The “Everyone’s Bi” argument and the stereotype argument.

The “Everyone’s Bi” Argument

Most of this comes from the fact that giant IPs have so many artists, writers and more who all draw characters in different pairings and different ways. What’s the point of saying “Well canonically Miss Fortune is gay!” when you have a hundred aspiring artists and writers who are going to tell stories about her psuedo-boyfriend anyways?

In this argument, there’s no point in discussing sexuality because people will assign it on their own save for story hooks. Even in story hooks, such as last week’s “Tracer and Emily” information, will be disregarded to fit what fan writers and artists do. Everyone’s bi so who cares! I wouldn’t say this is a particularly diverse way of looking at things but it also gives players the most freedom to think however they wish.

This is also a feeling you generally have when it comes to make-your-own protagonists. Commander Shepard is Schrodinger’s sexuality: He’s simultaneously gay, straight and bi all at the same time. In this regard, League and games like it don’t need to talk about sexuality because everyone will make their own…and it cuts through the rough things that can happen in countries that don’t approve of such things like Russia.

The Stereotype Argument

Conversely, there are those who NEED the writers or story people telling them who is what. If you don’t, people instead default to what they know about a character. In a game like League, where most characters have very little writing to them, you end up playing heavily on stereotype and fan theory.

Take for example Taric. A soft-spoken, handsome man with a fondness for beauty and shiny things. All we know about him is his backstory (Demacian Soldier who is now Avatar of Protection) and a handful of voice lines. In trying to figure out who Taric would love to date, people asked Riot. They gave the non-committal “He loves everyone”. Thus, people default to stereotypes…which means Taric is about as gay as a triple rainbow over a pride parade.

In a vacuum with little/no writer input, people just default to stereotypes. It’s easier that way, after all. Of course the counter-argument means that Riot was implying Taric is bi or even something more like polyamorous. We don’t know their true intentions, however, and it’d be pretty bold to include such an underrepresented thing in fiction. (Sadly some people, myself included, need a cheat sheet for all the sexuality there are today.)

The Part Where I Talk About Vi

And now we come to Vi. Part of why I devote an entire section to this is because this is where all of this writing comes into play. When Vi came out I was smitten. She encapsulated everything I love in a female character and looked damn good doing it. Of course when I talked to everyone about it, I got the same feelings: “Oh yeah the lesbian.”

My personal belief was that I always saw Vi as bi. Which is also why I defend the idea so heavily. On one hand, I don’t feel like her story or upbringing makes her out to be someone who sticks with one person or someone who doesn’t flirt with others every chance she gets. On the other hand, I also hate the idea of putting her entire character in a lesbian box because she’s a stereotype many people see: Short, pink hair. Rough tomboy. Snarky and rude.

In this case, Riot eventually came out and somewhat “subtly” said Vi likes guys and girls. About as subtle as a taco and hotdog metaphor can be anyways. Yet this is again a non-committal answer. They can easily twist or change this however they want. Personally, I like the idea of Vi being bi. It gives us an underrepresented sexuality, keeping true to the character (at least in my mind) and adding one more layer to a character without going too deep into it.

Conclusions

Much of this probably reads like rambling. Like someone who has too much time on their hands to worry about what fictional people do in their love lives. To me, it’s an important issue. It’s not a damning one, sure, but I think it’s necessary to talk about this sort of thing. In games, we often have the saying of “Show, don’t tell”. People don’t respond well to just saying “Oh yeah whatever he’s gay”. We need to see it with our own eyes.

It’s also why the Tracer comic was such a big deal. We got pretty damning visual evidence and it was quite a bold move. That is unless you’re a denier, in which case Tracer is kissing a very good friend on her open mouth. Either way, League could take some steps in my mind to further push these boundaries. We can have more beyond stereotypes or just wondering if everyone is bi until we get a clear answer.

Hopefully one day I can see a comic of Vi hanging out with her lovers in an open relationship.

