League of Legends: SO MUCH character design fail

Wundergeek is a straight, cis white woman who recently was asked to write an article about sexism in gaming and found she couldn’t shut up about it once the article was done. She’s since started Go Make Me a Sandwich, a blog mostly devoted to ranting about sexist imagery in all areas of gaming. In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, she is an artist, photographer, and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for quite a while, ever since a previous post in which my brother and I performed a silly experiment to see if a pose depicted in a LoL wallpaper was possible. (It is, but only if you have double-jointed shoulders.)

Anyway, I got curious about the design of other female characters and went looking to see how the awful design of Soraka compared to other female LoL characters since there have been repeated comments on this blog that LoL is not “as bad” as a lot of the other stuff I lampoon here. And the results… let’s just say that yes. Yes it really is “as bad”.

The fail

(Disclaimer:  I got all of these from a list of LoL characters found on GiantBomb, so if any of my information is wrong I blame them. My only exposure to LoL is having watched my brother play a match one time, so I can’t say I’m too conversant with the game.)

First of all, the most important bit of fail worth mentioning is that out of the 79 champions that you can choose to play, less than a third are humanoid females. (I’m not including champions like Anivia, btw. Being a giant bird doesn’t count in my books.) Now that ratio, while disappointing, isn’t out of line with the typical representation that women can expect in most other video games, so I might not be so annoyed if there were at least a good variety of designs. Only, there’s really not. Female LoL champions tend to come in one flavor: breastacular. In fact, there were so many fail-worthy characters that I had to split them into two images:

Scantily clad female League of Legends champions. TOP: Soraka, Sona, Sivir, Nidalee, Katarina BOTTOM: Akali, Morgana, Miss Fortune, Leona, Leblanc

Click for large view

EVEN MORE scantily clad LoL women: Evelynn, Cassiopeia, Janna, Caitlyn, Ashe

So… many… sphere boobs… I mean, pretty much any one of these images wouldn’t be out of place on Boobs Don’t Work That Way, but some of them are especially egregious. Katarina and Morgana are pretty good examples of basketball-pinned-to-the-chest syndrome, Evelynn is a prime example of anti-gravity breasts, and Ashe… I don’t know what the fuck is going on there. Not only are they impossibly huge and gravity defying, but they’re also kind of pointy, which is just baffling.

The other thing that really stands out to me when I look at these character designs is how incredibly unoriginal they are. Soraka is just a boobular draenai with a horn, Nidalee is a rip-off of Pathfinder’s iconic sorceress Seoni, Leona looks like female warriors from just about every kMMO ever, and Evelynn is a total Starfire knockoff. She even has red hair!

I have to say that the lack of originality is another mark against the character designs. I mean, come on guys. If you’re going to have ridiculously fanservice-y designs, can you at least manage not to completely phone it in on the design process? Then again, when you ask LoL players what they think about boobs, these are some of the thought-provoking responses you get:

We need moar boobs. (comment here)

Too many boobs? I dont see why anyone would say that. There are only 2 boobs per female champ (comment here)

Complaining about boobs? Lol community is full of homos? (comment here)

…so really, maybe they don’t need to try all that hard. After all, it doesn’t sound like they have a particularly high-brow audience.


The meh

Thankfully, not all of the characters are as eye-searingly awful as the above. Some of them only cause mild aggravation rather than mouth-foaming rage and the desire to hit things:

LEFT: Vayne - a woman clad mostly in black spandex and stiletto-heeled stripper boots. RIGHT: Orianna - a female robot with pointy robo-boobs and a mechanical micro-miniskirt.

Yes, Vayne is wearing almost nothing but spandex, but at least her skin is mostly covered. And yes Orianna has kind of freakily pointy boobs and an absurdly short “robo skirt”, but at least they’re mildly less sexualized than some of their compatriots. Still, putting these on the “meh” list makes me feel a little dirty since Vayne is wearing stilettos for gods sake and with Orianna we’re getting ROBOT UPSKIRT which is about fifteen different kinds of stupid.

I mean, give me a fucking break


Mixed bags: awesome characters, except for how they’re not

Some of the female champions are interesting in that they manage to have one good skin and one (or more) really awful one. Case in point, Irelia:

Three designs for the character Irelia. The designs on the left and right have her mostly covered in light armor, albeit with substantial cleavage windows. The middle design has her completely covered in clothing (not armor) much more suitable to adventuring.

