Where Are The Black League Of Legends Characters?

In November 2011, League of Legends boasted more than 11 million active players all over the world. With almost 100 unique characters for players to choose from and bi-monthly additions to the roster, the studio behind LoL, Riot Games, has quite a diverse crew on its hands.

The game's roster isn't diverse enough according to an avid LoL forum poster named Eserine. He crusades regularly to draw attention to the need for, as he said in one of his posts, "more racial representation of Earth ethnicities within the game League of Legends".

I got in touch with Riot's senior concept artist Eduardo Gonzales on this issue who responded:

"As a senior concept artist at Riot (and Champion Lead), I've had a chance to help create many of our Champions. I've never really looked at it that way — while we have taken some specific inspiration (the city-states of Ionia and Demacia have particular mythological inspirations), League of Legends is a highly diverse fantasy world with a cast that includes robots, yetis, and a grouchy tree. It's not meant to look or feel like real life on Earth."

In an email correspondence with me Eserine responded to Gonzales, saying "How odd by mere coincidence French accents, scuba divers, motorcycle gang membership, broadswords, Christmas, Chinese New Year and vampires named Vladimir all happen to carry over... but somehow not black or brown people!"

League of Legends borrows mythological characters from all over the world, from Medusa to Sun Wukong, and recreates them in-game. Riot also throws in heroic archetypes — like pirates and ninjas — as well as some completely original characters.

Out of the 93 characters to choose from (as of March 4), I counted 39 human-looking characters (more if you have a looser definition of "human"). Out of those 39, I could only find two characters who didn't look Caucasian or East Asian, based upon their portraits.

As a daily LoL player myself, Eserine's point rang true. Being able to play as a squirrel person, robot, or bear certainly makes for good times but it seems odd that I can't play as a black human. Humans form a sizable chunk of the roster, yet most of the diversity is relegated to humanoid/monster characters. Even if LoL is not meant to be realistic, the fact of the matter is that humans do exist in the game. Why should those humans only look Caucasian or East-Asian?

Ryze's "skins" (League of Legends Wiki)

There is no "dedicated" black human League of Legends character. I say "dedicated" because each champion in the game has "skins", or alternate costumes, and while the character, Ryze, pictured here may be considered black in one of his skins — a skin that you can't buy anymore — he also happens to be purple and Caucasian. His default skin is the purple one.

Caitlyn's many "skins" (League of Legends Wiki)

This lack of a dedicated black character, in itself, is not the problem. The problem that Eserine points out in one of his many forum posts is that "those of darker ethnicity each have lighter skins available, but none of the Asian and Caucasian-based champions have darker skins". Look at Caitlyn (pictured here), who never changes the colour of her skin, despite the number of character "skins" she has. This inconsistency across characters makes it difficult to argue that LoL seriously considers any of their characters black.

Given the size of the roster and frequency of the game's updates, it seems odd that Riot hasn't made a black champion along the way. This addition would help them appeal to a larger audience, settle a frequently revisited topic in the community, and, really, there's just no reason not to do it. Plenty of African, Caribbean and other myths contain characters who would fit into LoL just fine; Anansi, a spider that also appears as a man, or Shango, a thunder god who plays the drums are prime examples. Certainly the latter sounds like he could be a mechanically interesting tank.

Riot is not alone in their unintentional oversight. Other MOBA games, including Heroes of Newerth and Defense of the Ancients, tend to fall into the same trap. Even beyond MOBAs, this is a reality of most fantasy games. Think of League of Legends as a case study in a larger discussion about ethnicity in video games.

Top photo: 9warbane/Deviant Art)

Comments

    What.

      To expand further, whilst you could see it as an unintentional oversight, I question the significance of it.
      Characters are primarily designed mechanically, not aesthetically, and whilst I'm sure you could get an artist to whip up some sort of ethnically appropriately skin, I feel it would be ridiculous to designed a "black" character just for the sake of having one.
      I understand the need to shut up the community, because lord almighty they are terrible, but Gonzales' point is totally legitimate. There is a ninja cat in the game. There is a unicorn lady who throws bananas. BANANAS.
      Would it really "help them appeal to a larger audience"? How many people play the game to find a character who physically reflects themselves?
      You can play as a bear. You run around shouting "I AM A BEAR" in all chat. This is what appeals to me. I (personally) don't go around playing Xin Zhao playing I'll Make a Man Out Of You performed by Jackie Chan out of some sort of feeling kinship.
      tl;dr I think it's a bit of silly point.

