Boosted: A Story of boosters and why they do what they do
All of the interviewed individuals in this article have spoken to me with the understanding that they will remain anonymous. The names that I have chosen for them in no way reflect their identity in any way, shape or role within the community. I am extremely thankful for their honesty and openness to all of the questions that I asked.
Q:How do you find boosters? How do you approach someone, and pose the question “Do you boost? Do you want to boost for me?”
NightHawk: I just had the connections. When you are high Elo, everyone knows everyone.
I am interviewing NightHawk. He holds a senior position within a boosting organisation. NightHawk is not his real name. It is an alias that he has not chosen. I have picked a silly name from a silly movie to ensure his anonymity. He is explaining the details of his experiences of how businesses find players to boost for them.
NH: I had a dozen people lined up from day one in NA, EUW and OCE. Once you establish as a booster, your name gets around. People end up coming to you for the work. Chances are, I have plenty for them. It’s not difficult to have contact with every good booster in every major English speaking region.
Q: A much more sensitive question – I don’t want names. But. Do Professional League of Legends players boost?
NH: Yeah they do. More so in other regions. Less in NA.
Boosting is the process of giving another player access to your account, for them to play on that account and hopefully record wins that you otherwise could not. Boosting is considered a bannable offense by Riot Games, as stated here (https://support.riotgames.com/hc/en-us/articles/204168430-MMR-Boosting-Detection and https://support.riotgames.com/hc/en-us/articles/201751834). If caught boosting, or involved in boosting, first offense will attract a 2 week ban and removal of last season’s and this season’s ranked rewards.
A second offense will result in a permanent banning. This punishment will include the booster (the player playing on someone else’s account) and the recipient (the owner of that account). The attraction of a better player accessing your account, achieving wins and giving your account back in a higher division is high. It is so high, that players are actually engaging in financial transactions – paying someone – to access their account to do this in a professional manner. You close your client one afternoon and a week later a division or two higher, depending on what you have asked and paid for.
Q: Why do you think boosting is a thing? Why do people pay for it?
NH: The majority of customers I deal with order boosts because they simply look at the amount of games it’ll take them to reach the Elo they’ve already been at before, and decide that the time isn’t worth the investment. Or, they simply don’t have the time to play those games due to school, work or other obligations.
I would say it is a rarity that someone orders a boost but were unable to achieve that rank if they put time into it. I think what drives people to purchase in the first place is the social stigma behind it, “hard stuck” memes and peer pressure.
Q: Considering that, do you see the concept of boosting as cheating or immoral in some aspect? Unfair to the people who actually have put in the time and effort to earn their rank?
NH: I have significantly changed my thoughts on boosting so much. Mostly because I deal with customers/players and hear their stories and see their accounts before and after the boost. I used to think it was the most disgusting thing you could do, pathetic, blah blah blah all that bad stuff. Now I just see it as people paying for a legitimate service for various reasons. Some with good intention, some with bad.
I used to think. “Oh no! what about the ladder and competitive integrity?!?!” But with the changes Riot is making to the game, they are actively supporting boosting and making the game easier for the casual playerbase and cracking down on competitive integrity themselves with bad patches and poor game design decisions. Also, back when I was lower Elo, I used to love playing against boosters because even as a Gold, Plat or Diamond, you could learn so much from a challenger in a game.
The Ranked League of Legends Elo System is an extremely polarising issue within the community. Problems include games with mismatched divisions and weird uses of MMR (Match Making Rating), wait times, Solo Queue, Flex Queue and Dynamic Queue. A large majority of the community has not been happy with the Ranked system in a long time. Riot went so far that they streamed/recorded a “meeting” between Developers and community members about Dynamic Queue and its problems last year. It is not a simple issue, and there doesn’t seem to be one solution.
Matchmaking is a difficult thing to be able to get right for everybody. Catering for the highest and lowest levels of the Elo spectrum with the one matchmaking system is a difficult task. Matchmaking times are traded off against MMR and whatever other matchmaking criteria Riot have put in place. Shorter times mean potentially unbalanced games. More balanced games mean potentially longer wait times. Despite this, people continue to play ranked games with the intention of climbing divisions. Riot’s intention is that you will do this with your skill, and your rank/division will reflect your ability.
Q: What is a rough percentage of players that ‘deserve’ the rank they ask for compared to the players who have more money than sense and just say “I want Diamond”?
