The Rise and Fall of the Lore of the League of Legends

Originally, this was more or less a blast of Riot and the Narrative team. I’ve tried to tone it back a bit after some thought. This is the first of several parts addressing different common issues I and other fans have with Riot’s lore. Hopefully this can spread a little light on some of Riot’s larger issues in context with some recent commentary on Riot’s decisions and productivity.

JoJ Project NEW

With all the recent noise about how poorly Riot has been doing its job as a gaming company regarding releases and promised content, I figured this as good a time as any to go ahead and write the editorial on Lore I’ve been asked to publish ever since my panel at LEC^2 bombed completely. (Context regarding what happened can be found here).

This will probably span a few posts because of the length, but we’ll go ahead and jump right in with an introduction to the context and subsequent execution, as in being drug into the street and shot, of the last vestigial remnants of overarching Lore. Later on I’ll go pretty in depth into the reasons why the decision was so questionable and received so poorly and how it could have been executed better so it might have been received better by the fans. (I say might because despite the complaining and the vicious backlash by the lore interested community; RPers, authors, artists, and everyone in between, there was some sound reasoning that was both stated and left unsaid by Riot in their crusade against having a unique story element that set them apart from almost every other fantasy game out there.)

Without further ado, onwards! Demacia! (Sorry, I’m a bit of a Demacia fanboy)

WHAT CAUSED THIS SHITSTORM (on the lore side of things)

For those of you who are either too young or too new to League to remember what it was, the Journal of Justice was a newspaper, written by various different ‘authors’ from the world of Runeterra to give us, the summoners, a tangible link to the on-goings and events that happened in the world we all do battle upon. Started near the launch of the game, with the first issue being published June 13th, 2010, the Journal of Justice was the largest source of lore and story for those who fought in the League of Legends. Aside from champion bios and Champion Judgements (short stories written to provide a look at a Champion’s reason for joining the League of Legends), there wasn’t much else given to those of us who wanted to know more about what was going on in Valoran. Back then, Riot’s creative capabilities were more limited by manpower and capabilities, but that is to be expected of a company just getting on their feet. But it wouldn’t last long; the Journal of Justice was only the first casualty of Riot’s quest for new and better ways of developing the League of Lore, when it was axed abruptly in September of 2011, leaving a story unfinished and many readers wondering what had happened. Two follow-up issues were published in May of 2012 to bring the unfinished story to a close, which left many readers confused and left them with many unanswered questions, that to this day have yet to be explained or revealed.

It wasn’t long after this that the only other form of Lore we had, the Champion Judgements, was axed as well with the final judgement getting released alongside Varus’s launch, though many champions had already been skipped over due to already shoddy backgrounds as champions were bent to fit into the existing world of Runeterra and the confines of the Institute of War. (Such as Shyvana’s original background). Even the massively popular Ionia vs. Noxus ‘rematch’ was never repeated, despite its introduction of an element very much core to the game, the Ionian Boots of Lucidity, and the pivotal decision that it resolved: would the Noxian occupation of Ionia continue or would the oppressive Noxian war machine get repelled from the Island Nation? The fate of Valoran was sealed when GuardsmanBob, a prominent streamer and figure in the scene at the time, started the ball rolling with a terrifying Udyr game that changed the fate of Valoran forever. 15 years of oppression were ended as Noxus was forced out, less they withdraw from the League of Legends and face war with Demacia once again.

Thus the Lore of Legends had come… and there it went.

Despite these different attempts at developing the Lore, Riot was not satisfied with the results. With the JoJ gone and the Champion Judgements abandoned as well, Riot promised new, better forms of lore to depict what was happening in Valoran. While many fans were excited about what could come from these products, there were many others who were sad the JoJ and Judgements were gone.

So what did Riot do to fill the void of a severely story lacking world that was now hanging in the balance, left detached like a hundred different strands of yarn, all unravelling from a single scarf?

…Not much actually. ‘Fuck all’ would be a bit more apt a term, but I’m trying to be polite here.