Those Progress Leaves Behind

Special thanks to Tom Randby (@faeriefountain) for letting me use his art for this week’s story!

As Piltover moves further ahead, Caitlyn cannot shake the feel that she’s slowly becoming obsolete.


For weeks, she had been tracking a stolen shipment of augmented limbs. Supposedly they were powerful enough that one could blast a hole in a steel beam, among other things. If that actually fell into the hands of those who could use them with some degree of intelligence? Robbery would skyrocket. Mostly of more augmentation of this degree. That just would not suffice.

Perched carefully on the roof, Caitlyn watched with calm, focused eyes. In her most rookie of days, she might have had an elevated heart rate or overwhelming panic at the thought of being in a firefight. After all these years? Little more than boredom as she waited for the shipment to pass by. According to her investigation, it would be three men. Likely one or two chemically enhanced but nothing so dangerous that she couldn’t handle it.

Hidden in the alleyway that she was perched over were several traps, covered by thin layers of garbage. It was quite disgusting but they’d serve perfectly to snare anyone who tried to run. At this point they had to be on-foot, unable to get around with carriages. Not with the dangerous things they were carrying.

As the sun was covered by a small cloud, a trio of men appeared in the alleyway. All of them wearing long coats. All of them carrying massive boxes. The untrained citizen would likely assume they were just hired help, doing manual labor for coins. Caitlyn’s far more sophisticated gaze picked apart their awkward gait, the nervous looks and the boxes being shoddily handled for those who were supposed to be lugging around valuables.

Quietly unfurling her rifle, Caitlyn took aim with one of her lesser rounds. It wouldn’t be enough to kill, so long as she hit a leg or an arm, but it was surely enough to force them to bend the knee. A small smile crept across her face, the joy of finally trapping her enemies in a no-win situation. Days of watching, waiting and analyzing patterns were sure to pay off. In a way, she almost felt sorry for these poor goons.

A heavy footfall gave way to the loud snap of Caitlyn’s trap being set off. “Unlucky,” Caitlyn quietly said, taking aim and firing a round at the trapped target. The one of the trio who had set off the trap looked down, staring at where the trap had gone off. Considering the situation, even if the other two escaped Caitlyn would have an easy time tracking them down. Especially with a bargaining chip like one of their comrades.

Instead of a shriek of pain or the agonizing groan of a man stumbling to his knees, the ear-ringing plink of metal-striking-metal rang throughout the alleyway. Caitlyn’s face contorted into an expression of disapproval. The boxes were summarily dropped in the alleyway, Caitlyn ducking slightly behind the ledge of the roof to avoid being seen.

“Who the hell put this here!? Percy, you said we weren’t being followed!” the man growled, the sound of shaking metal as Caitlyn’s trap was being kicked off. It was more akin to stepping in gum for the man than a debilitating snare.

There was the hiss of someone silencing the other. “Boris, look around. See if you can get a vision on whose here.”

Caitlyn was completely safe, in this regard. At the angle they were looking, there was no visible way to see her. She’d have to loop around and-

“Upper left! Someone’s skulking around up there! Ain’t no other heat signatures around here except that one!”

Her teeth grit so hard Caitlyn might have cracked one of her teeth. She had expected them to start selling the wares. She hadn’t predicted they’d be so brash that they’d attempt to augment themselves. Much less that these augments would be workable to bumbling idiots and even less so that these untested prototypes would work with minimal error.

As she stood to move, the floor gave out from beneath her. A chunk of the roof seemingly vanished beneath her feet as Caitlyn slid. One hand clutching her gun, the other desperately grabbing at rubble. She found a handle to hang from, the sheriff silently cursing herself as she precariously hung over an alleyway with three crude criminals.

The trio looked up, whistling loudly. “You should wear the skirt again, sheriff. The view down here ain’t nearly as nice as it would be.”

Biting her tongue, Caitlyn held back some crude remarks of her own. The men waited for a retort that wouldn’t come, sighing to themselves. “Gave us quite a scare there,” another said. “We were worried for a second that it’d be your butch Zaunie girlfriend…or that side-piece you brought onto your payroll.”

