Viability vs. Optimal

A common error I see when people talk about video games is mixing up viability and optimal picks. This extends to both League and Overwatch but it’s an important distinction that needs to be made, especially when one is arguing about the state of the game.

“Viability” Being Misused

Often, when people talk about viability, they look at it from the perspective of “Is this character in the best spot they could be right now?” which isn’t the case at all. When it comes to viability, it simply means “Can I play this character to an effective level?”. In nine-out-of-ten circumstances? Yes! You can use almost any character in these games. League’s massive one hundred and thirty-plus roster is filled with playable, workable champions. I’d argue about ninety percent.

“Optimal” Being Understood

Optimal, however, speaks strictly about the power behind a single character. There are only a handful of optimal picks in Overwatch right now, the common combination (If I am remembering correctly) being Lucio, Ana, Reinhardt, D.Va, Roadhog and Zarya. This DOES NOT MEAN that all the other heroes are bad, per say. This simply means that in your best state, you’d want to play these heroes.

Blurred Line

The best question to ask is how did this get so mixed up. The answer? Esports. Simply put, since the advent of esports, people look to the pro leagues and the highest echelon of play to determine the state of balance. But balance for the common masses and balance for the top tier is a vastly different ball game. As an example, DOTA 2 balances strictly around the pro scene and results in an incredibly diverse game for them. However, for the common players, some heroes shine far brighter than others. During The International 6 (The biggest DOTA tournament), Omniknight was picked once and lost in all games. However, in normal queues, he was boasting an incredibly high win rate.

In this regard, people will look at the LCS or the upcoming Overwatch Pro League as a metric of what is “viable”. The truth is that in your silver games, anything can be played effectively. Offensive Torbjorn? Sure. Bot lane Yasuo? Go for it. You’re playing at a level where comfort picks are far more useful than any sort of meta strategy.

Balance is a different story but just remember: Just because something isn’t optimal doesn’t mean it isn’t viable.

On Sexual Diversity in Video Games: “Vi stands for…Bi?” (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my last musing article so if you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. Don’t worry, it’ll open in a new tab.

Following up from last week, I wanted to talk about sexuality in another game I play (being League of Legends) and how sexuality gets assigned when it comes to a void. I actually wrote a paper on this back in college when it came to a class so some of this might be recycled.

In the Void

When it comes to a game like League with hundreds of characters and not enough time to write a novel for all of them, you cut corners. For most characters, a single short story and background page is all we have outside of the core game’s VO and how they play. As such, sexuality gets left on the cutting room floor. It is, after all, one of the lesser aspects of a character.

When you think about it, only a handful of characters have actual sexuality when it comes to the game; Illaoi was dating Gangplank and flirts with Braum. Taliyah has small flirtations with Ekko. Garen and Katarina are in some sort of lovers feud. Lucian had a wife. Tryndamere and Ashe are married. In these cases, even the revealed facts are pretty bland. Which does make sense. After all, a majority of the populous is heterosexual.

When it comes to characters, we have two prevailing schools of thought: The “Everyone’s Bi” argument and the stereotype argument.

The “Everyone’s Bi” Argument

Most of this comes from the fact that giant IPs have so many artists, writers and more who all draw characters in different pairings and different ways. What’s the point of saying “Well canonically Miss Fortune is gay!” when you have a hundred aspiring artists and writers who are going to tell stories about her psuedo-boyfriend anyways?

In this argument, there’s no point in discussing sexuality because people will assign it on their own save for story hooks. Even in story hooks, such as last week’s “Tracer and Emily” information, will be disregarded to fit what fan writers and artists do. Everyone’s bi so who cares! I wouldn’t say this is a particularly diverse way of looking at things but it also gives players the most freedom to think however they wish.

This is also a feeling you generally have when it comes to make-your-own protagonists. Commander Shepard is Schrodinger’s sexuality: He’s simultaneously gay, straight and bi all at the same time. In this regard, League and games like it don’t need to talk about sexuality because everyone will make their own…and it cuts through the rough things that can happen in countries that don’t approve of such things like Russia.

The Stereotype Argument

Conversely, there are those who NEED the writers or story people telling them who is what. If you don’t, people instead default to what they know about a character. In a game like League, where most characters have very little writing to them, you end up playing heavily on stereotype and fan theory.

Take for example Taric. A soft-spoken, handsome man with a fondness for beauty and shiny things. All we know about him is his backstory (Demacian Soldier who is now Avatar of Protection) and a handful of voice lines. In trying to figure out who Taric would love to date, people asked Riot. They gave the non-committal “He loves everyone”. Thus, people default to stereotypes…which means Taric is about as gay as a triple rainbow over a pride parade.

In a vacuum with little/no writer input, people just default to stereotypes. It’s easier that way, after all. Of course the counter-argument means that Riot was implying Taric is bi or even something more like polyamorous. We don’t know their true intentions, however, and it’d be pretty bold to include such an underrepresented thing in fiction. (Sadly some people, myself included, need a cheat sheet for all the sexuality there are today.)

The Part Where I Talk About Vi

And now we come to Vi. Part of why I devote an entire section to this is because this is where all of this writing comes into play. When Vi came out I was smitten. She encapsulated everything I love in a female character and looked damn good doing it. Of course when I talked to everyone about it, I got the same feelings: “Oh yeah the lesbian.”

My personal belief was that I always saw Vi as bi. Which is also why I defend the idea so heavily. On one hand, I don’t feel like her story or upbringing makes her out to be someone who sticks with one person or someone who doesn’t flirt with others every chance she gets. On the other hand, I also hate the idea of putting her entire character in a lesbian box because she’s a stereotype many people see: Short, pink hair. Rough tomboy. Snarky and rude.

In this case, Riot eventually came out and somewhat “subtly” said Vi likes guys and girls. About as subtle as a taco and hotdog metaphor can be anyways. Yet this is again a non-committal answer. They can easily twist or change this however they want. Personally, I like the idea of Vi being bi. It gives us an underrepresented sexuality, keeping true to the character (at least in my mind) and adding one more layer to a character without going too deep into it.


Much of this probably reads like rambling. Like someone who has too much time on their hands to worry about what fictional people do in their love lives. To me, it’s an important issue. It’s not a damning one, sure, but I think it’s necessary to talk about this sort of thing. In games, we often have the saying of “Show, don’t tell”. People don’t respond well to just saying “Oh yeah whatever he’s gay”. We need to see it with our own eyes.

It’s also why the Tracer comic was such a big deal. We got pretty damning visual evidence and it was quite a bold move. That is unless you’re a denier, in which case Tracer is kissing a very good friend on her open mouth. Either way, League could take some steps in my mind to further push these boundaries. We can have more beyond stereotypes or just wondering if everyone is bi until we get a clear answer.

Hopefully one day I can see a comic of Vi hanging out with her lovers in an open relationship.

Those Progress Leaves Behind

Special thanks to Tom Randby (@faeriefountain) for letting me use his art for this week’s story!

As Piltover moves further ahead, Caitlyn cannot shake the feel that she’s slowly becoming obsolete.

For weeks, she had been tracking a stolen shipment of augmented limbs. Supposedly they were powerful enough that one could blast a hole in a steel beam, among other things. If that actually fell into the hands of those who could use them with some degree of intelligence? Robbery would skyrocket. Mostly of more augmentation of this degree. That just would not suffice.

