How to draw a character for 125 million players

League of Legends (League of Legend/LoL/Lolca) is a MOBA from Riot Games released in 2009. This is not a “girly” sandbox, 80% of the players are men. As of April 2022, League of Legends had 150 million users, of which 125 million play at least once a month. By comparison, the World of Warcraft audience is now 5-6 million, so the League is quite old and still a popular game.

I am a big fan of Lolka, I enjoy reading developers corner on the official website and browse the blogs of artists on artstation. Ryota usually start character creation with a concept, a sketch that the artist reworks and refines many times with the team.

In a nutshell, the advice from the Riot Games concept artists boils down to:

  1. Do a lot and quickly. The number of sketches is more important than their quality.
  2. Move from the general to the specific. When you have made a decision, do not go back to discussing it, start clarifying the details.
  3. Draw concepts as simply as possible.

Under the cut are examples of concept art, the recent process of creating a selfish support-manipulator based on the notes of a concept artist, and many more sketches and sketches by artists from Riot Games.

I also run a Telegram channel GameDEVils and blog on substack I share materials about game design, development and history of games there.


League is not the only project of Riot Games, in the same setting they also have League of Legends: Wild Rift (the same League, only on mobile), Teamfight Tactics (something like auto-chess), Legends of Runeterra (collectible card game). Plus, there is Valorant, the first first-person shooter.

Riot artists post a lot of materials, and Riot Games themselves even released a course on the visual component in game development, for example, here is an episode about what is concept artto which I will refer.

Much and fast or little and detailed

In concept art, quantity is much more important than quality. More precisely, quantity eventually turns into quality. Concept artist from Riot Games Thomas Rendby advises not to be afraid to experiment. Sometimes an idiotic thought turns into a good idea.

Concept art of Vi, the Piltover peacekeeper. More like children’s drawings.

And here is the final art of the champion, which hangs on the official website of the game:

Close the door behind you

To find the right concept, artists go through dozens and hundreds of options. But it can take a long time to go around in circles. To break the circle and figure out which way to go, Riot Games concept artists use the “closing door” approach. The picture below illustrates this approach. If you choose a dog, then in the next iteration you don’t go back to snakes and cats, you cut off this set of options. Next you make concepts for the dog breed. After you choose a breed, and when you have chosen, you are already finalizing the concept in accordance with the restrictions that this breed imposes.

But some people like cats, and some like dogs. How then to choose. A concept artist does not draw just for the sake of beauty, he solves some problem. Ryota’s concept art proposals are not formulated at the like/dislike level, they are formulated at the level of a specific task. For example, which cat is more intimidating? This is where most people agree.

By the way, from time to time, Riota creates a reddit discussion thread to get the opinion of fans about innovations, here is a discussion of updating the visuals Leona and Shako.

Ivern’s Green Father concept:

And here is how the concept turns into a champion:

The character artist makes refinements, but it is obvious that there are no drastic changes, everything corresponds to the concept.

Easier. Even easier. Quite simply

Concept artist Sunny Kindlejack Pandita uses a simplistic approach in her work. It simplifies the League of Legends champions as much as possible without violating their individuality, i.e. a person to whom this champion is familiar should easily understand who is in front of him. This exercise helps identify important “readings”.

Above is one of Sunny Pandit’s sketches. Rebus for fans of “League of Legends”, if any. The artist did this while working on an ADC champion named Aphelios:

I wouldn’t have guessed that his scarf is ultimately his most important and consistent reading. [Санни Kindlejack Пандита]

Or another example. Here is the first iteration of the Garen Bruiser tank by concept artist Augie Pagan. Such a healthy bull with a sword:

Here is another concept, it is already quite clear that this is a classic knight, especially on the left (this is a classic skin).

The champion was first released in the League in 2010 and Garen looked like this:

In 2013, they decided to refine the champion, developed a new concept art:

Here the artist must take into account that the “League of Legends” is a MOBA, i.e. we see the champion something like this:

Those. when simplified, we are left with three visual parts, three “readings” that the eye clings to: the sword, shoulder pads and cloak.