Now she was getting frustrated. Yet with the position she was in, she had to take into account that these men could easily kill her. She’d have to buy her time and wait for them to make a mistake. They were underestimating her, which meant that when they did slip up she’d be able to do something drastic. What that something was, at the moment, wasn’t in place yet. Especially against those sporting top-of-the-line augments.

Looking down, Caitlyn surveyed what she was dealing with: Three thugs. One with an augmented eye and some manner of plasma gun for an arm. Another sporting two heavy legs and equally heavy arms, likely the muscle. Finally, the one in the center who had kept himself hidden. “Eh, she ain’t speaking. Don’t shoot her though, we can use her. Demitri, you wanna cut the good sheriff down from that dangerous place? We certainly don’t want to hurt Piltover’s finest.”

The one called Demitri, sporting his huge and lumbering augments, grabbed the wall. Scenarios ran through Caitlyn’s head. Hitting him with the electrostatic net would slow him down. He’d fall, maybe land on one of the other ones. Good, good, that would buy time. She could reaffirm her position from there. She was alone in this so-

Just as those thoughts ran through her head, Demitri’s arms separated from his body. Electricity flowed from his arms in arcing sparks as he stumbled from the wall. “W-what the hell happened!?” he cried in shock.

It was then that the one with the eye, likely “Boris”, had his own augmented limb sliced clean off. He clutched his arm, howling in terror as he hit the wall. The limb may be fake but the pain was indeed real. The remaining one in the center (Percy) looked back and forth, increasingly aggravated. “Little bastard! Think you’re so cleaver with your cloaking that you can just get by us!?”

Percy suddenly raised his arm, steel clashing with steel as a massive hextech arm caught the bladed edge of a spear on it. “I’m not invisible. You just can’t keep track of me when I move this fast. If you surrender now, you’ll only be charged with endangering an officer and trafficking stolen goods,” responded a metallic voice.

Sporting a flowing blue scarf, white sash around his waist and an equally blue coat, Mach stared down the thug. His one augmented eye whirled, a faint blue color with circuitry beneath his skin shimmering blue. The metal plates around his mouth parted, revealing a disappointed frown. “I don’t want to severely hurt anyone so please; Stop.” Without the faceplates, his voice sounded human.

Apparently the thug had other ideas. Knocking away Mach’s spear, his massive arm (Even larger than Vi’s gauntlets!) slammed into the building side, cracking stone. Caitlyn’s grip crumbled away as she began to fall with her back facing the ground. She looked with one eye, witnessing the criminal sprinting with one remaining box of augments. Sloppy work, sloppiest she’d ever done. Maybe if she adjusted her net to fire just before she hit the ground, she could minimize the impact.

Just as she thought this, a metal cable with a hand attached to the end fired past her head. Instead of hitting the ground she felt an arm grasp her waist, pulling her upwards instead of downwards. Soon, she was back on the roof, looking down at her shorter companion. Peering down the alley, he too cursed before turning back to Caitlyn. “Sorry, I had to help you before chasing him down. Vi’s on her way as well so maybe she can cut him off,” Mach said, looking upwards at Caitlyn. “You’re alright though, right?”


Caitlyn slammed a hand on her desk, glaring at Mach as he sat before her. “What were you THINKING!?”

Confused and terrified, Mach stammered where he sat. “I just- You didn’t tell us where you went even though you said you were doing something alone. So we got worried that-“

“That what!?” Caitlyn’s expression hardened, pulling back from her desk. “That you didn’t think I was capable of handling an assignment on my own?”

“That’s not what I meant at all! I was-“

Caitlyn angrily stamped over to him, getting in the young man’s face. “So you disobeyed my order and followed me even though I said I could handle this!? You, as fast as you were, let him ESCAPE?!?”