Now granted, even Irelia’s cleavagey outfits are still much, much better than other female champions. Unlike Leona, another “heavily armored” female champion, Irelia is at least wearing pants in all of her various looks! Still, two of these three outfits have inexplicable cleavage windows, which is – in my books – about the worst sin that can be committed in female character design for heavily armored characters. Honestly, it’s better to lose the armor altogether than to have armor that is only meant to accentuate the boobage.

Now the design in the middle would still be better if her waist wasn’t so impossibly tiny. Unless she’s got some kind of freaky chest-TARDIS, there’s no way she’s got room for organs in there. But compared to the vast amounts of fail the rest of the female champions display, I’m more than happy to give the middle Irelia a thumbs up, albeit with a small eye-roll for bad anatomy.

Three designs for the character Lux. The designs on the left and in the middle both expose her midriff and most of her thighs; the skirts especially are ludicrously short in front. The design on the right has her fully covered with armor covering her torso, shoulders, arms, hips, and lower legs and with no exposed skin.

Lux is another great example of a character where one of the skins is so very, very goodand the other is… not. Both of the designs on the left feature stupid poses, weird color choices, and yet more terrible anatomy. Guys, please. If you’re going to draw fanservicey outfits, please make sure you have the basics of female anatomy down, okay? Because when I put the two designs on the left next to the one on the right, they just plain suck.

Now, yes, the design on the right does have problems – the armor does accentuate the boobs at the cost of actual structural integrity. But she’s actually fully covered, and more importantly – has an actual waist. Her figure in this one reads as “athletic” and not “weirdly inhuman”. Even better, her pose looks more like an action pose and less like a “sexy pinup pose” like the other two designs. So, thumbs up. This is even better than the non-sexy Irelia.

 Two designs for the character Karma - a black woman. LEFT: She is twisted into a "sexy" pose, but her costume covers her completely and doesn't have any random holes. RIGHT: Her costume exposes almost her entire torso and just barely covers her breasts. Again, she is in a contorted pose.

I have mixed feelings about comparing these two designs for Karma, another magic-wielding character. On the one hand we have yet another mage with lots of skin. On the other hand, it looks like they were trying to model her costume after some specific cultural roots. Considering the sorts of outfits one often sees at Caribana in Toronto, I half think that the design on the right might not be quite as bad as some of the others.

Then again, context is important. If there was a decent mix of sexualized and non-sexualized women, I might be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, considering that boobular has been the overwhelming choice for the design of female LoL champions, I’m going to say that this has less to do with “cultural costume” and more with the artists wanting a “different flavor” of sexy.

Two designs for the character Annie - an 8 or 9 year old girl. LEFT: Annie is wearing a pageant gown, tons of makeup, and has a clear suggestion of breasts. RIGHT: Just your average evil Red Riding Hood skipping through the forest. Nothing to see here.

Annie has come up in the comments before on this blog, but I thought I’d post her two designs side by side. The design on the right is fine. Evil little girls are the stuff horror films are made of. The Annie on the left? Is wrong, wrong, WRONG. Don’t put boobs on little girls ever. Ever. EVAR.

Yes some girls develop early, but she’s, like, 8 or 9. That’s just gross.


The win

 Tristana, Poppy, and Kayle. Tristana and Poppy are both heavily armored, cocky-looking gnome women full of attitude and character. Kayle is a heavily armored Paladin-type with huge armor very reminiscent of a fantasy Samus. Her helmet is off, revealing long flowing blond hair.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that two out of the three totally awesome characters I found are gnome-types. I almost didn’t include Tristana and Poppy because they do look less human than even the WoW gnomes, but I did finally decide that they made the cut, if only because they look totally confident and totally badass. Also, it’s a relief not to see cleavagey armor like you see on WoW gnomes all the time; given that gnomish proportions are pretty much identical to human toddlers, I don’t want to see cleavage on a gnome EVER. So thanks for not inflicting that on us, at least.

That leaves us with Kayle who is, oh my god, one of my new favorite character designs EVAR EVAR EVAR. Can I talk about how much I love her breastplate? It allows room for breasts without having structurally unsound boob compartments like Lux’s armor. Plus it’s super bulky, much like the armor you see male WoW characters wearing. The fact that it hasn’t been slimmed down or de-bulked to suit a female character is completely awesome. And best of all, Kayle’s alternate design is also completely badass.

THIS. OH MY GOD THIS.