Here’s what it looks like in the game:

Concept artist works without limits (no)

Let’s say we need the concept of a magic staff, which consists of a stick and a magic stone:

In this case, the shelf and the stone are the two constraints that the concept artist is starting from. Here’s what the Riot concept artists sketched out from the tutorial video about concept art:

A concept artist from a real project will have more restrictions. Restrictions are the lore of the game, the specific characteristics of the character, the technical capabilities of the engine, the genre of the game. Take for example the most recent League of Legends champion Renata Glask.

Renata Glask

Game designer Blake Squad5 Smith said that Riots have long wanted to create a support dark mage, otherwise there is not enough variety – only fairy girls. Initially, the role of a support is disinterested, this character heals, throws shields, covers his team, but for a game designer it’s not a problem to turn disinterested mechanics into selfish ones.

According to the plan, the new champion manipulates enemies, sets them off, makes allies fight even in death. And it’s still a mage-support. What kind of weapon could such a magician have? It is clear that the staff, while this is the most popular option. But which one.

Concept artist Sunny Kindlejack Pandita drew hundreds of weapons for Renata.

“And since she’s a sorceress (and Baroness of Toxic Chemical City)I wanted some twisted medical approach, so I tried a syringe, a weird chemical tank, even a machine gun. But in the end, evoking the feel of the caduceus staff worked best.” [Санни Kindlejack Пандита]

After many iterations, the Riots settled on this Decanter design (as the team called the staff in the process).

During the ultimate ability (ulti), the staff releases a wave of chemicals and opens like an umbrella:

And here is how the umbrella would look in the game itself. Sunny Pandita writes that the Riots have long tried to create an “umbrella weapon”:

The final version of the disclosure of the “umbrella”:

The artist also felt the appearance of skills not the first time. Initially, the concept artist had an option to “release the beast” and show Renata’s snake essence in one of her skills.

Later, the artist reworked the concept of Renata’s hand in a more “mechanical” version, the character’s homeland is a city with a steampunk bias.

It’s not perfect, but the broader metaphor is snakes under a human façade. She is a monster in beautiful clothes. [Санни Kindlejack Пандита]

Sunny Pandita made concepts of Renata in combat to convey how the champion would look and feel in game:

Later this skill was transformed several more times:

Now in game it looks like this:

In addition to Decanter, Renata has a gun. She’s the villain. All villains must have a gun.

Sunny Pandita saw in the image of Renata a piece of the villain from the old James Bond movie, so the weapon was based on the Luger pistol, aka Parabellum:

Renata has the logo of her pharmaceutical company on her shoulder straps:

Her logo includes coat of arms of Zaunthe city in which she “rules”.

Sunny Pandita uses this to communicate with players who follow the game’s lore. Last year, Riota released a series Arcane (IMDb 9.0/10), which takes place in Renata’s homeland. Renata herself was not there, but Riota renewed the series for a second season.

Revealing that Zaun’s faction symbol is based on her company logo was an effective way to communicate that she is Zaun’s main “villain”.

The concept artist can refine the details by sorting through many options. For example, hair and accessories help to reveal the image of the character. After sorting through several options, the artist realized that the hair pulled up is beautiful, but not suitable for a ruthless snake in a stylish suit.

Even the latest concept from a concept artist is not the last. When a 3D character artist steps in, he clarifies that they were made to match the 3D model. For example, here are the working comments Edrag Monteon left on Renata’s model:

Conclusion

Instead of a conclusion, here are some more League of Legends concept art with the final versions:

Concept art of Ripper attacks from Pyke’s Blood Harbor:

Here’s what his skills look like in the game:

Concept art of one of Priestess of the Deep Mother Illaoi’s skills:

And here is how this skill was implemented in the game:

Orn’s Mountain Depths Flame Concept Art:

And here is the final game art that grew out of this concept. This is more like a blacksmith, a powerful tank-bruzer:

Concept art of Master Yi’s Wuju Swordsman:

And here is what the animation of this champion looks like in Wild Rift:


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My Telegram channel with findings about game development, game history and game design:

GameDevils

(in Russian) and blog on

substack

(in English).

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