During the Elsweyr release announcement stream for the Elder Scrolls Online earlier this summer, ZeniMax made an announcement that was somewhat buried within the sparkle and glitz of the new chapter: For the first time since their inclusion into the game, champion points would not be increased with a major update. Champion points are the post-level cap means of character progression. Champion points are placed into an account-wide pool that can be used by all characters on the account. In a sense, champion points also reward those with multiple characters by allowing all characters at cap to accumulate champion points and all characters under cap to use champion points.
How does ESO continue to challenge long-time players with increasingly difficult content to match a character’s increasing power while simultaneously allowing all players to play together in any zone? I believe this is the more pressing matter influencing the halt of champion points cap increase.
Creative director Rich Lambert didn’t stop with announcing a CP freeze. He went on to say that ZeniMax was taking a close look at the system, even re-evaluating it completely. It’s unclear what “re-evaluating” means in this case, and we have no indication that clarification is coming any time soon. There has been some community speculation that both the racial passive update and the upcoming balance changes are in preparation for CP changes yet to come. I don’t know if I buy that. Balance is something that is constantly tweaked in MMOs. Those changes may simply be part of the normal attempts to bring balance to classes for the sake of PvP/PvE.
With no further explanation immediately forthcoming (we assume?), I thought it might be interesting to look at some possibilities of where ESO could go from here with regard to the champion points system.
ZeniMax could rework the existing system
This seems most likely, considering all of the balance in the current game would be completely thrown for a loop if CP were to suddenly go away in favor of another system. I’m not a statistician, so I don’t know how exactly a rework of the current system could be done to both cater to character progression and reduce power creep, but I suspect some trade-offs might be involved. For example, perks that increase DPS might also decrease sustain. Perks that enhance defense might also decrease direct damage done. In some ways I’d like to see the thief/warrior/mage tree restrictions removed completely, simply because they make champion point distribution feel too limited. But that would likely have the opposite effect on power creep.
ZeniMax could do nothing, just leave the current CP freeze in place
This would certainly eliminate any CP contribution to the power creep issue. But it seems like an odd choice considering that, at this time at least, players are still accumulating champion points. The CP cap of 810 is a soft cap, which means you can only allocate up to 810 champion points. After 810, players continue to accumulate points, they just can’t be allocated into the CP constellations. So, in order for this option to make sense, they would have to impose a hard cap at 810 and stop allowing additional accumulation.
But then what do you do for players who have accumulated more champion points? It hardly seems fair to toss that additional CP into the abyss. Even if they were to impose a hard cap on CP, the question of character progression still remains. Would progression be limited to gear sets and achievements? Are PvP/dungeon cosmetics and gear enough to keep endgamers happy?
ESO could go back to veteran ranks
I have no idea how this solves the power creep problem. In fact, it probably doesn’t. But I’ve heard the call from some small sections of the ESO old-timers, so I thought I’d throw it in. Before champion points, veteran ranks were the post-cap levels earned by each individual character (as opposed to the account-wide champion point system). ZeniMax could scrap champion points and use some kind of CP-to-veteran rank conversion to award all capped characters a certain number of veteran ranks. From that point on, characters would progress individually instead of through a shared CP pool. Not only would this option not solve power creep, but it discourages players from rolling alts by increasing post-cap grind. Other than to appease the nostalgia of longtime players, I don’t see an advantage to this option.
ZOS could completely remove champion points
As mentioned before, this would wreak havoc on any balance ZeniMax has been working toward with all of the recent tweaks, which makes me wonder: If this is the intended strategy, why bother with the tweaks at all?
But for the sake of argument, let’s say this is a valid course of action. Removal of champion points would go a long way toward reducing power creep and lessening the gap between newer player and longtime player. It would open the door for potentially collapsing battlegrounds PvP into a single game (instead of pre-50 and post-cap games as it stands today). It would simplify the game by removing a system that is not easily navigated nor successfully used by players who choose not to follow a build site.
However, for all of the potential positives, there are two huge negatives to this suggestion. First, it once again leaves us with only gear upgrades as a means of progression. Second, and most importantly, long-time and loyal players that are currently at high CP would see it as a huge nerf to their characters, and indeed it would be! For the problems they cause, champion points are fairly well-liked by most of the community, and a complete removal would cause massive unrest within the playerbase. We need look no further than the balance changes implemented on the public test server for the Scalebreaker update to understand that a change of this magnitude would set the forums ablaze.
End-game progression and balance is an unenviable task to undertake. The longer a game is successful, the more difficult it gets. This is especially true for The Elder Scrolls Online, the major selling point of which is to be able to play with your friends anywhere, at any time. The champion points system didn’t cause these issues, but it’s currently under scrutiny as a major contributor.
— Braxwolf (still no waffle emoji) (@Braxwolf) July 31, 2019