Perched carefully on the roof, Caitlyn watched with calm, focused eyes. In her most rookie of days, she might have had an elevated heart rate or overwhelming panic at the thought of being in a firefight. After all these years? Little more than boredom as she waited for the shipment to pass by. According to her investigation, it would be three men. Likely one or two chemically enhanced but nothing so dangerous that she couldn’t handle it.

Hidden in the alleyway that she was perched over were several traps, covered by thin layers of garbage. It was quite disgusting but they’d serve perfectly to snare anyone who tried to run. At this point they had to be on-foot, unable to get around with carriages. Not with the dangerous things they were carrying.

As the sun was covered by a small cloud, a trio of men appeared in the alleyway. All of them wearing long coats. All of them carrying massive boxes. The untrained citizen would likely assume they were just hired help, doing manual labor for coins. Caitlyn’s far more sophisticated gaze picked apart their awkward gait, the nervous looks and the boxes being shoddily handled for those who were supposed to be lugging around valuables.

Quietly unfurling her rifle, Caitlyn took aim with one of her lesser rounds. It wouldn’t be enough to kill, so long as she hit a leg or an arm, but it was surely enough to force them to bend the knee. A small smile crept across her face, the joy of finally trapping her enemies in a no-win situation. Days of watching, waiting and analyzing patterns were sure to pay off. In a way, she almost felt sorry for these poor goons.

A heavy footfall gave way to the loud snap of Caitlyn’s trap being set off. “Unlucky,” Caitlyn quietly said, taking aim and firing a round at the trapped target. The one of the trio who had set off the trap looked down, staring at where the trap had gone off. Considering the situation, even if the other two escaped Caitlyn would have an easy time tracking them down. Especially with a bargaining chip like one of their comrades.

Instead of a shriek of pain or the agonizing groan of a man stumbling to his knees, the ear-ringing plink of metal-striking-metal rang throughout the alleyway. Caitlyn’s face contorted into an expression of disapproval. The boxes were summarily dropped in the alleyway, Caitlyn ducking slightly behind the ledge of the roof to avoid being seen.

“Who the hell put this here!? Percy, you said we weren’t being followed!” the man growled, the sound of shaking metal as Caitlyn’s trap was being kicked off. It was more akin to stepping in gum for the man than a debilitating snare.

There was the hiss of someone silencing the other. “Boris, look around. See if you can get a vision on whose here.”

Caitlyn was completely safe, in this regard. At the angle they were looking, there was no visible way to see her. She’d have to loop around and-

“Upper left! Someone’s skulking around up there! Ain’t no other heat signatures around here except that one!”

Her teeth grit so hard Caitlyn might have cracked one of her teeth. She had expected them to start selling the wares. She hadn’t predicted they’d be so brash that they’d attempt to augment themselves. Much less that these augments would be workable to bumbling idiots and even less so that these untested prototypes would work with minimal error.

As she stood to move, the floor gave out from beneath her. A chunk of the roof seemingly vanished beneath her feet as Caitlyn slid. One hand clutching her gun, the other desperately grabbing at rubble. She found a handle to hang from, the sheriff silently cursing herself as she precariously hung over an alleyway with three crude criminals.

The trio looked up, whistling loudly. “You should wear the skirt again, sheriff. The view down here ain’t nearly as nice as it would be.”

Biting her tongue, Caitlyn held back some crude remarks of her own. The men waited for a retort that wouldn’t come, sighing to themselves. “Gave us quite a scare there,” another said. “We were worried for a second that it’d be your butch Zaunie girlfriend…or that side-piece you brought onto your payroll.”

Now she was getting frustrated. Yet with the position she was in, she had to take into account that these men could easily kill her. She’d have to buy her time and wait for them to make a mistake. They were underestimating her, which meant that when they did slip up she’d be able to do something drastic. What that something was, at the moment, wasn’t in place yet. Especially against those sporting top-of-the-line augments.

Looking down, Caitlyn surveyed what she was dealing with: Three thugs. One with an augmented eye and some manner of plasma gun for an arm. Another sporting two heavy legs and equally heavy arms, likely the muscle. Finally, the one in the center who had kept himself hidden. “Eh, she ain’t speaking. Don’t shoot her though, we can use her. Demitri, you wanna cut the good sheriff down from that dangerous place? We certainly don’t want to hurt Piltover’s finest.”

The one called Demitri, sporting his huge and lumbering augments, grabbed the wall. Scenarios ran through Caitlyn’s head. Hitting him with the electrostatic net would slow him down. He’d fall, maybe land on one of the other ones. Good, good, that would buy time. She could reaffirm her position from there. She was alone in this so-

Just as those thoughts ran through her head, Demitri’s arms separated from his body. Electricity flowed from his arms in arcing sparks as he stumbled from the wall. “W-what the hell happened!?” he cried in shock.

It was then that the one with the eye, likely “Boris”, had his own augmented limb sliced clean off. He clutched his arm, howling in terror as he hit the wall. The limb may be fake but the pain was indeed real. The remaining one in the center (Percy) looked back and forth, increasingly aggravated. “Little bastard! Think you’re so cleaver with your cloaking that you can just get by us!?”

Percy suddenly raised his arm, steel clashing with steel as a massive hextech arm caught the bladed edge of a spear on it. “I’m not invisible. You just can’t keep track of me when I move this fast. If you surrender now, you’ll only be charged with endangering an officer and trafficking stolen goods,” responded a metallic voice.

Sporting a flowing blue scarf, white sash around his waist and an equally blue coat, Mach stared down the thug. His one augmented eye whirled, a faint blue color with circuitry beneath his skin shimmering blue. The metal plates around his mouth parted, revealing a disappointed frown. “I don’t want to severely hurt anyone so please; Stop.” Without the faceplates, his voice sounded human.

Apparently the thug had other ideas. Knocking away Mach’s spear, his massive arm (Even larger than Vi’s gauntlets!) slammed into the building side, cracking stone. Caitlyn’s grip crumbled away as she began to fall with her back facing the ground. She looked with one eye, witnessing the criminal sprinting with one remaining box of augments. Sloppy work, sloppiest she’d ever done. Maybe if she adjusted her net to fire just before she hit the ground, she could minimize the impact.

Just as she thought this, a metal cable with a hand attached to the end fired past her head. Instead of hitting the ground she felt an arm grasp her waist, pulling her upwards instead of downwards. Soon, she was back on the roof, looking down at her shorter companion. Peering down the alley, he too cursed before turning back to Caitlyn. “Sorry, I had to help you before chasing him down. Vi’s on her way as well so maybe she can cut him off,” Mach said, looking upwards at Caitlyn. “You’re alright though, right?”

Caitlyn slammed a hand on her desk, glaring at Mach as he sat before her. “What were you THINKING!?”

Confused and terrified, Mach stammered where he sat. “I just- You didn’t tell us where you went even though you said you were doing something alone. So we got worried that-“

“That what!?” Caitlyn’s expression hardened, pulling back from her desk. “That you didn’t think I was capable of handling an assignment on my own?”

“That’s not what I meant at all! I was-“

Caitlyn angrily stamped over to him, getting in the young man’s face. “So you disobeyed my order and followed me even though I said I could handle this!? You, as fast as you were, let him ESCAPE?!?”

This time he didn’t respond, the color draining from his face. It only made the circuitry beneath his skin shine brighter. That hint of tech beneath his skin only served to infuriate Caitlyn more.

“Get out of my office. Don’t you EVER disobey direct orders I give you, are we clear!?” She yelled. It wasn’t like her to yell. Much less to yell at him. “Stay away from this case or so help me…” For a brief moment, Caitlyn almost said something unforgivable. Something that would have severed any relationship they had. He noticed it too, eyes going wide as Caitlyn held back the best she could. “Just get out of my office.”