        "I (personally) don’t go around playing Xin Zhao playing I’ll Make a Man Out Of You performed by Jackie Chan out of some sort of feeling kinship."

        BAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

        DUDE!
        You TOTALLY just BISHED the heck out of this article!
        AWESOME! :D

        Pretty sure if there were no caucasian characters at all you'd raise an eyebrow at the very least.

          Not in the slightest.

          Games like this should be played based on a particular characters abilities and how they play, not how they look.

          I think you'll find this blog post relevant.

          And I doubt Bish would even notice if there were no Caucasian characters. HE'd be too busy running around as Volibear going "I'M A BEAR!"

            I think Nicolas Cage plays as Vladimir: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lct6x-XqWrw

        Let's get down to business!
        To defeat ... the Noxians!

      Karma is black, so this article is pointless and insipid.

        NIDALEE

        I never saw karma as being black. But nidalee is totally black. Can't believe he didnt mention nidalee. He is probably saving it for another article next week on the racist depiction of africans such as nidalee in LOL. She throws spears and everything.

        Here she is

        http://na.leagueoflegends.com/champions/76/nidalee_the_bestial_huntress

    Karma?

      ROFL, shes not even in the roster in the top picture. Way to shoot down the article in one word.

      Apparently nobody cares enough about Karma to remember her.

    This article is....just....stupid.

    Are you serious?
    This is just absolutely stupid...
    Isn't this what you would call reverse racism on the part of the complainant?

    Seriously, just enjoy the damn game...

      That depends, only idiots and racists use the term 'reverse racism' without laughing.

      However, as a black person I am sure you are personally comfortable that of all the great variety of options on offer, not a single one resembles you or anyone else of your race.

      That's pretty cool of you, bro.

        WHY ARE THERE NO WELSH CHAMPIONS? WTF RIOT?!

          There are no Aussie champions either! Just an Egyptian Crocodile wearing an Akubra for one of his skins!

            I'm upset by the complete and utter ignoring of the Ewok tribes.

    I guess it's a bit true. There are lots of caucasian and Asian characters but few are darker skinned.

    Off the top of my head Ryze is black, Cassiopeia is Egyptian, Malzahar has an Arabian style genie skin.

    Am I being racist by thinking this isn't really an issue? It's not really supposed to fully reflect real world races anyway, there are tiny blue people, small furry people, a bunch of other weird stuff *shrug* I didn't realize you couldn't get the African Ryze skin anymore, that's lame. There probably should be another black character soon though, maybe there will be.

      Also, we know Jax is black :P

        you're thinking of Mortal Kombat :P

          That does explain why you never see both of them in the room together.

    Why does it even matter...?

    Interesting that Anansi was mentioned as a potential character to try and add diversity.

    Neil Gaiman wrote a rather good novel called Anansi Boys, which focuses on the son of Anansi (Fat Charlie) and his twin brother, Spider. At no point throughout the novel does he feel the need to point out their skin colour.

    This was interesting when there were talks of doing an adaptation of the book because the producers wanted to cast white actors in the lead roles.

      They were black, i'm pretty sure he even says the're black at one point.

    Karma is Black.

    "This addition would help them appeal to a larger audience, settle a frequently revisited topic in the community, and, really, there’s just no reason not to do it."

    Uhh...how exactly would it appeal to a larger audience? Are people of different coloured skin going to start playing this game because they're being 'represented'?

    No reason not to do it? How about 'We made a black champion to avoid being called racist' I'd say that's a pretty terrible reason. Especially if they made it in response to something like this. Before you know it, people will start calling him Token.

      Also, I think the fact that I completely forgot that Karma was black is a good indication of how race really doesn't ever 'need' to come into play.

    Eserine sounds about 98% of the people who post on the NA LOL forums; self-entitled and plain annoying. I say this as one who spends several hours a day on said forums. It's no wonder people hate on the LOL community when THIS becomes such an issue. Heck, if anything, ask Riot what's going on with the stealth patch (hahaha!).