This time he didn’t respond, the color draining from his face. It only made the circuitry beneath his skin shine brighter. That hint of tech beneath his skin only served to infuriate Caitlyn more.

“Get out of my office. Don’t you EVER disobey direct orders I give you, are we clear!?” She yelled. It wasn’t like her to yell. Much less to yell at him. “Stay away from this case or so help me…” For a brief moment, Caitlyn almost said something unforgivable. Something that would have severed any relationship they had. He noticed it too, eyes going wide as Caitlyn held back the best she could. “Just get out of my office.”

He was far too quick to do so, almost sprinting from her sight. Taking off her hat, Caitlyn brushed a hand through her hair. A good cup of tea would do wonders but she didn’t want to interact with anyone, not yet. Sitting in her office and bottling up the anger she felt would likely be a good start.

The door to her office flung open, Caitlyn casting an eye to the door as it was shut behind the intruder. A pissed, pink-haired woman stared Caitlyn down. “Hey, real quick; The HELL is wrong with you?”

Taking this as a challenge, Caitlyn’s glare centered upon Vi. “What’s wrong with ME!? I specifically told you both-“

“No. Nu-uh. Not this time. You don’t get to threaten him like that. You KNOW he’s sensitive. You KNOW he’s trying his best for everyone. And so you go and drive him to tears!? Because he HELPED you!?” Vi yelled, jabbing a finger accusingly at Caitlyn.

“I didn’t ASK for his help. Nor did I ask you, Enforcer, for your opinions on how I discipline members of my group. Need I remind you of that!?” Caitlyn’s anger was simmering now, Vi not doing much for her nerves.

Vi’s glare shifted to something of pure rage. “And now you’re playing the goddamn rank card on me? What’s gotten into you, huh? Why the hell are you acting like a class-A jackass!?” Vi got right in her face, the height difference palpable as she looked down at Caitlyn. “So what is it? What’s got your panties in a twist? Did someone piss in your tea or are you just on your period?”

In a single, swift motion, Vi’s head was turned to the side from the force of Caitlyn’s slap. Her cheek turned red, the black-etched “Vi” on her face now resting in a sea of pink. She turned to Caitlyn, staring in shock as Caitlyn stepped away. Caitlyn, realizing how she’d briefly let her emotions get the best of her, turned away.

“…Seriously. What’s wrong?” Vi said, moving to stand beside her. “You’ve been acting weird for weeks now.”

A deep, shaky breath from Caitlyn as she cleared her mind. “Every day, it feels like there are more and more augmented individuals on the street. They can run faster, jump higher, see further. You name it.” Caitlyn ran a hand through her hair, pushing it back. “You have your gauntlets and you’re damn strong, sure, but neither of us…” She looked to the door.

Vi nodded a bit. She pushed Caitlyn, lazily, into her chair. Vi grabbed her own chair, sitting across from Caitlyn. “So you think we’re-“

“Not yet. We’re not…but there will come a point where we can’t do our job anymore. Either we’ll have to improve ourselves, our equipment or go into retirement.” Caitlyn ran a hand through her hair. “I thought I could handle this. It was a simple job. Three smarmy thugs. Instead I almost died and had to be rescued like-“

“Like a Demacian princess from the evil dragon?”

Caitlyn’s gaze could have crushed diamonds with how hard she was looking at Vi. “Yes. That. I’m not a damned damsel in need of rescuing from anyone.”

Sighing a bit, Vi crossed her arms. “So you felt obsolete today. So you got saved by Sparky. Big friggin’ deal.” Vi smirked a bit, leaning in close. “Haven’t I saved you before?”

Caitlyn begrudgingly nodded. “Those times don’t count. It wasn’t the same.”

“And haven’t both of us saved Sparky once or twice? I distinctly recall you kneeling in the rain, giving him CPR despite the fact that we were both sure he was dead,” Vi added.

This memory made Caitlyn bristle. Nobody ever died under her watch. Especially not someone as new to the job as he was. It didn’t help to remember that familiar feeling of uselessness when she sat there, slamming her hands on his chest even as his eyes went dark.

