Dev Blog: Exploring Runeterra

By Tommy Gnox

First of all, though these are technically my words, I’m just one of the many people involved with storytelling at Riot, and what you’re about to read is inspired by their collective passion. League of Legends covers a lot of ground at this point, but is ultimately always centered on the gameplay at its heart, so the idea that there are a lot of Rioters connected to narrative might surprise some. That’s a big part of why we’d like to talk to you about the current state of League’s story, as well as some of the changes you’ve seen (and will continue to see) as part of our evolving approach to storytelling.

Storytelling as league evolves

Evolution is one of the core elements of League of Legends. Champions, events, skins, splash art, and the maps themselves are just some of the avenues through which we seek to continually level up every facet of the game. We want League to always feel current through design balance, art updates, and new character themes and stories.

We want League to always feel current through design balance, art updates, and new character themes and stories.

That means we have to be willing to look at work we’ve done in the past and honestly reevaluate it. In some cases – say, with a champion update – the original concept is mostly sound (or even timelessly awesome!) and all we have to do is bump things up to modern standards. Sometimes, however, we look back at decisions that made perfect sense when we originally made them, but are now at odds with our design values and ultimately limit our ability to continually improve League of Legends. That’s unacceptable, and in such situations we seek to aggressively reimagine content in a way that realizes its full potential.

As players ourselves, it’s easy to get excited about upcoming developments – but you, the players, don’t always have visibility into what’s coming down the pipe, or why. And so we’ve learned how crucial it is to communicate changes in ways that give you a sense of why choices are being made and what benefits can be expected. In this case, that first requires a bit of backstory.

A bit of backstory

In the early days of League, we created a fictional background that would justify how players could control champions during games. We came up with concepts like Summoners, Fields of Justice, an Institute of War, and indeed, the League of Legends itself – all in an attempt to provide fictional context for in-game action.

After a while, these early choices began to create unexpected problems. Every new champion needed a reason to join and remain in the League, and as their number grew, the net result was that over time the world started to feel, well, small, and eventually less interesting. The institutions we’d designed fostered creative stagnation, limiting the ways that champions, factions and Runeterra itself could grow and change. Furthermore, the very idea of all-powerful Summoners made Champions little more than puppets manipulated by godlike powers. The background we’d created to explain in-game action was ultimately restricting the potential narrative development of the game’s defining characters.

Faced with these limitations, our use of narrative elements tightly bound to the original vision (Journals of Justice, Judgments, etc.) dwindled, because they felt fundamentally restrictive to our hopes for a more vibrant and expansive world. In response, we started (with efforts like the Freljord event and recent champion bios) to tell stories that explored the furthest limits of League’s original creative framework.

Time and again, we’ve heard players clamor for more story, fueling our desire to make the necessary changes to bring you bigger and better glimpses of Runeterra and its inhabitants. A lot of you have voiced your thoughts on these changes, and in a variety of ways – with enthusiasm, ideas for further new approaches, or even concern. In all these cases, we’re grateful for your interest, and we’re committed to both pushing narrative development further and doing a better job of providing insight into what’s going on under the hood with story.

Where we are today

At a very broad level, we’ve decided to push League’s story beyond its original focus on explaining in-game action and forge a new narrative path for Runeterra – a world in which the factions and champions we all know and love have full freedom to grow, travel, and kick ass on a worldwide scale. From champion interactions to bios to events (and beyond), we aim to expand the scope of League’s story and pursue a more dynamic and wide-ranging world fit for the outsized capabilities and personalities of our champions.

Story has the potential to affect every element of League of Legends, so the decision to venture into new narrative territory wasn’t made quickly or capriciously. The need for change only became apparent over time, and the choice was made only after a great deal of deliberation. Further, we want you to know that this new approach is focused on opening up possibilities and unlocking a wider, more fully-fledged world – the point isn’t to tear up older stories that form their own cherished part of League’s history.

At a very broad level, we’ve decided to push League’s story beyond its original focus on explaining in-game action and forge a new narrative path for Runeterra...

But what does that mean?

Essentially, it means that the game and story aren’t one-to-one copies of each other. League as a game is about creating awesome gameplay, while League as a story is about creating deep, vibrant characters and factions inhabiting an expansive world. We don’t want to limit story because of gameplay, just like we wouldn’t limit gameplay because of story – we want both of them (and all the other elements of League) to have the freedom to be as great as they possibly can be.

Does this mean older story efforts like the Journal of Justice and League Judgments are meaningless? Of course not. In the same way that we can go back and enjoy old books, shows, films, art, and comics that have been superseded by more recent interpretations of the same material, League’s original lore remains a cherished part of its history. From comic books to classic literature, exploration of the same creative space in vastly different ways is a natural part of storytelling.

Runeterra is a big place, with lots of room to be explored in different ways by different people – including players.

Where we're going

When it comes to storytelling, things will continue forward much as they have done already– League as a whole evolves steadily over time, often in small steps, and the same is true of its story. We’ll continue to explore Runeterra through various mediums, in chunks both large and small, and we hope you’ll come along for the ride and continue to share your ideas and feedback.

The point is simply that League of Legends constantly evolves, and, as it does, its narrative needs to evolve as well.

Communication is where you should really notice a difference. Similarly to the gameplay team’s ongoing Design Values series, we’ll be back with future Dev Blogs discussing both our latest narrative efforts and our general principles when it comes to developing story in League. For example, one of the principles we’d love to discuss further is our focus on ensuring that champion identities remain consistent regardless of where you encounter them; for example, Darius should always feel the same regardless of whether he’s administering an axe in a story piece, the game, or a cinematic. Exploring champions’ backstories and motivations beyond what you see in the game doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly start feeling like different characters; what it does do is offer a huge spectrum of options for fleshing out personalities and deepening connections.

The point is simply that League of Legends constantly evolves, and, as it does, its narrative needs to evolve as well. We couldn’t be more thrilled to share this process with you and to hear what you have to say about it. More than anything, we want to rekindle the conversation with you. What stories do you want us to tell? What parts of Runeterra would you like to see?

We’re excited to keep exploring the possibilities, and we hope you are too.

Tommy Gnox (but really the whole Narrative team)

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