As a longtime player of League of Legends, I’ve always been bothered by how one of the most popular games on the planet portrays it’s women characters.
It’s sadly not anything video games haven’t seen before. The game is filled with women champions for players to play as, almost all of them boasting ridiculous breast sizes and skimpy outfits. Heck, even the most clothed women in the game, the armored Leona, is still wearing high heels.
Thankfully, developer Riot is not completely blind to criticism. The champion Sejuani upon her initial release wore a helmet, a fur bra, and a loincloth. If that sounds like a severe lack of clothing for a warrior who fights in the frozen north, where sub-zero temperatures aren’t uncommon, you are probably right. They remodeled her based on player feedback and now Sejuani is among a select few female characters in the game that isn’t overly sexualized.
Going hand in hand with the game’s sexualization of it’s female characters is one of the game’s champion roles – support. Supports in League of Legends exist almost exclusively to help their AD carry, making sure the carry gets as many kills and as much gold as possible so they can deal out heavy damage to the enemy team. The AD carry gets all the glory, but it’s the supports that are the unsung heroes of the League.
This role, defined by supporting others from the sidelines, is almost comprised exclusively of female champions, with the exception of a robot, an undead creature, and a very obviously gay man. There are women champions for every role in the game, but support limits itself to primarily women. Sure, a women can be an assassin or an AP carry just like a male character can, but women are the only ones who can support. To support is to be feminine. Perhaps it’s not such a surprise that support is the least played role in the game. Intentionally or not, Riot is sending a message.
Riot’s newest champion looks to be changing that. Recently unveiled, Braum is probably the manliest man in the entire League of Legends. He’s also a support. Bare-chested and sporting a supreme mustache, Braum protects his carry and teammates with a massive shield, taking hits so they don’t have to.
This is incredibly refreshing to see. It sounds silly, but developers should be thinking about how their game’s depict gender, race, and sexuality. Like it or not, our worldview is shaped, even if only in a tiny way, by the games we consume. Millions upon millions of gamers play League of Legends every day, viewing the splash art for the game’s sexed up girls that reinforce the idea that to support is to be feminine. If women are only there for support in game, what does that tell players about women in the real world?
Riot with Braum is showing that support is not in fact feminine in nature, and that there is no shame in a manly man protecting others instead of going for the kill. No doubt Braum players will frequently find themselves supporting female carries, intentionally sitting out the spotlight so their women partners can carve a path to victory. It’s a step in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done. I just hope Riot can continue to build on what they’ve learned so far as they move the game forward.