The Black Mist and a broken family: Looking at the growth of League’s lore in 2021

From the Ruination to the streets of Zaun, this year was full of expansion for long-standing lore.

Image via Riot Games

The ever-expanding lore of League of Legends is still growing each year, with new champions and events bringing light to areas of Runeterra that fans have come to know over the course of the last 11 years. This past year was no different. Riot Games took a more head-on approach to finishing stories that have been left open for a while, complete with various drawbacks and canon issues that, although they progressed the world’s lore, also made it confusing to know exactly what fans could trust.

This year, instead of introducing new aspects of lore by implementing new features into the game, Riot focused on growing one aspect of League’s lore over the course of the entire year: the Ruination. This event, long-established in the backstories of many champions from the game’s history, had never been thoroughly explored until this year, connecting new and old champions from across the League universe.

Outside of the Ruination, Riot’s exploration into other types of media enabled the lore to progress in ways never before seen in the League community. Between its first animated Netflix series, Arcane, and the standalone spin-off title Ruined King: A League of Legends Story, Riot found new ways to expand League’s reach outside of the base game and welcome fans to just a few of the many stories that the game has established over the course of the past decade.

A crown unfitting a king

Riot’s first champion released this year was none other than the Ruined King himself, Viego. For years, the nameless king had existed solely in the lore of champions from the Shadow Isles region of Runeterra, like Thresh and Hecarim, but never actually made an appearance in-game. With the “Ruination” cinematic released in January, Riot made it clear that Viego’s return was imminent and that all League players would feel his wrath throughout the year. The Ruination affected the champions released throughout the year as well as the year’s main lore event, Sentinels of Light, which built on the narrative structure present within last year’s Spirit Blossom.

Players ventured through each region of Runeterra in the Sentinels of Light event, helping Lucian, Senna, and Gwen recruit champions from around the world to fight back against the vengeful Viego, searching for the soul fragments of his wife, Isolde, in an attempt to resurrect her. Champions like Vayne, Graves, and even Pyke joined the Sentinels in new costumes tailored by Gwen, enabling players to see these champions interact with one another in ways that they never previously had. As players navigated through each region, with progression being halted on a weekly basis, they were given access to narrative choices similar to the Spirit Blossom event that didn’t affect any outcomes but allowed players to customize interactions with the featured champions.

The final battle between the Sentinels—alongside their new partner in Akshan—and Viego’s forces sought to end the story of the Ruination, bringing Viego’s thirst for vengeance to an end and saving the many champions that he had corrupted. Upon dealing the final blow to Viego, Thresh stepped out from the shadows and reaped the benefits from Viego’s demise, now free to return to his human form and escape the Shadow Isles, seemingly seeking revenge on Senna for breaking free from his lantern.

Though the narrative of the event provided information on the Ruination that fans had been anticipating for years, Riot soon revealed thereafter that none of what had occurred during its duration was canon, leaving fans to wonder why exactly the event took place to begin with. While the Sentinels did canonically defeat Viego and prevent him from spreading the Ruination across Runeterra, the narrative depicted within the Sentinels of Light event didn’t represent how the confrontation actually occurred. 

Between the confusion over the event’s place in established League canon and outrage over the writing and pacing style that Riot chose for this event, the Sentinels of Light event established itself as one of the most controversial takes at League lore in years. Yet the story of the Ruined King wasn’t confined to this event since another title takes a look at the Ruination from an entirely different perspective.

A different look at the king’s reign

Riot released Ruined King: A League of Legends Story this November on multiple platforms, providing a different look at the fight against Viego and the incoming Ruination than what players experienced during the Sentinels of Light event. This game’s story acts as a direct continuation of last year’s Spirit Blossom event, where Yasuo and Ahri travel to Bilgewater to seek answers to their own destinies, as well as eventually confront the approaching Ruination.

Instead of the team of Sentinels fighting against Viego, Yasuo and Ahri joined the team of Illaoi, Braum, Miss Fortune, and Pyke, with Miss Fortune taking the helm to stop her home from being taken over by Viego’s vengeance. Along the way, the team encounters numerous champions connected to the Ruination story, such as Maokai, that didn’t appear in the Sentinels of Light event, while also connecting the story of stopping the Black Mist to Miss Fortune’s goal of killing Gangplank.

What Ruined King truly capitalizes on, however, is the importance of these specific champions in the growth of established League lore. Each of the party members constantly refers to their own lives and interactions with the world around them, giving further insight into how they and champions that they relate to traverse through Runeterra. As the party ventures through Bilgewater, they come across various journals that act as small tastes of other aspects of League lore that transcend the Ruination, connecting the game to the larger stories that have been present within Runeterra for the past decade. 

The events of this title have been confirmed to all be canon, meaning that this fight against Viego truly occurred and these champions did join together in an attempt to stop the Ruined King’s advances. Though League’s Sentinels of Light event makes it clear that the Sentinels were the ones to ultimately stop Viego, every segment of Ruined King, from the main story to the side content, provides a piece of canon lore that connects focal events and characters from around Runeterra together in a way that players had only seen when they fight against one another on the Rift.

Heading back in time

While 2021 centered mainly around the growth of the Ruination story and the characters tied to it, Riot’s first animated Netflix series, Arcane, provided a deep look at the lives of champions tied to Piltover and Zaun that had ample room for their stories to expand. Through three acts of three episodes each, season one of Arcane placed viewers in the midst of the sisterhood of Vi and Jinx, as well as positioned them as victims of the growing turmoil between the two cities.

Vi and Jinx, who had long been known to be sisters whose relationship had been strained through their growth, scarcely had any aspects of their stories told outside of short stories and the occasional updating of bios of other champions related to them. Yet through Arcane, fans were given a detailed look into their growth and development, looking at exactly how their relationship began to deteriorate and how much the cultures of Piltover and Zaun led to this outcome.

Arcane also provided insight into champions like Caitlyn, Jayce, Heimerdinger, Ekko, and Viktor. Though these champions were known to be involved in the situation between Piltover and Zaun, like Vi and Jinx, they never had expanded lore that explained how they progressed through their lives. Though the struggle between Vi and Jinx stands out as Arcane’s main plot point, the show takes the opportunity to expand on the stories of every side character, tying them into the main plot that ensures that no character feels more important than another.

Where do we go next?

While Riot hasn’t revealed any plans for League lore expansion in 2022, it made it clear that various teams are aware of the feedback regarding the Sentinels of Light event, including the narrative writing and the issue of canon, and are looking at solutions for the future of lore events. In a recent developer post, Riot revealed that consistency will be the key for future League lore events, forgoing the multiple interpretations of the Ruination and Viego’s reign in this year’s events in favor of something more streamlined like Spirit Blossom.

Despite the glaring issues with the development of this year’s core lore event, Riot has ensured players that lore events will continue in the future and that teams will be looking more closely at what worked and what didn’t in the previous events to drive future ones. Though the evolution of League’s lore in 2021 fluctuated in its impact, every aspect of this growth proved that Riot is more than willing to expand on tales that have become embedded in the stories of new and familiar champions, enabling their impact to grow further than simply being playable champions on the Rift.

Make sure to follow us on YouTube for more esports news and analysis.

About the author
Ethan Garcia

Ethan Garcia is a freelance writer for Dot Esports, having been part of the company for three years. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Magazine Journalism from Syracuse University and specializes particularly in coverage of League of Legends, various Nintendo IPs, and beyond.