How the Riot Games Music Team Creates a League of Legends Champion Theme

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The creation of a new League of Legends Champion begins with its DNA – Design, Narrative, and Art. From their home in Runeterra to the AOE damage on their Q, the teams have to cover a wide range of topics before the champion is approved and the process moves forward. 

At the same time, the composers on the music team are taking note of all of those decisions as they begin creating the Champion Theme, a musical backdrop designed to evoke the feeling of that individual Champion. 

“We’re talking to the different League teams, getting a sense of narrative, gameplay, art direction, lore, relationships to other characters, and more,” says Brendon Williams, a Senior Composer who joined Riot three years ago after a long career of composing music for games from Call of Duty: WWII to Destiny 2. “Once we have all the information we begin with the big picture thinking about what musical genres we want to incorporate into this specific Champion’s theme. Our audio production team, shout out Sarah and Kimmie, they help us determine timelines and gather information. We get a lot of feedback from the team as it comes together, then one composer takes the lead to make it a reality.” 

From Milio’s whimsical wind instruments that beg for a starry-eyed adventure to Bel’Veth’s inevitable beat, Champion Themes are designed to feel unique, impactful, and most importantly, true to that Champion. While the Champions in lore vary from a young magical adventurer to the leader of the soulless void, all Champions are destined to meet on the level playing field that is Summoner’s Rift. 

“A crucial question is, ‘What does it feel like to play this champion?’” explains Kole Hicks, a Lead Composer at Riot who has been making music for games for nearly two decades. “How do we feel as players if this is our main? That informs instrumentation, tempo, potentially even key changes.” 

The details help inform the composition, but the goal of a Champion Theme is to feel like a uniquely individual experience while also being part of a whole by deepening these characters and the world they live in. 

“When we think about music we see it as something that brings all of Runeterra together,” Kole continues. “Musical cohesion can help bring a world alive. We care a lot about how much players are going to be paying attention to this and how much they’ve invested into this world. We want to be very intentional about how we’re representing that musically to make something that adds to this world.” 

“Music adds to the emotional depth of the world and the characters,” Brendon adds. “Music feels like it gives a more personal insight into a character and adds a layer of depth that you can’t get through just one type of art alone. The music, the storytelling, the artwork, they all come together to make a Champion who they are.”

Making Milio’s Champion Theme

When making a new Champion theme, inspiration comes from plenty of places like their in-game impact, their home in Runeterra, and, for some champions, the real-world influences of their Runeterran home. 

“Family, culture, and tradition are all really important to Milio so it was clear that all of those aspects needed to be celebrated through his theme,” explains JD Spears, Riot Music’s newest composer who took the lead on Milio’s theme. “We had a Rioter Inclusion Group (RIG) channel made specifically for Milio. There we were able to brainstorm how we could reflect his real-world cultural influences musically as well as gather feedback on early iterations.” 

Milio’s home in Ixtal takes influences from Latin American culture, so Riot Unidos, our RIG for Latin American Rioters, helped with his design. But JD also looked for help outside of Riot’s walls tapping into the vast array of Latin American musical talent in Los Angeles. 

“We worked with world-class musicians in percussionist Alex Acuna and woodwind specialist Pedro Eustache for Milio’s theme,” says JD. “They came in to help with the written material but so much of what is in the final theme are things they did in the moment that come from their decades of mastery of their instruments and knowledge of the genres we were drawing influence from. Getting to work with these two legends was a bucket list experience for me, I learned so much from these sessions simply by leaving plenty of space for them to do their thing. They poured a lot of themselves into Milio’s theme which I am extremely grateful for.”

Milio was JD’s first Champion Theme at Riot. Prior to joining the team he worked as a freelance composer on Chivalry 2 and other titles. 

“With this being my first Champion Theme, I was surprised with how much trust the team and the company put in its composers to define such a crucial part of their concept,” JD said. “I think that’s a key difference between being a freelance composer and working for Riot. With Milio I was given a lot of space to do what I wanted to do with this character. And that’s a pretty gratifying thing and not terribly common, in my experience.”

How Riot Games Music Unleashes Creativity 

Across the entertainment world freelancing is a common avenue for creatives. Freelancing provides the freedom to have the ability to work on a variety of projects choosing the projects that interest you. In contrast, in-house work can be a bit more rigid in its structure. At Riot, and especially on the music team, keeping that freedom and sense of exploration is crucial for creatives to be at their best. 

For Riot, freelancers are a chance to bring in outside artists to help unleash creativity by tapping into experts. Brendon, for example, began as a freelancer on Legends of Runeterra before moving to the in-house production team.

“I was drawn towards Riot because I was a fan of Riot’s music and the music team,” Brendon said. “I was impressed by the diversity in the music, it’s not just a single sound. I’d argue that there are sounds you can identify but genre-wise, it goes all over the place. It blew my mind that these in-house composers were doing these incredible pop songs with cutting-edge production while a lot of those same people also were putting together this well-arranged and orchestrated cinematic music. That was really appealing to me as an opportunity for growing my own abilities.” 

There are a few benefits to freelancing, but one of the main ones is the freedom to pursue a variety of projects and styles. For the Riot music team, there’s a concerted effort in making sure composers don’t have to sacrifice that creative freedom when coming to work in-house. 

“The thing that really interested me most and brought me to Riot was how the team thought about music,” said Kole. “Most game developers get the importance of music to some degree but Riot seemed especially drawn to these blue-sky, what-if questions. ‘Why can’t we make something like this? Why couldn’t we do bands? Why can’t we do these styles? Why shouldn’t we try doing all of these different things?’ That questioning and experimenting was really exciting to me.”

Music, much like League of Legends, is constantly evolving. The fun, excitement, and creativity stem from growing, changing, and trying new things to see what works. 

“I was always interested in making music for games, but admittedly, I’m not a particularly good League player,” JD laughs. “But I’ve always been drawn to the world of League of Legends, the world of Runeterra and the lore behind it. It floored me that Riot was releasing music really just for the sake of releasing music as they saw how it deepened this world. I think Kole’s Fiddlesticks theme is a great example of the depth of Riot’s music. It’s a folk song with this haunting vibe that ends up being a cinematic experience. I could just tell from the outside looking in that there wasn’t anything stopping composers at Riot from trying whatever cool idea they thought would work for a character.” 

From Pentakill to K/DA to everything the music team dreams up next, the composers at Riot are committed to trying new things that add to the overall League of Legends experience. The team already has their eyes on the next slate of Champions and the melodies that will serve as their soundtrack in the world of Runeterra.

 

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