Okay well almost nothing. But it wasn’t really much of anything either because the few tidbits were were given were just champion teasers. Considering how slow Riot’s champion release rate would drop (which we can clearly see now, years later), it’s difficult to call the efforts consistent or even ‘Lore’ focused because often times it would only involve the latest character to be released and whatever poor champion was getting retconned to give the new guy a purpose. (Cough Aatrox and Tryndamere Cough).

It would be nearly a year and a half after the original axing of the Journal of Justice before we got a decent taste of Lore outside of basic champion teasers and biographies. From the world of Valoran  emerged our first taste of Lore on a greater scale with the teasers for Quinn and the release of Lissandra two months later. Fast-forward another two months to Aatrox. We got the semblance of something ground shaking. Magelords and a Protectorate that had been fighting millennia ago and even now they were shaping the world we played in? Could this be the lore change we’d all been waiting for? A new official couple in Ezreal and Lux? What is this, pure madness?

Pretty much, yeah. Kind of threw me for a loop actually.

In a rather disappointing turn of events, it turned out these ideas and seemingly unifying history of the world of Runeterra would be nothing but a half hearted attempt at giving a champion a greater story. Unfortunately, nothing further ever developed from the Magelords and the Protectorate, despite rumors that Summoner’s Rift was a once great battlefield of these two factions. Nothing ever became of any of the different ideas introduced with this and it was all locked away into the vault labeled ‘Riot’s Lore’, never to be touched again like many projects Riot had long promised fans.

But what about ‘Insert event of your choice here’!? That’s Lore, right?!

Yes and no. There were a few other things I didn’t really cover because they either didn’t tie into anything existing or they brought absolutely nothing to the table new in terms of lore or story. A few minor ‘events’ fall into this grey area such as ‘The Great Hunt’ and other repeated sale events such as the Lunar Revel and Snowdown. So while these events fell under the broad idea of ‘Lore’, they were not new introductions to the League of Legends universe, and while they often came with pictures of music, they weren’t interesting or groundbreaking in terms of storytelling on any scale.

During this rough time for lore fans, Riot’s champion release rate had fallen to barely a fourth of what it had been previously, and while there were several good attempts at rekindling the popularity of the Lore, the attempts were mostly false starts that didn’t do much outside of the small, integral cast of characters involved in each event and they often had little to no interaction with the rest of Valoran. Despite these lacking qualities, in many ways this was for the better. in the larger sense of the game. Better, more interesting to play champions were released with new mechanics and improved old mechanics applied to a new canvas. But with further attention turning to ESports, other game elements begin to fall into the same rut as Riot’s abandoned Lore: Riot promised the issues were swept under the rug and avoided like the plague (See pathing issues, the replay system, etc). Elements of the game that used to take riot days or weeks to fix through hotfixing and subsequent patches stretched out into months and in extreme cases years. Champion releases slowed to a crawl, champion relaunches have slowed to an even slower rate, and some issues altogether were abandoned, locked away in a closet somewhere in the latest Riot Money Palace where the key would promptly be thrown away and forgotten about for a matter of weeks while something flashy happened in esports till some poor sod remembered the little red-headed step child that had mysteriously gone missing.

So what did Riot decide to do to bring this fix and improve this poorly maintained issue?

MAKE EVERYTHING DARK AND MYSTERIOUS!

Sorry. Had to make the joke at least once. But that does bring me to a point, one that still has many League fans in a bit of a tizzy because of similar problems.

10 months ago, a controversial decision was made in regards to League of Legends’ Lore: The Institute of War was being removed completely, Summoners were getting eliminated completely as a relevant game element, the Fields of Justice are now just pretty set pieces of no importance and the entirety of the old Lore (the Journal of Justice and anything else deemed in the way) was getting its canon status removed. Headed by Tommy Gnox, the ‘Narrative Team’ decided that they were getting boxed in by limits of the Institute of War, and to grow the story of League of Legends, they were going to scrap and start the story over again.

That leaves us with the question:

Why do this to the fans?

