Gaming Reflections · Sexuality in gaming

An Open Letter to Riot Games

Hi, guys. This is Taric.

Check out that hair.

(Yes, I used his Chinese artwork. Shut up.)

Taric is a champion in League of Legends. In terms of types, he is both a support and a tank, having strong healing and buffing abilities as well as a stun and defensive power. His schtick is that he uses earth-elemental magic through the power of cut gems (as his wiki page observes, this is a ref to Blizzard’s jewel-socketing schtick in both Diablo and World of Warcraft). While I tend to prefer more caster-y supports with a lot of harrass/poking potential, Taric is pretty great. I really enjoy him.

There’s also the minor fact that Taric is rumored to be gay. To do a little pull-quoting from his official champion info background:

His neat and stylish appearance combined with his shiny bejeweled armor and weapons have rapidly made him a celebrity champion of the League of Legends. Valoran’s media, for some reason, has taken a great interest in his personal life. While open about his life as a champion and gracious in all things, Taric is tight-lipped about his life outside the League and prefers his privacy.

Yeah. I mean, that seems pretty low-key, right? He has two abilities called “Dazzle” and “Radiance.” Also, let me add in some additional context. The first is his voice samples:

And the second is this amazing fan-made music rap video which really needs to be seen to be believed:

So, yeah. To quote Jeremiah Bratton of Gayme Bar: “I laughed? But it also kind of made my spine crack in half.” Those pain sounds in the middle of the voice samples I had actually never heard before I went to make this post (in combat, other stuff is dominating your attention) and they actually kind of infuriated me. And if you really want some fun, consider that a lot of the rumors/claims started when they released the US art for his “Armor of the 5th Age” skin:

Taric's "Pink Armor" skin
Legwarmers. Because those are necessary.


So, a lot of this is sort of annoying — hur hur metrosexuals are gay, hur hur pink is gay, hur hur gay guys sound like women when they get hit — but I’m sort of willing to put up with it because I guess it’s kind of harmless? I dunno why I tolerate it, actually, but I do. And while I love League and I respect Riot, I do have some serious problems with how… hegemonic their designs are as regards sexualization of women (though I do love the tough-as-nails bruiser look for upcoming champion Vi). Yet I kind of let this go by, until I started thinking about it, and now I’m kinda not okay with it. But I want to deal with my not-okay-with-it-ness in a constructive way.

For starters, let me pick apart why this annoys me: I don’t like “wink-and-a-nod” characters like Taric. It’s like they want all the benefits of having a gay character — which usually amount to “Look! A gay character!” while pointing vigorously — but without having to actually own up and say: “Yeah, we put a gay character in our game. Want to fight about it?” It also seems to encourage the mindset that queer identity is always already illicit, always on the sly and kept a “public secret” where everyone knows but nobody talks about it. And I can imagine that Riot — or any other company for that matter — would deploy the usual list of suspects for why characters like Taric exist in the wink-and-a-nod mode: “We don’t think the playerbase will accept it,” “We don’t want to lose sales,” “We don’t want to politicize the game,” etc. And let me tell you, that last logic — “Why you gotta politicize our fun fantasy vidyagame” — gets on my nerves with a vengeance. A wink-and-a-nod character is already political; in fact, it’s deploying the epistemology of the closet as a politic right off the bat. So don’t even get me started on that one.

Yet part of the great thing about Taric is that the playerbase has embraced him, mostly because he’s an amazing support. Teams at the highest competitive level regularly deploy Taric because he brings a powerful support toolset to the table. This has some resonance with earlier statements I made about Valkyria Chronicles‘ gay anti-tank lancer Jann Walker — part of the great thing about Jann (and Taric) isn’t just that they’re gay (or, you know, “gay” in quotes) but that they’re also extremely good at their jobs. That last part is really important, because as annoying as it sounds, it’s the key to getting that character buy-in from your probably straight white cismale gamer audience. I should also point out that something both of these characters are good at — Jann being a heavy-weapons demolition specialist and Taric being a highly durable, punishment-soaking tank — are activities that are not often “masculine-coded,” although in Taric’s case the fact that people play him most often as a pure heal bot complicates matters (there’s interesting research on how gendered certain team play roles get in games like LoL).

So why the open letter to Riot?

