The Difficulties of Story for League of Legends

This is perhaps less of a discussion and more of an explanation. I'll be doing my best as someone with experience writing stories to give a perspective that might not be heard often, from what I've seen on this forum. And yes, this is a long post. A very long post. It took me almost three hours to write. I'm in physical pain and I should be asleep by now. ##The Most Irritating Jigsaw Known To Man This is a concept most people seem to understand, but few consider when looking at someone else's work: creating a fictional land that feels like it's alive is _hard._ It is so difficult because the world is one of the most finely-inspected parts of fiction there is. A large part of the wild success of J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings book series is the expansive and detailed setting. This was a setting that Tolkein spent roughly 55 years developing over the course of his life. It can be argued that Tolkein spent so much time on this setting because his books were designed to show off what he'd created more than they were to tell a story (this turns Frodo into a short, hairy tour guide, and is why the books differ so much from the movies; exploration of a world doesn't sell quite so well on the big screen), but the point stands. Creating a world is difficult, and takes time. ##I Cut Off Your Hand, What'cha Gonna Do About It? Conflict is the lifeblood of a story. If you have no conflict, you have no story. This is the staple of every story. Stories where nothing happens are bland and ignored. If I tell you about how I grabbed my keys off the coffee table, got in my car, sat in traffic for twenty minutes, pulled into the grocery store, bought three individual slices of pumpernickel bread, and then went home again, you wouldn't know why I told you that story. You might even think I'm trying to make you ask why I only bought three slices of such an inferior grain. There was no point to the story. _Nothing happened._ Conflict is what changes routine. If Luke Skywalker had never received the message from Princess Leia asking for help, he never would have left his home in search of Ben Kenobi, wouldn't have left Tatooine, and the Emperor might have continued using his lightning fingers as an impromptu joy buzzer for years to come. It is necessary for things to happen. ##Hermione, The Original Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card Conflict can't be overcome too easily, or whatever is at stake suddenly loses its value. If there's an answer to every problem, then there are no problems left and you have no conflict left, and we've already been over what that means. There's a fine line you have to tread with characters; they have to get close to success but only just succeed, it can't be handed to them on a silver platter. In Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, the final conflict is hidden behind a magical gauntlet that must be overcome to approach the Mirror and find the Philosopher's Stone. The obstacles are as follows: a lethal plant, a lethal game of chess, a test of dexterity, and a magical equivalent of the chance game Cups. The plant proves fatal to Ron and Harry, but Hermione uses her bookishness to slide right through the danger and move on to the next problem, saving her friends in the process. The game of chess allows Ron to step up to the plate, showing a side of him that hints at intelligence. The test of dexterity seems tailor-made for a quidditch player, and Harry successfully completes his challenge. The last challenge is what amounts to a game of chance. Given that Hermione uses logic to figure out what would have killed Harry on his own, the readers might like to think that she and Harry are well-equipped to deal with whatever comes next, and they would be right. Hermione has enough understanding of how the world works to spoil Professor Quirrel's reveal. So she goes back to help Ron. Now that the all-knowing Granger is no longer present, Harry is free to actually struggle against Quirrel. ##Events Don't Happen In a Vacuum The saying "All the world is a stage" has some bearing on this. Any good acting coach will tell you that, to make your performance believable, you have to react to the other actors. If your best friend looks up from their dead dog with tears in their eyes, and you take a sip of your mocha as you wash blood and fur off your tires, then you had better be writing a dark comedy piece because that will get you nowhere in any other genre. The world reacts to the actions of its people. The butterfly effect is a real thing, if somewhat exaggerated. For want of a nail, the kingdom fell. Other vague yet poignant sayings. If someone takes action, then there will be a reaction of equivalent meaning. If you kick a dog, it will either whine or bark. If you kill a few hundred people, you'll be killed yourself, go on to murder a few hundred more, or have been the indirect cause of the largest paperwork malfunction in the history of law. Actions have consequences, though they need not be direct. ##The Role of Foreshadowing A reader needs to be able to follow along with the events of the world. Humans like being able to puzzle out the cause and effect of actions, so much so that sometimes they'll see false connections just because they want to see _some_ connection. Foreshadowing helps with this, and lessens the shock factor that takes readers out of the narrative like a cold bucket of water. On the other hand, if readers can figure out the events of a story before they happen, they have no reason to read it. Character death