Vi placed her ungauntleted finger under Caitlyn’s chin, pushing her head up to look at her. “You and I aren’t going anywhere, no matter how many hopped-up morons they send at us. They get better gear? We’ll get better gear. If I remember right, your first few years were using a shoddy repeater rifle of some sort?”

Caitlyn murmured, smirking faintly. “And you used chem-tech gauntlets.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Point is, you need to quit this crap about fearing the future and acting like you’re replaceable. Last I checked, nobody catches criminals with the whole predatory queen-of-Piltover vibe you have going on,” Vi added.

Sighing a bit, Caitlyn rubbed her face. While the feelings weren’t completely gone, there was truth to what Vi said. Piltover was progress and progress was all about moving forward. She would get better tech, better weaponry. Even if it wasn’t enough, progress be damned she wouldn’t fade away. “I’m sorry. For hitting you.”

Vi reached over, flicking Caitlyn’s nose. The woman moved backward, rubbing the front of her face as Vi shook her head. “I’m not the one you need to say sorry to, Cupcake.”

The low, long groan from Caitlyn was more than enough to bring back Vi’s good mood. “Please STOP calling me that. For God’s sake, we’re in the office.”

The Cheshire grin of Vi only grew wider. “Last I recall, you have a pet name for Sparky AND me. What was it again?”

Rather than be subject to this abuse, Caitlyn shoved Vi and stood out of her seat. “Where did he run off to? If I am going to apologize.”

Vi’s grin suddenly turned into a blank expression. “Oh. Shit. We better get moving.”


Prove Caitlyn wrong. Make things right. He had wiped his face, clenched his spear and ran off to track down the last remaining thug. Case be damned, he’d do it and make right what he’d screwed up. He didn’t think he was better than Caitlyn but he just couldn’t bear to see her upset. Now here he was.

Metal hands were pressed to the floor, electricity arcing over his entire form. Organic-and-augment alike were shocked, the short man hunched on the ground. Percy whistled softly, watching as Mach writhed on the floor. “I’ll admit, I didn’t expect an anti-augmentation tesla gun to be so…effective. Can you move?”

In response, a metal hand was fired from his wrist, cable crackling with energy as Percy stepped out of the way. “Oh, well damn. Guess so. But you made a good attempt.” To reward such an effort, Percy slowly raised the dial. Cries of agony echoed throughout the warehouse as he lay there, eyes wide in pure pain. “So general word-on-the-street is that your augmentation is the best in Piltover, aye? I’m sure you’ll fetch a nice price. Well, parts of you anyways.”

Looking up, Mach’s teeth were clenched as he glared at Percy. Even with warning signs blaring in his head and over his vision, it didn’t take an enhanced eye to see the small red dot moving up Percy’s form. It danced over his body, moving past the metal prosthetic and over his eye. Half of his head seemed to be metal, which made the red dot lingering on his false-eye invisible. “Eh? What are you staring at boy? If you’re hoping to beg, it’s a bit late.”

A soft, loud whistle rang through the air as the round fired directly into the warehouse, shattering a window. Percy, with his enhanced reflexes, flung an arm up to block the incoming bullet. Mid-air, microjets emerged from the bullets sides, angling around the raised arm. “Impossible…” was the last word Percy uttered as the bullet dove its way into his false eye. The giant, with all his numerous augments, toppled over as he breathed heavily. Half of his mechanical brain was likely destroyed.

With the tesla gun rolling to the ground, Mach lay there clenching the ground. Ragged breathing resounded as the door to the warehouse was literally torn off the hinges. Vi nudged her neck to the side, letting Caitlyn walk in first. She knelt beside him, rolling him over to cradle him. “Relax. You’re going to be alright. Do you need a medic?”

