Diversity in Design: League of Legends and the representation cha-cha
hu·brisˈ(h)yo͞obris/ - noun
excessive pride or self-confidence.
2. declaring a return to writing, and then not posting a damn thing for two weeks
Part of the reason I haven’t done anything in this space is that I’ve just finished a week-long binge of League of Legends. I’ve finally come up for air thanks to a particularly bad streak of losses (thanks but fuck you very much ARAM for making me roll tanks five games in a row). I have spent way too much time thinking about League, and I wanted to touch on a few things about League and Diversity. For today, let’s talk about this guy, Lucian:
League got it’s first Black champion! Or at least, it’s first inarguably Black champion, as opposed to champions like Twisted Fate or Taric, who might be if you squint at their poorly gamma-balanced intro screens for alternate skins. His origins are fairly obvious; he’s explicitly got bits of Grammaton Cleric, Revolver Ocelot, and Edgar Davids (!), as well as a strong link to the Blade and Matrix movies. Visually and thematically, he’s everything I wanted, with inspirations from both Black and non-Black sources.
And he’s pretty great! Due to his being a bit overpowered on release, Lucian was adopted pretty quickly by the player community; he had a high pick rate during the 2014 League Championship Series, and was considered to be “God Tier” early on. As per the trend with new champ releases, Riot Games has had to reign in his power, but he’s even more mobile than at release and is still a high tier pick. He still feel great to play, and he’s a solid addition to the ADC lineup. His design fulfills the intended player experience of “highly mobile gun templar.” So all in all, he’s a slam dunk, right? Unfortunately, not 100%.
I’m no lore-nut, but Lucian’s backstory contains, I believe, the only explicit fridging out of 120 champions. For those of you unfamiliar with the term Women in Refrigerators, it’s from a list written by comics reporter and writer Gail Simone about the proliferation of female characters written solely to being injured or killed horribly for the express purpose of motivating or creating angst for a male character. This robs the female character of any agency and relegates her to the role of a mere prop in the story of the male character
It’s lazy writing, and made even more dissonant because the murderer is another Champion, Thresh. Hilariously, Thresh and Lucian have great in-game synergy, and there’s nothing stopping them from being on the same team.
Other champions may have rivalries with other champs, and a few are even explicitly enemies due to differing factions or goals, but Lucian’s entire character is based on burning revenge for the murder of his wife, perpetrated by someone with whom he plays a glorified arena sport. It just makes no damn sense to keep in this hackneyed, regressive, anti-woman story line.
So having taken two step forwards, Riot stumbles one back by relying on a troubling writing trope. Here’s hoping that when they finally proceed with their promised lore update, someone will reexamine this and create something better. Lucian wouldn’t be the first champion have his lore redone. Until then, I’ll keep complaining.
Next time: Taric, and why we need someone truly, truly outrageous