Seeing Kayle next to all of these other wannabes makes me so sad, because if characters like Kayle were the norm in gaming, you’d definitely see a lot more women joining the hobby. Kayle gets to be awesome, confident, badass, and female without being on display for anyone’s benefit. It makes my heart happy that LoL broke with the trend when they made her, and I hope that they’ll consider at the very least creating alternate looks for their older characters that emulate this non-sexualized mode of design. Until that happens, though, while I’m happy to say that Kayle is full of win, she doesn’t obviate the fact that LoL has so much gender fail that it practically has its own gravitational pull.

[Originally posted at Go Make Me a Sandwich]

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24 Responses to League of Legends: SO MUCH character design fail

  1. bluestar says:

    All I can say is that it’s very, very obvious that you don’t play LoL.

    A great deal of your example images are either 1) alternate skins 2) concept art that was thrown out or 3) promo images that do not appear in the game.

    From your first set of images

    Top row: 1) Promo art that does not appear in the game; 2) Default Game Art; 3) Retired Game Art; 4) Alternate Skin for Purchase; 5) Alternate Skin for Purchase

    Second row: 1) Alternate skin for purchase; 2) Retired Game Art; 3) Default Skin; 4) Alternative Skin for Purchase; 5) Alternative Skin for Purchase

    Third row: 1) Alternative skin for purchase; 2) Concept Art, not Game Art; 3) Default Skin; 4) Default Skin; 5) Alternative Skin for Purchase

    Out of your fifteen examples, two were never in-game, two have been removed from the game, seven are only available through a purchase. That leaves exactly four out of ten which are actually representative of game defaults. Four out of fifteen is really not a great number for trying to prove a point.

    Either count all alternative skins or only count default skins. Don’t pick and choose (or worse, conflate the two) while trying to make your point. If you don’t play and don’t know, then either do your research or don’t base your ‘point’ around saying ‘I didn’t care enough to check, but believe me anyhow.’

    At least the examples for Vayne and Orianna are in-game default art. The art for Irelia is also actual in-game default art or real skins, so that’s also correct.

    I have no idea what’s going on with your examples for Lux. The first design was rejected by the community. It never made it into the game at all. The second is an alternative skin. The third is promo or fan art, not official game art. So, out of your three images for Lux, two are completely irrelevant to actual in-game experiences. You’re missing two thirds of her actual in-game skins.

    Your examples for Karma are correct, but you’re missing her third skin entirely.

    Your examples for Annie are correct, but you’re missing most of her other skins.

    Your examples for Tristana and Poppy are correct, but that image of Kayle appears to be fan art or promo art.

    Quite frankly, this entire article does a bad job of both pointing out the systematic trend in LoL art to sexualize champions and of highlighting the excellent, bad-ass skins which LoL has occasionally provided.

    The mash-up of fan art, promo art, defunct concept art, default skins and alternative skins, all of which are presented as if they were official Riot Games art, says that this article was poorly researched. Quite frankly, it’s disappointing to read an article which fails to distinguish between basics such as discarded concept art and official in-game art.

    It’s even more disappointing to see the author cherry-pick art for her examples and attempt to draw conclusions from her incomplete sample, rather than actually look at all of the default and alternative skins for female champions.

    I’d love to read a good review of LoL’s art and especially female skins, but this article does not rise to any kind of standard at all. It’s embarrassing to see so much incorrect information about League of Legends, an extremely popular game, presented on what is explicitly a video games blog.

    • Elena says:

      I don’t understand your point. The original article was not trying to do an overall review of the game’s art; it was pointing out that some examples of the game’s art are (a) anatomically dubious and (b) objectifying. You seem to be holding the poster to standards they have never claimed to be upholding. This is a blog – no-one’s doing science here.

      • bluestar says:

        “You seem to be holding the poster to standards they have never claimed to be upholding. This is a blog – no-one’s doing science here.”

        My primary objection is that I dislike reading blog posts on Border House which state things such as “I got all of these from a list of LoL characters found on GiantBomb, so if any of my information is wrong I blame them.” Namely, I dislike reading articles where the author not only states that the information presented may or may not be accurate, but also that the author doesn’t care enough to check. I’d like the quality of articles at Border House to stay high. This is not a high quality article.

      • Sif says:

        “You seem to be holding the poster to standards they have never claimed to be upholding. This is a blog – no-one’s doing science here.”

        That’s no reason for sloppy research. Regardless of the point being made, information in articles and essays should be accurate as possible.

    • Lucas says:

      You’re going out of your way to distract from the problematic art. She doesn’t need to show every piece of art to make her points about which are problematic and which are praiseworthy. And she shouldn’t stick to only in-game default art.

