League of Legends is just about everywhere nowadays and the e-sports phenomenon is becoming bigger and more legitimate with every tournament. We’ve been critical of the game in the past, but only because we’ve had some pretty devoted League of Legends players who really would love to see their game become more inclusive. I’ve played more hours of LoL than I would like to admit, though I’ve taken a long hiatus because I grew too frustrated with the way I was treated as a player. It’s clear to me that in order for e-sports to grow more mainstream, it’s going to have to take a step back and look at not only the toxic environment the players experience (which is being addressed) but also the sexualized female character design.
Another player felt the same way as I do, and started a thread pleading for Riot Games to pay more attention to how characters are designed.
If Riot seriously wants to attract more girls to their games, then I suggest they listen to what the few girls who do play League of Legends have to say. Have a real conversation with them. Entertain the idea that there really is a problem with how women are treated by the players, and how female champions are treated by Riot. I’d find it refreshing if a Riot employee could actually admit that there is a problem, or that I at least raise some valid points. My friend knew Pentakill Olaf was going to be used as a counterpoint to “male champions aren’t sexualized” the second she saw him. But Olaf is not aesthetically pleasing to most women. His physique still caters to the same people that Miss Fortune does. I see the argument that “This is a game. Who cares if a champion is sexy?” That’s not the issue. The problem isn’t that there is no mancandy for women to oggle over. The problem is that champions are treated differently based on whether it is male or female. Riot is completely comfortable sexifying female champion, even in cases where it isn’t actually appropriate for the character.
And Riot have responded in a big way. There are 59 responses in this thread alone from a Riot employee addressing the player’s feedback. Not once did I read a dismissal of the concerns. Instead it seems like there are some real ambassadors inside the Riot studio who are fighting for a more diverse character design across the board. From softer male characters like Varus and Vladamir, to strong female characters like Kayle.
Make no mistake, this is something we have our eye on. I had a discussion with our Art Director about this issue just the other day. We want that barbarian woman who can smash any guy she might encounter, we want us to get the spindly tank-girl type who’s far less exposed, we want utilitarian, we want majestic, we want creepy, we want it all. We also do want sexy, in all it’s variations.
It’s also mentioned that in many cases, the character art features varied proportions such as Diana who has smaller breasts and thicker thighs than the other female models. However, when actually displayed in game in the overhead view, those variations are lost and the female characters begin to feel more uniform. This is something that IronStylus plans to focus on more and accentuate the differences between female avatars so that it doesn’t feel as if they’re all built from the same sexy mold.
It’s clear from most of the responses that Riot feels that it’s perfectly fine to have sexy female characters designed to appeal to the male gaze and long as it’s properly balanced and varied. I’d agree with that statement, but I’d want to see true balance that features more adult female characters that aren’t sexualized. Right now, the majority of the non-sexualized female champions in League of Legends are of the Yordle race, which look/feel like children. It seems that they’re aware there is a backlog of being biased toward sexy female characters and that they’re playing catch-up now:
What I think our main thing right now is that our backlog has been filled with pretty sexualized ladies. That will eventually peter out a bit and things will readjust. There will be movement but it probably won’t be seen publicly for a bit. Internally we see a shift in the types of women we produce, and skins. THIS HOWEVER DOES NOT MEAN there will not be a healthy dose of sexualization where due, in either female or male form. I DO NOT MEAN sexualization in a derogatory sense, I mean sexualization in that it is sometimes fun to inject our desires into content. That taps into an emotion. Emotions are.. ya know.. important. They elicit responses. That goes for anything that elicits a reaction be it monstrous, evil, good, beautiful, etc.
I work in the game industry and I’ve tweeted about how difficult it is to change things from the inside.
It’s frustrating and exhausting, and so I do empathize with IronStylus on his crusade to convince his team that inclusive character design should be a priority. I can also understand the difficulty that artists might have in conceptualizing something that is visually appealing and pleasing to look at without pandering to sexist stereotypes. Creating new champions and selling them is a primary way that League of Legends makes its income, and they are selling to a primarly male demographic in a worldwide market. It would be so easy for them to focus on sex appeal to drive revenue, and it would probably be an effective and successful business as a result. It feels good to see artists who can invoke change at Riot who understand that yet still push toward inclusiveness as a priority.
So I won’t be defensive, I’ll be appropriately combative.. Just out of curiosity, do you have any idea how involved I’ve been in this conversation? A while. What have I done when I hear this feedback? I make a champion that incorporates all that feedback and I make it A REALLY BIG DEAL. Search “Embrace the Heresy” on google and see that hullabaloo. What do I do when I feel we’ve gone a bit astray? I talk to my producers, our art director, and my fellow concept artists. I take action. Not in a way that is imposing, rude, or invasive, but in a way that I hope challenges us to think a bit different and encourage our artists to keep crushing, to keep making amazing artwork.
Do I feel we are experiencing the same systemic issues with female champion representation as we have in the past? Absolutely. I find it problematic in that I always feel we can be more clever. We have not worked out all the kinks. We have champions and skins in the pipeline that still apply to particular pre-established trends. I’d like to change that and I’m actively working internally to seek balance where I can. What more would you like from me? What response would satiate you? Want me to do a seminar on this? Gladly.
Never have I EVER heard at Riot that we are motivated by *** to sell content. Do I think we on occasion reduce the solution to our challenges via the easy route of stripping down a character? Yes. As I said, I want us to be more clever. We can always remove, we can’t always add.
True story: There’s a champion in the pipeline which I saw a prime example to make into a strong, non-sexualized, and heroic female because it was fertile ground. It was initially supposed to be a guy. So what did I do? I made it. When are you going to see it? Probably not until next year. In the meantime you will indeed see some “sexy” here and there. That’s that whole variety thing, and maybe some cases (which might irk players who want a bit more skin coverage) are situations that I couldn’t come in on my grand steed of prudence to say, “hey! cover up that boob window!”, because I HATE undermining an artists’ confidence in their ability or creativity. I am not the lone voice on what is appealing. I should never dictate my views unless I take substantial issue with the content being created.
There are a thousand ways to solve a visual problem, it’s a shame we get to choose only one. The artists deserve credit for the execution of their craft and honestly deserve better than to have someone like me harassing them every time someone shows a bit of skin in their design. We’re going to make some champions who show skin. Not because of profit, not because of demand, not because we’re all 14-year old boys who managed to get a hold of a video game company, but because in the right context it works. In the instances where it doesn’t, my view is that holistically the champion is falling short. The solution is more lead time on development to really take advantage of how best we can make that champion and not have to resort to what’s easy, which in my opinion is less clothing.
That said, there will always be Miss Fortunes and they will always be in your face with their giant.. ideas.. There will also always be Dianas who if you looked at even a portion of thier exposed neck they’d cut you down. As I’ve said, diversity and variety are key. We need more of it. Period.
I look forward to seeing the new characters that come out over the next year, and I hope to see that diversity and variety that IronStylus references in many of his replies. This is a conversation that could easily have been shut down. While all of his points might not be statements that feminists jump for joy over, it’s refreshing that the company is engaging in this conversation and showing some vulnerability here.
(Thank you to Obzidian for the link and story idea!)