Monday, November 9, 2020

In Defense of Seraphine, The Champion That Saved League of Legends For Me

Image: Riot Games

To be honest, I didn't realize how much I loved her until I talked it out with someone else I love.

We were chatting about Seraphine's design when they asked if I could describe what made the champion unique. Between matches to grind for that last tier of her Ultimate skin(which I don't regret spending money on one bit), it cliqued for me: I loved this champion.

Seraphine is the latest in what feels like Riot pumping out more champions than the players know what to do with. To be fair, I don't hate any of the champions they've added this year(with the exception of Yuumi, a magical cat that I honestly want deleted); they just don't really have anything special about them that makes me care. It's almost like clockwork: Riot adds a new champion with zero-to-little fanfare; champion is overtuned and is soundly nerfed; champion is instantly forgotten in the growing black hole that is League's roster. Riot commonly advertises that they have over 100 champions to play, but we are teetering dangerously close to 'Sometimes, less is more'.

Seraphine is not that throwaway champion. She has an Instagram, a Twitter, even a Soundcloud. She is a featured artist on K/DA's comeback album, which has been her dream. Yes, she has dreams! From her Twitter's inception, we got to watch her grow from anxious songwriter to full-on popstar. It's been surreal, eye-opening, and just so wonderfully better than the last dozen champions combined. Riot made me care about this fictional musician's life more than I think I've ever done for any champion prior. Seraphine is a triumph.

And people hate her.

From the moment she was announced to this very second, Seraphine has been scrutinized, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly. One of my friends implied she was only created to sell the K/DA skins(which I vehemently disagree with). The first thing I heard about her when she was announced was how similar her abilities are to another, older champion, Sona. A mute songstress, Sona is also a musically motivated champion, and I'll compare and contrast their abilities below.

  • Sona's passive changes her auto-attack on the third cast ability, depending on what her last cast ability was. Seraphine's spells are cast a second time on her third cast. She also generates notes on abilities cast that buff her auto attack range and deal damage.
  • Sona's Q ability sends two waves of musical energy that attack the nearest two champions, and gives her next auto-attack bonus damage if it's her third spell. Sera casts a round area-of-effect ability that does bonus damage the lower the target's current health is.
  • Sona's W ability heals and provides a shield, and her auto-attack lowers the target's damage if it's the third spell. Sera gives a shield and a movement speed buff; if the target is already shielded, they are also healed.
  • Sona's E gives a movement speed buff, and her next basic attack will slow the enemy. Sera's E casts magic in a line that slows. If it hits twice, they are rooted in place, and if they are already rooted, they are stunned.
  • Finally, Sona's ultimate lowers the cooldown of all her abilities. She also casts magic in a line that makes enemy champions dance for a few seconds. Sera casts magic in a line that causes enemy champions to be charmed, meaning they walk harmlessly toward her. If it hits an enemy or an ally, the range is extended.

Sona. Image: Riot Games

There are more minute details, but for the purposes of this comparison, these are the basic descriptions of their abilities. It should be noted that, again, there are one hundred and fifty-two total champions. We've long been past the threshold where every champion will be entirely unique. To Riot's credit, they are still really good at turning neat ideas into neat champions, but I'm not bothered that Seraphine is not the only character with an ability that heals and shields or crowd control in the form of a line ability. All that matters for me personally is that Seraphine is interesting and fun to play, and I would argue that she is both.

There is also the matter of her lore. Technology in Runeterra(where League of Legends takes place) is powered by Hextech crystals, which are actually the crystallized souls of the Brackern, a long extinct race of scorpion people(with the exception of Skarner, the last Brackern) Seraphine's special trait is that she can hear the emotions of others. This includes the souls of the Brackern, and she is the only one privy to the knowledge that the Brackern are the source of all Hextech. People were, in a manner of speaking, furious about this fact because she doesn't do anything with this information.

Skarner. Image: Riot Games

I don't think any of these people considered that, well, if someone told you all of your technology was powered by an extinct race of talking scorpions, and that they know that because they can hear the souls of the scorpions in their mind, would you believe them? There is no way for Seraphine to realistically prove to people that Hextech is powered by the Brackern, not without sounding like she's lying her heart out. Not to mention, if anyone else does know, Seraphine would be putting her life in danger by going full Snowden on the entire Hextech industry. Realistically- and I know in this fantasy video game where a tiny furry man rides a lizard into battle with a bear-trap on a rope, 'realistically' is not a word that typically applies- There are not many options for Seraphine to do anything with this information. If we're holding her to this standard, we have to hold all the champions to this standard, and there are a lot of questionable decisions made to the League of Legends lore in the past few years that I'd much rather get to the bottom of.

It's almost...heartbreaking in a way. According to her Champion Insight, Seraphine was supposed to be a champion that reminded people that League of Legends was a team game, and that you did better, had more fun , and won more as a team than losing as a lone wolf. She's a true support champion that encourages you to play around your team and help them shine just as much as you do, and yet she's easily the most hated champion release I've ever recalled in the long seven years I've played the game. 

It's a shame, because I think she's perfect. For me, if not for everyone else.

