When League of Legends launched in 2009, the video game's rules were simple. Players were "summoners," the computer was the "champion" (a bit of a preemptive title, no?), and the goal was simply to destroy the opposition’s “nexus,” or homebase. Though this stripped down concept was a good start, one of the game's producers, Tyler Eltringham, knew this couldn't last. The concept would need to evolve eventually to make way for more growing roster of characters and their respective narratives.
This is where Varus comes in. As part of Riot Games’ effort to reboot the game and universe in 2014, the company has spent three years steadily releasing accompanying comics and videos to exhume these often neglected and loreless characters. Most notably, the company began work on Varus, a League of Legends hero who was originally tasked with defending a secret temple with secret corruption.
“In the original story he was just one dude,” Eltringham told Rolling Stone in a new feature on the character. “We really wanted to make the tragedy element of the story the strongest bit, the part we remember…We had our team put together some ideas. We had this relationship built that we were going to really, really tear apart.”
Eltringham furthered, “Someone in the room stopped and asked the question, ‘Does the gender actually matter?’ We all sort of stopped and looked around and said, ‘No, it doesn’t.’ That was the impetus to do something a little different than we’ve done before in making that relationship be about two men.”
In Varus’ most recent comic, readers were introduced to the budding relationship between the character and another warrior named Kai. The comic explores their power, as individuals and as a couple, while also revisiting their families and past. Most notably, viewers see the couple’s love and devotion tested when one is put in significant danger.
According to a Rolling Stone feature on the character, Eltringham calls this part of the story––their fear that they might lose a person they're deeply in love with––the story’s strongest elements. The company also released a second comic and companion music video, which furthers their narrative quite extensively. Eltringham chalks the decision to make Varus’ love interest a man up to making characters that are real and would represent and resonate with their global audience—it was never about tokenism or pandering.
“Diversity isn’t an explicit goal for our roster,” he noted. “[Riot Games] didn’t come in and say we need a game champion who is gay…It never feels forced or pandering…In a world where a space dragon visited your planet, and someone just threw a flaming teddy bear at you, two dudes kissing isn’t going to make anyone bat an eye.”