He was far too quick to do so, almost sprinting from her sight. Taking off her hat, Caitlyn brushed a hand through her hair. A good cup of tea would do wonders but she didn’t want to interact with anyone, not yet. Sitting in her office and bottling up the anger she felt would likely be a good start.

The door to her office flung open, Caitlyn casting an eye to the door as it was shut behind the intruder. A pissed, pink-haired woman stared Caitlyn down. “Hey, real quick; The HELL is wrong with you?”

Taking this as a challenge, Caitlyn’s glare centered upon Vi. “What’s wrong with ME!? I specifically told you both-“

“No. Nu-uh. Not this time. You don’t get to threaten him like that. You KNOW he’s sensitive. You KNOW he’s trying his best for everyone. And so you go and drive him to tears!? Because he HELPED you!?” Vi yelled, jabbing a finger accusingly at Caitlyn.

“I didn’t ASK for his help. Nor did I ask you, Enforcer, for your opinions on how I discipline members of my group. Need I remind you of that!?” Caitlyn’s anger was simmering now, Vi not doing much for her nerves.

Vi’s glare shifted to something of pure rage. “And now you’re playing the goddamn rank card on me? What’s gotten into you, huh? Why the hell are you acting like a class-A jackass!?” Vi got right in her face, the height difference palpable as she looked down at Caitlyn. “So what is it? What’s got your panties in a twist? Did someone piss in your tea or are you just on your period?”

In a single, swift motion, Vi’s head was turned to the side from the force of Caitlyn’s slap. Her cheek turned red, the black-etched “Vi” on her face now resting in a sea of pink. She turned to Caitlyn, staring in shock as Caitlyn stepped away. Caitlyn, realizing how she’d briefly let her emotions get the best of her, turned away.

“…Seriously. What’s wrong?” Vi said, moving to stand beside her. “You’ve been acting weird for weeks now.”

A deep, shaky breath from Caitlyn as she cleared her mind. “Every day, it feels like there are more and more augmented individuals on the street. They can run faster, jump higher, see further. You name it.” Caitlyn ran a hand through her hair, pushing it back. “You have your gauntlets and you’re damn strong, sure, but neither of us…” She looked to the door.

Vi nodded a bit. She pushed Caitlyn, lazily, into her chair. Vi grabbed her own chair, sitting across from Caitlyn. “So you think we’re-“

“Not yet. We’re not…but there will come a point where we can’t do our job anymore. Either we’ll have to improve ourselves, our equipment or go into retirement.” Caitlyn ran a hand through her hair. “I thought I could handle this. It was a simple job. Three smarmy thugs. Instead I almost died and had to be rescued like-“

“Like a Demacian princess from the evil dragon?”

Caitlyn’s gaze could have crushed diamonds with how hard she was looking at Vi. “Yes. That. I’m not a damned damsel in need of rescuing from anyone.”

Sighing a bit, Vi crossed her arms. “So you felt obsolete today. So you got saved by Sparky. Big friggin’ deal.” Vi smirked a bit, leaning in close. “Haven’t I saved you before?”

Caitlyn begrudgingly nodded. “Those times don’t count. It wasn’t the same.”

“And haven’t both of us saved Sparky once or twice? I distinctly recall you kneeling in the rain, giving him CPR despite the fact that we were both sure he was dead,” Vi added.

This memory made Caitlyn bristle. Nobody ever died under her watch. Especially not someone as new to the job as he was. It didn’t help to remember that familiar feeling of uselessness when she sat there, slamming her hands on his chest even as his eyes went dark.

Vi placed her ungauntleted finger under Caitlyn’s chin, pushing her head up to look at her. “You and I aren’t going anywhere, no matter how many hopped-up morons they send at us. They get better gear? We’ll get better gear. If I remember right, your first few years were using a shoddy repeater rifle of some sort?”

Caitlyn murmured, smirking faintly. “And you used chem-tech gauntlets.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Point is, you need to quit this crap about fearing the future and acting like you’re replaceable. Last I checked, nobody catches criminals with the whole predatory queen-of-Piltover vibe you have going on,” Vi added.

Sighing a bit, Caitlyn rubbed her face. While the feelings weren’t completely gone, there was truth to what Vi said. Piltover was progress and progress was all about moving forward. She would get better tech, better weaponry. Even if it wasn’t enough, progress be damned she wouldn’t fade away. “I’m sorry. For hitting you.”

Vi reached over, flicking Caitlyn’s nose. The woman moved backward, rubbing the front of her face as Vi shook her head. “I’m not the one you need to say sorry to, Cupcake.”

The low, long groan from Caitlyn was more than enough to bring back Vi’s good mood. “Please STOP calling me that. For God’s sake, we’re in the office.”

The Cheshire grin of Vi only grew wider. “Last I recall, you have a pet name for Sparky AND me. What was it again?”

Rather than be subject to this abuse, Caitlyn shoved Vi and stood out of her seat. “Where did he run off to? If I am going to apologize.”

Vi’s grin suddenly turned into a blank expression. “Oh. Shit. We better get moving.”

Prove Caitlyn wrong. Make things right. He had wiped his face, clenched his spear and ran off to track down the last remaining thug. Case be damned, he’d do it and make right what he’d screwed up. He didn’t think he was better than Caitlyn but he just couldn’t bear to see her upset. Now here he was.

Metal hands were pressed to the floor, electricity arcing over his entire form. Organic-and-augment alike were shocked, the short man hunched on the ground. Percy whistled softly, watching as Mach writhed on the floor. “I’ll admit, I didn’t expect an anti-augmentation tesla gun to be so…effective. Can you move?”

In response, a metal hand was fired from his wrist, cable crackling with energy as Percy stepped out of the way. “Oh, well damn. Guess so. But you made a good attempt.” To reward such an effort, Percy slowly raised the dial. Cries of agony echoed throughout the warehouse as he lay there, eyes wide in pure pain. “So general word-on-the-street is that your augmentation is the best in Piltover, aye? I’m sure you’ll fetch a nice price. Well, parts of you anyways.”

Looking up, Mach’s teeth were clenched as he glared at Percy. Even with warning signs blaring in his head and over his vision, it didn’t take an enhanced eye to see the small red dot moving up Percy’s form. It danced over his body, moving past the metal prosthetic and over his eye. Half of his head seemed to be metal, which made the red dot lingering on his false-eye invisible. “Eh? What are you staring at boy? If you’re hoping to beg, it’s a bit late.”

A soft, loud whistle rang through the air as the round fired directly into the warehouse, shattering a window. Percy, with his enhanced reflexes, flung an arm up to block the incoming bullet. Mid-air, microjets emerged from the bullets sides, angling around the raised arm. “Impossible…” was the last word Percy uttered as the bullet dove its way into his false eye. The giant, with all his numerous augments, toppled over as he breathed heavily. Half of his mechanical brain was likely destroyed.

With the tesla gun rolling to the ground, Mach lay there clenching the ground. Ragged breathing resounded as the door to the warehouse was literally torn off the hinges. Vi nudged her neck to the side, letting Caitlyn walk in first. She knelt beside him, rolling him over to cradle him. “Relax. You’re going to be alright. Do you need a medic?”

