We started with a blank page, and ended with a killer.
Here are the steps in between.
Our initial goal was pretty clear: we wanted to deliver on a sniping fantasy that was notably different from Caitlyn’s long range gunning. If anything, her fast rate of fire and unlimited ammo aligns her closer to a semiautomatic rifle-wielding gunner, whereas we wanted to really explore what it felt like to use an old fashioned, bolt-action sniper rifle. We aimed for a champion who had slow and impactful shots, who could express skill through their long-range snipes, and who’d apply pressure with their shots even if they missed. One way or another, every shot would count.
Early sketches focused on a mysterious robot cowboy bounty hunting sniper - not the easiest elevator pitch - but the concept quickly hit the proverbial icebox as we focused on other further developed concepts. A couple of champs progressed from concept into production, in fact, while our sniper chilled out in his icebox, including a certain death-centric duo. After we figured out Kindred’s theme, we felt that a bounty system was a better fit for them, so pulled the mechanic from the sniper. Without the bounty hunting, we were still left with a mysterious robot cowboy sniper - still a cool idea, and still something we wanted to explore. So we came back, set on executing this long-range sniping fantasy. Initially, we just gave him a sniper rifle, but the range and speed still felt too close to Caitlyn, so we started thinking of ways to differentiate him. We eventually settled on the concept of a constructible weapon, something that looked like a short-range sidearm for basic attacks, but that could be assembled for long-range sniping with his abilities. The idea stuck, so August started looking at ways to necessitate planning and execution, emphasizing carefully timed and placed shots as opposed to your average marksman’s attack speed-fuelled barrage of withering basic attacks. As we started discussing the concept internally, we quickly realized that the term “sniper” felt wrong - there was just too much overlap with Caitlyn, and the term implied that everything he did would be at supreme range - so we started thinking about a better development term for the character.
August started looking at ways to necessitate planning and execution, emphasizing carefully timed and placed shots...
The term “Deadeye” fit perfectly, encompassing aspects of a long range killer without the excess baggage that came with the sniper term. August started diving into this Every Shot Counts idea, and implemented an ammo system for his basic attacks. Meanwhile, Deadly Flourish quickly turned into the longest range basic ability in the game, but would be most effective when his allies had already marked his target. This was our attempt to bring the feeling of spotting - where others call out targets for their sniper to shoot - to League! What’s more, Deadly Flourish, along with Curtain Call, tied into the sniping fantasy much better, because they cover huge range, but most importantly, can miss. This added a ton of skill into the abilities, of course, and would mentally affect Deadeye’s target even if he didn’t land his shot. You’ve seen movies where soldiers run for cover after a sniper takes his first shot, and that was a heavy inspiration for the feel we wanted to convey with Deadeye.
Deadly Flourish was our attempt to bring the feeling of spotting - where others call out targets for their sniper to shoot - to League.
Massive range meant that Deadeye needed to set up his sniping nest too, which became a really important part of his gameplay as we started testing his kit. Deadeye had to think about where he could be most effective, and while enemy teams would start piling in thinking they were on the better end of a 4v5, they quickly learned their lesson and started asking themselves that single, fear-laced question: “Where’s the sniper?”
August fixed Deadeye’s ammo count to four - the low number meant that every shot count, and meant we could ramp up the damage so that, well, every shot hurt, too - and we liked the idea of the fourth shot being the deadliest from a mechanics perspective. But why would Deadeye save his most powerful shot for last? We started looking at his character, and actively turned the number four into a common repeating motif for him. Deadeye doesn’t want to just kill you - he wants to kill you perfectly by slowly building up to a sublime death. Odin started thinking of Deadeye as an artist, and built in references to music - specifically opera - in his voice lines and personality. We doubled down and repeated four as a key number in his kit, with four bounces on his grenades, and four Curtain Call shots. We found that this actually echoes well with our own world, where the word “four” sounds like the word “death” in Chinese, and is, because of that, a deeply feared and unlucky number in many parts of Asia. It was perfect for Deadeye.
His theme and mechanics were taking shape, so we started experimenting with Deadeye’s visuals. We were still trying ideas around this robot cowboy look, but wanted to see how different factions around Runeterra would shape Deadeye’s appearance. We tried out some Zaun designs, gave Deadeye a mask and made his gender ambiguous. Next we wanted to try adding some unsettling asymmetry to his shape. Larry drew up a few silhouettes, and one really grabbed the team:
Deadeye needed to appear human, appear normal, only to realize as you drew closer that something was off. Really off.
Why the hump? What was that thing? It formed a strong point of curiosity for us that we loved, alongside the constructible gun. Next Larry drew up some animation studies, and we saw what the hump actually was - part of his weapon - and how he moved. Stakeholders were instantly onboard, so we iterated further, turning Deadeye into a darkin, then a woman. Next we tried Ionia, and immediately found traction with their ornate architecture and form over function design ethos. Settling there, we elongated his body and turned his mask into a real intricate work of art. We steered away from robotics because it lacked the elegance that Deadeye’s character was fast developing, and didn’t click with his burgeoning feel. In fact, we knew the character was turning into a pretty nasty killer, but in order for him to be truly terrifying, we wanted him to look approachable. Deadeye needed to appear human, appear normal, only to realize as you drew closer that something was off. Really off. We came to call this “The Lie”.
Odin continued refining Deadeye - now named Jhin - into a monster. But not the Rek’Sai-style rip-your-head-off-and-eat-your-heart kind of monster. We wanted Jhin to be a real psychopathic killer, someone who you could interact with, but who wasn’t all there. He seems to be smiling, but he’s not: that’s just his mask. Jhin searches for a justification for doing what he does, and similar to Dexter, Deadeye might appear normal, but is a true monster inside, hellbent on his art and giving his victims the perfect death.
We were on the home stretch. We took a look at Jhin’s weapons, and aimed specifically at creating magical guns rather than strictly ballistic weapons. Hammering home his artistic aspirations, we looked at Jhin’s rifle, and added a fountain pen-like nib to its barrel. Finally, we applied a color pass to him, and decided to give him bright, lively shades that emphasized his peacocking. His main three shades - purple, white, and gold - directly reference roman emperors, so while Jhin’s very much equipped to kill, he’s also dressed to impress.
Finally, and this isn’t normally something we reference in these articles, but that original robot cowboy concept did actually make its way onto the Rift. It’s his launch skin - High Noon Jhin - a nice little hat-tip to the original concept that created the Virtuoso.
While Jhin’s very much equipped to kill, he’s also dressed to impress.
We’ll be back soon for Jhin’s Q&A session, so get your questions ready for the Rioters who created him!