‘League of Legends’ Is Embracing the Ridiculousness

The team behind League of Legends has been actively looking to squash the community’s memes. Over the last two years, Riot Games has released a replay mode, voice chat and reworks for some of its most outdated champions. Skins are a big part of how Riot Games makes money on the game so it has invested heavily in the cosmetics that the community has been clamoring for, like Beekeeper Singed, Arclight Yorick and the fabled Dragonmaster Swain. The newest additions to the wacky pack, Pizza Delivery Sivir and Birdio, had a long journey and almost didn’t make it onto the Rift.

Originally, Riot developers thought Pizza Delivery Sivir wouldn’t fit in League of Legends. At PAX Prime 2013 during an Art Demo panel, Rioters Tea Time and Grumpy Monkey sketched out and modeled the original skin idea, mentioning how they’d love to add it to the game. For more than four years PDS was a meme to the community, a skin that was teased but never released.

Urf Day is celebrated on April Fools’ Day in the League of Legends universe, commemorating the loss of a manatee mauled by a werewolf. To celebrate the occasion, Riot typically releases ridiculous skins that normally would never make the cut, like a sentient tree man wearing a kitty-cat onesie and a one-eyed alien sporting Groucho Marx glasses. For 2017’s Urf Day festivities, Riot developers really wanted to blow fans’ minds and finally release Pizza Delivery Sivir, but something went wrong.

“Making something based on a ‘real world’ concept is always challenging,” Product Manager Carlos Giffoni told Newsweek. “Every region actually has a Pizza Delivery meme, so there was a question of what kind of Pizza Delivery Sivir would this be?” The skins team decided to pivot to a toy box idea instead of food, though that didn’t make matters any simpler.

Pug’maw, the bipedal canine with spit attacks, was another hard sell for the skins team. “Not only was it one of my first skins, it was also a bit challenging to get people to believe in,” said Product Manager Janelle Jimenez. The developers were initially a bit reluctant, thinking it might just be too ridiculous, but once they saw the opportunity to turn the void puppy into a real dog, they got on board. On release, some members of the community thought it was the worst skin the game’s ever had, while others appreciated its unique attitude.

“I think going through the controversy with Pug’Maw gave us more confidence in really going after and embracing the ridiculousness,” Jimenez said. “We definitely looked at Pizza Delivery Sivir with fresh eyes afterwards.”

So when it came time to work on skins for Urf Day 2018, Pizza Delivery Sivir was back on the menu. Scrapping the original concepts from previous years, the skin team got to cooking ideas. Should she wear a collared shirt with a hat and pants, or ride a vespa? Would the skin fall into the dreaded uncanny valley if the pizzas looked too delicious? What does a pizza even look like in League’s style? Is this the Pug’maw of pizzas? The team debated all these questions, and more, but eventually reached a consensus.

“The dev team could embrace the pizza theme instead of worrying about how her concept should look and we got this crazy pizza topping switching thing,” Jimenez said.

PD Sivir is unique; the toppings on her blade correspond to the Chroma you use, and the team made sure everyone’s tastes were satisfied. “I am personally very invested in proper pizza representation, including pineapple,” Giffoni boasted. Though Jimenez isn’t a fan of the prickly fruit on her pizza, she conceded compromise is ultimately conductive to a healthy work environment (even when it’s wrong).

But Riot’s developers felt they couldn’t release her alone, they needed a skin to pair her with. Birdio, the fried-chicken delivery gargoyle, came from “a combination of looking for ideas that would resonate with Pizza Delivery Sivir and a moment of genius from one of our concept artists,” Giffoni said. One look at that chicken suit and Giffoni knew that the fast food wars had started. “Although Demolition Man already spoiled who wins that war, we still have to fight it.”

Figuring out how exactly to make fast food work in Runeterra was a challenge. “It’s really easy to imagine how to make holographic magic or big explosions look awesome, but how do you make pizza and chicken look amazing in a video game?” Giffoni said. The team tried out different breeds of fowl for Birdio, some of which made it into his Chromas. If Birdio gets popular enough, we could even see an entire “Fried Chicken” thematic. “There are many birds in our game after all, and bugs that could be chickens,” Jimenez said. “If Birdio is the employee of the year at this chicken restaurant, who is the worst employee, manager or janitor?"

League ’s team of developers intends to continue busting memes and surprising players because they want to make the fans happy. “We have a list… A list of memes,” Giffoni said. “They all need to die. And we have hired the assassins to kill them all (other than Magma Chamber).”