    Anyway, pretty much what Bish said, really. I won't bother re-typing what he put so perfectly.

      I'm so sick of that word: Self entitled
      IT DOESN"T EVEN MEAN ANYTHING IN THE CONTEXT OF THE ARTICLE SO WHY ARE YOU USING IT.

      Jesus christ the next person to use the word entitled I swear to god I will find and bitch slap, just to knock some sense into them. Another goddamn stupid buzzword being used in conversations when the speaker clearly has no idea what the actual word means just like the word overrated used to be. Anyone who is using this word almost always has no idea what they are talking about and you are no exception.

      TL;DR Stop using the word entitled, most of you don't know how to use it and always, always, always use it in the wrong context.

        "Self-Entitled" means that one feels they are deserving of ("entitled to") something, and colloquially it is used in the pejorative sense, of having a sense of being owed something which they have not earned nor are deserving of for any other merit.

        In the context of this article, faction was suggesting that Eserine's motive for demanding black characters was that he himself (Eserine) is black, and feels the designers owe it to black people to create characters they can relate to physically.

        "Self-entitled" works in this context.

        PS: I've used the world "entitled" several times in this comment, so I guess you have to slap me. COME AT ME BRO! :P

        "Hey Farva what's the name of that restaurant you like with all the goofy shit on the walls and the mozzarella sticks?"

        "Shenanigans?"

        "Self-entitled" really is an appropriate way to describe a lot of people on the NA LOL forums (and most official game forums). This unjustified belief that they are owed something simply because of their patronage.

        Can you think of a better term for people who overstep the bounds of "this is a neat idea that I'd like to see" and go into the "you need to do this because I want it!" territory?

        Aren't you self-entitled, ey. Come on, mate. Live up to your threats of physical violence over your zeal for a word (that was used in the correct context, as proved by others with much more knowledge than yourself) ;)

          Also, if it helps you find me I am happy to email you my address if you'd like to try to slap me. s.kaylerthomson(at)gmail(dotcom). I'll be the big ginger guy on the motorbike with the tattoos.

            Best part - he's not making that up

    Taric??

    At least in his old splash art he was black. Karma too.

    bad article

      Interesting point, Taric was quite clearly black, but it seems he got...*sunglasses* whitewashed.

      YEAAAAHHHHHHHHHH

    Passive: Incomprehensible. After using a skill, reduces the chance of being silenced by 100% for 4 seconds(3 second cooldown).

    Q: Gat. Pulls a machine pistol from pants and sprays a burst of fire in a wide arc.
    Range: 650. Mana Cost 60.

    W: Purple Drank. Channels for 2 seconds, any enemy champion caught within range is forced to do the same.
    30 mana per enemy champion caught

    E: Shiv. Dashes forward to cursor location. If contact with enemy champion was made, deals damage equal to 2 autoattacks and applies a bleeding DoT.
    Mana Cost 50.

    Ultimate: Five-Oh. Removes all disables and gains immunity to disables for the next 10 seconds while increasing movespeed and dodge chance by 15% per nearby enemy champion.
    Mana Cost 150.

      You are a bad, bad man.

      However, while we're pulling out awful, untrue racial stereotypes for the sake of humour: Where are the black LoL champions? Centrelink.

    Nidalee is Amazonian, which is pretty black too.

    Most of the humanoid characters are based on mythology. Like it or not, there aren't that many famous characters from mythology who are black.

    Also, yeah, I don't care about race. Complaining about their not being enough of a given race is on par with complaining that there are too many of a given race.

    Also, +1 to Bish's comment
    Because I'm Greek (ethnically), should the lack of a Zeus, Heracles or other Greek character bother me? No.
    Do I have play as Pantheon? Nope. I prefer to play as a mutant rat with a mafia skin!

      ...and this is the racism right here.

      'Like it or not, there aren’t that many famous characters from mythology who are black.'

      Famous where? Pretty sure in Africa they have plenty.

      But wait, we're not in Africa?

      Let me see, I'm in Australia where the native 'mythology' is all black. If you're in America, the Native Americans would beg to differ as well.

      So your argument is that only dominant stereotypes get a look-in as the others aren't *famous* or *important* enough?

