So I was watching the quarterfinals today, and they did a segment on Alex Ich. Alex talked about how he is one of the few gamers who is married, when inspired a rather odd comment from Phreak. “More girls should play League of Legends.” I found it odd, because the LoL community isn’t always the most welcoming. I know of plenty of girls that do play, and they choose a gender neutral summoner name because of the grief they receive for making their gender known. I know of even more girls that choose not to play LoL at all because they don’t feel welcome.
One of my best friends is a girl gamer. She does play LoL, but only when playing with her boyfriend and myself. She feels marginalized by the LoL community, and Riot endorses this attitude indirectly. Whenever gender issues are brought up in these forums, there is a huge backlash. It’s almost as if gamers are threatened by this topic. They don’t want them womenfolk to change their games to make them more inclusive. They like that Riot caters to the majority (straight white male). Any time someone makes a perfectly valid point about sexism, they are met with massive downvotes and malicious comments. How has Riot endorsed this attitude? While I’ve never witnessed a Rioter take part in burning these feminists at the stake, they do dismiss these topics. I made a post about how human female champions are treated differently than human male champions, and Morello pointed out that I ignored counterexamples like Lulu, Tryndamere, Riven, etc. and therefore my point was invalid. I attempted to reengage Morello in conversation, but it he had moved on to other questions. Meanwhile, I’ve seen two threads this week mocking the entire conversation, each attracted three red posts joining in. These threads claimed that Pentakill Olaf and Gragas over-sexualize the male gender, and has caused the poster to be insecure with his body.
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. Akali’s outfit is impractical for a ninja. Shen and Kennen are completely covered up, and Akali is constantly on the edge of a nip slip.
Yes, there are obvious exceptions. Since I don’t want to be accused of sampling champions that prove my point, and ignoring ones that don’t, I am going to compile a complete list. But first, let’s list all the champions that are irrelevant to the conversation. Morello used Lulu as a counterexample, but I was careful to use the term “adult human females” because yordles just shouldn’t count. They exist to be cute, not sexy. Male yordles are fuzzy animals. Likewise, children shouldn’t count, because sexualizing them is awkward and inappropriate.
Anivia, Cho’gath, Fiddlesticks, Fizz, Galio, Hecarim, Karthus, Kha’Zix, Kog’Maw, Malphite, Maokai, Nocturne, Sion, Skarner, Trundle, Urgot, Yorick
Amumu, Corki, Heimerdinger, Kennen, Lulu, Poppy, Rumble, Teemo, Tristana, Veigar, Ziggs
Alistar, Nasus, Rammus, Renekton, Rengar, Twitch, Volibear, Warwick, Wukong
Brand, Dr. Mundo, Jax, Kassadin, Mordekaiser, Nautilus, Xerath
*My definition of “monsters” might be broader than yours. I went ahead and included all the undead champions, void creatures, and anything that wasn’t humanoid. Anivia is the only female monster, which stands out even further if you lump in the champions that I categorized as Anthropomorphic Animals and Anomalies.
**Anomalies are champions I really didn’t know how to categorize. An argument could be made that they are human enough to qualify for the main conversation, or that they could be thrown into the monster list. If someone wants to reference one of these champions for the sake of an argument, I’d be willing to consider it.
So that leaves us with the following champions:
Ahri, Akali, Ashe, Caitlyn, Cassiopeia, Darius, Diana, Draven, Evelynn, Ezreal, Fiora, Gangplank, Garen, Gragas, Graves, Irelia, Janna, Jarvan IV, Jayce, Karma, Katarina, Kayle, LeBlanc, Lee Sin, Leona, Lux, Malzahar, Master Yi, Miss Fortune, Morgana, Nidalee, Olaf, Pantheon, Riven, Ryze, Sejuani, Shaco, Shen, Shyvana, Singed, Sivir, Sona, Soraka, Swain, Syndra, Talon, Taric, Tryndamere, Twisted Fate, Udyr, Varus, Vayne,Viktor, Vladamir, Xin Zhao, Zilean, Zyra
Not all of these champions are human, such as Zyra, Varus, Kayle, Shyvana, etc., but have enough human traits to count. Sure, Cassiopeia is partially a snake, and Ahri has nine tails, but what keeps them from being anthropomorphic animals is the fact that parts of their bodies look completely human.