      According to what you said, 7 of 15 of the ones she picked because they were “breastacular” and “fail-worthy” are alternates for purchase; that is, more than half of the most ridiculously sexualized skins are literally being sold.

      Nor should she ignore promo art. This is what is used to actually sell the game. She’s shown us time and again how blatantly objectifying art is used to advertise a game, such as WoW. Their reliance on using sex to sell a game points to issues of sexism just as damaging, if not more so, as including sexualized images in-game.

      • bluestar says:

        I actually never said that the art wasn’t problematic. LoL’s art is hugely problematic and female champions massive over-sexualized.

        My complaint was simply that the author used bad information in her attempt to make this point. My problem with this article is that it’s sloppily written. The final conclusion is correct, but only by coincidence. The author made no attempt to actually check facts or an over-all analysis of LoL’s champions and skins.

        Proving LoL’s art is over-sexualized and showing the trend in female champion skin design is a ridiculously easy task. The fact that the author chose not to extend the marginal effort to actually provide facts, source images and check what was actually in-game and for sale (versus concept art and discarded) is what really bugs me.

        It’s like watching someone try to hit the side of a barn and missing, while they say that they didn’t care enough to try but want the Grand Prize anyhow. I expect better from Border House articles.

    • Raz says:

      I went to http://na.leagueoflegends.com/champions and took the images off of the site and redid Wundergeek’s gallery of fail using the character images from the site. Is that the official art?

      http://i56.tinypic.com/2ptdvl2.jpg

      I believe her point still stands.

      • bluestar says:

        I am not sure what gallery you’re referring to. All the images in the article are the same ones that were first published. Your second link is broken, as well.

        I’m also going to quote one of my other follow-up comments: “I actually never said that the art wasn’t problematic. LoL’s art is hugely problematic and female champions massive over-sexualized.

        My complaint was simply that the author used bad information in her attempt to make this point. My problem with this article is that it’s sloppily written. The final conclusion is correct, but only by coincidence. The author made no attempt to actually check facts or an over-all analysis of LoL’s champions and skins.

        Proving LoL’s art is over-sexualized and showing the trend in female champion skin design is a ridiculously easy task. The fact that the author chose not to extend the marginal effort to actually provide facts, source images and check what was actually in-game and for sale (versus concept art and discarded) is what really bugs me.”

  2. Klee says:

    I have some bad news about Kayle, she has just gone through a redesign where her armor now has been slimmed down and shows her curves off more. This is really disappointing because I thought she was just as awesome as the author did.

  3. Rawles says:

    I think there are many many things to be said on numerous levels about a lot of these character designs and the sexualization of the characters represented, but overall I am so so uncomfortable with the fact that this seems to be taking a hard line of: covered up = good design, revealing = ridiculous design.

    Not all women like or want to be covered up from head to toe all the time. Even when they’re being active. Costume designs that would be ridiculous on some women would make perfect sense for other women as per their characters. And I think the issue of sexist character design is a ways more complex than Cleavage Is Pandering.

    • Christina says:

      This is exactly what I was thinking while reading through this. The criteria for “good” seems to often be skin covered up and unable to discern breasts very well.

      I play Annie, but it doesn’t preclude me from liking some of the others. For instance, one of the reasons I DON’T like Kayle’s design is the bulky armor and the fact that she is wearing a helm. I do think that some of the designs and skins go a bit overboard with how revealing and sometimes silly they can be. One of the issues seems to be lack of variety in default characters, but some of the skins are more or less covered up than the default. Sivir, for instance, has cleavage and her midsection exposed, but her Huntress skin is extremely revealing. While Divine Soraka has no horn and is very covered up.

  4. Koobare says:

    Umm, these are some freakishly bad-lookin’ examples you have there. Just not my kind of aesthetics.

  5. Deviija says:

    And this is one of the many reasons why I do not play LoL or many (k)MMOs. The choice and representation of women is so poor that it becomes a point of annoyance/frustration/distaste — and then the ‘fun’ goes right out the window.

    While all the designs/promo images/art for the game illustrated here are bad, some go that extra lovely step beyond terribad.

    • Zaewen says:

      “The choice and representation of women is so poor that it becomes a point of annoyance/frustration/distaste — and then the ‘fun’ goes right out the window.”

      Exactly, the choices game devs (and game artists) make when it comes to women and female characters can literally take the fun right out of the game. I’ve actually quit playing Rift for the most part now because every time they added in more sexualized outfits to the game I lost more and more of my enjoyment from the game. Which sucks because I really loved their gameplay *sigh* I need another MMO :(

      • Rawles says:

        The stark difference between the armor men were given and the armor women were given (particularly heavy armor wearing classes) was one of the main reasons I quit Rift as well. :/

  6. Ashera says:

    Lux is an interesting case.