      Or do you just have a really poor grasp of what 'mythology' means?

      For those parping on in here about 'reverse racism' and other bollocks, it's not that Riot sat down and went ZOMG BLACK PEOPLE SMELL KEEP EM OUT OF OUR GAME

      It's more the fact that casual racism in terms of how they, and the wider community, deal with race in-game pervades most game design, including theirs.

      If you can't see the casual racism here, try thinking about how black people are represented in other games. Compare the number of black characters who speak and act normally and have protagonist-level roles to the number of (semi) jive-talking stereotypes and token blacks you see.

      Eserine sounds like quite the mentalist but his basic point holds water - the gaming industry is casually racist outside its alleged white male primary demographic. It's hardly alone in this and things are moving on, but it's worth pointing it out.

      Even if it gets drowned out by torrents of white boy internet outrage.

      /is whiter than you is

        OK, I'll bite.
        My working definition of mythology runs along the lines of "a collection of myths and stories from given culture".
        Yes, I'm sure there is a black mythological character who would be known to a very small audience for whom that character is specifically relevant.
        But to a general world audience, no, there aren't many famous black humans from mythology.

        In Asia, Europe, North and South American and Australia, characters such as the Norse and Greek gods are well known. Archetypes such as Ninjas, Pirates, Necromancers and Zombies are universally well known too. Thanks to the movie of 300, Leonidas is well known too.

        These are all characters and themes with broad recognition and strong appeal. It doesn't matter where you're from, you know of these characters.

        Adding to this issue is that "black cultures", especially those from Africa and India, tended to not have human gods or heroes. Characters like Anansi or Hanuman weren't designed to look like the people of the area, so even then wouldn't count as "black champions".

        Without going to google, name 3 black characters from mythology who a wide margin of people who have heard of. I just did a google search for "Black mythological characters", and got nothing.

        It's not casual racism. It's a lack of options.

          "Casual Racism" is just as bad a phrase as "Reverse Racism".

          You can't label them racist just because they didn't institute some kind of quota of characters of a different skin colour, what you're talking about is just a lack of Affirmative Action.

            Not at all. If you are arguing that the selection of racial types should be strictly representative of the physical players, then I guarantee the ratio isn't that 'white'. Your other choice is that the lack of black choices is simply due to 'white' culture being dominant where Riot games is based.

            Either way, it is casual racism as I can guarantee the issue never entered their heads. As I said above, I'd be amazed if they purposefully excluded black choices.

            But assuming 'white is right' is indeed casual racism - and it's precisely how a non-diverse selection of choices is maintained.

            If you don't see diversity in your choices, you're likely to assume that your limited perspective is the extent of reality - and in some cases (like this thread) aggressively defend that limitation.

            I'm not saying you GO TO HELL for being casually racist - especially since I am as guilty as the next person - I just find everyone in here pretending that's not what is going on to be either painfully stupid or willfully indulging in white boy internetting.

              Casual racism isn't "white is right", it's "what I am is normal". It means that people base things around what is familiar to them and thus don't include other races and cultures because it isn't normal to them. Not out of malice, but simply because it never crossed their mind that it needed to be done.

          Ahem.

          You know why 'black mythological characters' didn't get your hits?

          'Black' is neither a race, or a culture.

          And your racist argument is no less racist for that awfully racist gap in understanding.

          Try and grasp that you, and people like you, don't make up 'the world'. Although you see everything through the lens of a Western internet perspective, it doesn't make that reality.

          In reality, the gaming industry is rife with casual racism (and plenty of other dubious perspectives). That's because only a decade or so ago it was primarily made up of privileged white males.

          That's not the case anymore so time to get up to speed.

          Sticking the odd non-westernised character in the occasional game does not make the industry 'diverse' or even vaguely representative of what is now a global audience.

          Meanwhile, I'm trying to struggle with whether your belief that there is a 'lack of options' outside of your limited white perspective is pure cornfed racism, or whether you're just obscenely poorly educated.

            Again, mate, name them.
            Name some black (be they indian, african, jamaican, whatever) characters from mythology that anyone outside of the specific culture that spawned them would recognise.
            If you can't then shut up, and stop misusing the term "racist"

              I don't think you even know what point you are trying to make?