Sputtering, he looked up at Caitlyn. “How…the bullet…”

A sly smirk from the sheriff. “Automatic Criminal Eradication technology. Able to readjust mid-flight and always hit the mark, no matter what. I believe I called it the A.C.E. in the hole.” As she said this, her expression turned somber. “I’m sorry. For yelling. I should have let you-“ Caitlyn paused, looking up at Vi. “-both of you help me.”

With twitching limbs, Mach laughed softly. He stammered, body still processing the excess energy. “We’re…a team….I shouldn’t have….run off….thanks…for saving…me.” He reached up, a cold metal hand running over Caitlyn’s face. At first, she flinched. But she leaned into it, softly smiling down at her companion.

Squatting beside them, Vi smirked at both of them. “We’re all made up then? Don’t need to beat the piss out of either of you for doing dumb stuff?”

Mach looked over to Caitlyn. “Can’t…move much yet…please…hit her…”

“Oh c’mon Sparky. You look especially good when you twitch like that. Don’t even need batteries for this vi-“

With a single, swift motion, Caitlyn smacked Vi over the head. Sure, things would require change. None of them could be the best at their jobs forever. Piltover, however, was a city of progress. Be it with new weapons, stronger technology or even more powerful limbs to ensure that nobody would be above the law, they were going to move forward.

Their future, and Piltover’s, was sure to be bright.

Ludonarrative Dissonance in League and Overwatch

As a fan of lore, backstory, and the general storytelling of video games, you can imagine how much I scratch my head at these two games. While I understand the reason for it, both of these games exhibit extreme cases of ludonarrative dissonance. Rather than specifically state my opinion, I’d like to go over the pros and cons of this divide and further explain the intricacies of this system, maybe even determine why more and more games are moving toward such a style of story telling.

 What is Ludonarrative Dissonance?

Ludonarrative Dissonance is a phrase coined in 2007 by Clint Hocking, a creative director at Ubisoft. He used the phrase to specifically describe the disconnect between Bioshock’s storytelling and the gameplay elements related to the game. It drives a wedge between what we’re told (The hero is a heroic, kind, selfless soul) and what we’re actually doing in the game. (Ransacking every house we find.)

Games are unique to this problem because we can’t see a dissonance of this scale when it comes to movies, writing or television. Yes, we can have awkward moments but that is the sign of a poorly-written story where we question the writer breaking character. Comparatively, games have the dual-function of serving both a story element and a gameplay element; Even the most story-driven game has to have some gameplay and even the most nothing story in a video game has to have some overarching goal.

As an example of this, my character in World of Warcraft (at least in roleplay) is a weak human noble with very little battle-based skills. Yet I’m a max level hunter who regularly goes out and murders whatever the baddie-of-the-week is. It’s a clear disconnect between who my character is and the gameplay related to my character, although that’s entirely of my own choice.

Ludonarrative Dissonance in League and Overwatch

Perhaps more than almost any other game, both of these games have become extremely disconnected to the story of their respective worlds. League famously had a massive retcon due to the “Institute of War”, a powerful association of mages, causing a lack of conflict resolution or even conflict. To Riot, it was a confusing plot contrivance where characters could not change and all the champions of League had to be on a power-level below these summoners.

In Overwatch, there’s no connection at all. While characters interact, it’s clear from both a story and gameplay perspective that nothing is canonical. Characters die, respawn and fling each other all over the map in the pursuit of..well, either pushing a cart to the end of the map or capturing a control point. Any story elements told are given through cinematics, comics or other forms of media that are passingly related to the game in a stretched scenario. Perhaps the only connection is the small bits of dialogue characters say but, even then, it’s a dream scenario.

The Case for Ludonarrative Dissonance

When you consider these multiplayer-only or multiplayer-focused games, there is a core and damning narrative term that permeates everything: Static. Characters are often static. Characters cannot die and more often than not, story hooks can’t be directly resolved because everything resets at the end of the match. So what if Soldier 76 kills Reaper and captures Hanamura’s point? Is this really where the story is meant to end?

When you look at League, there was a major event early on that was touted as a story change in the game: The Ionia-Noxus match. In this game, players picked predominantly Ionian and Noxian champions who fought to determine the fate of the island nation. After a match done with some roleplay, Ionia was the victor. And….there are Ionian boots in the store now. What? There was no major change in character story arc, no alteration of their voice lines, no nothing. The Ionian champions succeeded in their goal but they still had to fight for…reasons. The conflict was “resolved” yet the only change was the addition of shoes to the shop.

Situations like this outline how forcing a game to work within story contexts can lead to disconnects and frustration. You have to come up with a reason for resurrection yet bend rules so that it’s not an easy out. You have to create change just enough that more of the story is told yet there is a net-zero outcome when the characters have to act-or-play differently. This unintentionally gates the story and makes players wonder if change is even possible.

By separating gameplay and story, you don’t have to worry about these situations. Players are free to enjoy a character without worrying about the actions in the game affecting the character. Those who enjoy the story and background can also go and find it, giving a massively deep layer that isn’t available directly in the game. It also prevents those who don’t really care about story to be subjected to it. With ludonarrative dissonance, you can technically have your cake and eat it too.

The Case against Ludonarrative Dissonance

In many ways, the disconnect is often the coward’s way out. It’s the point where a designer and a writer go “We can’t work together. Let’s just do our own things separate from each other”. This disconnect creates a massive divide in the playerbase and forces players who care about the world to watch a character they love never truly evolve in the game, only in the background.

No game is ever truly separated from narrative, as much as one might like to argue. Story hooks and elements are brought into play regardless of if you place a ten-story building between the two. Camille might not interact with Caitlyn in the story but her speech lines do speak that she knows something about what Caitlyn is after. Soldier 76 and Winston might never meet in the story but they are still sharing story elements in the game itself.

Just because there is a separation between game and story doesn’t mean changes cannot happen either. Yes, it’s more work for the company, but you can arguably change voice lines and character dialogue as things change in the narrative. Even if this is a dream scenario, have characters grow and change. Forcing a disconnect between story and gameplay only happens when you make it happen.

I’m not directly advocating that you MUST have change in the game but to say that you cannot have any change at all is confusing to me. Characters can grow in a story AND in the game. Maybe you can’t change how they play but you can change how they react and how they deal with situations. Dissonance is only dissonance if you refuse to work with the game. Yes, there will be times where the character acts out of turn but a little dissonance is better than separating the game and story like the moon and the sun.

My Personal Opinion

You might have gleamed a bit of this from my word choice and the way I spoke about pros and cons, but my personal belief is that ludonarrative dissonance is fine in most cases. Not every game can have a story that completely syncs with the game you’ve made and that’s alright. No game, not even the best narrative-driven game of all time, will be entirely functional with the game you’ve made. I both understand and respect Blizzard and Riot’s decision to focus on the game itself but allow for a rich and deep story that’s told outside the confines of Summoner’s Rift or Watchpoint: Gibraltar.

My praise given, I disagree that the disconnect has to be complete. I feel like characters being given additional dialogue, new story options and more in the game should be allowed. Give us cosmetics that reflect what happened to these characters. Alter maps to show us what happened in a cinematic without designing the map around it (ala King’s Row). Give us story elements in the game that make us want to go looking at your fancy comic or your narrative hub deeper than the Mariana Trench. There can be connections without having to hamfist or slam a wall between the two.

Perhaps more and more games are moving toward this because less and less people care about the story behind these games? How many of us just rapidly slam the skip button during dialogue? How plentiful is the number of players who go on that secondary website and read all the short stories and comics? How substantial is the divide between people who enjoy the background and world behind these games versus those who just enjoy the game itself?

