Riot has, as we all know, been trying to produce more content that satisfies the communities' craving for lore. We have an endless appetite, to be sure, but Riot has more than enough material to work with. I'll admit that they've really stepped up their game, and that their story telling skills are improving, but they've yet to really expound upon their characters and their universe. And since the Institute of War is no longer canon, many champions have effectively been left without any lore to support them, much to the dismay of their mains.
But what is lore? And why does Riot seem to have such difficulty with it?
Look at the way people talk here, and on the Boards and on Reddit, and you'll get the impression that 'lore' is a champion's backstory, and / or whatever is currently / has happened in an official Riot event (i.e. Bilgewater's Burning Tides, or, more recently, the Mount Targon episode) pertaining to those involved.
But this isn't the case. Lore isn't a biography of a person, nor is it synonymous with history. Lore isn't a story. Lore, by definition, is stories. The accumulated knowledge, beliefs, and traditions held by a particular group about a particular subject.
Riot seems to be trying to put together an overarching plotline that features all of their characters (at some point or another) but this is exactly the same mistake they made with the old 'lore'. They admitted that the Institute of War and the (in-universe) League of Legends was too small (too crippling) a vehicle for the story they were trying to tell. Yet they've adopted a very similar (slightly larger) vehicle (Runeterra) without addressing the underlying problems.
The first is that that there is, as far as I can tell, no (or very little) sense of the passage of time in Runeterra. Riot would have us believe (as they themselves seem to) that all of our heroes are alive now. In the present. The idea that certain heroes may have existed in different eras of the past is implicit in several characters ( Aatrox, Lissandra, Azir, come to mind) but only loosely explored at best. And what of everyone else? You mean to tell me that the only thing separating Ashe from Graves from Varus is distance?
If Riot really wants to create the feeling of an epic, ancient world, they need to emphasize that time is a major player. There's nothing wrong, IMO, of admitting that some characters have died and others have disappeared for decades only to return many years later. Now, you may be thinking, "but LBP, having our heroes die of old age makes them far less cool!" I agree to some extent, but I think the solution is a simple one. Many of our heroes are supernatural or magical in nature, making it plausible that they should live for hundreds of years or even be immortal. Even our human champions can be said to be exceptional, living well beyond the lifespan of a regular person. Consider Gangplank and Gragas, for example, who are both endowed with a god-like constitution thanks in part to their dietary quirks.
Also, one aspect of the world that I don't find anyone emphasizing enough is that Runeterra is actually a post-apocalyptic world. The possibilities implicit in that alone provide a solid foundation, IMO, to build on but give enough leeway and freedom that the creative team at Riot can go wild. Remember that everything in the southern hemisphere is a vast wasteland, destroyed by advanced civilizations in the ancient past. In particular, I hold that the reason there aren't more people of color in the game is that it was their ancestors who destroyed their own civilization. Despite the scientific progress and cultural achievements, war engulfed them, and so utterly devastated them, that less than two centuries later, what was left of their civilization collapsed and dissolved...
Around The World In 80 Secs
Issue no. 2: there is no sense of scale of Runeterra. How big is the globe? Where are these lands in relation to one another? Miles? Kilometers? Leagues? It better be leagues! How can two cultures, like that of Noxus and Ionia, apparently be close enough for invasion, but not close enough for cultural exchange to occur? I can only assume that the old map of Runeterra in no longer canon...
I also think there is a severe lack of named places and peoples, which has the effect of making the world feel very small. I mean, taking Europe alone as an example, how many separate tribes have emerged from that continent at points in the past? How many nations developed from those tribes? How many cultures were completely (or almost so) erased from history with the incessant migrations and wars and persecutions by those other inhabitants of the same land, never mind those of external threats?
I'd like to posit the idea that Ionia, for example, should be a continent. Not an island nation, but a landmass approximately the size of the northern half of Valoran. Speaking of Valoran, it's suppose to be a super-continent, but that necessarily means enormous distances - distances so vast that it would be impossible to reconcile that only two warring factions (i.e. Demacia & Noxus) occupy the space. Consider that the entire Asian landmass, which is huge, doesn't even qualify as a super-continent!
A Story For The Ages
Finally, maybe I'm out of bounds here, but I think Riot is going about storytelling in the wrong way. In a recent post by Oleandervine on the Boards, Riot Jaredan talks about the 'timeline' of the League universe. I think this reveals a serious fallacy with Riot's logic, which is that they're trying to create a timeline, rather than timelines. I don't mean to say that they need to write a timeline for the 'Battlecast' or 'Project' universes, but rather, that they will hamstring themselves by trying to create a single set-in-stone timeline, and that it is antithetical to the nature of lore to have one great big story. What Riot needs are stories.
IMO, Riot needs to embrace the literary devices such as the frame story, the unreliable narrator, and incongruity in their narratives. By promoting ambiguity and speculation, they can interweave the stories and possibilities that leave tons of space open for the future, while still exploring the character of our heroes.
Let's take Vi as an example. Her lore, which is woefully underdeveloped, it is explained that she used to be a gang-member and has come to work for Caitlyn as law enforcement. But what if this wasn't the only story about Vi? What if her gauntlets weren't gauntlets at all, but mechanical hands that had been grafted on her by a certain mad scientist? It would also explain her tattoo 'VI' as in 'Test Subject 6'. Of course, we can't mention Vi without mentioning Jinx. One story / theory I find promising is that explained by YouTuber Sub Cheat in this video, which is a great example of the kind of storytelling I'm talking about. Watch it and then consider Vi and Jinx's relationship, and consider her initials again: VI aka 6 aka Hex. Jinx and Hex? Puns of damage!? Maybe, getting even crazier here, there was a story about Vi that played up the fantasy of Vi as a butch mechanic, one with enough skill and passion and resourcefulness to, in her later life, be responsible for her own ? Such a story adds credence to Zaun as this place of unrestrained capitalism (for good and ill) where even the poor, with hard work and determination, can grind their way to the top.
I love that Riot's trying to expand their lore. I am, like most, worried about their direction and the future of League. Even so, I had to write this just to get it off my mind - if you read it in whole or in part, I'm curious to know what you think.
Personally, I think the solution to Riot's trouble with lore has been right under their nose the whole time. It's in the name of the game - legends. Plural. That's not (or shouldn't be) a reference to the 125+ legendary heroes but the legends about each and every one of them. Their feats, their exploits, their loves and losses, and all of the above.
Your possibilities are endless, Riot. Just open your eyes, please.