League of Legends’s latest marketing angle is a highly disputed new champion.
In late 2018, the team at Riot Games released one of their most popular pieces of content to date in the form of the girl group K/DA. Made up of four champions from the game League of Legends (LoL), K/DA (Kills, Deaths, Assists – for those unfamiliar with the games scoring system) burst free from the game and into real life with their hit single “POP/STARS”. Hitting number one in the US Digital Song Chart, the song was performed live by recording artists Madison Beer, Jaira Burns and K-pop group (G)I-DLE members Miyeon and Soyeon at the 2018 League of Legends World Championships.
K/DA has been silent ever since… until now.
In a game now boasting a roster of over 150 playable “champions”, LoL has used a huge variety of promotional campaigns and techniques when it comes to announcing new characters. We have discovered hints about new characters through in-game clues, to seeing figures from the expansive lore be developed and worked into fully playable champions. What’s different about League’s latest champion, however, is the way in which they have been promoted as a living, breathing person.
Introducing new champion and K/DA prodigy – Seraphine: The Starry-Eyed Songstress.
In what can be considered one of the most thought out release campaigns to date, Seraphine’s story didn’t start with clues in the game, or even on any platform related to League of Legends – it started on her own social media. Seraphine’s Instagram had humble beginnings when it was created earlier in June this year. Uploading a “selfie” and beginning to brand herself as an indie singer, the pink-haired girl and her cat Bao could easily slide under the radar of any LoL player. As posts continued to be uploaded on her Instagram her “unapologetically girly” personality and follower count flourished.
One of the main talking points about this approach is a concern that the portrayal of Seraphine as a “living, breathing, person” could be damaging in terms of encouraging players to spend money due to a sense of relatability. Whilst this can be thought of as a valid concern on the surface level, it is important to remember that the only things requiring payment in the game are cosmetics. Players will always be able to acquire and play as Seraphine for free. Whilst it is both true, and controversial, that Seraphine is set to release with one of the most expensive skins to date, I believe that it reflects the amount of work that has been put into the champion’s release over the last few months – from every individually drawn post, to covers of songs, to the comic books detailing backstory and her feature on the recently released K/DA EP.
There is also a concern that this portrayal of a fictional character as having a real-life on social media can be quite creepy, confusing or uncomfortable. But to that, I question how this is any different from what organisations have been doing for years. Think about Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty or, possibly more related to Seraphine than we’d think, Hatsune Miku. All of these characters are built up to have a personality, a life, a social presence and friendships.
My main concern with Seraphine doesn’t lie in her aesthetics or her personality. I don’t believe that Riot aimed to make this a relatable character to try and exploit money from players. I believe it was a genuine project (with an undeniable amount of effort behind it) to try and create a character that represented an audience outside of the typical straight, cis male player base both within the game and associated with the video game industry in general. As previously stated, it is possible to obtain and play as characters for free in League of Legends: the only thing that requires payments is if the player chooses to spend money on cosmetics.
And this is where my concern lies. That this character that we have seen grow and develop over the last months isn’t actually who Seraphine is. It’s who the “K/DA Seraphine” is, her “real-world persona” as her Champion Insight page puts it.
The Seraphine in the game’s fictional world Runeterra, or who she actually is without this cosmetic purchase, has a mere 700-word biography on her character page that mentions nothing of girl bands, selfies, bubble tea or cats. Whilst what we do know of the real Seraphine is interesting, it is nothing in comparison to the huge storytelling project showing her discovery as a singer and integration into the K/DA universe on her social media.
Ahri, Evelynn, Akali, Kai’sa – the founding members of K/DA. We think of them as League of Legends champions, with K/DA cosmetics. Yet, I can’t help but feel like Seraphine is a K/DA champion, locked behind one of the most expensive paywalls in the game, with a League of Legends based model as an afterthought.