It's no secret that League and I have an on-and-off relationship. I've uninstalled and re-installed more than any other game in my life. Sometimes, it's one of the most satisfying strategy games I've ever played, and other times- most of the time- I've never felt less in control of my own competitive destiny. It is a game of extreme highs and extreme lows, and most recently, it's been on the lower spectrum. After seven years of feeling like I've hit a brick wall with how good I'm capable of being- again, something that's never happened to me in any other game- burnout is both often and discouraging.

On the downswing again, I was preparing to spend what little time we have on this earth doing anything that didn't involve playing this game right around Seraphine's release. I figured I would play a game or two in URF- a limited time mode where resources are infinite and cooldowns are drastically shortened- with her and then go back doing something fun, like banging my head against a wall or watching paint dry. But by some miracle only Riot's champion designers could properly create, one game became two. Two became five. Five became 'You know I think I have enough extra money for her fancy Ultra skin'. After that, it was (metaphorical) love at first sight.

Seraphine's ultimate skin. Image: Riot Games

Something clicked about her playstyle with me that I didn't properly understand until a few days later. Typically, when I(and most people) play League, everyone is trying to 1v9- play so unbelievably well that you're able to carry regardless of your teammates' performance. This is a mantra that Riot revealed they are actively against in the recent changes to the Code of Conduct(And why wouldn't they be, it's allegedly a team game after all), but this doesn't change the fact that everyone wants to be the one that's 20-0, that gets to be the star of the show, the main character of their anime.

Seraphine actively pushes against this style of play, and that was what made me fall in love with her. Typically, even when I play other supports, the goal is to be so good that even I can single-handedly make up for everyone else's shortcoming. With Seraphine, I wasn't interested in being the best on the team, the hard carry that singlehandedly got us the win; Instead, I wanted to help everyone.  I played to both do my best, and make sure that I got to help my teammates be the very best they could be. As satisfying as it is to kill all five members of the enemy team or steal a key objective, I was having just as much fun, if not more, helping my teammates shore up their shortcomings or set them up for their own highlight reel. I wasn't center stage, I was a backup dancer- and I was having the time of my life.

In most games, I wouldn't think this very weird, but I can't stress enough that for the past seven years, this game has drilled in me that if I want to be good, I have to be better than everyone- even the people I'm supposed to be relying on. Is Garen, a tanky knight, dying a lot in the top lane? Fuck 'em, he's making us lose and he deserved to be told as such. Is our jungler, a half-dragon named Shyvana, spending more time fighting in the jungle than helping out everyone in their lanes? Well, it's her fault that we're getting destroyed, because she's not helping. It's a mean, unwelcoming, and grandiosely toxic environment, and this is the mindset that almost everyone who plays League of Legends takes to heart if they want escape the lower rungs of the Ranked ladder.

Even me, until I played Seraphine.

The style of play I began to take on since playing Seraphine- basically, 'Don't be a dick, y'know?'- has been taking place even if I'm not playing as her, even if I'm not playing as a support. Is someone not doing so hot? Well, let's see what I can do to help tilt the game back into their favor. Is someone being a toxic asshole to someone who is honestly trying their best? Then I better try to at least speak up for someone whose struggling and try to keep us focused on winning and not arguing. Unbelievably, after so many years of being the exact person I hate playing against, Seraphine pushed me into climbing out of the toxic pool I shared with the player base, dragging down others and keeping the toxic cycle going for anyone else who wanted to be better.

 In the very beginning, when I was still learning the game, my favorite character was Nami, a mermaid woman who could both trap enemies in a bubble prison and heal her allies. Nami didn't do a lot of damage, but she was damned good at setting up others for success. I loved playing Nami, and even though I don't technically main support anymore, she's still one of my favorite characters. But, somewhere, along the line, I got sick of feeling like I wasn't in control of my fate. I started to think, 'Well, if no one else in this fucking game is actually going to give a shit, I'll just be the one doing all the work'. That was when I switched to playing the Marksman class, and right around when I began to slide into being the exact same person that made me upset a lot.

Nami. Image: Riot Games

I'm nowhere near as asshole-ish as I was when I was younger(Curiously, I began to chill out right around the time I transitioned, so make of that what you will), but I definitely have the bad habit of feeling as if I need to defend myself if someone tries to get fresh with me. I'd never start the fight, but I'd sure as hell keep it going if I was being targeted. That began to wear me down more and more as time went on; why would I play a game that made me so angry or sad every time I tried to play it? There were many nights that I would just sort of...sit at my computer and ruminate on why I kept playing. I, by some strange intersection of fate, both hated and loved this game.

Seraphine is the first champion in a long time where I didn't only have fun, but I was having the fun I had when I was still learning the game, where the map was an ugly mass of color and I was averaging, on a good day, four frames per second. I was just glad to be playing this game that was so different from anything that I played before it. After so many years, Seraphine- regardless of her lore, regardless of how similar she may be to someone I've played before- reminded me that as fun as it is to be a solo act, it's even more fun to share the stage with your friends.


When not ignoring her drafts to create...more drafts...Natalie Raine can be found evolving into a Just Dance stan on twitter @Lyneriaa. She can also be found streaming on Twitch here.

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