Changing a playable character in League of Legends runs the risk of offending at least part of the online multiplayer game’s tens of millions of players. But I’m not sure development studio Riot Games could’ve predicted what set off fans this week: a slight alteration to a woman’s cheekbones. Oh, and her bangs.
The owner of the offending cheekbones is Fiora, a duelist champion who looks sort of like a high fantasy version of a fencer — only people actually die in her fencing matches. Until a few days ago, this is what Fiora looked like in League of Legends:
On Tuesday of this week, Riot put out one of its increasingly common character reworks — visual and mechanical updates to a champion who’s been around for years and has started to seem dated compared to all the new stuff popping up around him or her. Fiora’s gameplay qualities were overhauled in this redesign, a change that most vocal players seem to be excited about. But when it comes to her visual update, fans sound aghast and disgusted. Some just don’t like her new look, but there’s a subtext that she’s just not that hot now that she looks older, more middle-aged.
Here is what the new splash art for Fiora’s character looks like:
Many outspoken fans recoiled in horror when Riot first posted the new Splash art in an announcement of Fiora’s rework, seeing the changes to her hair and facial structure as a massive “downgrade,” to quote one critic on the League of Legends forums. Just as quickly, they began editing the new splash art on their own to try and give Fiora her old face back. Like this one
Or this one:
Or this one from Reddit:
You get the idea.
Other angry fans, meanwhile, just implored Riot to toss the visual update entirely, saying that Fiora didn’t even need to get a makeover since fans already liked her the way she was.
A champion’s face is difficult to see and pay much attention to when you’re actually playing League of Legends, given the game’s birds-eye view of the battlefield. People got pissed at Fiora’s makeover anyway. The game’s official message boards have been acerbic in their response to Riot. Scanning through the front page of the League of Legends boards as I write this, there are a dozen different threads complaining about Fiora. One of them is actually complaining about having so many posts complaining about Fiora. The uproar has been intense enough that Riot developers have started appearing apologetically in these same forums to say they’re going to continue “iterating” on the champion’s design.
What’s so upsetting about Fiora’s rework? The specific answer changes depending on who’s explaining their grievances, but they all have one thing in common: the new Fiora has been slapped “with the ugly stick,” as one person described her on the League boards.
One common criticism I’ve seen is that people feel she looks old and frumpy in comparison to the old Fiora. Some have compared her to Cruella de Vil, saying the original Fiora is a young and spry swordfighter, not some evil old crone.
Others don’t feel the same way about her age, they just say she’s ugly. One popular meme has compared her unfavorably to the female love interest in Pixar’s Ratatouille.
I can empathise with player frustration about character changes in League of Legends in theory. Fiora first came out in February 2012, meaning some people could’ve easily spent three and a half years playing with her at this point. They have grown attached to her, studied the granular details and rough edges of her silhouette over countless hours spent staring at her in games.
Then, suddenly, all of that changes. And unlike a lot of other games that came out at the beginning of 2012, League of Legends players have no ability to just keep the game and their favourite character the way they want them to be. If they want to keep playing with her at all, they have to accept this bastardized version of the thing they once loved.
I get why people would be frustrated, very frustrated when the changes to a champion seem extreme. I’ve also found part of the blowback to Fiora’s rework alarming. It seems conservative and even retrograde.
Fiora is one in a long line of League of Legends women champions who’ve helped cement the genre’s ubiquitous “sexy MOBA lady” aesthetic. Her base character skin (the original model) is actually the tamest of her appearances in this regard. There’s also the sexy schoolteacher Fiora, who coyly plays with a ruler instead of a fencing sabre:
…or sexy “nightraven Fiora”:
As you’ll notice, both of these character skins play up the fact that Fiora has a lot of cleavage. She hasn’t gotten all of her new splash art yet, but the redone in-game appearances of her other skins show a character that’s more noticeably different because she isn’t salaciously dressed, not because she looks older.
Her breasts are now covered, her waist is wider. Some detractors on Reddit took to caller her “social justice warrior Fiora,” the implication being that Riot’s caved to feminist criticisms of the way League of Legends hyper-sexualizes the vast majority of its women champs.
You might jump to the conclusion that this is what all the complaints are really about. The majority of vocal fans who’ve been taking Riot to task over the past few days, however, haven’t fixated on Fiora’s breasts, and how much of them we get to see. They have been focused on her face, and maybe the bulkiness or frumpiness of her clothes compared to their once skin-tight fit.
It is nevertheless hard not to read into players’ charges when they blast her for now looking like “a 50 year old cosplayer,” and “not even like MILF 40-50.” Or when they decry the fact that she doesn’t look like someone they’d want to have sex with anymore. Or when they say that her in-game face”looks like the nightmare child of Michael Jackson and Bruce Jenner.”
It’s also hard to dismiss the lingering feeling that the outcry against Fiora is a tad overblown considering, once again, that the entire upset is about some changes to her facial features…many of which don’t relate to how she actually plays in the game itself directly. Other prominent women champs have gotten similar makeovers in recent months, and none of them have put the League-playing Internet on hold like Fiora’s rework has. Is tamping down on a character’s sex appeal the one thing that really gets people up in arms?
Pretend, for a moment, that Riot Games had set out to make Fiora look like Cruella de Ville. If they’d delivered a champion who actually did look substantially older than her previous incarnation, they would have instantaneously diversified the game’s pool of women champions. As one fan smartly observed on Twitter, the accusations that Fiora suddenly looks like she’s hit middle age reveal more about League of Legends’ total lack of middle-aged female champs that anything about her character specifically.
People complaining that Fiora looks like a middle-aged woman only reminds me that League has no middle aged women champions.— Skyen (@TBSkyen) July 23, 2015
Although all the comments complaining about Fiora's looks probably go some way towards explaining that. smh— Skyen (@TBSkyen) July 23, 2015
On balance of everything isn't it really freaken weird that LoL doesn't have like an old witch type champion yet?— Skyen (@TBSkyen) July 23, 2015
Because like, that's a category that runs the gamut of human stories from Hansel and Gretel to Baba Yaga. A lot of unexplored archetype.— Skyen (@TBSkyen) July 23, 2015
Diversity is a value that Riot constantly promotes in its game — telling fans that they keep balancing and rebalancing champions’ abilities and stats to help keep the champion pool as lively and welcoming as possible. This week’s backlash is a reminder of the strong social pressures that may slow League of Legends from actually diversifying itself.