The Elder Scrolls Online’s Emperor Is Dangerously Time-Consuming

I’ve been losing myself in The Elder Scrolls Online since I was 13, but this year I finally made the move to playing the MMORPG on PlayStation. With that came trophies, so I opened up the list and took a little browse to see if the Platinum was achievable. Beat every dungeon, easy. Get through the main quest, already doing that. Oh, and become the Emperor of Cyrodiil. How hard can that be? Surely Zenimax has made it less tedious than it was eight years ago. Right? No. It’s still a dangerous task with incredibly demanding, unhealthy requirements that in the game’s current state just aren’t that realistic.

To become Emperor, you have to be the number one player in your PvP alliance in that month or week’s campaign. What this means is getting the most points by handing in repeat dailies, capturing keeps, killing players, etc. There’s also grinding. Lots and lots of grinding while others are also busy grinding to get ahead of you in the race to glory. If you go offline, chances are someone who is grinding even harder will take your spot, so you have to catch up or simply not log off.

Basically, you have to no-life the game for about a full month. Forget sleep, forget work, forget your social life. That, or help somebody else no-life in a guild, and then somebody else, and then somebody else, and hope that eventually your ticket comes up and you get boosted. But even that’s not guaranteed because you’re running the same gauntlet as everyone else across three different alliances. It’s nigh impossible if you have a job, school, a partner, a social life, or anything else to do at all. Becoming emperor pushes you to sleep deprivation, unhealthy habits, and gaming more than anyone should. It just isn’t worth the sacrifice.

Go on any forum about how to get emperor, and most people will jump in with handy advice that boils down to, “Wait for the Summer holidays and play and do nothing but ESO.” Obviously, that advice tends to be aimed at kids and teens. Others recommend booking a month’s holiday off work—to no-life an MMO. That’s excessive and a huge waste of your free time. But it’s a prestigious rank that proves your love and dedication to the game, or at least that’s the way that so many in the community try to justify its existence and what’s required. It’s not.

Emperor is a symbol of pointless dedication. You get a few boons, a costume, and a little rank. It’s not worth the time invested at all and it’s not a reward for showcasing skill or merit. You could be the best PvP player in the world, winning every single fight, but someone who logs in 12 hours a day to repair the keep walls and capture the odd fort with their mates is gonna beat you. The skill comes in optimising that grind and knowing the best way to boost points. To call this ‘skill’ is stretching the term.

On PC alone, it exacerbated the usual MMO health problems of poor posture and strained eyes with incentives to play nothing but ESO on repeat for days and hours at a time, sacrificing your own life for a digital costume that doesn’t even look that good. It’s a dangerous goal that Zenimax still hasn’t addressed in the eight years since ESO’s launch and it isn’t helped by the acceptance from players who argue that it shouldn’t be easy to get because then everybody would be emperor, devaluing the title. On that much, I agree, but keeping it as a lofty rank for the best of the best doesn’t mean pushing your player base to go to hazardous lengths to reach it.

On PlayStation and Xbox, it’s even worse. Now there’s a trophy and achievement attached. Trophy hunting already veers into the obsessive far too often, pushing players to spend absurd amounts of time doing menial and often bland tasks at the detriment of their own mental health just to get a ding of serotonin. Attach one of the most demanding MMO unlocks to that and you’ve just made a bad problem a terrible one.

When I trialled it for an evening, I got to the 20th spot in a few hours. I logged off and came back to find that I was way back at number 86. That was supposedly during a quiet campaign, too. And in my little test, I was playing with someone who was in the top spot, actually grinding for the emperor title. They’d been on for the past ten hours. When I left to go to the movies and came back, they were still on.

The rank should reward skill and it should reward the best of the best, but the best of the best aren’t school kids waking up at 10am and playing until 3am during the Summer. The best might be a parent working a nine-to-five who gets a couple of hours in a day, but spends those hours annihilating people in the campaign, rallying troops to take down keeps. Tying emperor to Alliance Points and thus time spent is a huge detriment to the title. Naturally, that’s good for Zenimax because it means players keep playing and ESO keeps growing, but at what cost? It conjures images of players dropping dead in cybercafes playing World of Warcraft; player health shouldn’t be on the chopping block to keep this MMORPG giant chugging.

Pitting vulnerable people against each other creates this unhealthy cycle of too much game time. That’s what it’s designed to do. So log off. It’s not worth it. Leave it until Zenimax hopefully irons it out.

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