Sputtering, he looked up at Caitlyn. “How…the bullet…”

A sly smirk from the sheriff. “Automatic Criminal Eradication technology. Able to readjust mid-flight and always hit the mark, no matter what. I believe I called it the A.C.E. in the hole.” As she said this, her expression turned somber. “I’m sorry. For yelling. I should have let you-“ Caitlyn paused, looking up at Vi. “-both of you help me.”

With twitching limbs, Mach laughed softly. He stammered, body still processing the excess energy. “We’re…a team….I shouldn’t have….run off….thanks…for saving…me.” He reached up, a cold metal hand running over Caitlyn’s face. At first, she flinched. But she leaned into it, softly smiling down at her companion.

Squatting beside them, Vi smirked at both of them. “We’re all made up then? Don’t need to beat the piss out of either of you for doing dumb stuff?”

Mach looked over to Caitlyn. “Can’t…move much yet…please…hit her…”

“Oh c’mon Sparky. You look especially good when you twitch like that. Don’t even need batteries for this vi-“

With a single, swift motion, Caitlyn smacked Vi over the head. Sure, things would require change. None of them could be the best at their jobs forever. Piltover, however, was a city of progress. Be it with new weapons, stronger technology or even more powerful limbs to ensure that nobody would be above the law, they were going to move forward.

Their future, and Piltover’s, was sure to be bright.

Ludonarrative Dissonance in League and Overwatch

As a fan of lore, backstory, and the general storytelling of video games, you can imagine how much I scratch my head at these two games. While I understand the reason for it, both of these games exhibit extreme cases of ludonarrative dissonance. Rather than specifically state my opinion, I’d like to go over the pros and cons of this divide and further explain the intricacies of this system, maybe even determine why more and more games are moving toward such a style of story telling.

 What is Ludonarrative Dissonance?

Ludonarrative Dissonance is a phrase coined in 2007 by Clint Hocking, a creative director at Ubisoft. He used the phrase to specifically describe the disconnect between Bioshock’s storytelling and the gameplay elements related to the game. It drives a wedge between what we’re told (The hero is a heroic, kind, selfless soul) and what we’re actually doing in the game. (Ransacking every house we find.)

Games are unique to this problem because we can’t see a dissonance of this scale when it comes to movies, writing or television. Yes, we can have awkward moments but that is the sign of a poorly-written story where we question the writer breaking character. Comparatively, games have the dual-function of serving both a story element and a gameplay element; Even the most story-driven game has to have some gameplay and even the most nothing story in a video game has to have some overarching goal.

As an example of this, my character in World of Warcraft (at least in roleplay) is a weak human noble with very little battle-based skills. Yet I’m a max level hunter who regularly goes out and murders whatever the baddie-of-the-week is. It’s a clear disconnect between who my character is and the gameplay related to my character, although that’s entirely of my own choice.

Ludonarrative Dissonance in League and Overwatch

Perhaps more than almost any other game, both of these games have become extremely disconnected to the story of their respective worlds. League famously had a massive retcon due to the “Institute of War”, a powerful association of mages, causing a lack of conflict resolution or even conflict. To Riot, it was a confusing plot contrivance where characters could not change and all the champions of League had to be on a power-level below these summoners.

In Overwatch, there’s no connection at all. While characters interact, it’s clear from both a story and gameplay perspective that nothing is canonical. Characters die, respawn and fling each other all over the map in the pursuit of..well, either pushing a cart to the end of the map or capturing a control point. Any story elements told are given through cinematics, comics or other forms of media that are passingly related to the game in a stretched scenario. Perhaps the only connection is the small bits of dialogue characters say but, even then, it’s a dream scenario.

The Case for Ludonarrative Dissonance

When you consider these multiplayer-only or multiplayer-focused games, there is a core and damning narrative term that permeates everything: Static. Characters are often static. Characters cannot die and more often than not, story hooks can’t be directly resolved because everything resets at the end of the match. So what if Soldier 76 kills Reaper and captures Hanamura’s point? Is this really where the story is meant to end?

