Billions of people in every country on earth play games, now more than ever it’s more important that every gamer can see themselves in the games they play. Video game developer Riot Games is making sure that characters developed in its games reflect players around the world. The player experience is important to Riot and one of its values is to put them first by listening, learning and putting feedback into action.
The company is the mastermind behind one of the industry’s most popular video games, League of Legends. With 150 characters, the game includes dynamic champions from various backgrounds and cultures, including Black champs Ekko, Lucian and Senna. Every champion has a unique storyline in the player-focused game, but Ekko, Lucian and Senna are among the characters who represent the Black Diaspora in the League of Legends gaming world.
“We’re not a monolithic group of people,” Joshua Parker, engineer for Riot’s champion team and diversity advocate at the company. “Everyone is not the same. We should be able to see ourselves more within all mediums. Not just sports and music, but in all mediums of entertainment.”
These Black champions have their own core abilities, spells and more that makes the League of Legend gaming experience one of its kind. Let’s dive more into their storyline and learn how they help players battle their way to victory while fulfilling their own personal missions.
Ekko is an energetic, spunky young boy who grew up in the town of Zaun. Although Zaun is considered a “rough” city, Ekko saw it as a place of opportunity, potential and innovation.
“Ekko is really smart and he represents a version of being Black that we don’t see a lot of because he’s a smart Black kid,” said Parker. “He’s a nerd, but he loves his friends [and] he loves his family.”
Becoming the reflection he saw in his environment, Ekko created a device that allowed him to manipulate time. The device, known as the Z-Drive is constructed of shattered crystals made of temporal powers that helps Ekko alter any situation that is used to his advantage. Ekko’s supernatural reflexes, along with the time-warping device helps him save his friends from unfortunate events. It also makes him a person of interest by the “most inventive, most powerful, and most dangerous individuals” in the city.
Learn more about the character and his dynamic capabilities here and check out a video of Ekko in action:
Senna is known as “The Redeemer” in the League of Legends franchise. She is a complicated woman who has been cursed since childhood by a supernatural being called the Black Mist. She is the league’s first support marksman who is a part of a sacred order known as the Sentinels of Light.
“I think Senna opened the door for us to talk about and have an honest conversation about a lot of different ethnicities and backgrounds that are existing within the champion roster,” said Parker.
When she was first introduced to League players six years ago, Senna’s story focused on how an evil spirit known as Thresh captured her soul. Last year, Riot released an update to her story where she breaks free from the Black Mist with the help of Lucian.
“Senna just represents a Black woman at her finest,” said Parker. “She’s victorious. She is independent and powerful on her own. She doesn’t need anyone else around her, but accepts people into her circle to support them and to make them better.”
Parker was on the forefront of bringing Senna’s character to life. He wanted all the details to be an accurate depiction of a Black woman, especially when it came to her hair.
“I pushed pretty heavily that I wanted her hair to be authentically a Black woman’s hair,” he said. “I didn’t want her to have Black skin and have her hair be straight. I didn’t want her to have a relaxer or anything like that. I wanted her to be a Black woman through and through.”
Parker called on the Black women at Riot to share their perspectives and experiences with the champion Designers. The employee resource group, Riot Noir is sought after from teams to ensure representation is authentic and resonates.
Learn more about Senna as she uses darkness as her advantage to create light here and watch the complete storyline of Senna, Lucian and Thresh.
Known as “The Purifier,” Lucian is a bold and enduring hunter who accomplishes the journey of releasing his wife, Senna, from the wrath of Thresh and Black Mist. Lucian is also the son of Urian, the Sentinel who took Senna under his wing. After his wife is captured by Thresh, Lucian embarks on a journey to release his wife from the clutches of the curse that has haunted her since childhood. Lucian’s number one goal is vengeance and with the help of his twin relic pistols, he is reunited with Senna, now in a new, more powerful form.
“Lucian represents the Black man and the actual emotional side of a Black man which is something that we undermine and really don’t talk much about within our community, because he really loves his wife,” said Parker. “He loves his wife so much that there’s this single-minded pursuit to go and save her or to go to kill the thing that killed her.”
Upon this reunion, Lucian also realizes that he is forced to confront his own being and learn who he truly is while still seeking vengeance from Thresh and combatting that darkness that has always surrounded him.
Learn more about Lucian’s character here. Also, check out his complete journey and witness his reunion with his lover, Senna in the below video.
Through champions like Ekko, Senna and Lucian, Riot Games is dedicated in creating and developing multi-layered characters that League of Legends players can relate to.
Blavity staff member and avid-gamer, Rebecca Madriz, thinks it’s important to have diverse characters such as Ekko because it helps players tap into a fantastical world from a unique point of view, like a young time warper.
“Game characters are supposed to be our gateway into the world and represent us to other players, so it’s necessary to have a diverse set of characters players can choose from,” said Madriz.
With the help of Riot Noir, Riot Games has evolved beyond characters that fit in a stereotypical box, and is designing deeply resonant characters. That is one aspect that Madriz hopes to see from the gaming industry moving forward:
“When there’s only one or two Black/brown characters, I feel games have a tendency to write them into stereotypes: the strong, buff Black character, the spicy, sexy Latina, etc. and that’s just not reality,” said Madriz. “I want nerdy Black characters, soft Black characters, flawed Black characters, LGBTQ Black characters. There’s no one way to be Black, and games should reflect that.”
Riot’s learnings through its development of Senna were carried over to VALORANT, Riot’s latest title which features an incredible lineup of characters that reflect the community of players Riot serves and hopes to serve in the future.
“We have Black characters that have existed in games before, but I think that we’re on the cusp of seeing it exist more now,” said Parker. “After all of the events that happened earlier this year, I think all disenfranchised and minority voices are going to be elevated within the space as long as they keep talking, and games are going to be a space where that’s going to happen.”
As the conversations continue to bring about more representation in the industry, more people will tap into a new artform and be exposed to another form of storytelling.
“Gaming continues to be such a unique and rewarding form of media and storytelling,” added Madriz. “Only in gaming can I actively engage in a story and interact with its world and characters. Through gaming, I’ve gotten to save the world, slay monsters, win glory and explore the unknown. Despite its historical lack of diversity in playable characters, the industry’s recent efforts toward racial and gender inclusion has only deepened my love for the artform. They still have a long way to go, but I’m excited to see a more diverse gaming landscape in the near future.”
To learn more about League of Legends and Riot Games diversity initiatives visit here.