Ludonarrative dissonance is a tool. It is one of the many little gadgets in a writer’s toolbox that lets them alter and change the story as they wish in relation to the game. Just like any other tool, it’s strongest when it’s doing an appropriate job…but it’s not a universal tool that can fix every problem. There needs to be a fine line when to drop ludonarrative dissonance and work on ludonarrative consonance.

Creating Champions in League of Legends: Breaking Rules

It was around 2012 that I took my first stab at creating a champion concept for League of Legends. Suffice to say, I’ve been working on it and others ever since. Almost five years old I think? Either way, I learned very quickly on that making champion concepts for League of Legends forces players and creators to break unspoken rules related to OCs (Original Characters) in canonical universes.

The “Rules”

Generally, many of these rules are not explicitly enforced or stated.. However, play any MMO in an RP community (as I did for around ten or more years with World of Warcraft) and you’ll quickly see things that are OK or not-ok to common players. Some of these rules include:

  • Not being related or involved with canonical characters.
  • Your work or job being toned down. (You’re not the best warrior in Azeroth.)
  • Separating your character from the canonical events of the game, such as major raids.
  • Not directly affecting major events that occurred in the game.

There are always people who break these rules, sure, but I’ve often found them to be pushed to the side or ignored. Roleplay communities seem to thrive on original characters who are downplayed or are one of many, as any world would allow. Not everyone can be the heroic titan who stands head-and-shoulders above others.

Do be aware that these rules are quite often enforced in RP communities when they’re related to League but not directly related to champion creation or design. That said, when you put champion creation into the mix, things become increasingly messy and break further and further rules.

Breaking Conventional Rules

In every champion release or new character, regardless of if it’s League, DOTA, or otherwise, you have a character who has to compete with or excel against the best warriors, mages and assassins in their respective worlds. You can have normal soldiers but even then, they are above and beyond those who serve alongside them. We’ve already had to break one rule in giving that character the power to face a cavalcade of others.

A staple of these characters are being related or connected to others in some way. Be it rivalry, implied love interest or otherwise. Even if your character is completely unconnected, he/she/it will need lines in relation to encountering other characters in the game. This includes events in the story. After all, if your champion is important enough to be a champion, they likely did something of note.

These facts alone force you, if you want to create a champion, to create someone of major significance in the League universe and beyond. Which also might be why so many creators are looked down upon when it comes to these rules. Yes, you can be the greatest warrior the Freljord has ever known but many will shake their heads and be disappointed in how much importance you’re putting into your character. Same goes for any other major point of note be it romance, relationship or legendary weaponry.

Of course, you can make original characters separate from champion concepts but those characters cannot be heroes in the game itself. You have a clear divide between someone strong enough to be a hero/champion and someone who is merely strong enough to get by in the world they live in.

A Standout Crowd

The purpose of this wasn’t to make people go “Ugh yeah I hate those dumb people who do that” or to somehow get sympathy for character creators who want to be the greatest samurai Ionia has ever known. What I merely wish to point out is that League is a game where creating playable characters requires you to bend the rules of original character creation, even if they are unspoken.

It’s certainly not for everyone either. You will get people criticizing your character because they are far too important or far too powerful. There will be critiques made at how your character is related to or interacts with a character who is canonical. At the end of the day, everyone is vying for the same goal: Get their creation noticed and perhaps one day work at these studios to put their pride-and-joy in the game.

No matter what, these jobs are rife with critique and will always have someone questioning the character’s inclusion in the game unless they’re the first there ever was. All one can do is maintain an open mind when looking at champion concepts and to understand that players aren’t the cause of these characters: it’s the environment.

Piltover Parley Ep.1 ft. Fearless

Today we sit down with Jo “Fearless” Graylock to discuss the major introduction of season seven: Plants.

Welcome to Piltover Parley!

This is a series (Sometimes audio and sometimes written) where I interview significant figures in the League community and get their viewpoints, thoughts and ideas about the game!

With the advent of Preseason 7 (soon to be Season 7), there was no change more controversial and questionable by the playerbase than the introduction of plants. In an effort to get a deeper understanding of the system, I sat down with Jo “Riot Fearless” Graylock to get his insights, thoughts and even some regrets he might have about the system.


David aka “CaptainMarvelous”: Thanks for sitting down with me! To start things off, why don’t you give us a quick view on who you are so we don’t just keep calling you “The Plant Guy”.

Jo “Fearless” Graylock:  Hey! I’m Jo “Fearless” Graylock, Design Lead for the game systems team on League of Legends. I do a pretty even split between managing the well-being of the designers on the team and helping our designers do their best work and constantly growing in their capabilities. I’ve helped to create Plants, Elemental Dragons, and the Marskman Item rework, along with many other projects. Before I took this position, I took on the Sona rework, built the 2015 jungle along with Riot Axes, and built the Cinderhulk jungle enchantment. Previously, I worked at Obsidian Entertainment for most of a decade.

CM: That’s quite the career indeed. Shifting a bit more to the topic: Let’s start with what you and your team saw as the biggest problem plaguing the jungle.

JG: Route differentiation had really broken down, with many junglers having very similar starts and early clears, leading to the laning phase getting very rote. On the other side of the spectrum, a lot of the optimization points were poorly communicated. This meant the jungle was both solved and fairly arcane, which tends to be a worst of both worlds sort of situation.

CM: So the obvious criticism I, and many other players across Twitter, boards and reddit, was that “Well just fix the smite buffs”. What was it about smite buffs that made your team go “Yeah, no, this isn’t going to work out at all.”

JG: Smite buffs were a huge part of what was causing the situation. They created very strong right answers for jungle routes, and separated junglers pretty hard into routes with very little in-game decision making. We’d also seen the impact of the best case users of the smite rewards strongly limit the power we could put into the buffs, which put a limit on how strong we could ever make them.

CM: I’m still going to miss my raptor buff though. Now, with plants, some other games such as DOTA 2 have similar systems in place. In that game’s case, magical floating runes sitting in the river. What was it about plants that made it seem like the right call to add thematically?

JG: The plant theme was a pretty quick find due to how strongly our map has built up the theme of the jungle into every detail of the geometry and texturing in those spaces. Magical runes or crazy technical devices really don’t look reasonable in the setting, whereas fantastic plants very easily integrated into the environment. League also has some notable examples of plants that do big magical things, so it was a very clean fit.

The Response to Plants

CM: To be blunt, the initial reaction to plants was equivalent to stepping on a wasp nest right next to a lion who absolutely hates humans and wasps. Did you forsee the reaction being as volatile and vicious as it was?

JG: Yes. I was very unhappy with our initial messaging on plants, and players had every reason to be concerned if all they had to go on was those initial articles and videos. I was confident players would be much more positive once they had a chance to play with plants, but I totally understand the concerns we created.

CM: One of the most common criticisms you get is of your ranking in the game itself. “Why is a gameplay designer in silver?” and so forth. Giving you the platform, what would you say to those who hold up your rank as damning evidence that you harm the game more than help it?

JG: My only critique would be that I think very few people understand what my job actually entails. I’m not the lead designer of all league gameplay, I don’t do live balance, and I constantly seek out the opinions of the experts that do that work. We have plenty of designers and experts that are extremely talented players, and I have no concerns that awesome players are involved in our design process. On the other hand, we have very few designers on LoL with a long history of design experience, and I’m confident I bring a lot on that front.

CM: On another note of criticism: A response to those who say that your previous work such as, say, the Marksmen items is another fact against you when it comes to gameplay design? Especially considering how it often makes you a punching bag beacon.

