So, this started out as a response in I just realized why Trundle needed a lore change, but, I came to realize it's really best suited as its own thread.
I've been thinking long and hard on this subject, trying to figure out the best way to put words to the topic so as best to explain what I think the problems are, and I think I've come as close as I'm gonna get. Please forgive this post. It's going to be long, and rambly, weaving from topic to topic because I have difficulty staying as focused as I'd like, but I really tried to pinpoint the problems with the lore.
The lore for LoL is constantly contradictory. Not necessarily in details (though as retcons are used more and more, this also becomes the case), but in theme and objective. The direction the story is attempting to go in, the goal the creative team seems to be trying to accomplish is being fiercely opposed. Not by players though, but by the actual game itself. The result of this is perhaps the greatest actual problem with the game's lore
League of Legends lore is perpetually stagnant.
There's a large number of reasons why League of Legends lore is trapped in a state of non-action, but I'd like to start by giving the perfect example first.
Probably the worst plot thread in the game is that of Warwick and Soraka (or Kha'Zix and Rengar, who's story is equally problematic but at least better written).
Warwick and Soraka's story, specifically from Warwick's end of it, will never go anywhere. It is a moment frozen forever in time that can not proceed to any possible conclusion. The game simply will not allow it. As currently written, Warwick has only one goal, one singular motivation. He needs Soraka dead. Furthermore, he's on a clock, as he needs to do so before he loses his humanity completely, which means no time for diversions or secondary plots. His story is entirely dependent on killing Soraka and taking her heart, and it can't go anywhere else until he does so, or until he's killed first.
Except he can't kill her, and he'll never be able to. Likewise, he can not be killed. Why? Because if Soraka dies, how will we summon her to play in-game? Much as I wouldn't be surprised if Morello wants to, Riot is never going to delete Soraka from the game, or any other champion for that matter. The playerbase's wrath would be absolute, and from a gameplay standpoint they'd have nothing to gain. No, every champion added is here to stay. As a result, any conflict where the primary driving force is a desire to kill another champion can never be resolved. Any storyline focused on such a conflict is bound to be static, unchanging. Because champion survival is assured and the conflict is unresolvable, all tension, all suspense, all intrigue is lost. It becomes meaningless, and that story becomes boring as a result. Who can invest themself in such a story knowing nothing will ever come of it? Ther very best you could hope for is a saturday morning cartoon plot, where the villains make some big scheme and the good guys foil it in the end, creating a rote, formulaic plot. And there's some value in that kind of storyline, it can be entertaining, but somehow I highly doubt it's actually Riot's intention to create that kind of plot. They seem to be aiming too big in broad strokes for that to be their objective.
So is a conflict based story impossible within League of Legends? No, of course not, it's an entire game predicated on conflict afterall. It is simply a conflict where death of one participant or another is the sole objective that's invalidated by the rules of the game. As such, a much better example of a working conflict is Jarvan IV vs. Swain.
Now, make no mistake, Jarvan and Swain would just love to kill one another, but that is not their sole objective. It's not the only driving force of their conflict. Because Jarvan and Swain are more than just two guys who really hate one another. They're representatives of their respective factions. Not just that, they're leaders of their respective factions. They have multiple ways to win against one another. Theirs is not just a struggle to vanquish each other, it's a fight for dominance over the whole (or most of) Valoran. It's the entirety of Demacia vs. the entirety of Noxus. It's factional. Not only that, but since not every conflict between them will be life and death, there's room for defeat on one side that doesn't instantly end the plot, allowing it to continue into multiple stories.
And I'm not saying every conflict needs to be factional either. There's room for conflict between individuals, with no factional bias involved. But again, that conflict can't be built upon a single-minded goal of death, because that's a story that can't ever be resolved. There needs to be room for rivalries and feuds that aren't to the bitter end.
So, you might say that only a handful of champions have such focused storylines, but I was only using Warwick/Soraka as the purest example of a story that can not progress. Certainly, there are more of them, and more reasons than just death-focused narratives.
Let's take a look at what's happening in the lore right now. Riot's making a big push on Freljord. Lots of new skins, new/rewritten lores, a new Freljord themed map. This is the most attention we've seen paid to Freljord in how long? Probably since Sejuani was first added as a champion over a year ago. So tell me... Just how much has Freljord's storyline moved since we last checked in on it?