When you look at League, there was a major event early on that was touted as a story change in the game: The Ionia-Noxus match. In this game, players picked predominantly Ionian and Noxian champions who fought to determine the fate of the island nation. After a match done with some roleplay, Ionia was the victor. And….there are Ionian boots in the store now. What? There was no major change in character story arc, no alteration of their voice lines, no nothing. The Ionian champions succeeded in their goal but they still had to fight for…reasons. The conflict was “resolved” yet the only change was the addition of shoes to the shop.

Situations like this outline how forcing a game to work within story contexts can lead to disconnects and frustration. You have to come up with a reason for resurrection yet bend rules so that it’s not an easy out. You have to create change just enough that more of the story is told yet there is a net-zero outcome when the characters have to act-or-play differently. This unintentionally gates the story and makes players wonder if change is even possible.

By separating gameplay and story, you don’t have to worry about these situations. Players are free to enjoy a character without worrying about the actions in the game affecting the character. Those who enjoy the story and background can also go and find it, giving a massively deep layer that isn’t available directly in the game. It also prevents those who don’t really care about story to be subjected to it. With ludonarrative dissonance, you can technically have your cake and eat it too.

The Case against Ludonarrative Dissonance

In many ways, the disconnect is often the coward’s way out. It’s the point where a designer and a writer go “We can’t work together. Let’s just do our own things separate from each other”. This disconnect creates a massive divide in the playerbase and forces players who care about the world to watch a character they love never truly evolve in the game, only in the background.

No game is ever truly separated from narrative, as much as one might like to argue. Story hooks and elements are brought into play regardless of if you place a ten-story building between the two. Camille might not interact with Caitlyn in the story but her speech lines do speak that she knows something about what Caitlyn is after. Soldier 76 and Winston might never meet in the story but they are still sharing story elements in the game itself.

Just because there is a separation between game and story doesn’t mean changes cannot happen either. Yes, it’s more work for the company, but you can arguably change voice lines and character dialogue as things change in the narrative. Even if this is a dream scenario, have characters grow and change. Forcing a disconnect between story and gameplay only happens when you make it happen.

I’m not directly advocating that you MUST have change in the game but to say that you cannot have any change at all is confusing to me. Characters can grow in a story AND in the game. Maybe you can’t change how they play but you can change how they react and how they deal with situations. Dissonance is only dissonance if you refuse to work with the game. Yes, there will be times where the character acts out of turn but a little dissonance is better than separating the game and story like the moon and the sun.

My Personal Opinion

You might have gleamed a bit of this from my word choice and the way I spoke about pros and cons, but my personal belief is that ludonarrative dissonance is fine in most cases. Not every game can have a story that completely syncs with the game you’ve made and that’s alright. No game, not even the best narrative-driven game of all time, will be entirely functional with the game you’ve made. I both understand and respect Blizzard and Riot’s decision to focus on the game itself but allow for a rich and deep story that’s told outside the confines of Summoner’s Rift or Watchpoint: Gibraltar.

My praise given, I disagree that the disconnect has to be complete. I feel like characters being given additional dialogue, new story options and more in the game should be allowed. Give us cosmetics that reflect what happened to these characters. Alter maps to show us what happened in a cinematic without designing the map around it (ala King’s Row). Give us story elements in the game that make us want to go looking at your fancy comic or your narrative hub deeper than the Mariana Trench. There can be connections without having to hamfist or slam a wall between the two.

Perhaps more and more games are moving toward this because less and less people care about the story behind these games? How many of us just rapidly slam the skip button during dialogue? How plentiful is the number of players who go on that secondary website and read all the short stories and comics? How substantial is the divide between people who enjoy the background and world behind these games versus those who just enjoy the game itself?

Ludonarrative dissonance is a tool. It is one of the many little gadgets in a writer’s toolbox that lets them alter and change the story as they wish in relation to the game. Just like any other tool, it’s strongest when it’s doing an appropriate job…but it’s not a universal tool that can fix every problem. There needs to be a fine line when to drop ludonarrative dissonance and work on ludonarrative consonance.