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 black gay men from all walks of life. With the Lil Nas X Prestige Empyrean K’Sante skin embodying the “I don’t care” attitude of the LGBTQ icon himself, the developers who worked on the champion and his cosmetics explained how K’Sante brings more of diversity at the MOBA.
After all, being queer isn’t easy, let alone being queer and black. You do not believe me ? Check out the likes of RuPaul’s Drag Race or the Boulet Brothers’ Dragula; every person of color has an often heartbreaking story to tell.
So when League of Legends announced its official partnership with “Montero” artist Lil Nas X, I was in heaven. Seeing a major brand embrace black queer culture in its most vibrant form is a general win for the industry as a whole.
But Riot went even further. No, it’s not just a throwaway collab, it’s also the introduction of K’Sante, one of the most diverse champions in League.
While chatting with Riot ahead of K’Sante’s launch, I asked Senior 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 gamers.
Prestige Empyrean K’Sante was designed with pop culture icons like Marvel’s Black Panther in mind, but the main goal of the skin was to make him recognizably Lil Nas X. His personality was “something that l he team and I, as a queer person, were excited about incorporating into the skin,” says Randby. “We wanted to make sure we were preserving that essence.
“What was really exciting for us is how Nas speaks fearlessly and exists so uniquely in all aspects of his life and work. It’s something we really wanted to incorporate into the skin to allow K’Sante to express themselves – and players in turn to express themselves – in the same way. We wanted something very bold and very representative, while still staying true to Nas’ status as a queer icon.
I’d say they hit the nail on the head, because as soon as I saw Prestige Empyrean K’Sante my heart raced (yes, that’s a butterfly reference, just to be perfectly clear). The skin is absolutely stunning, blending traditional West African culture with Afro-futurism to exude power. This skin says “I’m here, and I’m queer”, and I’m obsessed.
As a queer woman myself, I was jumping 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 to really create a character that young black, queer players can see themselves in.
“It’s 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 reach a specific level of representation that will speak to them and allow them to be seen in the content that we create – I think that’s really exciting. It’s really wonderful to feel empowered to tell these stories.
Luo echoes this. “During the development [K’Sante’s] base story in the beginning, we had people on the team with lived experiences of being queer and black, including an early creator who is gay and black, and of West African descent. The more I talked to people like that and listened to their stories the more I delved into the K’Sante story, it started to come to light.
“There was a core theme of pride that came through, and it’s in every sense of the word,” he continues. “At the same time, pride can turn into stubbornness and add that complexity and flaws to someone’s personality – their greatest strength becomes their greatest weakness. So from there, the story of K’Sante was revealed; he always straddles that line of wanting to be proud of all he is and all he can do, and sometimes that becomes a hurdle to cross.
“Throughout the development process, I’ve been very grateful to be able to talk to and learn from people with these lived experiences, and to do my best to be a student and incorporate as much of this authentic portrayal as possible,” says Luo. . “One champion can’t represent everyone, but we hope this effort will help move Riot forward in terms of diversity and inclusion in League of Legends.
My experience is obviously not the black experience, but when I was younger, queer people in video games were virtually unknown. My first queer experience was in Dragon Age: Origins, where I romanced Zevran, Liliana, and everyone in between. Having attended a Catholic school, being “queer” was not an option, and video games helped me realize who I really was. So seeing Riot actively push for equality and diversity in one of my favorite games means more than I can ever put into words – and I’m a publisher, I like to think I do it well enough.
Luckily, you won’t need to know how much you’ve spent on League of Legends to pick up Empyrean K’Sante Prestige, as it can only be earned by grinding. If you’re looking to add him to your collection quickly, be sure to check out our League of Legends tier list to help you figure out which champions to play in your next game.
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League of Legends K’Sante is queer and black, and Riot is proud of it
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