So now that we got that out of the way, we can finally get to the meat and potatoes. The argument I am trying to make is not that every female champions is sexualized, and zero male champions are. My argument is that female champions are treated differently, and that there is less diversity amongst the female cast members. I will start with the most obvious disparity, which just happens to be sexualization.
Let’s compare male and female champions that receive comparable skins. Male champions tend to receive legitimate “profession” skins, like cop, doctor, cowboy, etc. Female champions tend to get stripper versions of those skins. The following is a list of what I call “Stripper Skins.” For contrast, I compare them to equivalent male skins.
• Nurse Akali is a stripper nurse. No real nurse dresses like that. However, strippers with themed costumes do dress like that. Surgeon Shen is an actual medical professional.
• Cowgirl Miss Fortune is just missing a pole. She does not make a convincing cowgirl. High Noon Twisted Fate actually looks like he belongs in the Wild West. Sheriff Caitlyn is wearing hotpants.
• Officer Caitlyn is in many ways the most disappointing. She is in a position of authority. She is the Sheriff of Piltover, but she gets a stripper cop outfit. No officer in real life dresses like Caitlyn. They’d never be taken seriously. She could have been a badass. Real missed opportunity, here. Meanwhile Riot Graves, an outlaw, gets to be the real deal.
• Battle Bunny Riven is a Playboy Bunny. This is the most blatant one of them all. You can’t even pretend that this is anything but a stripper skin. I know it's a fan creation, but that doesn't give it a free pass.
• Prestigious LeBlanc is a Vegas showgirl. Magnificent Twisted Fate is an actual magician.
• French Maid Nidalee is something you’d see in a gentleman’s club.
• Heartseeker Vayne looks a tad goofy and over the top compared to Jack of Hearts Twisted Fate.
• Mistletoe LeBlanc, Candy Cane Miss Fortune, Snow Bunny Nidalee draw a strong contrast to Santa Gragas and Old St. Zilean.
• Sandstorm Katarina is a belly dancer. This one barely scrapes by on what I would count as a stripper skin.
• Red Card Katarina doesn’t dress like any referee I’ve ever seen. Fifa banned players from taking their shirts off.
• Kitty Kat Katarina reminds me of Halle Berry’s Catwoman, and that’s offensive on a whole new level.
Not a single male champion has a stripper skin. If I missed something, please let me know. You could have a sexy fireman or something. It’s something exclusive the female champions. It’s just one of the ways that women are treated differently.
Next, we will talk about the base design of champions. Miss Fortune and Ahri are flirtatious, and while that isn’t really a problem, there are no guys that tease or flirt. The following are champions that are sexualized, not just in skins, but in their default splash art.
• Zyra is technically a plant, but she is using a human body as a vessel; one that she flaunts.
• Syndra seems like she is into BDSM.
• Akali’s (rather large) breasts are barely covered by those strips of cloth. It’s completely impractical for a serious warrior. It's and easy fix if she just wore a sports bra underneath.
• LeBlanc's is kind of justified. She doesn't want you thinking clearly. I get it. But this is a list of champions who are sexualized, so I can't discount her.
• Sivir is wearing the most pointless armor of all time. She isn’t protecting any vital points.
• Sona’s boobs. Need I say more?
• Ahri at least has lore to justify her being a flirt. I like that she is foxy (ho ho ho), but when everyone is a bombshell, it has less meaning.
• Miss Fortune is hands down the most sexualized character in the game. In her new splash art it looks like her clothes don’t even cover her nipples. If we had more of a bird’s-eye-view, this game would probably have an AO rating
• Caitlyn should probably not shop in the children’s section and find something that fits. I wish the Sheriff of Piltover was someone I could take seriously.
