League of Legends started as a humble MOBA in the footsteps of a Warcraft mod, but the game has expanded to include a massive fantasy universe rich with lore. Riot has managed to curate a very respectable canon backed by cinematics, novels, comics, and even an Emmy-winning animated show. And if the world of Runeterra isn’t to your tastes, Riot hopes to lure you in with one of their many alternate realities and skin lines. It’s a lot to sift through, and League’s biggest lore fans are digging through all these timelines to guess at how it all fits together and what comes next.
Much like Marvel, there are multiple continuities within the “main” fiction of League. Arcane is technically an alt-universe of its own, using the same playground but tweaking bits of established canon to tell a stronger story. Legends of Runeterra exists in a weird canon limbo where much of it is speculative, not nailed down to a specific timeline, or experimental. But the skin lines are where things really get weird, turning into a big Gordian knot of mirror selves and prime universes.
For most of League’s lifespan, skins were a fun way to offer an alternate fantasy on a character. What if Noxian assassin Katarina was actually a pirate? What if Jinx had to survive the zombie apocalypse? What if Sona, the mute musician, was actually a Daft Punk-style DJ? Over time, these fantasies became much more elaborate. What if a bunch of champions were actually all part of a K-pop band and released a single?
Skins like Star Guardian Lux started as one-offs, but their success with the community led to follow-up releases and more elaborate fiction. Riot’s philosophy changed, and now skin lines are usually associated with whole universes. PROJECT is a high-concept cyberpunk dystopia, whereas Battle Academia is an anime tribute that puts champions in a high school for heroes.
Sometimes, this is a lot of fun. This was the case with High Noon, a gothic Western universe where belles and cowboys mingle with fallen angels and ambitious demons on steeds of flame and go on train heists. Other times, I feel like I’ve been assigned homework I don’t really want to do. In Wild Rift, a new Supreme Cells skinline came out with an associated event, and as soon as I saw that each champion had lore loaded with proper nouns and deep motivations, I checked out. No thank you! Enough of my brain is full of League nonsense, no more please.
Things get really prickly when we approach a certain cluster of skins associated with space. Dark Star and Cosmic both reimagine champions as part of a great astral court at war. Odyssey is a space adventure that pays homage to Star Wars, Borderlands, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Star Guardians are magical girls who balance the demands of high school with fighting off space baddies.
All of these started as simple concepts, but Riot has been sprinkling hints that they’re connected. For instance, Odyssey Kayn is a power-mad space emperor who uses the power of Dark Star Rhaast to fuel his crusade. Hey, how did a Dark Star get in my Odyssey? These hints became very explicit in the Star Guardian event, which ends with Star Guardian captain Kai’Sa being confronted by the Dark Star in her dreams. Now we know there’s a crossover, but it immediately begs the question of overlap. Why is there a Cosmic Lux and a Star Guardian Lux? A Star Guardian Jinx and an Odyssey Jinx? An Odyssey Kha’Zix and Dark Star Kha’Zix?
Riot’s newest big skin line both answers these questions and raises more of them. Enter the Empyrean, champions who are empowered by the Foreglow and who are also very aware that they live in a multiverse. In fact, Empyrean Pyke’s mission is to kill all other Pykes, including ones from other skin lines.
Empyrean Pyke not only kills tough, battle-hardened Pykes, but softer and simpler Pykes. For instance, we get to see a Pyke playing League of Legends in some other dimension — which I also have questions about, like is there a Pyke champion in this version of League of Legends? If so, is this guy at all confused about why Riot Games made a champion with his name and face?
Empyrean might just be the key that answers all of the mysteries set up about the Dark Star and its role in the greater League multiverse. Or maybe there are no answers, and this is a “Drink Your Ovaltine” situation where the only real conclusion is that Riot hopes we simply think that these skins are cool and we should buy them. Either way, it’s fascinating to watch the multiverse bloom and develop. I just wish we could get a few skin lines that don’t have a massive universe attached; sometimes, I just want to dress my dollies up, not ponder on the greater mysteries of the universes.