Last time on the series, I introduced Marvel’s Contest of Champions and talked about the ways in which the game is a flawed experience. In this article, I want to explore some of these ideas further. We’ve already talked about the gamble that is the Hero Crystals in the game, but let’s go a little more in-depth into how the game makes you feel like it’s a necessity to get them. It’s all about the design of the game.
In order to keep the game fresh and challenging, there are things called “nodes” implemented into some fights throughout the game as you progress. Nodes can either fundamentally change the mechanics of a fight, or simply slightly make the opponent stronger. For example, there are nodes that increase an enemy’s Attack by 50% while some make it so their attacks are Unblockable.
Now this is all well and good as it is certainly a much-needed mechanic to keep the game from becoming stale and repetitive – especially in a mobile game, where the controls and platform often limit the depth of the game. The problem in Contest of Champions is the way in which the nodes are implemented. All in all, nodes are just a sneaky way to make you need certain Champions. Let’s take, for example, the most recent Event in the game: Captain Marvel’s Combat Clash. Before going into it, it’s important to note that Kabam did state that this Event Quest was mostly meant for highly-skilled and top-rated players; I am merely using this as an example to illustrate my point.
This Event Quest features “fun and interactive” Nodes such as “Aspect of War,” which makes it so that over 50 seconds you take more and more damage even though you’re blocking. Once the 50 seconds are over, the enemy’s attacks are Unblockable. There are ways to play around this that are certainly achievable – but that’s not the issue. The issue is that while some people learn the skills to complete the fights, others can just breeze through them with the right Champions.
Here’s the Catch-22: in order to clear this content in the fastest manner, you need the right Champions. But to get the right Champions, you need to clear such content… Sure, you can always go the long route, learn the skills, grind for Champions in some other way. Or, you could just spend money.
Getting the best Champions in MCoC is tedious. I had already mentioned the old-fashioned way – you can slowly build up Crystal Shards in order to open a Hero Crystal that gives you the chance to get a Champion. Of course, there are so many Champions in the hero pool that getting the one you need is mathematically improbable.
Introducing: the Arena. This game mode has you select a team of three Champions, pitting you against three random heroes. If you win the matches, you get points. Win enough in a row and you get a bonus multiplier. Get enough points and you can get the Champion that is featured in the arena you’re playing. Sounds simple enough, right?
The Arena works using a percentage-based system. The score of all Summoners is logged, and those who are in the top 10% get the Champion with some crystal shards to spare. The issue with the Arena is that getting to this percentile is both tedious and hard for players who may not have a stacked roster. Since some players have rosters with more Champions in them, that has slowly created inflation in the number of points required to get the featured hero. Of course, those with more champions can easily get them — if they play enough of this repetitive gaming — but those who don’t have as many will struggle to acquire them. Although there are mechanics in place to allow new players to compete in their own “bracket,” it only lasts for a few months before you are thrown into the pit with the veteran players — and some of them, like me, have been playing for four years.
This is where the money comes in. Practically every day, Kabam introduces deals into the game that range from $5 in value to $100. Some of these are bundles that include an exclusive shot at the newest Champions — which are often very powerful, with the recent exception of Diablo. Those who are willing to spend will progress faster in the game. Even then, you could buy a $30 bundle and end up with useless Champions. Yet people still buy them, and so Kabam has no incentive to change things up. And why not? If you want to grind the Arena you need bodies, and buying these bundles are an easy way to bolster your roster, even if it is with crappy characters. Two new Champions are added every month, and they are only available through these bundles and arenas.
These new Champions are eventually released into the wider pool of crystals, yet by the time they’re added, newer and more exciting characters are lurking around. What’s more, the usefulness of these Champions might already be limited by the time they’re available to the general population, and specific counters to them may have already been implemented into the game.
There are many things within Contest of Champion’s design that make it so that the game is balanced towards those who spend money. It is unfortunate, but any time any changes to the game are suggested the answer will be that it doesn’t help Kabam make any more money. In the case of the Arena, for example, brackets that grouped players based on the size of their roster could theoretically be implemented, making the chance of acquiring a Champion fairer for all. Of course, Kabam makes money off of the exclusiveness of Champions and the bundles they release, so this is unlikely to happen.
Although Contest of Champions is a very fun game, issues within the game design such as these do make one question the value of the game. Of course, it is possible to play free-to-play, but that requires a certain level of patience and self-control that not many can exert. So you really have to ask yourself: is it worth it? Probably not.