League of Legends: How Xbox Game Pass will (and won't) save you $1,000

League of Legends: How Xbox Game Pass will (and won’t) save you $1,000

If you’ve been interested in trying out League of Legends but were put off by the thought of having to unlock over 160 characters, Microsoft has great news for you. The wildly popular online multiplayer battle arena is now live Xbox Game Pass. It’s a monster of a partnership: The league has been around since 2009, spawning an incredibly successful esports scene and even becoming Netflix animated series. AND Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is CNET’s pick for the best deals in gaming. It’s already that much better with this new partnership.

The presence of League (and other Riot Games titles, e.g Appreciation and Legends of Runeterra) in Game Pass isn’t a big deal in itself. League of Legends is free to play, so you won’t be saving money by accessing the game through Game Pass. However, you get access to every single League of Legends champion for free if you subscribe to Game Pass.

I did the math: There are currently 162 champions in the league. On average, it costs about $6.50 to unlock. That means you’ll save over $1,000 with Game Pass compared to paying to unlock each champion individually. For context, that would pay for more than five years of Game Pass Ultimate. You’ll also unlock new champions immediately as they’re released, usually about five times a year.

A few caveats worth noting: First, paying for champions isn’t the only way to unlock them – the game allows you to unlock champions over time for free. Immediately after completing the tutorial, you can choose one of the five champions. You can then complete daily missions to get five more champions, choosing one character per day from a choice of three. Players can also use Blue Essence, which you get just by leveling up and getting your first win of the day, and can get Champion Shards to reduce the amount of Blue Essence needed. So you can unlock the entire roster without paying for champions – just very slowly over time.

Second, Game Pass doesn’t technically guarantee you own all 162 champions, according to Riot’s FAQ. It unlocks them for play, but the game doesn’t consider you the owner, meaning you won’t be able to buy skins for champions you’ve only unlocked with Xbox Game Pass. You will still need to buy a champion if you want to buy skins (using paid Riot Points or free Blue Essence). Champions and other content you’ve unlocked with Game Pass will have a special indicator that differentiates the content you own.

League of Legends Champions Offer

An icon in the upper right corner of each portrait indicates that the champion is available through Game Pass, but is not considered an “owned champion”.

Riot Games; screenshot by Adam Benjamin/CNET

In-game notification that the user does not own a champion

If you try to buy a skin for a champion you’ve unlocked but don’t fully own, you’ll get a warning.

Riot Games; screenshot by Adam Benjamin/CNET

This means that if you cancel your Xbox Game Pass subscription or if the partnership dissolves in the future, you will no longer have access to champions that you only unlocked through Game Pass. But champions you’ve earned through new player missions or purchased with blue essence or Riot Points will still be available to you.

Still, this partnership is a steal if you’re new to League of Legends or Valorant, especially if you already have Game Pass. (Valorant agents can also be unlocked for free over time, but it costs $10 to unlock instantly. That saves players about $140 compared to paying to unlock new agents, not to mention future ones.) You’ll be able to try out new champions and agents as you please, while still having the ability to permanently “buy” the ones you really like for free just by playing the game.

You can link your Riot account to your Xbox profile by going to the Xbox login page and signing in to both your Xbox and Riot account. If you already have Game Pass, you should receive a notification when you log into the game once the content is unlocked. Riot says this process can take up to 24 hours.

If you are not yet subscribed, Xbox Game Pass for PC, it costs $10 a month, and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which combines console and PC and also includes cloud gaming, costs $15 a month.

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