For the past few years, Riot Games has been hard-resetting the lore for League of Legends; completely throwing out the old scattered texts and replacing them with surprisingly captivating narratives. It was a brazen decision to make, but it’s already paid off tenfold with fresh and well written character introductions, hype-inducing cinematics, and cross-game lore focused events in Valorant, Teamfight Tactics, Wild Rift, and Legends of Runeterra.
With Netflix’s recently released Arcane animated series, it’s clear that Riot isn’t messing around. Arcane‘s promotional push and launch has pulled several digital universes together with tremendous care, while still being a tight fantasy show that stands on its own. It holds the emotional power to turn even the saltiest League hater into a true believer.
Arcane is Riot’s first attempt at expanding League of Legends’ lore to television, animated in a mesmerizing matte style by Fortiche, a studio that has done 2D/3D work for their teasers and music videos in the past. Each frame is a polished treat for the eyes, I’m still in awe at how well it balances high-particle explosions with its subtle, authentic character expressions. The debut series is dropping weekly in three episode batches, with in-game events serving as an intermission each week.
Arcane digs into the backstory for a huge swath of champions, but it specifically hones into the origins of Jinx, a trigger-happy champion, Vi, her law-abiding, big-fisted sister, and the class disparity between the elite steampunk city Piltover, and the neglected, disreputable underbelly of Zaun. I’ve been a League fan for over eight years now, and have never cared for these characters or these areas (in fact, I thought they were pretty boring), but after watching Arcane‘s impassioned first episodes I would die for any and all of them, and I cannot wait for next week to see how the story continues.
I had very low expectations for this series out of fear that it’d be a lifeless, corny cash grab, but that’s not the case at all. From episode one, Arcane effortlessly breathes life into MOBA characters, transforming them from controllable playthings into flawed, excitable, and curious people that you can easily empathize with. The 40ish minute long episodes cover a decent amount of intertwining plotlines, preventing confusion by making each arc distinctly personal and concise. Whether it’s hovering around the mad scientist Singed’s body augmenting experiments or upperclassman Jayce’s rich kid blues, it always spends just enough time on each story to keep you hooked.
The only thing that falls flat is Arcane’s musical selection, which is a disorganized mix of genre and tone. League of Legends so desperately wants me to like Imagine Dragons, and after multiple collabs they still aren’t doing anything for me. Dragons perform the bland intro alongside a feature from JID, and it’s a skippable, forgettable foreward that doesn’t measure up to how viscerally emotive the rest of Arcane is.
It’s still baffling how interconnected Arcane‘s lead up is. They made an interactive web-based visual novel, put Jinx in Fortnite, secured a beauty partnership with Fenty, collaborated across all Riot Games, and launched the show on the same day of 2021’s League World Championship finals. In League of Legends, there’s been a map aesthetic overhaul, changing structures and minions to a hextech theme for the Piltover vibes. In Valorant there are Arcane posters on the in-game billboards, themed collectibles, and one of the agents also admitted to being a League fanatic in a short animation. Teamfight Tactics, the autochess battler, is also completely themed around Piltover. You can’t escape it.
It’s hard not to be hyped for the show if you play any of these games, and Riot is tossing out rewards and bonuses for simply watching and acknowledging it. All of this cross-universe energy makes me look back at the years I’ve spent in these worlds, and it’s gratifying to see them all communicating with each other to tell a larger narrative. They’ve tried to connect their games in the past with the Sentinels of Light and Ruination events, but nothing has been as all-encompassing as Arcane.
Over the past few years I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with League, and a lot of its initial joy faded away with time. But this year’s aggressive lore push has revitalized my relationship with the character-driven MOBA, and has genuinely made me excited for its fantasy universe to flourish. I have guarded hope for the rest of Arcane‘s episodes, and the multi-platform, collaborative future of Riot‘s titles.
There are so many untapped story mines full of rich potential, lying dormant in League‘s roster, from the corrupted empire of Noxus, to explaining why Malphite is just a rock guy walking around. They could explore any part of their massive world in another animated series, or a one-off game like the upcoming RPG Ruined King: A League of Legends Story. Whatever it is, if Arcane is any indicator, it’ll resonate with you even if you don’t care about video games.
[Both Riot Games and Fanbyte are owned by the same parent company, Tencent. We don’t often, like, chill together or anything, though. I think Riot’s office is pretty close to the L.A. office where our bosses work? That’s about it.]