              Naming characters outside of your own culture doesn't achieve anything. Despite your bizarre comments above, I'd guarantee very few Phillipinos are aware of who Thialfi is (are you, sans Google?) and not many Sudanese would be jiggy with Diomedes.

              I'm pretty sure one or two people outside of India have heard of Shiva and Vishnu for example while plenty of folks from various voudoun-related cultures across the globe would be well aware of Shango.

              If your racist yardstick for mythology is 'what % of the world's population is aware of mythological figure X' you might want to push back from the keyboard and think about how many people live in certain non-white nations.

              Basically, the only ground you're going to hold onto will be if you invoke Jesus, and to be honest he probably wasn't all that white.

              The fact that you hold up the Norse and Greek pantheons as being the leading arbiters of global mythological expression is terrifying.

              As I said before, you're either being racist or simply aren't aware of cultures beyond your own. In either case, a bit of education would make your life much richer.

                When Shiva and Vishnu are portrayed as human, they're almost always shown with pink. blue or purple skin. Not brown or black.
                And no, Thialfi and Diomedes aren't famous. Congrats on picking lesser known gods. Would your comments apply to the MOST FAMOUS though?

                My point is, Riot are only going to make characters, thematically, based on what they think people will recognise and want to play as. The more recognisable they are, the more likely the character is to 1.Be accepted and used by the community, and 2. Be Bought for cash monies.

                Of all of the people playing LoL, how many do you think would have heard of Shango, or know what he represents? If, as a designer, you had to pick a character to represent "The god of thunder and storms", would you think more people would choose to play as Thor, or Shango? If you had to associate someone with the Ram, would you think Aries a less immediate choice than Shango?

                If they did put Shango in, god of thunder and all, people NOT of Brazil or Haiti or the related cultures would be more likely to think "Oh look, it's Dr Facilier from the Frog Princess" than "Hey it's the god of thunder".

                If you're marketing to a global obvious, you need your characters and their related symbols, themes and metaphors to be obvious to a global audience, not just the culture to which they are specifically relevant.

                Thialfi and Diomedes would be horrible champions, because nobody knows who the hell they are. Anubis, Thor, Loki, Odin, Zeus, Heracles, Aries, are immediately recognisable and understandable by the vast majority of the LoL community.

                  Congrats on spelling out the argument against diversity! Only use the same old things over and over and over and after a while people will forget anything else exists!

                  It's an amazingly weak argument to think that people will choose characters based on whether or not they know them as mythological figures - unless said person has some awful racist prejudice going on.

                  It's 2012, you'd need to be somewhat weird in the head to make a big deal about choosing a character in game because you have a strong mythological association (leaving Christians aside here for a minute).

                  Given very few people these days are worshippers of Thor, I'm pretty damn sure when it comes down to a Thor/Shango choice the question is:

                  'which one looks cooler/has better in game abilities' rather than 'which pantheon do I feel culturally more attached to' - unless they suffer a racial/cultural prejudice issue.

                  You're missing the point in the widest way possible however. It's not that Riot sat down with every pantheon from all cultures in front of them and obviously discarded the 'black' ones. It's that their choices were automatically informed by their cultural bias and they made no effort to change this - which is casual racism.

                  And the focus of the issue isn't even on mythology anyway - it's the simple fact than when you scan across a whole bunch of faces it's pretty obvious which racial types are excluded.

                  Again, this is simply most likely because Riot just stayed within their own cultural box - perfectly understandable, as we all do it.

                  But it's still racism, whether or not you want to admit it. I just suggest that you do admit it every once in a while so you don't end up trying to homogenise everything in the most boring way possible.

                  I think it's more fun to have a cool looking character from an unfamiliar mythology who you might then google and learn something instead of

                  OH HAY LOOKS ITS THOR AGAIN WHOOP

      They have plenty, YOU are not aware of African myths and legends because YOU have no cultural heritage there.

    " there’s just no reason not to do it"

    Pretty sure the Champion Lead stated why here:

    "League of Legends is a HIGHLY DIVERSE FANTASY WORLD with a cast that includes robots, yetis, and a grouchy tree. It’s NOT meant to look or feel like real life on Earth.”

