League of Legends: Does Riot Buff Champions to Sell Skins?

League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games. /

“Well, gotta make sure those skins keep selling,” is often a retort or sarcastic explanation whenever someone sees a strong champion buffed or left alone. This is one of the longest-running League of Legends conspiracy theories, that Riot buffs champions so they can sell skins. But few have taken the time and effort to actually see if that claim has merit, until now.

Going back to the start of Season 10, 144 skins were released. For each of these skins, we looked to see how many times a champion received balance changes in concert with the skin release, to answer the question: does Riot’s balance team act to boost skin sales?

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Doing so, we must imagine that Riot’s skin team and balance team are acting somewhat in concert (that is, the balance team knows what skins are coming soon). Since we also know that skins and balance changes go onto the PBE one patch before they are released, it’s logical to assume that any buffs that go out to “prime the pump” to make the champion stronger ahead of the skin’s release would go out two patches prior to the skin release (one patch before the skins hit PBE) at the earliest. This would allow champions to become stronger and picked more in solo queue before the skins were announced.

Another alternative, though, is that Riot buffs the champions after the skins are released to boost sales. However, again, if they really wanted to boost sales they would do so concurrently with the skin’s release, likely the next patch or perhaps the patch after if the skin was underperforming in an attempt to give sales one last boost.

League of Legends champions often get buffed when new skins are released.

As a result, we considered the two patches before and after the patch of the release of each of those 144 new skins in Season 10 to see how many times they were buffed in (presumably) an attempt to boost sales. However, we also considered how many times those champions were nerfed in that five patch window. If the conspiracy theory is true, Riot would be less likely to nerf champions with skins that are about to be or have been released.

And, for the sake of clarity, we are not considering hotfixes or bugfixes as buffs or nerfs. For this conspiracy to hold, we’re assuming the balance team is acting deliberately to make champions with new skins stronger. Fixing bugs or hotfixing a strong champion mid-patch we consider to be legitimate changes.

Finally, we are not counting Prestige Edition skins or chromas. Those add considerably more variables and considering almost all the Prestige skins came out with a base skin (with a few exceptions that were included) and you cannot straight up buy Prestige skins with RP, we omitted these from consideration.

So, do champions with new skins get buffed more often? The answer is, well, yes.

League of Legends Champion Skin Release Buffs
League of Legends Champion Skin Release Buffs /

The data actually seems to support this wild conspiracy theory. Champions who receive a skin are almost twice as likely to get buffed on the patch their skin is released as they are to be nerfed, and they’re three times more likely to get buffed in the patch immediately before or after. For two patches before or after, they’re still slightly more likely to get buffed.

Case closed, right? Riot only buffs champions to sell skins! Well, not so fast.

First, we have to consider the fact that the data covers 27 patches of data (29 counting the two in Season 9 before Patch 10.1). So in only 1/3 of all patches was a champion buffed and received a skin. But, with 144 unique skins coming out and there not being a single instance of a champion getting two skins in one patch (again, ignoring Presitge Editions), that means that a champion is buffed the same patch as they get a skin just 6.25% of the time.

Even if you include all buffs within that five patch period, it’s still only a 31.25% likelihood that the champion will be buffed to “boost” sales of a new skin. But wait, there’s more.

A champion is also 16.67% likely to get nerfed within that five-patch window around a skin release. It’s almost a two-to-one discrepancy, yes, but you would honestly expect Riot to be far more light-handed around nerfing new champions with skins than buffing them if that is the theory you’re going off.

Finally, you have to remember that the likelihood of a champion being either buffed or nerfed within that five-patch window is 47.92%. That means it’s still most likely that a champion won’t receive balance changes within the two patches before or after a skin release.

In sum, yes, Riot probably is more willing to buff champions around when they have skins released than to nerf them, by a two-to-one margin. However, it’s still far more likely that the champion won’t see any balance changes and there is a fairly significant chance that the champion will be nerfed.

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Even if these conspiracy theories about Riot balancing to sell skins are true, that’s still not necessarily a bad thing. If Riot can boost sales without breaking the balance of League of Legends, that’s probably good for Riot’s revenue and League of Legends overall.

So keep on your tin foil hats about Riot balance changes meant to pimp out new skins. It’s probably not as big an issue as you think.