Lately, some champs with very old character models — Katarina, Twisted Fate, Nidalee, Soraka — all got visual upgrades with new art, new animations (including Katarina’s really unfortunate “please come into my vagina” recall animation, SIGH), and some new voice samples. Taric isn’t exactly old-old, but he’s aging a bit, and I feel like he could easily be in line for a graphical upgrade and some new voice samples as well. And as long as he might be eligible to go through that, here’s my call to you, Riot: just make him gay already. Don’t wink-and-a-nod things like a giggling schoolboy; put it out there. Have him be out, proud, and a badass tanky support. Hell, if you really want to go the whole nine yards, do something like you have with Caitlin/Jayce/Vi, or Twisted Fate/Graves, or Kha’zix/Rengar: make a boyfriend champ, or maybe even a former lover who’s now a rival, or something. If you want to get real crazy, make him an AD carry so they can bottom together (pause to giggle; I am 12 years old). I guarantee you Taric will still get played, he’ll still have a great space in the lore of the game, and you will be trading in a very adolescent-seeming joke for a mature inclusion of a queer character in your game.

Considering I heard you say at GDC this year that you want to be “the most player-focused company in the world” and are constantly concerned with the toxicity of your playerbase — which includes deeply homophobic sentiment in many an occasion — I think this would be a great step forward.

15 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Riot Games

  1. Yes, I agree. Let’s add sexual orientation to all the League of Legends characters. While we are at it, let’s make sexual orientation a game mechanic and add items to influences said mechanic.

  2. Jason, that’s an interesting idea. Games are better when the characters are more complex. Sexual orientation is a complex part of people’s identities that affect almost every aspect of their lives and acknowledging and integrating the full spectrum of sexualities could add a deeper level to games.

    This is a great post. Thanks for articulating why it’s so harmful to have a character be ‘gay’ through the wink-and-nudge, rather than being openly identified.

  3. Why are you assuming that all of these stereotypically homosexual features/traits/appearances are 100% indicative of homosexuality in this character? Do you understand that to do so is to perpetuate these same stereotypes, thus adding to the problem? Why do you insist on sticking a label on things and categorizing people and characters into neat little boxes, instead of just taking things the way they are, at face value?

    You try to show how accepting you would be of a completely out gay character, and in doing so, you have revealed how narrow-minded you really are. Video game characters, especially in LoL, do not need to have their sexual orientations advertised. Why anyone even stops to consider it for longer than a passing thought boggles my mind…. Clearly it upsets you to think that a straight man might like shiny purple armour, or be confident enough to use attacks like Dazzle.

  4. This is the greater problem with fighting for gay equality and rights– Where and when do we draw the line between what need and needn’t be said? So Taric is gay, why not? Where exactly do they say he’s not? Where exactly do they say he’s keeping it a secret? Do they describe sexual relationships/orientations of any of the other League characters? It’s his personality, it’s his orientation, but that’s not who he is. Why does he need the label, isn’t the even more of a slap to the face? He is Taric and his back-story appropriately defines him for who he is, someone more than just his sexual orientation.

  5. Wait, so your argument is that a character who embodies certain homosexual stereotypes and is damn good at his job, in a game that has nothing to do with sexuality, is offensive for not being gay enough? People should have their focus taken off his abilities as a tank/support, in favor of whether or not he sucked a dick before going onto the field?

    It’s not like Riot’s trying to hide his orientation, they just don’t think it should be used to define him, and I have to agree. I mean, it’s not like you’d want your friends to introduce you to people with “Oh hey, this is my friend Marc. He’s an amazing chef, a first chair violinist, and he takes it up the butt.”

  6. I was going to bitch and complain about the absurd of this post and how much of a cry baby you are until I read the boyfriend champ thing.

    I loved that. With passion.

    It should be a fucking AD carry, too, as to fit in the current lanes metagame. And have custom jokes / taunts / whatevers whenever in the same team or opposite and close by. Also, the Pink skin should be the only one, because seriously … every other taric skin is like “I’m playing with a gay champ, but I’m too uncomfortable with my sexuality to go ballsdeep gay and go furry pink, so I end up with the even gayer version that’s black and red or the green one”

    I’m a straight white middle class male who downright loves Taric. That fabulous asshole is the sole reason my sorry ass elo is where it is. Because he fabulously carries it back up when me trying to ADC or APC destroys my elo.

    Man, I love Taric so much. Every champion should strive to be that fabulous.
    Also this blog is now diamonds.

  7. Disregard my previous comment. It’s obvious I stopped reading as soon as I fell in love with the idea of a “Taric Partner” and started daydreaming about that much badassery.

  8. Flamboyant does NOT equal gay. I don’t know why this is so hard for some to wrap their head around. Whatever the intentions the author had of this, I can’t help but feel they are very misguided and frankly offensive. What if Taric is straight? Why does he or anyone HAVE to be gay based off YOUR criteria and assumptions?

    I’m gay. I also love playing Taric. I play the character because he’s awesome. His fabulous armor and quotes are what makes him a cool designed character to me, and I’d like his character every bit as much if he was straight. His design in no way offends me or any of the gay people I play LoL with.

    Is that a valid argument? No, but I hate when mine or any sexuality is used for someone’s agenda or for the basis of ‘journalism’ on a slow day.

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