is an excellent example of this. If you are able to see that a character is going to die (such as the event of an explicit prophecy) you start to resign yourself. When it happens you nod, accept that it's happened, and move on. It's a fact that it has happened, and it's acknowledged, but it has little impact because you've already distanced yourself. Of course it affects the other characters in the story, but it isn't so important to you, the reader. If, instead, a character suddenly dies of a heart attack, then there's no meaning behind the event. It was an arbitrary, if shocking, event that had no reasoning behind it. Perhaps the writer was just tired of that character, so whoops there they went. Maybe they were too convenient. In the worst scenario, the author is trying to get the reader to feel emotion, and so badly botches the job that it leaves you more disinterested than when you started reading. The key is a middle-ground. The reader needs to know enough to see that _something_ is coming, to make out a vague shape looming in the fog, but they shouldn't be able to figure out what is going to happen until it's happening. And now, what you have been waiting for. #How This Relates to League of Legends So far, I've been elaborating on some basic information about storytelling. Now, I'll be more explicitly talking about the past and present difficulties Riot faces as they work with the Lore of league of legends, both in regards to the aspects of storytelling that I've explained above, and the specific problems that League of Legends has as a device for a narrative. ##Valoran As a World What the Riot team is doing right now, is creating a world. A whole world, and they're doing it piece by piece. This is a long process, and while they have a team of people who can work on it (and hopefully agree on a direction), it will still be some time before they have their complete world. If the current issue with missing lore stems from tech problems, then we wait for the tech to get fixed. That's all we _can_ do in that case. If it's a problem with piecing a world together, then we can only be patient. They're putting together a jigsaw puzzle the size of a city, with the advantage of being able to snap a photo of completed sections to show off to their friends. Let the jigsaw come together. ##Conflict and the Institute of War The original story behind League of Legends was that there were mages that were so powerful, they could decimate whole swathes of land if so motivated. These mages came together to form the Institute of War, an organization dedicated to finding a less destructive method of resolving conflicts. Under this great magical threat, nations signed on to this idea and allowed their great heroes to join the Institute to represent their countries. This creates a natural hub of the world at the Institute of War. All eyes of the continent turn towards the Rift to see what their future holds. But, with so much power concentrated in the Institute of War now, the nations didn't have any military threats. Noxus, who was originally a militant city-state, now had nothing for their military to do. Zaun, whose experiments had been used just as much for maiming others as they had for self-improvement, lost much of its patronage now that there was so little violence going on between other nations. The most common source of spontaneous conflict--violence--was now gone, leaving the changing power structure of the world in the hands of diplomats whose worst threat was "Let's just see what happens on the Rift, shall we?" Newspaper's that used to report the number of fatalities in a war were now reporting on the budding relationship between Garen and Katarina. Conflict was, essentially, dead. There was a quasi-peaceful resolution to any problem that cropped up, and a benevolent organization that controlled the most powerful champions on the continent. The options that are left for the basis of a story are the corruption of said organization, a rebellion of the city-states (who have given up their best warriors) and the invasion of a foreign power. For a world that was based around explaining the game mechanic of summoning characters, none of these offer a particularly compelling arc that players can feel as if they are participating in the story. The Institute of War as a vehicle for story has sputtered to a stop at the highway on-ramp. It has nowhere it can go. So, in the interest of pursuing a compelling story, Riot gets rid of the Institute. ##The Problems With the Current Known Lore As a few other posters have said, there seems to be a lack of interaction between the city-states in this new version of the world. This can easily be the result of the Narrative team taking their time to focus on having a rock solid world before they start bouncing people against each other because, as I said earlier, actions have consequences. If Noxus weakens its forces against Ionia, Demacia might very well step in to clean up its rival nation when there is a greater chance of victory. If Zaun suffers from a massive fire, the food stores of Piltover might start running dry as the genetically modified crops from Zaun are being hoarded within city walls. Events have consequences, and you have to know your world before you can really figure out the consequences of any major events. ##The Fear of Change Recent changes to the lore behind League have been some cause for concern among the community, for good reason. When champions that people have followed for months if not years are changed without prior information, there is an understandable amount of backlash. There