League of Legends Worlds 2022 was a triumph for Riot Games. With the finals’ opening ceremony attracting over 5.15 million viewers, the 2022 iteration of the MOBA’s premier esports tournament is the most watched to date. Likely a result of performance behemoths Lil Nas X and Jackson Wang, this year’s Worlds collabs were truly spectacular, but it’s a shame new Champion K’Sante has been left to the wayside as a result.
After all, the Pride of Nazumah is not just a champion, he’s a virtual cultural icon. Queer, black, and proud, he’s emblematic of several different sectors of society who often feel neglected by the videogame industry. His visibility means a lot to queer people like me, which is why I’m thoroughly let down by his in-game performance.
While I’m no top laner, my wonderful partner in crime is. I watched as his Prestige Empyrean K’Sante glitched through a wall and got him killed, in turn urging him to return to his other mains as the champion continues to struggle. To me, it seems like Lil Nas X was the star here, and K’Sante the afterthought, which raises concerns about the future of League of Legends.
Slipping into the mainstream
Esports has become one of the biggest industries in the world. With multi-billionaires like David Beckham and Snoop Dogg making forays into our wonderful digital universe, esports is the place to be – especially LoL esports.
LoL has become an esports behemoth thanks to Riot’s flawless integration of mainstream media. With K/DA capitalising on the popular K-pop trend, musical titans Imagine Dragons making Worlds songs, and then, of course, Arcane, Riot has transformed League of Legends into a multifaceted brand.
Global public relations lead Hanna Woo recently told me the Lil Nas collab was a “three-pronged” partnership, encompassing the song, skin, and the ceremony. “We hope players understand the way we have folded Lil Nas X into our ecosystem, our products, and our ways that we do things for our players, and that overall, that is something they’re excited about.”
Recent allegations levelled against the company by the composer of a supposed Worlds song Simon Rosenfeld also claimed that his track was pushed aside so that Riot could “attract a more mainstream audience” (Riot, however, has claimed it did not work with Rosenfeld).
Of course, I’m not stupid. Growing brands and making money is at the forefront of everyone’s minds right now – especially post-COVID. I’m excited to see how widespread League’s reach is, but my concern is simply that Riot is sacrificing the MOBA itself to appeal to a wider audience. I’ve felt this in the past, but K’Sante is the thing that really got me thinking.
First off, I want to chat about the Prestige skin. I fell in love with it the moment I saw it – it was black elegance embodied, and I needed it. However, I am not great at the grind, so my partner got it instead. I was stunned by it in-game –it looks absolutely gorgeous – but the VFX are lacklustre.
Not only does it not play Star Walkin’ upon recall (a huge miss in my opinion, but likely prompted by concerns over copyright), there’s nothing that special about it. Those celestial butterflies don’t really feature, everything looks a bit clunky, and it feels half-baked. For me, given how much Riot hyped up the skin, it’s a disappointment, and feels like an afterthought.
Empyrean Pyke, which was released at the same time, is a 1920RP skin that changes the map as Pyke progresses through his ultimate. That’s groundbreaking (quite literally); we’ve never seen it before in League, but why on earth is an effect like that not reserved for the biggest skin of the year? I bought Empyrean Pyke, I didn’t grind for Prestige Empyrean K’Sante, and honestly, I think I got the better end of that deal. Especially after watching my partner play it.
The second gripe I have is that the skin and the champion himself are just littered with bugs. While his wall phase ability is cool, I watched him glitch, get stuck, and instantly one shot (all to the woeful rantings of a very, very angry partner). Standing next to him, in my case, slowed my ping down. To top it all off, he’s not even that viable, with several counters and an underpowered kit.
K’Sante may be the Pride of Nazumah, but he’s fallen into the Void like Bel’Veth. With less than a 50% win rate at high level and not a buff in sight in the League of Legends preseason 2023 patch notes, the champion just feels second to the Lil Nas X plot.
For me, a queer person who was so, so excited to see him thrive, K’Sante is one of League’s biggest disappointments so far. Sure, some patches will likely see him rise through the ranks again, but right now he’s playing second fiddle to the upbeat, and mass marketable, sounds of Star Walkin’.
Under Lil Nas X, figurehead ‘president’ of Riot Games, League of Legends has won over the mainstream but has lost a part of itself in the process. I loved Star Walkin’ (but preferred Fire to the Fuse), but I love League more. I wanted K’Sante to be great, to be the Pride of Nazumah, but instead he feels like just another champion to add to the bill, akin to Lillia who players were quick to forget.
While I hardly wanted him to be OP, I hoped that a bit of time would have been spent on making his debut as good as possible to match the hype around Lil Nas. Unfortunately, the latter’s existence has clearly overshadowed that.
As Riot seeks to make League of Legends a mainstream brand, I hope they don’t sacrifice what makes the game so special. Otherwise, the likes of Dota 2 or up-and-coming rival Evercore Heroes may be poised to steal away some players.
Worlds 2023 has some big shoes to fill in so, so many ways – let’s just hope Riot goes about doing it the right style.