• Fiora’s skin tight outfit accentuates her ass. She is flaunting her body, not using a proper fencing stance.
• Evelynn is wearing lingerie. She is literally walking around the fields of justice in her underwear. I guess she is relying on her stealth.
• Lux used to be a counterexample. She used to be.
• Morgana gets thinner and thinner, and her breasts get bigger and bigger. She is also wearing a bra to battle. Smart.
• Cassiopeia may not be human from the waist down, but if you are arguing that that disqualifies her, then you are arguing that mermaids are not a sexual fantasy to millions.
• Katarina screams ***. She has three stripper skins, but the default skin isn’t any less sexualized.
• Nidalee kind of has an excuse, since she is basically She-Tarzan.
• Janna even makes a phone *** reference, solidifying the portrayal of women as adult entertainment workers.
• Soraka’s old art was all about the side boob. Her new art is better, but she still breaks her spine in order to get our juices flowing.
• Sejuani seems to be immune to the cold. In fact, everyone from Freljord seems to be. She's also shoving her chest out.
• Ashe is better than Sejuani, at least.
• Varus. The only male champion that makes the list. More on why, later.
So here are the female champions that are not sexualized (much):
• Karma present herself as a sexual object. Her Sun Goddess skin is culturally appropriate, it doesn't matter that it shows skin if she isn't posing in a way that draws attention to it.
• Leona is wearing high heels to battle and her armor accentuates her figure a bit too much. Compare her to armored champions like Garen, Taric, Darius, ect. There is a noticeable difference. Still, Leona gets a passing grade.
• Kayle is perhaps the best portrayed female warrior. Her armor is actually practical. Her gender is secondary to how badass she is. She is like Samus Aran in so many ways (before Zero Suit).
• Shyvana is pretty well done. None of her skins betray how serious she is. She don't give a damn what you think about her appearance.
• Irelia is acceptable, in my opinion. Her Frostblade skin showcases her ass a little much, though. I really like that Aviator Irelia looks like a real pilot, and not a stripper parody of a pilot.
• Diana’s default look is fantastic. I am not thrilled about her Dark Valkyrie skin.
So there are six female champions that aren’t overtly sexualized, and 22 that are (Battle Bunny Riven and Heartseeker Vayne did them in). Over 78% of the adult human female champions are sexualized. That number is pretty freakin’ high.
The following are male champions that people use as examples of sexualized men. They may show skin, but being shirtless means nothing when they are morbidly obese or freakishly muscular. Female body builders are nasty. Male body builders are also nasty.
• Gragas. Everyone uses him as a joke example, but it’s frustrating for those of us trying to have a real conversation.
• Tryndamere is built like a rhino. Body builders are not conventionally attractive. He shows skin, but he doesn't care if you like what you see. That isn't his intent. His intent is to intimidate, not seduce.
• Pentakill Olaf is like Tryndamere. Male beauty is harder to define, but the types of men that are main stream attractive are the ones you'd see in Romantic Comedies or A&F Billboards. Bodybuilders are widely regarded as unattractive. Furthermore, he still isn't posing like every female on the sexy list.
• Lee Sin is shirtless, and not hideously muscular. Unlike the three champions above, he could be considered conventionally attractive. The reason he isn't, though, is because he is in a typical martial arts stance. He isn't posing. His shirtlessness is understood to be part of his fightingstyle, and he does nothing to draw attention to his physique. Presentation is everything.
• Ruthless Pantheon isn’t contorting his body in unnatural ways to show off his body. His physique is secondary to his battle prowess. There is nothing about this skin that suggests the artist wanted to make him look sexy, even if he isn’t wearing much. Just like Sun Goddess Karma, the fact that skin is exposed doesn't make you sexualized.
• Twisted Fate is suave, but his charm has nothing to do with his body, and more to do with his style. He is more romanticized than sexualized.