NH: I would say 90% of the customers I have had contact with are good enough to play in the rank the order. I’ve only had 1 customer come back saying they were demoted and ordered it again.
Q: Criticism. Some people would say that boosting is the worst thing in the world. Some other people, run businesses that profit from boosting. How is that criticism dealt with?
NH: I haven’t had to deal with too much of it to be honest.
Boosters are good players. Very good players. Boosting orgs/businesses don’t want players who will only win 50% of their games, because that is bad for business. They may not be able to achieve the required rank. They may also take longer, and the recipient doesn’t feel they have received the service that they have paid for. That in turn reflects poorly on the business and potentially any future orders that may be placed. Boosting orgs want good players. And they want them to complete boosts quickly and efficiently.
Q: How long do you spend per account on average per boost?
NH: That depends on the boost. I’d say a really common one last season was Plat 5 to Diamond 5. That would take about half a week depending on the booster. A singular division can take as little as a day. There was one boost where someone ordered 2 tiers above starting. That took 2 weeks, from Gold 5 to Diamond 5.
Orgs will only hire good players. One is known to only hire the best of the best. They are known to fire people if they aren’t pulling their weight pretty ruthlessly. They are trusted 100% to prioritise it the best they can and make the customer happy. This in turn reduces the risk of ban because an account doesn’t swap hand 5-10 times a boost. Other orgs will swap it that many times and not tell the customer. Payment methods also affect this. Some charge per win, others charge per division. This can affect the speed and time spent on a boost.
Q: I previously asked if Pro’s boosted. Why do they do it?
NH: Generally speaking, pros don’t make enough money. Simple as that. Sure, most would be on a minimum of $80k a year. But working 96 hour weeks, it’s miniscule. You end up being on about $16 an hour.
Q: Are any regions particularly notorious for Pros boosting?
NH: Lets just say, a market in OCE would be lucrative.
Q: Again, without naming names, would people be shocked to learn that their favourite big name player was also a booster?
NH: Frankly Yes. Most of it was in the past though. Very few popular/well known NA players boost as they earn a decent income from contracts and teams. It’s not worth the risk and bad publicity. Across most regions, you find that it is more prevalent in players in Challenger Series, and in the lower end of earners in the LCS. CS players though, probably get away with it more seeing as one takes CS seriously except CS. China and Korea though, may be a different story. But the language barrier makes it difficult to know.
Q: Speaking of China, there are dark dark rumours that some orgs are just fronts for massive boosting rings. Obviously, this is just rumour and innuendo. Have you heard anything similar?
NH: China is funny. Most of the NA boosting money comes from players in China who have accounts on NA that are boosted regularly. They give insanely good money for boosts because of the crazy rich Chinese economy. I don’t know exactly how boosting rings work in China, but I know that no one cares about boosting or toxicity there.
Essentially, Ranked there is what it is. You either win, or you don’t win. Boosters or no boosters. This may explain why these regions are much more competitive than their Western Counterparts. Western Culture is so sensitive imo (in my opinion) *laughs*.
Boosting is alive and well within the LoL community. And it seems that even the highest level of players are not immune to the risk and reward of boosting to help supplement their professional income. Despite the risk. Despite the fallout and possible end to their professional career. In the face of MMR Boosting Detection. It is a significant decision to make if agreeing to boost. Consider the time and the effort it takes to play and climb your own divisions, and boosting seems a considerable ask. Even if you win 20 games in a row. Yet, there are players who choose to do so. Consistent money is a huge motivator.
Boosters are really, really good players though. It is important to remember that. Winning a large number of games in a row from Gold would not be a difficult task for a Challenger level player. Especially if there are 2 or 3 boosters coming together from Master/Challenger. It becomes somewhat less about enjoyment of playing video games and more of a business decision. Yet, there are players who choose to do so. Consistent money is a huge motivator. Boosting sites are easy to find if you are on any form of social media, or if you can type ‘LoL boosting’ into a search engine. But the who, what, how and why seem to be largely ignored. It happens, but no one does very much about it. It is the large elephant in the room. But everyone is unsure what to do with it.
Q: In your opinion, what would happen to LoL if boosting was ‘outed’ and didn’t happen anymore?