is a reason Riot provides context in their patch notes, and a reason why players have some level of input in the degree and execution of champion changes: not knowing what's going to happen next to your favorite champion _sucks._ In the comments on [another thread](http://boards.na.leagueoflegends.com/en/c/story-art/zqXApKJy-the-brute-in-ekkos-teaser-may-be-hired-by-none-other-than-stanwick-pididly) there is some concern that Viktor might be painted as a more stereotypical villain than he is right now, and that would be heartbreaking to me, personally. This is what I was trying to get at with foreshadowing: if something happens to the characters and story that is totally unexpected, there had best be a reason for it hidden away in the dialogue somewhere. Especially for something with so much community input as League of Legends, when the characters themselves undergo such a drastic change, it can be almost the same as killing off a character in a story and then introducing a different person to fill the void. The new guy doesn't stop that pain, they aren't a perfect replacement. Yes, this is a direct criticism of how Riot has handled the change in lore. I agree with the choice to change the lore, but it has been executed sloppily, and I think most Rioters will agree that there has been lapses in communication throughout this process. ##League of Legends Is In Stasis Storytelling in video games often tells the story of a single main character that the player is put in charge of. Recent RPGs, the genre most known for story telling, have even allowed the player to make choices that directly impact the result of the game. Video games as a narrative have been progressively moving more towards the player actively participating in the world they're thrust into. MOBAs are an awkward genre to have a running story in. When there was an Institute of War, players could feel like they were participating in something larger than themselves, they could at least pretend that their actions had some impact in Valoran. Of course this did result in problems of its own, namely the lack of a conflict. With the current state of the lore, Riot seems to be moving towards a situation where they have a consistent story that runs along a timeline. This has worked impressively well for games like World of Warcraft, where, once again, the player has the opportunity to directly participate in raids that affect the outcome of the world. They get their chance to feel like they are part of a larger cause. MOBAs create a situation where players are at best reenacting a single legendary battle over and over again with different characters, and at worst the actions of the players are totally disconnected from the story. League of Legends is currently in the latter category. This isn't a fault of Riot, but rather of the genre as a whole. Dawngate took a unique approach to the situation, giving players direct agency over the events of the story through having the results of each game affect the story. For League, there is a gap between the story and player's actions. This poses a unique problem for gaming as an industry: how do we create a story for a video game when the players' actions _don't_ directly affect the story? Again we can look to world of Warcraft for some inspiration. Blizzard releases novels that further the story of the world outside of the game itself. As it stands with League of Legends, this seems like it would be a convenient solution. Of course, Riot isn't as large an institution as Blizzard, they don't have the guarantee of selling the product that lets Blizzard ignore the risk of paying an author and publishing stories, but something new must be done. Adding continuously more characters without furthering the story of Valoran will leave no one satisfied, and is a waste of a truly interesting world with many (perhaps too many) interesting characters. ##The Future of Valoran I know that this world has stories to tell if only because of the emotional attachment so many people already have to the characters that live in it, and without the Institute of War, those characters are now free to influence events. Perhaps the only question that remains to be answered is who will tell the stories themselves. Will it be the fans, left without an official story for so long they all turn to fanfiction to fulfill their imaginations? Will Riot hire an author to write League of Legends novels, or perhaps an artist to do a web comic? Or will Riot come up with something new that allows them to tell their story the way they want to, but still allows for champions to change and grow in a world that has finally dropped out of an extended stay inside Tempered Fate? I don't know, personally. I think we'll have to wait until there's a solidly established history of the world before we see any new story coming from Valoran. There are plenty of opportunities with the character backstories that already exist, but there seems to be few available resources that Riot could use. A lot of people are upset over the shortened lore, and the lack of communication about the direction of the new lore. I am too. But perhaps we could take a second in this thread where I have typed far too much information on one page, and talk about what you hope to see come out of Valoran for the future. I'd like a bit more about Viktor, or this new Xerath. How are the ascendants from Shurima adapting to the new world they find themselves in? And what, oh what, are the void creatures actually doing if they aren't on the leash of the Institute of War?
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