Games

League of Legends K’Sante is queer and black, and Riot is proud of it

The story behind League of Legends K’Sante is the perfect blend of triumph and tragedy, in many ways mimicking the real-life struggles of queer, black people from every walk of life. With the Lil Nas X Prestige Empyrean K’Sante skin embodying the ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude of the LGBTQ icon himself, the devs who worked on the champion and his cosmetics have opened up about how K’Sante brings more diversity to the MOBA.

After all, being queer isn’t easy, nevermind being queer and black. Don’t believe me? Check out the likes of RuPaul’s Drag Race or the Boulet Brothers’ Dragula; every person of colour has an oftentimes heartbreaking story to tell.

So, when League of Legends announced their official partnership with ‘Montero’ artist, Lil Nas X, I was ecstatic. Seeing a major brand embrace queer black culture at its most vibrant is a general win for the industry as a whole.

But Riot has gone one step further. No, this isn’t just a throwaway collab, it’s also the introduction of K’Sante, one of League’s most diverse champions.

Chatting to Riot ahead of K’Sante’s launch, I asked lead concept artist Thomas ‘Hylia’ Randby and senior narrative designer Michael ‘SkiptomyLuo’ Luo about the process of weaving the essence of Lil Nas X into the stunning prestige skin, and what it was like working on something that has already touched the hearts of many a player.

Prestige Empyrean K’Sante was designed with pop culture icons like Marvel’s Black Panther in mind, but the core focus of the skin was making it recognisably Lil Nas X. His personality was “something that the team and I as a queer person were excited about incorporating into the skin,” says Randby. “We wanted to make sure that we were preserving that essence.

“Something that was really exciting to us is the way Nas fearlessly expresses himself and exists so uniquely in all aspects of his life and work. That’s something we really wanted to incorporate into the skin to allow K’Sante to express himself – and in turn players to express themselves – in the same way. We wanted something that felt very bold and very representative, as well as staying true to Nas’ status as a queer icon.”

I’d argue they hit the nail on the head, because as soon as I saw Prestige Empyrean K’Sante my heart fluttered (yes, that’s a reference to the butterflies, just to be perfectly clear). The skin is absolutely breathtaking, blending traditional West African culture with Afro-futurism to exude power. This skin says ‘I’m here, and I’m queer,’ and I am obsessed.
As a queer woman myself, I’d leap at the chance to work with Lil Nas X, so I asked the team (through slightly jealous gritted teeth) what it was like to work with Nas and truly create a character that young black, queer players can see themselves in.

“This is going to get a little personal,” says Randby. “One of the most exciting things about the work we do on skins is the different stories and narratives we’re able to tell through the alternate universes we’re able to explore. Being able to reach people and achieve a specific level of representation that’s going to speak to them and allow them to be seen in the content that we’re making – I think it’s really exciting. It’s really wonderful to feel empowered to tell those stories.”

Luo echoes this. “When developing [K’Sante’s] base story early on we had folks on the team with lived experiences of being queer and black, including one early designer who is gay and black, and of West African heritage. The more I spoke to people like that and listened to their stories and the more I dived into K’Sante’s story, it started to reveal itself.

“There was a central theme of pride that came up, and that’s in all senses of that word,” he continues. “At the same time, pride can turn into stubbornness, and add that complexity and the flaws to someone’s personality – their greatest strength becomes their greatest weakness. So from there, K’Sante’s story came to light; he’s always straddling this line of wanting to be proud of everything he is and everything he can do, and at some times that does become a hurdle to cross.”

“Throughout the entire development process I was super grateful to be able to speak and learn from people with those lived experiences, and try my best to be a student and incorporate as much of that authentic representation as we could,” Luo says “One champion can’t represent everyone, but we hope this effort will help push Riot forward in terms of diversity and inclusion in League of Legends.”

League of Legends K’Sante is queer and black, and Riot is proud of it: A black man in red and gold clothing stands with two huge weapons in his hands ready for battle

My experience is obviously not the black experience, but when I was younger, queer people in videogames were practically unheard of. My first queer experience was in Dragon Age: Origins, where I romanced Zevran, Liliana, and everyone in between. Having gone through a Catholic school, being ‘queer’ hadn’t been an option, and videogames helped me realise just who I really was. So, seeing Riot actively push for equality and diversity in one of my favourite ever games means more than I’ll ever be able to put into words – and I’m an editor, I like to think I do that quite well.

Thankfully, you won’t need to know how much you’ve spent on League of Legends in order to pick up Prestige Empyrean K’Sante, as it can only be earned by grinding. If you’re looking to add it to your collection quickly, then be sure to check out our League of Legends tier list to help you determine which champions to play in your next match.

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