NH: Hmmmmm. It would be a HUGE hit to Riot’s profit margins. I think for the same reason gambling is good in sports, boosting is good for League. It creates pockets of money that revolves around the sport or video game respectively. If money is going from a player to a booster, that is money in the pocket of a hardcore League player. The boosted then also has a higher ranked account that they cherish, and want skins, etc for it. How much of that translates into RP and merchandise purchases? Enough for Tencent to take over Riot and make changes that promote boosting like Dynamic Queue and Flex Queue. Its tin foil hat time.
Q: It certainly is! Explain how these Queue iterations promote boosting?
NH: Well it was particularly promoted last season because boosters could Duo on separate orders in the same Elo. Then one of both of them could add another customer that ordered a Duo Queue boost to the party. You could get 3, 4 or 5 accounts all at the same time boosted. Now it’s just another ladder with another set of rewards. Therefore another ladder to boost on.
Q: What an interesting perspective. Has anyone from Riot ever contacted you about your service in terms of asking you to stop? Ever been threatened with legal action?
NH: Nah. Apparently lolboost.net was shut down from pressure from Riot and a threat of being taken to court etc. Some people think it was true. Other people think that they just cut their losses and too the money and ran. The reason people think that is, Riot have never actually come out publically stating anything about stopping boosting sites.
Q: Is the Elo boosting scene some shady gangster thing? Sites and their boosters hate other sites and booster and you all dance off street style for supremacy over the others?
NH: Lol! Depends. There is a regular thing that happens where booster take accounts, but “subcontract” the boost to someone else.
Let’s say for example, Player X takes an Account to boost from a site. Player X will do that boost for $200. Player X will then give that boost to Player Y, and give Player Y $150. Player X has just made $50 without playing a game. Some sites won’t have a bar of that business, others just want to do as many boosts as possible and don’t care how they are done. It really depends on the site and the people running it. Some are better, some are dodgier than others.
Q: Do you keep doing it because it is a profitable business?
NH: The money is good. That’s a positive. It’s not my original motivation though. This was one of my favourite personal games ever. Everything that made League of Legends special has changed. In my opinion, League of Legends was one of the best games ever made. Riot have ruined this. The Tencent money making machine has taken over. My hatred to this is why I do this. Why many people do this.
Q: When did this decline in the game begin?
NH: Probably around 2014/2015. When Tencent took over.
There are many stories of the Golden Era of League of Legends, and people remember those days rather fondly. Particularly the Esports side of things. Legends of the game, players who truly transcended their peers and became names in their own right, were born into the LoL sphere. Epic performances and dominant periods were common. Iconic teams were formed and created their own history and legacy within the scene.
Non-professional players also remember this era with much adoration. Despite any problems with the Elo system (they have never gone away) the ‘pizza feet’ champions, the actual purple side and original Summoner’s Rift provided players with what they might describe as one of the best games ever. The game seemed more pure back then. To many, the current iteration of League of Legends is a paltry shadow of what once was – as are Riot themselves. Once concerned with a balanced, skill based game with an array of diverse champions, the developers are seen to now have somewhat, different priorities.
Rhetoric like this is common in many different video games. League of Legends and Riot seem particularly susceptible to this community discourse. And some of the old guard have made no secret of their distaste of this new direction. MadCat (not his real name) is a booster who does work privately and for some sites. He currently boosts. He is not a Professional League of Legends player.
MC: I had been boosting friends and did jobs privately for a few months. I wanted more, and to expand my network. So I just applied at a site, completed a trial and was hired. I could pick any boost from NA or OCE.
Q: How many do you do a week?
MC: ON average, maybe 3? Depends on the rank and size of the boost. Some weeks I could play up to 100 games.
Q: That’s pretty intense. What are the most common divisions you get out of and go to?
MC: I’d say 75% of orders around the Silver to Gold bracket. Then Bronze to Silver/Gold. Then Plat to Diamond/Master+. The gold seasons rewards were the main reason boosting started in my opinion. Or at least, took off like it did. Still holds true today.
Q: Do you feel bad about boosting?
MC: I don’t feel bad about doing it, but I certainly don’t think it’s good for League at all. Worst part of it is there is no way to actually stop it. And if I wasn’t doing it, it certainly is still going to be rampant.
Q: Interesting. How do you feel about the concept of being ‘hard stuck’ in low Elo? Is that a valid excuse to get boosted?