JG: I’d say it’s to be expected. I’ve made a career out of taking on projects that no one else wanted to do or knew how to do. This leads to taking on a lot of unpopular projects, even if they were necessary and important. Systems design is frequently about doing the work to set the foundation for exciting projects. Sometimes we get to do something like elemental dragons, but very often it means doing the work that sets up the new champion or reworks, or the cool items six months later. I very much know that part of that work also means tanking the frustrations of players that can’t see what comes next or what our work makes possible in the future. It also means that I get to be quietly satisfied when the projects that are meant to be in the spotlight succeed, partially because of the work that we’ve done.

Plants on Live Servers

CM: Despite all the petitions and harsh words, plants have arrived on the live servers. What are your initial thoughts on the system now that players have gotten their hands on them? “Horrendous Herbs” or “Victorious Vegetables?”

JG: Plants have been pretty solid so far. We’re mostly looking for what interactions look like after plants stop being new and novel.

CM: Let’s fast forward a few years with our own zero-driver. What would be the best-case-scenario plan for plants in the future?

JG: I’d love to see more plants in the system, and probably a few more spawn locations or variety in the spawn rate, etc. We tuned the system to be pretty damn conservative at launch, and I’d love to find some ways to bring back a bit more adaptation rather than memorization and planning.

CM: On the opposite end, what’s the worst-case-scenario for plants? Do you think you guys would ever pull plants if it turned out the doomsayers were right and they actually were the death of League?

JG: No single element is truly sacred in systems, so any system that has more negatives than positives will eventually get tweaked, reworked, or removed. Plants is not an exception here, though currently they’re trending well.

CM: Moving back to the present, what would you say to all the plant detractors who had their own feelings on plants, be they eloquently worded or the narrative equivalent to poison?

JG:  Thanks for the feedback. We’re lucky enough to have a tremendous number of players that care about this game quite a lot. I expect to tank a lot of concern and discomfort when we make changes to the game. The personal attacks are a bit draining, but if that’s the infrequent cost for the hundreds of awesome player interactions that I get to have, then so be it.

CM: So what would be your thoughts on plants in pro-play? Do you think they might be the thing that’ll make games increasingly exciting and unexpected?

JG: My hope is plants allow for windows of aggressive action that either were much too risky before or simply weren’t possible for many champions. On a smaller scale, I also hope we’ll seem some gank routes and general jungle approaches unlocked by the new jungle and some of the early blast cone possibilities.

Heading Forward

CM: With plants out, what do you think would be your next project? Some sort of system or mechanic in the game that you think really needs a good wrench thrown at it?

JG:  I’ve been very open with the fact that I think runes and masteries have a ton of issues, and I hope we’ll get to address those in the future. Those systems are rather large, but they’re also limiting, outdated, and generally just a poor use of the possibilities they present.

CM: Looking back as you move on, what do you think would be something that you’d tell of past Jo? Some sort of hindsight that you really wish you could have changed?

JG:  Given what I know now, the season 2015 jungle would have been much better off with more direct changes to the camps, rather than the addition of Smite rewards. I think if I’d had more confidence about changing the more fundamental elements, rather than adding to what was there, the jungle would have been a much better feature long term. I also really wish I’d done a better job on plants messaging. I cause a lot of pain and frustration that could have been avoided with a little more patience and attention on my part.

CM: Finally, for the most hard-hitting question I could have ever come up with: What’s your favorite champ?

JG: I’m actually hoping I’ll have a new favorite with Camille. I’m a giant cyberpunk/transhumanism fan, and seeing us create something in that space is incredibly exciting to me.

CM: There’s a joke about machines and plants but I’ll spare you. Thank you for the time you’ve taken with me today and I hope this will give players some insights on how and why you do what you do. Best of luck on whatever system you plan on tackling next!

An Encounter with the Virtuoso

Khada Jhin. A ruthless killer who performs in the name of art. What lurks beneath his mask?

Khada Jhin. A ruthless killer who “performs” in the name of art. But the real question remains: What lurks beneath his mask and within his mind?

The door opened to the interrogation room. As this was a matter of Ionian security, it was Karma herself who stepped into the room. She walked over to the seat, moving it and placing herself in the seat. Following directly behind her was a mountainous man in ceremonial armor. Karma placed both hands on the table, taking a deep breath before she spoke. “You are Nila Rath, yes?”

The woman across the table nodded slowly. She looked to be a disheveled wreck of a person, with matted hair and a cold, broken expression. She nodded twice. Her voice stammered incessently, the woman shaking in her seat. “Yes. Yes I am.”

Karma smiled as best she could. These were hardly joyous circumstances but that didn’t mean she couldn’t try her best to soothe the woman and make her feel at ease. “I know this must be hard for you…”

“Hard!? Impossible more like it! You ask- you ask me to tell you!? To retell the horrors I witnessed!?” she howled. The man behind Karma moved slightly, quite close to restraining the hysterical woman. Karma raised a hand, stopping the man’s movement as Nila continued to speak. “You ask too much! You ask me the impossible. He could still be here. He was- I don’t know what he looks like, he could be right outside the door!” She repeated, over and over.

Reaching over, Karma offered a hand. Nila slowly and shakily took the offered hand. Karma closed her hand around the woman’s, stroking the back of her shaking hand with a thumb. “He can’t get you here. Even if he was here, Lord Ryota would never let anything happen to either of us nor would I let him assault you.”

It wasn’t much but Nila looked SLIGHTLY more comforted by this fact. Karma nodded once, letting her begin at her own pace. “Do…do you have to know?” Nila questioned. Karma nodded once. “I…ok, ok. I’ll tell…just…let me take my time. It’s…I…”

Karma placed her other hand atop the woman’s. “Please, take as long as you need. We’re both here for you.”

Nila would awaken to bright lights illuminating an old stage. There were holes in the ceiling and the seat she sat in was somewhat rotten. Attempting to stand, Nila would find herself tied to the chair. The lights were too bright, making the poor woman squint. Next to her she found two other people, two more on the far left. Five of them, all bound together and trapped in the decaying Ionian Playhouse. How had she gotten here? She was out at the market and someone offered her…something…and then she had gone down a path to somewhere….it was all a hazy mess.

A clap grew louder as the people next to Nila began to stir. “Good evening everyone! Up! Up I say, we’ve got a stellar performance to put on this night! I hope you’re all quite ready to begin!” The clapping wasn’t right. It seemed wrong. Like it was a hand slapping against iron rather than flesh-to-flesh contact. “It was ever so kind of you all to volunteer for this performance! It’s so very difficult to find good, strong, capable helpers!”

With her eyes finally adjusting to the light, Nila and those she sat with were greeted by the almost angelic figure. Beautiful white clothing, an elegant pose like a royal dancer, the lights illuminating the person from behind. Everything about him seemed….off. Much like the clapping being close to normal but just missing the mark, so too was the man’s body. He had an odd sort of hump, almost a second head if one weren’t looking straight. His limbs seemed too thin to support his body. His face was an elegantly carved mask, just human enough to hit the uncanny valley. It was like an apprentice drawing a person for the first time.

Clapping his hands together, the angelic-but-incorrect man hopped down into the front row of seats. “Now, all of you, you’re all so special! So elegant, so pretty! Are we all awake? Comfy? I apologize for the-”

The man to Nila’s right struggled. The figure took notice, canting his head to the man like a bird. “Excuse me, sir, is your binding uncomfortable? Is something amiss? What’s your name? I’ll be sure to take up any complaints you have with the utmost, sincerest care.”

