Arts, Culture, and Entertainment

‘Arcane’ is a gift for ‘League of Legends’ fans

‘League of Legends’ animated series debuts on Netflix with positive reviews from devoted players

Arcane character looks up at camera with pointed painted nails.

“Arcane,” Netflix’s new French-American animated series released on Nov. 6, surprised the world with its debut. The show, based on “League of Legends,” a multiplayer online battle arena video game, garnered 34 million viewing hours in its first week — setting records for the genre.

“I have never, ever played ‘League of Legends’ or any multiplayer online game, and if this series hadn’t come along, I would probably never have been tempted to log on,” said Diana Keng, a TV critic for TV Fanatic.

“League of Legends” is considered one of the most successful and popular video games of the last decade, according to Insider. The game, which employs a “freemium” business model that lets gamers play for free with some parts of the game available for purchase, is developed and published by video game studio and industry giant Riot Games.

In 2020, “League of Legends” produced $1.75 billion in revenue, making it the sixth highest grossing free-to-play game worldwide. As of October 2021, “League of Legends’” player count reached a total of 115 million monthly players, according to LeagueFeed.

With constant releases of new events, tournaments and champions, “League of Legends” has become one of the most played games in the world. Its current monthly player count is larger than most countries, including the Philippines, Egypt and Vietnam. And since its launch in 2009, the game has received critical acclaim for its accessibility, character designs and production value.

Another part of the “League of Legends” fanfare is the games’ tournaments, which draw thousands of people from around the world. On Nov. 6, the 2021 “League of Legends” World Championship hosted in Reykjavik, Iceland culminated with Edward Gaming, a professional team from China, taking down Damwon, a professional team from South Korea, in the finals. The tournaments had an average viewership of 1.3 million people and more than 4 million at its peak.

Riot Games released “Arcane” to celebrate the games’ 10th anniversary. The nine-episode animated series features the origin story of two League champions, living between two major regions in the world of Runeterra, the affluent Piltover and the oppressed underground of Zaun. While it breaks several barriers, it is not the first animated series to be released based on a video game.

In 1982, “Pac-Man” was released as a 30-minute Saturday morning animated series produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions. The show was based on the Namco video game franchise of the same name. In its debut, the show drew more than 20 million viewers.

Several other prominent shows such as “Sonic Boom” and “Castlevania” have paved the way since 1982; but “Arcane” demonstrates the growing extent of video games’ wide appeal to new audiences.

Dmitri Williams, an assistant professor of communications at USC, is an expert in video games, online communities and virtual worlds. Williams said that Hollywood has a long and not very good history of adapting video game content into movies, but that Riot Games has succeeded.

“Riot Games is doing what every large company wants to do, which is not be a video game company, but be a media company,” Williams said. “And an important part of that strategy is to add on other media entertainment. And so the arcane show fits, of course, within that broader context, really well.”

The influence of animated series based on video games is reaching its peak with the recent release of “Arcane.” The show briefly dethroned Netflix’ “Squid Game” in its roaring open week and now makes Netflix’ top 10 most watched shows across 83 countries.

“My guess is their mission statement was like a female centric show that included a wide diversity of characters and made it a universal story about the struggle of the poor against the rich,” Williams said. “And that’s going to resonate across pretty much everywhere on the planet right now.”

The show’s massive success could not be achieved without the support of “League of Legends’” players and their massive followings.

Aaron Kim, a freshman at North Seattle Community College and a USC Spring Admit, has been playing League since second grade. Even though he no longer puts that much time into the game, he still loves watching the professional games and has enjoyed “Arcane.”

“It was really cool seeing all the lead characters in [the show] before they become who they are in the game,” Kim said.

For many viewers and fans, the series is doing what the video game was never able to fully accomplish: develop the character’s backstories. Audiences of the new Netflix show are able to build closer relationships with the characters.

“From a narrative point of view, the new piece of content is going to be tied to the old one, which is going to have benefits and costs,” Williams said. “The benefits are that there is usually a ready-made universe and then the costs may be that creatively you can only exist within that universe.”

Williams also said that the other major benefit is that “League of Legends’” hundreds of millions of players means that the show automatically has a potential following of those people as well.

Jennifer Gamache, a student majoring in graphic design at Collège Ahuntsic in Montreal, Canada, said she loves the game because of its excellent design quality, including art, voice acting and suspense. As a fan, Gamache had high expectations for the show.

“I was aware that the story will be about the past of Jinx [main character of ‘Arcane’] and how she became the character she is now, like the new Harley Quinn in DC comics,” Gamache said.

Gamache believes that every character in “League of Legends” is unique and that they all deserve a story or a place in a story. Even though Gamache has a high standard on art as a professional designer, she speaks highly about the quality of “Arcane,” such as the animator’s use of 3D style, color palettes, tone, animation design and lines of action.

“[It’s] upbeat and thrilling,” she said. “The series is not done yet so I can’t ask for more [for] now.”