MC: Out of all the reasons people have given me for buying a boost, this one is the most common. I fully believe this is false. If you are not good enough to climb, you deserve the rank you are currently at. It is as black and white as that. Never has anyone I’ve boosted played at a higher rank and continued to climb. Most stay at the same rank and hardly play ranked from that point. Or, they drop and come back for another boost. I must have boosted hundreds of people over the years, and none suddenly improved after a boost.
Q: What then, is an acceptable reason for a boost? You said that ‘of all the reasons you’ve heard’. So what is a reason that’s made you think ‘hmmm, yeah ok that’s fair enough”?
MC: Some people are honest, and say they want it for the rewards. Boosting is still a sh^&$y thing at the end of a day, but at least they’re being honest with themselves and others. Doing it because you’re in Elo hell or you want to brag you rank is worse.
Q: So there is no good reason to be boosted?
MC: No, there is no acceptable reason to be boosted to be very clear.
But he still has the business, and is not short on it. Searching ‘LoL Boosting Sites’ brings pages of sites and forum posts promoting paid boosting services. My search results page brings up OCE specific ones at the top due to my geographical location. Scrolling further down brings up many international sites. There are paid Google advertisements at the very top – official advertisements that have been paid through Google. As shady as boosting may seem, no one seems to hide their services if you care to look for them.
Q: You said that you don’t think boosting is an acceptable thing to do, yet you still boost. Why?
MC: While I don’t do it specifically for the money, it’s nice to have a bit [of] extra cash sitting in PayPal. But if I can combine League and earning money, why not right? Sometimes, someone will ask for some coaching during a boost and I am more than happy to do that. I’ve done that a few times. Again, boosting will happen at the same rate with or without me. So I would be silly not to.
Q: So you’ve achieved everything you want personally within the game?
MC: A few accounts in Challenger ticks all my boxes. I don’t even have a high Elo account anymore.
While MadCat isn’t making a living out of boosting, the money is a positive thing, as it was for NightHawk when he first started. There is money to be made doing the right number of boosts. MadCat is clearly skilled in the game, if he can climb 3 sets of divisions a week. That is a lot of games won in a row. Enough people are asking for boosts, and they are paying enough for it that players are agreeing to contravene Riot’s rules and engage in it.
Esports across the world is estimated to be worth in excess of $892million in October last year according Super Data Research (https://www.superdataresearch.com/market-data/esports-market-brief/). They also expect Esports to be worth (as an industry) $1.2Billion by 2018. Growth is everywhere, and lots of people are excited for the future, but the Industry is still in its early days.
While developers, investors and top team owners can count the positives in the millions of dollars, some Esports organisations are still in their early growth stages. The time and effort investment is just the same as any other team, but the dollar investment is yet to reach parity with those top teams. While Riot helps to subsidize player payments, players in smaller orgs are not earning as much as their counterparts in larger organisations.
Professional Esport Athletes are extremely good at their chosen game, obviously. But – they are playing a video game. For anyone playing video games in the world, it is usually not making you any money. Despite any significant (or very significant) time investment, ‘gamers’ are usually not making a living out of sitting in front of their screen pressing buttons.
The world certainly has changed enough to professional streaming to be a real venture, but again it is only for small number of successful adopters. For these people, playing video games has gone far past a hobby, pastime and only enjoyment. It is their lives. And up until the point that they score a big contract, the time and effort investment given to their game has been for very little, to no financial benefit at all. It seems only logical then, that a player might turn their invested time to a service that is going to financially benefit them. Even if it is in the short term. Even if it is against the rules. Even if it might harm their professional career.
Karl: Get a different job then. I don’t excuse a poor person for stealing a loaf of bread so why would I excuse a pro player who usually isn’t in a dire situation for doing something unjust. Use whatever analogy you want. But there is a better way of dealing with “I don’t earn as much as I would like”. In the first world at least.
Karl is a head coach of a Professional League of Legends team in a top League in a region somewhere in the world. Karl is not his real name.
Q: So, you have a problem with professional players boosting?
K: I have a problem with anyone boosting. I see it as taking advantage of misguided people whose soloq rank is somehow tied to their self-esteem. Boosting destroys the integrity of the Elo system for every game that person is involved in. Elo systems should be respected in terms of ranking people on their skill. Of course there are issues. But the integrity and relative accuracy of the system cannot be argued with.