It has not moved at all. Not one inch. Everyone is still in a state of tension, preparing for upcoming war. Ashe is still the largest power in the region, Sejuani is still striving to start a conflict with her, and Lissandra is still allied with her. Oh yes, we learned some new details about some of the characters involved. But the actual plot? It hasn't budged. Nothing's actually changed. It's static. Even when Sejuani WAS added last january, her addition didn't actually move the plot. Freljord's pretty much the same as it was when the Journal of Justice last touched upon it, ironically in a story about the trolls starting to cause trouble.
Really, the only truly new thing happening is the revelation of Lissandra's evil nature, and that reveal is only available to us, the players. Even Quinn, though she knows of the threat of the Ice Witch, has no evidence connecting her to Lissandra, only suspicions. And so it falls on us the players to do... Absolutely nothing. Because we are 100% passive in this story.
Which brings me to the next problem.
The lore asks players be passive in an interactive medium
We, as players, are 100% passive in the plot of LoL. We are observers, watchers, readers. We do not participate. This despite the fact that League of Legends is a video game, and video games are an interactive medium. Even traditional RPGs with their grandiose plotlines, the old school kind like Final Fantasy before moral choices became a thing, still required players to actually progress through the game in order to continue them. There was still some level of interaction. But in League, there is none. Not only that, but Riot is actively trying to put as much distance between the players and the plot as possible.
In League of Legends, who do you play as? What is the player in this setting? The player is a summoner. You are not your champion, rather, you summon a champion to fight on your behalf and take control of them. But you, the player, are still playing as a summoner of the league. And by their own admission, Riot is trying to steer the plot away from the league, and onto the champions themselves, because the league's setting is not especially conductive to a character driven narrative.
And this is true! It really is not the best setting for a character driven narrative... So why is that what we're getting? Or, I should say, why is that what they want to give us, because we're not getting a character driven narrative either. We're hardly getting a narrative at all.
League of Legends is a sport, not just an e-sport in the real world, but even within its own fictionalized setting. A competition between two factions summoning champions to fight for them to resolve differences, with spectators from all over the continent watching it as entertainment/leisure activity. Even real world sports have stories. They wouldn't be made so often into movies if they didn't. Struggles of the underdog to claim the top spot, conflicts and rivalries between teammates or opposing players. And true, sports do have some stand out characters, the star players. But would you really say a sport has a character driven narrative?
Let's look at some other e-sport games. Like Starcraft. Starcraft has a plot, and a really big one, with a lot of emphasis on characters and interactions between them. But all of that is relegated to the single-player portion of the campaign. The multiplayer has none. Or hell, let's just even look at other multiplayer games. True that most multiplayer modes don't have plots other than travelling through the singleplayer campaign with a co-op partner, but a few of them do. Mass Effect 3's multiplayer made each player a participant, a soldier fighting on behalf of the war effort against the Reapers. But again, the big narratives were in singleplayer. But you could argue those multiplayer games don't have actual characters in them. Well, what about Team Fortress? Certainly it has a wild cast of eclectic characters, each with defined personalities, but it still doesn't have a plot that's driven by them.
And that's because a character driven narrative simply doesn't work in a multiplayer game. Even Riot is tacitly admitting this by trying to distance the plot from the league.
But though they can try, they can't completely separate the story they're trying to craft from the game that it's attached to, and this is where things circle back around and lead to the lore being stagnant. Because again, a video game is an interactive medium, and the lore that they're creating demands that we be passive observers, better suited to a movie, a tv/webshow, a book, a comic... anything really, except for a video game. And indeed, Riot is still creating a video game, we can see all their efforts put towards this with constant updates to the game.
But the plot never moves. Because it can't. We have no way of interacting with it, we can't push it forward, and Riot isn't making movies/shows/books/comics/whatever, they're making a video game. They're crafting this wonderful, huge story... And they have absolutely no way to give it to us. They've crafted a story for another medium than the one that they have, and so the result is a story that has no way to move forward, on any plot threat. Every so often we get a nudge here and there, but, the times when the story has been at it's best for the game, when it's really fit the League as best as it can, is when it focuses on the big picture stuff. Things like Kalamandra, or Noxus vs. Ionia, where the factional conflicts are the focus and champions are relegated to bit parts. Nothing more than a colourful cast of backup characters to add some spice and fireworks.
It's been explained that many older champions have lores that are too insulated, their story arcs completed, and as such they no longer fit into the ideal for this new character driven narrative being pursued. But for the type of story that actually fits the game? They were perfect! Because they were left free to be attached to virtually any conflict, they could fit into almost any game. Somebody like old Trundle, who had finally found a place where he belonged within the League, was unattached and free to be summoned to play any role that was needed amidst larger, more faction based storylines.