In response, the bound man spit in the mask-face of the figure. “I am Jin Masoma! I know who you are, vile fiend!”

The figure was taken aback by the spit. He took a quick step back, as if he was utterly shocked that someone would do that. “You’re Jin? Jin Masoma?”

“Veteran of the Ionia-Noxus war, the Iron Swan himself, I-” With movements too quick to follow, the figure pulled out what seemed to be a gun. In a single shot, Jin’s voice was silenced as warm blood sprayed to Nila. The body twitched twice before going still. Normally, everyone would have begun screaming and sobbing, terrified. Yet at this moment everyone was reeling from the shock, the sheer gravity of the situation they all found themselves in. Those who were five were now four.

Nonchalantly the man pulled a beautiful handkerchief from beneath his cloak, dabbing the spit from his mask. “I apologize but there is only one Jhin here. I’m not a fan of those who try to upstage me. As such, let your inelegant death be the last mark you leave on the world.” Jhin turned to Nila, Nila’s blood running cold. Would he turn his gun on her? Was she next? She couldn’t die. She had left her son alone at home. He had nobody to care for him. Jhin slowly moved down to face her. His hand reached under his cloak once more, obviously ready to pull out something. Perhaps a knife to cut her, perhaps taunting her with his gun. Nila closed her eyes and turned away.

The sensation she instead felt was silken cloth on her cheek. Confused, she looked to Jhin with tear-filled eyes. Jhin was slowly, surely wiping the blood from her face and neck. “Please, my sincerest apologies. I should have been more mindful of you being right there. Oh would you look at this, such a beautiful face stained by the blood of a commoner.” Nila dare not move, her eyes locking with Jhin for the briefest of moments. They were beautiful eyes, crystal blue, but there was nothing behind them. No sparkle, no hint of a person, only darkness.

“There we are, MUCH better!” Jhin tapped his palm to her face twice before moving to sit on the stage. “Now, you four, I’ve decided that it’s been a while since I’ve shared my work and plans for the world. Unfortunately I have no designated media assistant to help me with this so I decided you all would be the perfect candidates. So, in about….let’s say four-hundred and words or less, tell me why I should hire you as my assistant.”

Jhin moved over to the far left of Nila and consulted the first person. She was an older woman, older than Nila at least, and seemed terrified. “Now, dear madam, would you tell me why you believe you can put my art into the mainstream? To share my work with the world?”

The old woman just struggled against the bindings. “Let me go! Please! Whatever you want! I have grandchildren, money, whatever you could desire!”

Pulling away from the old woman, Jhin gently stroked the chin of his mask. “Grandchildren WOULD be a wonderful way to connect with a fresh, younger audience….buuuuut….” Jhin sighed, shaking his head. Slowly, he leaned forward and wrapped both hands around the woman’s neck. He began to throttle her with agonizing slowness. Nila couldn’t see directly but there was an almost sickening care and love to how he did so. The woman choked and kicked, thrashing in the chair. “Sssssh. It’s ok, it’s ok. This is perfectly natural. Just…let….go….theeeeeeeeere we go.” After a good two minutes of strangulation, Jhin released the woman’s throat.

Rather than leave the body and move to the next person, Jhin took a small knife and cut the bonds. He began to re-position the elderly woman in a way that had made it seem like she had fallen asleep. Her hands were placed next to her head, her face was moved to that she looked at peace, all-in-all the woman looked like she had passed away in her sleep rather than die a horrid death. Save for the purple bruises on her neck that formed a lethal necklace around her windpipe.

Jhin moved to the next person, another woman in the chair. “Now, let’s have an exercise. Can you explain to me why I strangled her? What was the process? What was going through my mind? Why did I position the body as such?”

The poor lady who was the object of Jhin’s attraction was speechless. “Can. You. Explain?” he reiterated. The woman stammered, choking on her words. Sighing, Jhin just shook his head in disappointment. “No no no. That’s not…oh well, another reject. Thank you for your attempt, either way.” With his words spoken, the knife Jhin held to untie the woman went into the stammering person’s throat. She was dead within seconds, choking on her own lifeblood. Blood and sticky redness began to stain the floor by Jhin’s feet, Jhin pulling the knife and placing it within his pocket.

With two fingers, Jhin dipped them into the wound he had created. Blood was used as paint, dabbing his fingers against her face. The blood made “tear streaks” down her eyes, as if the woman was crying blood. “Now, friends, this speaks to the horrors that we witness. The blood symbolizes the pain we go through for our art and love. Yet at the same time it reminds us that suffering for what we believe is the most magnificent of all. Wouldn’t you agree? Yes? No? It’s ok if you don’t get it at first. Fine art requires a refined taste. I can help you both cultivate such a taste, however!”

Silence from Nila and the man to her right. Jhin dabbed his bloodstained fingers on his handkerchief, finished with his work, as he looked to the man to Nila’s left. “Right, let’s hope you’ve been paying attention. Your name, dear friend?”

The man, coldly, replied. “Xing.”

Jhin clapped his hands, kneeling down to be at eye level with Xing. “Now, Xing, why should I choose you over the woman to your right, hm? What do you think you can bring to my art that she cannot?” Jhin stepped over the chairs, standing behind the young man. Jhin knelt down, almost whispering in his ear. “Tell me why you should be a herald for my art and not a mere addition to it.”

Swallowing the spit in his throat, Xing looked to Nila. He turned back forward, breathing heavily. “I…I believe that…in time….we could…I could be your apprentice. If I learned from you, I could be an artist like you. W-we could even start with the woman next to me. She’s beautiful and the blood could make for a piece that compares the…the…” Xing shook his head. He couldn’t put it into words.

Jhin placed one hand on Xing’s shoulder. “There there, art is hard. I don’t blame you for your difficulty in grasping my work. In fact I applaud you for making an attempt, more than anyone before you has!”

Xing smiled. “Thank you, sir. I promise…”

A gunshot rang out as Xing’s head was slammed forward. A single bullet, delivered to the back of the skull, was more than enough to end him. “Unfortunately, I am only honing my art for the moment. Perhaps if you had visited me twenty years in the future I could have taught you but….oh well, sadly that is the pain of time.”

Without pause Jhin moved in front of Xing. He delicate combed the hair so the wound upon his forehead was displayed front and center. “I liken it to the third eye, don’t you think? Xing was trying so very, desperately hard to grasp the artistic vision and see through his own creative lens. Yet the grand scope was too great for him and he flew too close to the sun. Thus in opening his inner eye, he destroyed himself.”

Nila was speechless, now the only one left. She would be next. Jhin would slay her and toy with her body to pose her in a manner he saw fit. She was going to orphan her son and be little more than another body among five. Jhin leaned down, moving to her face as his hands grasped the ties around her arms. In a flash, they were…removed. Jhin knelt down, removing her leg ties as well. Nila stared at the kneeling Jhin, looking shocked. He looked up at her, tilting his head. “Don’t act so surprised! I know you felt it. When our eyes locked, you connected. I connected. We saw each other, our inner thoughts and emotions. You and I, for sure, had to be the pair!”

Stumbling to a standing position, Nila felt one hand wrapped around her free hand as Jhin beckoned her to follow. “A kindred spirit, here in this very playhouse. Oh it sets my soul alight just KNOWING I found the right person! Now, come come. You’re going to love this. A sneak peek, a secretive look into the future of a virtuoso himself! You must be the single luckiest woman in all of Runeterra right now,” Jhin boasted. Nila was merely dragged along onto the stage, moving behind the curtains and to a backroom.