    I think we are missing out on the big picture.

    WHERE IS THE FAIRY CHAMPION!?!?!?

    IT IS OUR RIGHT TO HAVE A FAIRY CHAMPION!!!

    why dont we get Kanye West to be the "token black character" he THINKS he is a gay fish.. i mean champion.

    DATS WASICT!!!

    http://www.gifbin.com/981769

    This is a troll forum post... and the article agrees with it...?

    Say Brand WAS black before he got burnt... wait, he's still black then.

    End of discussion

    if you select your champions based on what they look like instead of what the team needs...

    Please uninstall LoL and never come back I don't ever want to play on your team.

      "No, but don't you get it. It's a giant monster, but he dresses and speaks like a gentleman! That's why I autolocked!"

    Veigar is black :)
    We can call Nasus black :)

    Considering half the characters arnt even human or can be changed into a darker skinned characters i dont see the problem...

    In saying that,,, If they made a 'black' characters and he was too weak or too OP there would be articals around about that as well...

    So the internet continues...

      Also Karthus could have been black.. He dosnt have any skin left to tell :P

    "It’s an amazingly weak argument to think that people will choose characters based on whether or not they know them as mythological figures – unless said person has some awful racist prejudice going on."

    Actually it's rather sound argument... It's not simply choosing, It's buying. I would rather buy something I know I will like rather then something new and a chance that i would regret it. If I got the chance to try... then obviously i would try them all.

    "Given very few people these days are worshippers of Thor"
    People may not worship him but his definitely well known due to Marvel.

    "It’s that their choices were automatically informed by their cultural bias and they made no effort to change this – which is casual racism."
    It's funny how when you put a word in front of another word, it can completely change it's original meaning. If casual racism exists, we are all racist.

    "And the focus of the issue isn’t even on mythology anyway – it’s the simple fact than when you scan across a whole bunch of faces it’s pretty obvious which racial types are excluded. "
    No, it's not a simple fact that certain racial types are being excluded. Maybe included but not excluded.

    "I just suggest that you do admit it every once in a while so you don’t end up trying to homogenise everything in the most boring way possible."

    I should yell racist so things don't become boring? Are you giving us a little insight to yourself?

      "Actually it’s rather sound argument… It’s not simply choosing, It’s buying. I would rather buy something I know I will like rather then something new and a chance that i would regret it. If I got the chance to try… then obviously i would try them all."

      I'm sorry, you *buy* the mythological attachment behind a stylised image? What precisely is this content? A warm glow for supporting the Norse pantheon? A rush of internal energy as you embody Zeus? As I said, if there was some convincingly strong reason for choosing one ancient and unrelated mythological pantheon over another this might hold water. In 2012, you'd need to be a nutjob to have that going on. I note you happily missed the main point here which is that the choice is not based on pantheon attachment, but on in-game appearance and abilities.

      Your argument is that the choice is based on pantheon. I think that is nonsense, unless all art and abilities are equal. Then it becomes a surface knee jerk.

      'People may not worship him but his definitely well known due to Marvel.' And who over the age of 12 and not inside an asylum would go ZOMG I SAW THAT FILM I MUST CHOOSE THIS CHARACTER?

      'It’s funny how when you put a word in front of another word, it can completely change it’s original meaning. If casual racism exists, we are all racist.'
      THATS.THE.POINT.THAT.WAS.MADE.OVER.AND.OVER.DOT.JPG

      "No, it’s not a simple fact that certain racial types are being excluded. Maybe included but not excluded"
      By limiting to an inclusive range you are excluding the valid options outside that range. If you had actually read my posts you would know I am not saying this was purposeful or malicious.

      'I should yell racist so things don’t become boring? Are you giving us a little insight to yourself?'
      Maybe you should try not being a smug git who doesn't actually read the posts he comments on and selectively ignores any parts that look like invalidating his non-arguments?

    This will probably make the next LoL character Black :P
    Then he can bitch that theres only 1 black character after that, then only 2 , only 3 , only 4 etc.
    In short; 1 person crying doesn't warrant a bonefied response within a community of MILLIONS!!!

    i actually noticed this a few weeks ago, and then i thought of that joker meme. "ever seen any black people in the jetsons?

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