When the decision to remove the Institute of War from League of Legends, they completely remove the single most important Lore element of the League of Legends. It left most people one of two things: confused or outraged. Summed up rather eloquently by summoner DHNinja in the comments following the reveal of this new plan, the attitude for anyone who cared about the lore was as follows: “As someone [who’s] been very invested with in the lore; I feel like a part of me just died.”

But Riot had their reasons. Few agreed with them, but there was a problem that needed to be addressed. Riot promised us a replacement and despite their desire to completely retool the lore, they forgot one thing. The new lore. They didn’t fix any of the issues, they didn’t give us any new content, they flipped us the bird and stood up tall expecting us to thank them for it and be excited at the very prospect of a new story. Riot did the equivalent of stepping up to the plate with their bat, hoping to knock it out of the park, only to realize that their bat was a giant sign that said ‘FUCK YOU’ in block caps as they proudly and defiantly ignored the stadium booing them from every direction.

While I’m not above admitting there are definite issues with the old lore, most people wanted fixes and more lore… not the complete removal of what little we had. The Institute of War was limiting and fairly poorly implemented after Riot started to press their boundaries, but it was an original idea with novel consequences. Besides, a mediocre story with its fair share of problems is better than no story at all, right?

SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US AND WHAT IS LEFT

Fast forward ten months.

There are only two significant things of note that have been added in this period of time that pertain to the Lore in a remotely larger sense than selling more champions or skins on release: the Shurima Relaunch and Sion’s Champion Relaunch.

Things that are still unfixed or remain unaddressed: Many champions have had their origins and backgrounds completely voided and have seen no attempts at being fixed or addressed. Among these are Kayle, Fiddle, Jax, Lee Sin, Skarner, Morgana, Nocturne, Brand and many others with smaller issues that don’t fully void their character, but leaves it hanging and lost. Other issues larger issues were created and left hanging such as the War in Kalamanda and the Liberation of Ionia. We know some of the events still happened… Swain is still the Grand General of Noxus, as proven by Sion’s teasers and what Lore we glean from that, but even then, with the IoW gone there is nothing left that separates Riot’s brainchild from the rest of the world. What once was a interesting, dynamic, and politically charged setting for grand battles and a constantly evolving story line fueled by player interaction has been reduced to a game of 5 random characters fighting 5 other random characters who could have simply been plucked from another game and would have as much importance as the next bloke.

Riot’s overarching Lore is locked away tight somewhere with the Replay system, kept in limbo by the rumored shitty management that has exploded recently, a lack of forward direction, a two giant padlocks that go by the name of RETCONS and ESPORTS.

But that’s not to say there aren’t ideas of how to salvage something from this mess. Riot had some admittedly solid grievances but that doesn’t excuse the laziness and utter lack of content we, as fans and patrons, have been left with, and the recent acquisition of Graham McNeill is an admittedly bright light in these dark days for the Lore of League of Legends. But, as recent issues have shown us, Riot is far from infallible and they are quite capable, if not more likely, to screw the pooch with this one, like other hot topic issues.

So what does this all mean? It took the Narrative team 18 months to decide to cut out the heart of League of Legends instead of trying to fix it. Because why bother fixing it when you can just cut it free, right? Better to rip it off than to do it slowly… right? Guys? ….Guys?

All I have to say to Riot is this: Good luck, Rito… you sorely need it after pissing off so many fans.

For more context on why this was a slap to the face of fans everywhere, you can scroll down and check out some of the comments left by Rioters (Tommy Gnox’s comments in particular, just look for the ‘Comment is below Threshold’, they’re pretty easy to find) in the original announcement and some of the subsequent (Thousands upon thousands) of threads wherein a confused fan try to figure out who hopped off their medications and glean some sort of idea about what the fuck is going on in Runeterra.

In segments to come, I will examine why the decision to can the lore was made, what could have been salvaged and how it could have been fixed, an analysis of why Riot overreached in their statements and what remains from the old lore, the results of Riot’s decisions on champions and other events in Valoran, and a bit of background on the lore as a primer of the issues involved, leading us to a look at the possible narrative direction that League of Legends as a game could follow.

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The Rise and Fall of the Lore of the League of Legends

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