Opening the door, Jhin waved her inside. Dim candles lit every picture on the wall…and pictures there were. Every famous warrior, every grand champion, every royal figure, splayed across the wall. Nila recognized some of them, Ionian warriors. She moved to one picture, being a grainy picture of Kusho with a bright red X crossed over him. “No, no don’t bother with him. Alas, he’s a canvas I’ll never work with,” Jhin lamented.

Nila’s eyes wandered to a corner. Gangplank’s bounty poster on the wall. “Ah, yes, him. The Saltwater Scourge would be magnificent if I could get to work with him and the bounty huntress. Together as one, unified in a bitter rivalry that even death cannot squelch.”

A picture of a propaganda poster, showing the grand figure of Garen Crownguard raising his sword aloft. “It’s easy to look at a charicature of a person and go “But Jhin, where is the value?”. I know there is more to him, there MUST be. No man can be so absolutely bland that he’s little more than a colorful toy for his nation,” Jhin informed.

Another picture, this one being of a maiden holding an odd-looking instrument. She played to what seemed like millions. “She’s an interesting one. A maven of the string, music so touching it can break your soul. I’d love to hear her play but I feel she’s, what’s the word, overhyped?”

A news article from Piltover, the picture being of a woman with greatly oversized gauntlets. “A woman out of touch with the world around her, confused of so many things. Her past, her lovers, a woman who disguises boorishness as strength.” He ran a finger, lovingly, over the curvature of her face.

For each picture, Jhin had a story. For every clipping or snipping, Jhin had a plan. Hundreds of people and Jhin had a plan for all of them. “Why…why are you showing me all of this…” Nila whimpered, looking to Jhin.

Jhin’s mask, ever unmoving, got right into her face. “I want you to tell the council of the sneak preview. I want Ionia to know that my portfolio, up to this point, has been child’s play. My magnum opus WILL come and it. will. be. Glorious.”

Wiping her eyes, Nila breathed deeply. “He let me go. Just…just let me go. I wandered the- it was the theater outside of town, by the wreckage. Sheng Wu village, do you remember?”

Karma turned to Ryota, who shook his head. “The theater there had been burned down several nights ago. If he was working outside of that base, he has since burned the evidence and left.

Frustrated at this lacking lead, Karma turned back to Nila. She smiled brightly, reaching over and placing a hand on Nila’s. “Thank you so much for your bravery and cooperation. We’ve got your son with us and we’ll be moving you to a secure location. I promise you, he’ll never find you.” Nila nodded softly, tears staining her face as she stood.”

With the interrogation over, Karma and Ryota personally escorted Nila to the courtyard of the Ionian Guardhouse. They were a far ways away from the Placidium but this matter couldn’t be handled over a letter. Nila took cautious steps out of the door and into the courtyard. Karma and Ryota stood away from her, the duo alone at the entrance. “We should have never pardoned him. Any of them.”

The gruff shogun crossed his arms. “Lady Karma, we were out of options. They roam free but Ionia is still standing.”

“And for what? The Order of Shadow roam free, the ronin of winds is a fugitive to this day, that sociopath wanders Ionia for fun and the sovereign…” Karma paused, regaining her composure. “We had our backs to the wall, yes, but on the day we had to forsake balance for victory, we damned ourselves and our people.”

Silence from her fellow council member. Karma sighed. “I am sorry to put that upon you. There….if we….balance is difficult. Complex. Even after this war we struggle with the true path.”

Nila was at the center of the courtyard now, walking slowly. Under the awning, flanked by two guards, was a young boy. The boy’s face was brightly lit as he saw his mother coming from the guard house. “Mother!” he cried, running from the guards as he ran to embrace her.

A bright smile finally crossed Nila’s face. She opened her arms, running to her son. Even throughout all the madness, throughout all the pain and suffering, she was able to see her son once more. “Kouga! I’m ok!” she called. Her face grew brightly, the tears seeming to evaporate away as she was finally able to see her son’s face once again.

Karma watched with a soft smile. Yet, despite the happiness of the reunion? Something was off. Deep down. She knew that there was a problem with the whole spectacle. Nila may have escaped but there was just something wrong about the whole situation. It wasn’t like Jhin to leave someone be. As he would say: “An artist’s block is an excuse for the untalented.”

Ionian guards had flanked Kouga and Nila as they returned to their home. It was not their normal home but one that would serve as a safe haven until Jhin had been apprehended. It finally seemed that things were looking in a positive manner. Sure, it may not be the most grand home but she’d take safety and security over any sort of luxury. The guards were positioned around the home strategically, seemingly unguarded unless one could see through the disguises.

Entering the small home, Nila pointed to the washroom. “You should go take a bath. I’ll start cooking dinner. Kouga, I’m- I’m sorry that you had to leave things behind.”

The boy brushed his shaggy hair out of his eyes, smiling brightly. “I’m just glad you’re safe, mother. We can always make new friends!” Kouga ran off to the bathroom, already throwing his shirt to the side as he scrambled out of his clothing. Perhaps she should lead by example, act as if nothing had changed.

As Nila entered the kitchen, she opened one of the cabinets to see what manner of food they had. Rice would be fine for dinner, especially if she could easy it correctly. She turned, placing the bag on the counter. That’s when it finally occurred to her that there was someone sitting at the table, watching her.

Her blood ran cold as Jhin sat there, scribbling a quill on a piece of parchment. “I’ll be honest, I would have thought they’d give you a far better residence. I’m frankly disgusted with the council’s treatment of someone as special as you.”

Nila looked to the door, running ideas through her head on how to escape. “No, no, don’t scream. That just won’t do,” Jhin warned, sighing to himself. “You’re such a damned anomaly.”

She dare not speak as Jhin stood up, pacing back and forth. “I just can’t get it right. I have a plan for everyone, everything in this world! Meticulously plotted! At first I was going to end your life as you hugged your son but it was so trite! So overdone!” As he paced, he looked increasingly unhinged, twitching and shaking angrily. “What is it about you!? What is it about dear, sweet Nila that doesn’t give her a RIGHTFUL END AS EVERYONE ELSE IN THE DAMNED WORLD HAS!?”

Jhin unfurled his gun, pointing it at the woman as she choked on her own spit. After a brief sigh, the inhuman marksman lowered his weapon. “I apologize, that was uncouth of me. Still, it’s true. You are a wonderful anomaly. You, dear Nila, hold a position over even the greatest figures in our world. You should be honored.”

Again, she tried to speak, but this time the sound of splashing water. The look in Jhin’s eyes was enough to cause the icy feeling in her veins to amplify. “No. No no no. Me. Please, take me instead,” Nila mewled weakly. She couldn’t stop him, even if she called the guards. Jhin cocked his head to the side as tears flowed down her face. “He doesn’t know better. He’s a boy.”

Lovingly, Jhin placed a finger under her chin, raising it so that she would look him in the eye. For a brief moment, Nila thought he’d listen to her. That he would leave Kouga be. That this demon would leave her life forever. “Dear, sweet, innocent Nila. Don’t you know that tragedy builds character?”

Releasing her chin, Nila stared as he walked away from her and toward the washroom. There was no way to stop him. He wasn’t human. He was a monster that was wearing human skin. Her eyes watched as the spindly, white-cloaked figure moved toward the washroom.

And the entire time, he spun his gun with one hand, humming a delighted tune.