But, on this point, let me diverge a bit from the topic at hand, to say how utterly insulted I am at the notion that a completed story arc means a character has nowhere to go.
On characters with 'complete' arcs
Specifically, I am referring to this post by RiorRunaan:
Quick comment: I'll have more coming on this soon enough, but yes, this is generally in line with some of the trouble we ran into with Trundle's old story. It felt complete--it was a full arc, any tie we could make between it and what we wanted to do with Trundle as a frost troll felt very arbitrary and band-aid plot point rather than meaningful development. Lots of our older champions actually face this problem... their plot arcs are more or less closed off, their motivations limited, their stories more or less one-directional. We want to keep conflict alive, we want to keep the relationships between champions dynamic, contentious, and dramatic. A lot of the updates you're seeing now are made with that in mind.
The idea that because Trundle had gone through a completed arc (which is debatable, because there was still some room for more exploration there) means there was no where else you could have taken him, that is offensive to me. It's like telling me that, should I ever achieve my life's goal (to be a professional writer, amusingly enough), that the story of my life is over. If you did that, I'd tell you to **** right the hell off. If there are absolutely no more stories you could possibly have told about Trundle, if there is no way at all that you could have connected him to other characters or factions, then you simply aren't trying hard enough.
Besides, as I detailed earlier with when discussing Soraka and Warwick, which should be noted were a pair of relatively recent lore rewrites made after this course change towards a character driven narrative began, newly reworked champions are not necessarily any more open. Their conflicts are alive in name only, because in truth they're dead on arrival, incapable of progress.
The problems with the lore don't stop there either. There are several other issues that crop up by trying to apply a storyline that's more champion focused to LoL, such as the sheer number of champions. There's over a hundred, and more coming constantly. How do you tell stories about all of them? How do you give that many characters equal share in a story without turning it into a convoluted mess (just look to DC or Marvel comics, especially when they get into huge company wide crossover stories, to see how much of an incomprehensible slog this can be). If you don't give them equal share, how do you decide who gets the limelight, and do you risk alienating the fans who wanted to see other champions get the focus?
What to do about it
So then what's the solution? If the lore is broken for the game, how do you fix it? There is, really, only three solutions I can see, though I'd love to learn about others that perhaps I just can't think of.
The first is to change the direction of the lore to one that actually suits the game. The problem with this is that Riot does not seem to actually have any interest in doing so. They've established all these champions, they (supposedly) have a ton of stories about them that they want to tell, they don't seem to want to go back the direction that they came. Especially since, after all the effort and time they've taken to start pushing things in this direction, backing down now would probably be rather embarassing.
So then option two is to find a new medium, either one more befitting the passive storytelling methods that Riot has thus far preferred, or at least one better suited to a character-oriented storyline such as a single-player game. And while I'm certain there are those at Riot who would love to do this, it does have its own problems. Namely, it would be a collossal investment in dangerous, uncharted waters, potentially diverting development focus away from the gameplay aspect of League, which I can't imagine they would ever want to do.
A third option, and, at this point, honestly what looks to be the closest thing to a true solution, is to just separate the two entities entirely. Come out and say 'League of Legends has no storyline. All this plot applies to the fictional world of Valoran, but the game League is plotless, using characters from our fictional world but having no relation whatsoever storywise'. Though even this is really little more than a bandaid solution. While it solves the problem of League and the plot being fundamentally incompatible, and frees the plot to progress a bit more freely and create any type of conflict without worry of how it would interfere with gameplay, there would still remain the issue that there is currently no real medium with which to tell all these stories that they (allegedly) have planned out to tell us.
At the very least though, it might get people to stop asking why new champions bother to join the League. If I may be excused for taking on a combative tone for a moment; Riot, why do you think people keep asking this question on such a regular basis? Like clockwork, whenever a new champion arrives, or an old one has a lore rewrite, there are multiple people who will ask why they joined the league. Why is this? It goes back to what I said before. We, the players, do not play as champions. We play as the summoners who control the champions. And we want to know how the story relates to us personally. It's not that we're not interested in the champion's own adventures, but we're playing in an interactive medium, and we want to know what impact our interactions are having on it.
So there you go. Honestly, that's not even every problem with the current lore. I haven't even touched on the problematic prevalence of retcons (enemy to consistent, coherent plotlines everywhere), but I think I went over the heart of the problem. Feel free to post, comment. I hope perhaps some Reds will even see this and pass it along.