Q: You don’t think that the concept of being ‘hard stuck’ in a particular division holds any weight?
K: Nope. You are hard stuck in an Elo that represents the limit of the level of game that you are capable of carrying.
Q: Do you see any problems with the LoL Ranking system?
K: Personally, I don’t play a lot of soloq games but I feel their system is ok. I find the division system fairly arbitrary and meaningless and I would prefer to have Elo represented by a number and visible MMR. I also understand that their system can feel more rewarding. The pure Elo system can also be subject to inflation based on the numbers of players and games played.
Q: How would you feel about one of your own players boosting on the side?
K: Disappointed I guess. I don’t think any pro should play if they are found boosting. The rules state that boosting is a ban worthy offense. It also breeds controversy and ill-will among the community once a pro is found to be boosting by other pros. It creates situations of leverage and or blackmail between players as they often find out long before Riot do. If Riot ever find out.
Q: Would you go so far as to report rumour and innuendo to Riot to investigate if you found something out?
K: I would never report anything to anyone unless I was satisfied with the evidence myself. I would also need to be confident that the rules were consistent and fair. I have little faith that the individual would be treated fairly and consistently currently.
I asked some very experienced and respected individuals from various roles within esports on their opinions on boosting in League of Legends.
A personality – host, writer, story breaker.
I really don’t mind it honestly. Riot created an ecosystem that means even high ranking players had to do it to make money in the past. Even now, Challenger Series players earn very little so they have to do it. I think every high level player and streamer has boosted at some point. That said, Riot need to enforce their rules consistently.
Another coach from another team in another region:
Coach: I don’t really have a problem with boosting but I think it’s pretty stupid.
Question: Why specifically? Not a true reflection of actual skill? Waste of money?
Coach: The ladder is basically bullshit anyway, and flexing your ego is for children.
A League of Legends caster:
Whatever happens in Soloq happens. If they want to waste their money being boosted, they will fall to their real skill level soon enough. The boosting I hate is Challenger Teams being stacked to get into LCS and selling for millions of dollars. That’s what I hate. Random teams of random players playing in the top level for some guy to get rich. But. That’s ending soon enough.
A skilled, respected writer:
Q:Points of View on Boosting?
A: Not Really
Q: Why? SoloQ not important?
A: I think it is important. But it will all happen regardless of my opinion on it.
Riot have been vocal with their bans regarding Elo Boosting for Professional Players.
We can’t mention boosting without mentioning Jeong ‘Apdo’ Sang-gil
Nor can we discuss Elo Boosting without the Riot Co-founder Marc ‘Tryndamere’ Merrill
A perspective many people forget is the distribution of players across the ranks, and where boosting is actually taking them. LeaugeofGraphs.com has a distribution of players for the Ranked player base (http://www.leagueofgraphs.com/rankings/rank-distribution). According to their information, Bronze to Gold Divisions hold a mind boggling 92.67% of all ranked players. Platinum holds 5.9% of players, Diamond holds 1.37% and Master 0.05%. Challenger – the top of the ladder – holds 0.03% of all Ranked players. Players attempting to reach Platinum from Gold are fighting for a spot in the top 7% (approx.) of all Ranked League of Legends players. Above Gold, the percentages of all players involved is extremely small. While boosting certainly taint results of games in lower Elo, it certainly isn’t inflating the higher end of the Elo ladder with players who don’t deserve to be there.
The moral and ethical questions around boosting are polarising and complex. Some people believe that it helps support a greater ecosystem around a game that has a massive player base, which includes a profession playing high level LoL as a spectator sport. This in turn creates a second dimension to LoL that is outside of just playing the game. It also increases the gravity that a high rank holds. This appeals to those who want to pay to be boosted, but also those who want to achieve that rank on their own.
Those who want the personal achievement see Boosting in a completely opposite light – it is a scourge that needs to be wiped from the game. It provides no benefit to the game and it ruins the experiences of the game for those who enjoy the competition of playing against someone else of a similar skill level. There is also the question of an official response to the issue from Riot. Boosting is stated to contravene the rules of the game and players have been permanently banned as a result. Yet there does not seem to be a co-ordinated response from them to stop it once and for all.
Whatever your opinion, Boosting is alive and well. Many strategies have attempted to combat it, but it certainly is not going anywhere anytime soon.
If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @IAmVolsig.