• Ezreal has boyish good looks, and he is a favorite amongst players who are attracted to males. But being attractive and being a sexual object is not the same thing. If it were, I’d have to change the verdict on all six of the female champions that have a passing grade, because they are all attractive. They just don't pose like they are in a photo shoot.
If you don’t agree with me, or you think I missed a champion or skin that should have made the list, let me know. I’m open to discussion. In fact, that's the entire reason I am posting this. I want this to turn into a discussion.
Varus made the sexy list because he has an attractive physique, and his nakedness doesn’t seem to serve any apparent function other than fanservice. Still, he is the only example I could find that meets these requirements. That is one male champion out of 28. That means 3.5% of male champions are sexualized, and 78.5% of female champions are sexualized. How can you tell me that there is no disparity? That everything is fine. How can you deny the fact that women are treated differently?
Moving on, let’s talk about body types. I won’t devote too much time to this, because there isn’t much to say, but when you look at the guys, you have skinny Shaco, bulky Tryndamere, obese Gragas, Athletic Talon, and everything inbetween. Female champions range from super model thin to anorexic supermodel. You can see Morgana’s rib cage. There really is only one body type that gets recycled with every female champion. Bust sizes may vary from moderately large and “you’ve got to be kidding me,” but the frame of the ladies is indistinguishable.
Next, I want to talk about apparent age of champions. The men enjoy a huge range; you have youthful Ezreal, who could pass for a teenager, to Zilean, who is ancient. Here are the champions that look middle aged or older:
• Darius is graying and wrinkles are forming. He looks like he is in his mid 40’s.
• Draven can’t be much younger. Early 40’s.
• Gangplank’s beard makes it hard to see his face, but he looks like he is at least late 30’s. His skins can age him quite a bit.
• Gragas can be anywhere between 30 and 50. It’s hard to tell.
• Graves looks at least 45. Jailbreak Graves looks even older.
• Ryze is tough to place, because he is blue, but if Tribal Ryze is his human form, dude looks 50+.
• Shaco looks like a creeper. The makeup makes him impossible to place, but his bone structure suggests that he is well past young-adulthood.
• Singed is definitely past his prime.
• Swain doesn’t look a day younger than 50.
• Tryndamere is at least 40.
• Udyr is certainly in his 50’s.
• Viktor’s prototype skin shows that he is graying.
• Zilean is a geezer. For someone with time powers, he makes no attempt to reverse his age.
Absent from this list is every single female champion. Diana looks the oldest, at maybe early 30’s. This is pretty indisputable proof that Riot has different design philosophies for male and female champions. I’m not asking Riot to make an ugly female champion just for the sake of making her ugly. I just don’t understand why every female champion has to be young, thin, and attractive, but they aren’t afraid to deviate from that mold when they are making a male champion. I tell you, I would absolutely love a Baba Yaga inspired champion. Ursula and Maleficent is extremely popular as far as Disney villains go, and everyone loves Lin Bei Fong from the The Legend of Korra, so it’s not like older ladies don’t have any appeal.
So Riot, what say you? I worked hard on this because I believe in you as a company. I’m really hoping this doesn’t go ignored.
Edit: I didn't do an adequate job of justifying why certain champions are considered sexualized, while other seemingly comparable champions or not. If a champion is contorting their body in a way that serves no other purpose than to be sexually suggestive, that's sexualization. That's why Fiora counts, and Lee Sin does not. If a character dresses in a way to accentuate their body in order to be sexually suggestive, that also counts. Syndra's cleavage counts, and Tryndamere's shirtlessness does not. Tryndamere is trying to intimidate you, not seduce you. I went ahead a redid some of the explanations for champions above to make it more clear.
Edit 2: I want to reiterate that I do not have a problem with sexualizing women. I think it's fun and perfectly acceptable for certain characters. There are characters like Caitlyn and Fiora that would have been better served with a different approach, but there are also champions that I think it's appropriate for. The only real problem I have is that it's overdone. There should be more interesting ways to make a female character look appealing. If it works for male champions, why doesn't it work for female champions?