Diversity and inclusion have risen to the fore in League of Legends (and frankly, Riot Games as a whole) during the past few years. Riot’s two flagship games, League and VALORANT, are at the vanguard of the company’s effort to reflect other cultures and peoples in its games.
K’Sante, the upcoming champion of the League, will take Riot’s diversity ambitions to new heights when he debuts later this year. K’Sante’s narrative, story, and backstory all reflect the company’s objective to diversify the characters in its games, in addition to being a brash skirmisher in the top lane in terms of gameplay.
Since the year 2020, the majority of the new champion releases have included and been inspired by disenfranchised communities in the real world. With K’Sante as its first openly Black and homosexual member, the game’s roster of more than 160 champions enters uncharted territory.
At a recent developer roundtable, Riot’s narrative designer Michael Luo stated that “[diversity and inclusion] is something that, specifically for League champions, we’ve come a long way but still have farther and farther to go.” One character cannot possibly make up for the years of D&I labor that remain, in my opinion.
Making the best of both worlds
Riot significantly upped its company-wide D&I work in 2020, making progress in a number of titles to represent various cultures, nations, backgrounds, and orientations.
In the video game VALORANT, it seems like every new agent that joins the roster represents a different country, and only two of the game’s protagonists are from the same country twice (Viper and Brimstone, United States).
And while it’s simpler to portray real subsets of people when a game’s setting is literally planet Earth, difficulties start to develop when League’s designers are obliged to go beyond the restrictions of cultural inspiration and include elements of real life into a fictional context.
Reaching individuals and achieving a particular level of representation that will speak to particular people and enable people to be seen in the content we’re producing… Thomas Randby, a skin designer on the K’Sante team, described how thrilling, motivating, and beautiful it is to feel empowered, to convey those stories, and to allow us to weave those stories into the overall fabric of League of Legends.
Similar to many other works of art situated in the Runeterran nation of Shurima, K’Sante draws its real-world ideas directly from Africa. While the entire country of Shurima draws inspiration from many different civilizations, including that of North Africa, Egypt, and even sub-Saharan Africa, Riot claims that K’Sante’s hometown of Nazumah, which is part of Shurima, is specifically influenced by West African culture.