    The left-most image from the article was the original concept art from the champion art preview, before they released her. It never made it into the game.

    What happened: Lux’s description mentioned that she was the little sister of Garen, a beefy tank guy. There was immediate outcry about how Garen (or the forum user) wouldn’t let his little sister out wearing that outfit and that makeup. So Riot changed her outfit to cover more of her, and changed her face to look younger/more innocent.

    This is the result, and the current official, default art: http://www.giantbomb.com/lux-the-lady-of-luminosity/94-16964/all-images/52-486503/lux/51-1560329/

  7. ProdiGal says:

    Anyone else notice a general trend that the more clothing a female character is wearing, the “daintier” and more non-threatening her body language is? I dunno… it just seems to me that (with a few exceptions), the nearly-naked gals are always spouting an aggressive stance and/or scowl, and the mostly clothed gals have very non-threatening body positioning and facial expressions.

    Either way, pretty disappointing. I wanted to try out this game, so I really hope there’s at least one female character with appropriate clothing and demeanor… and a fun play-style.

  8. Ophelia says:

    What was always more problematic for me was the way new female champions were introduced. The text in the news posts almost always made references to their appearances, beauty, allure, etc., with the implicit assumption that anyone reading was attracted to women. They never mentioned anything about any of the arguably handsome/appealing male champions. I don’t think they even get plausible deniability if you go back and read last year’s character releases (Especially Miss Fortune’s; so utterly terrible.)

    That said, Leona was a step in the right direction. Players really wanted a female tank and only one of Leona’s skin was skimpy (and even that, the one posted above, was a “Valykrie skin” in line with conventional depictions of valykries).

  9. Ella says:

    Interesting article (shame about some of the research-related disagreements), although sadly I don’t think League of Legends is much worse than a lot of other games out there (and indeed even Riot themselves treat a lot of the characters’ representations with tongue firmly wedged in cheek).

    For better or worse I’m an avid LoL player, so if any of the Border House crew fancy a game/guided tour feel free to hit me up on Twitter :)

  10. Kat says:

    My husband recently joined the design team for LoL. I sat down with him one Sunday afternoon to help him brainstorm new characters. Totally on a “lets come up with a female character who’s not a sex object” kick, I described a character and my husband drew her – a mysterious hooded Arabian woman with flowing robes and magical floating circular blades. She looked kick-ass and was not all exposed. He brought her in and presented her to the development team and she was quickly shot down. We tried. :o/

  11. Kat says:

    My husband recently joined the design team for LoL. I sat down with him one Sunday afternoon to help him brainstorm new characters. Totally on a “lets come up with a female character who’s not a sex object” kick, I described a character and my husband drew her – a mysterious hooded Arabian woman with flowing robes and magical floating circular blades. She looked kick-ass and was not all exposed. He brought her in and presented her to the development team and she was quickly shot down. We tried. :/

    • Ella says:

      Must be a pretty awesome job (and gratz on his designing Leona!).

      That character idea sounds a little bit like a cross between Malz and Irelia :D

  12. Kat says:

    Ophelia: Thanks for the Leona mention! My hubby was her main artist :)

  13. Astrid says:

    True, females are over-sexualised in games such as League of legends.

    And even if most of the examples used are fan-arts or just promotional images, the point stays the same. In both cases women are used as sex-selling tools to attract the gamers. All this over-sexualised female characters creation have created a kind of stereotype that is highly sexist. It has even influenced fans in their creation…

    True one cannot really complain about a game if he/she had never played it before but the author was honest enough to prove her point whilst telling readers that she never actually played the game.

    I guess that if this article was just too much for one to read, he should not have gone through all the reading and all the ‘i prove my point by telling you which images are actually in the game’ thingy…

    It is a point of view and especially it’s a blog… blogs is all about expressing one’s opinion whilst re-assuring the audience that the author does not behold the entire truth..

    I definitely agree with the whole point of view about the over-sexualised women’s armor which depicts totally inhuman female bodies… as for Annie, I mean come on… She’s just a little girl and the creators have ‘boobed’ her.. I mean the whole point of playing a game is not about fantasizing on the totally virtual characters but to have fun

    And I can tell that I would feel no difference if I had a super sexy male characters as hero or the most hideous gnome as my main character.

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