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There was a whole universe to explore when designing the first team of Star Guardians, but coming back for round two meant bringing brand-new characters to an existing world. They needed to feel familiar, like they belonged there, while still standing apart as a unique team. Some of this is communicated through their somewhat darker story, and the rest relies on the visuals.
The Star’s Call
Last year, the Star Guardian team was trying to overcome conflict amongst themselves so they could work together to fight off bad guys and save the day—a theme that probably feels familiar to most players. “We played it pretty safe,” says senior concept artist Paul “Riot Zeronis” Kwon, “and I think that was okay because we were trying to introduce a new genre to League. But this year, we really wanted to push it to the limit and take more risks.”
Part of this meant choosing champs who’d diversify the Star Guardian roster. “We factored in things like what champions made sense, what players have requested the most, and how they’d work together as a team,” says product manager Carlos “I am Carlos” Giffoni. “But our overarching goal was to find champions who we could really differentiate from each other.” This made someone like Ezreal an obvious choice since he’s the first male Star Guardian. Syndra filled the role of the darker, more mysterious character. Add in a healer, a hot-headed gunslinger, and a charismatic leader, and the second team of Star Guardians was ready for concepting.
Designing five skins at once is a lot to ask of any artist, so the skins were split up between multiple designers. Riot Zeronis acted as the visual lead, meaning he helped establish the general artistic direction and shape language before the other artists started working. For example, a five-pointed star was the main symbol used for the original Star Guardians, but devs wanted to put a twist on this star to further differentiate the squads. “There were a lot of napkin doodles before we decided to go with the four-pointed star,” says Riot Zeronis.
Once the overall design direction was locked, the artists worked individually (for the most part) on each champion’s concept art. Riot Zeronis would periodically line-up all of the work-in-progress concepts and do a “cohesion pass” to ensure the skins looked like they belonged in the same universe. He’d look for things like: Do the colors compliment each other? Are they using the established shape language? Do the shades of gold match? Are any of the outfits too similar or too different? And, perhaps most importantly, do the skins look badass separately—but also make sense together?
He’d do a paintover on each model, which basically meant he drew over the existing concepts to help resolve any cohesion issues. Then the artists continued working. This process happened more than fifteen times during development. “I might’ve overthought the whole process—I think maybe I was going a little crazy,” says Riot Zeronis.
“But really, we never draw the first thing we think of and say, ‘Alright, let’s go! This is it.’ We make an effort to get it right,” says I am Carlos.
Here are some of the thoughts and concepts behind each of this year’s Star Guardians.
A Dark and Mysterious Past
Syndra is the cunning, mischievous one, so she was intentionally designed to stand out from the rest of the pack. Her colors are unusually dark for a Star Guardian, with deep purples offset by magenta accents. The star used in her design is also inverted—the rest of the Guardian’s stars curve outward, but hers curves inward. “It’s still a four-pointed star, but it defies the shape language,” says Riot Zeronis.
The eyepatch amplifies her sort of shady vibes, and the upward turn of her hair is dramatic, much like Syndra herself.
This particular piece of concept art was one of the defining moments during the Star Guardians’ development. Riot Zeronis drew it during an early exploration, and it brought a lot of hype to the team.
The Heroic Wanderer
Ezreal was the first male Star Guardian, which may seem like it’d make his design process challenging. But in reality, it was pretty straightforward. “We wanted him to look like a badass modern hero,” says Riot Zeronis. “We drew a lot of inspiration from various animes.” For example, Ezreal’s suit is supposed to look very formal and suave, but with a modern, high-fantasy twist.
For a while, Ezreal had a five-pointed star rather than the four-pointed one because of his (now-revised) backstory. He was once a normal guy living a normal life, but when the second team of Star Guardians arrived, he was awakened… and soon fell in love with a bubbly, pink-haired Guardian. The five-pointed star gave him a connection to Lux. “Ultimately, we went back to the four-pointed star to keep his visuals and story consistent with the rest of his team,” says Riot Zeronis.
Fueled by Vengeance
Miss Fortune is the fiery, hot-headed member of the group. Ever since she lost some former teammates in battle, she’s made a habit of throwing herself recklessly at fights in an attempt to avenge her fallen comrades. With this personality, there was almost no doubt that MF should have a warm color palette of reds and oranges.
Early designs focused on finding a way to incorporate her signature hat, which included an assortment of berets, headbands, and even a witch-like hat. Ultimately, these bold caps felt like they were detracting from the elegance of the skin a bit too much, and a simpler hairclip took its place.
To Heal and Protect
The main inspiration for Soraka’s character comes from innocent anime girl tropes. “These characters are very pure, almost naive, and tend to be sad and quiet.” says Riot Zeronis. Most of them have a downward slope to their design (such as Shiro from No Game No Life), and Soraka’s downturned ears and drooping wings were styled after these tropes.
Her curly, poofy hair was modeled after clouds to show her innocence and purity. Early iterations were softer and fluffier, but they were toned down a bit because it was too distracting in-game.
Soraka’s color scheme was almost always some combination of whites, blues, and greens. “Deciding on a color scheme is mostly organic. It’s about the emotion,” says Riot Zeronis. Calm, peaceful hues seemed like the best fit for the healer.
And if you were wondering—yes, she intentionally was designed with an eight-pointed star. No other details available now though.
Tough Love… and Sparkles
Star Guardian Ahri is the leader of this year’s team and the recipient of a Legendary skin, so she was designed to shine amongst the stars. For example, all of the other Guardians’ outfits are dominated by a single color, but Ahri’s is the first to introduce a secondary color. “This helps her stand out but is also a nod to the advanced form of magical girls,” says Riot Zeronis.
There was some concern about Ahri having a similar color scheme to Star Guardian Lux, particularly because both of them are leaders of SG teams. “To avoid this overlap, we tried concepting Ahri with cool colors. We were thinking, ‘What if she’s like the opposite of Lux?’” But ultimately, the pinks, peaches, and purples just seemed like a much better fit for Ahri.
Star Guardian Ahir’s lack of whiskers was a tough but intentional choice. Ahri’s whiskers seem very youthful, but Star Guardian Ahri is supposed to feel more mature. She’s not necessarily old, but she’s tired from the world. “Adding whiskers broke that feeling. We even tried doing different toned whiskers in different colors as well as stars and other graphic designs,” says Riot Zeronis. “They always felt like they detracted from the elegance and maturity of the skin.
And finally, since Legendary skins typically include an all-new animation set, there was a chance to make Ahri’s tails fluffier and more expressive than ever. There were so many possibilities: What if the tails were different lengths, kind of like fingers on a hand? How should they move in-game? What if she had a different type of animal tails completely? “In the end, we stuck with what would be most familiar to players,” says Riot Zeronis.
Only now they’re infused with starlight, sparkles, and sass.