EDIT: Riot, you know how to set my heart aflutter. Just today had Diana announced. I’m not going to pretend to be less angry about Zyra because the next female champion is well armed and armored (but Zyra != Diana, and I will be ecstatic for her), however…  if this is a new initiative to bring out a broader range of characters, then I can accept where Zyra went (somewhat, still not entirely cohesive). I’m eagerly watching. I have high expectations because, in the end, you guys don’t let down. I know Riot can put out phenomenal quality work.

 

Let me preface this with the dual warnings of vehemence and yes, once again, we’re talking about Zyra. Specifically, how flat and boring the character is because Riot opted for the ‘eye-candy’ approach instead of fleshing out the character in a meaningful way on top of her mechanics and back-story. And as a further warning, there will probably be harsh language in this post for the first time ever. Why? This is why. This is a fucking problem and you should care. But we’re not going to talk about that first. First it’s the obvious problem of Zyra’s graphical design in-game.

Now I know this first part is probably going to ruffle some feathers, but it needs to be said so pay attention. Zyra is a boring and uninteresting character. Whats even worse than that is Zyra is thematically in-game a worse plant character than a damned skin for another character. Who? Blackthorn Morgana. Yes, you read that right, and it is completely sad. A recent skin for a very old champion is a better plant mage than the plant mage Riot was trying to make.

Now, that is a pretty bold statement, so let’s break it down a little. We’re going to mostly compare the two characters in thematic sense, both with spell details and character details. No one bring up the spells themselves, it’s very obvious Zyra wins out here, however it’s the subtle addition effects where she loses to Morgana. First we’re going to the more obvious visual effects on each character. Keep in mind from here on out, I’m only referring to in-game models, not the lore, design, or mechanics of the characters just yet.

Blackthorn Morgana, Riot Inc.

Blackthorn Morgana is an obvious elemental of Nature, specifically Fall or early Winter. This is evident all through the character as the eye rests on her most prominent features, her “dress” of roots and thorns, and the wings on her back. Depending on what team you spawn on, the wings can play an even greater visual component, but for now we’ll just assume you’re looking at her from the front. Her dress of roots is constantly shifting as Morgana moves around, especially on a subtle level as the roots that comprise it slither and shift slowly drives home the feeling of a living creature. Her ‘clothing’ isn’t merely there as a covering, it becomes part of the character and brings a holistic and living aspect to what once was mere cloth and metal. This is further exemplified by her idle animation, as the tips of the roots will constantly push under the soil, as if they were searching for a place to take root and draw sustenance from.

The wings are no less telling, where in the basic skin Morgana has tattered bat-like wings, Blackthorn’s ‘wings’ are composed of twisting branches and twigs, inlaid with golden leaves that constantly fall behind as she moves. These constantly flutter down, decaying as the roots of Morgana seek out sustenance to fuel her form, the twigs and branches that make up the wings subtly shifting and telling of a living creature.

In both ways this creates the image of a completely living, breathing creature without having to break apart the core visual aspects of who Morgana is while layering on so much more to create an almost new creature. Blackthorn Morgana is a living aspect of nature given form, acting out the eternal play of life and death in the natural order. In this case, the stage of the play is Decay, the Fall of life and onset of death.

Zyra, Riot Inc.

On the flip side, Zyra is an almost completely bland character. Nothing about her ever screams “plant-creature!” and only the most basic attempts at conveying this are attempted. In comparison to Morgana’s living attire, Zyra is completely stagnant and bland outside a token movement from the vines on her arms. Whats even worse, she commits the cardinal sin of an other-creature by being a complete human rather than humanoid.

To give an example; imagine Zyra as the completely stereotypical mage. If you need an image, just look at the Summoners from League of Legends, large obscuring robes, faces concealed under shadow and cloth. Now imagine her doing anything and see if it damages her image as a plant mage. The thing is, it doesn’t. Whats worse, it stands to have the potential of improving her thematic appeal. Her lines and spells are still the same, but her true form is hidden and only hinted at through spells and dialogue. Upon death, this cowled and seeming human creature shreds its false coil and arises in its true form, revealing the monstrous aspect of nature it truly is.

Now stop. You. Yes, you, in the back, busily hammering away on the keyboard about how I’m decrying her as incredibly sexist and the only way to ‘fix’ her is clearly to cover her up entirely. Sit the hell down and shut up until we’re done, we have a long way to go still.

Remember what I said earlier about Zyra committing the cardinal sin of being human? This is what I’m talking about. She displays absolutely no thematic cohesiveness with her lore, her form is blatantly human-female and has no discerning features that separate it or make her stand out as a non-human. The ‘flower’ aspects of her leggings don’t look to be anything more than clothing and display none of the living traits of plants that would either seek to ensnare pray or even grow out to spread and live. The only part of her that looks alive are the single vine-thorns on either arm, and these do nothing aside from wriggle or spike into the ground for her taunt animation. Remember, that’s something you have to physically command a champion to do, not a passive animation, so it does absolutely nothing in-game to reinforce the idea of a walking aspect of nature.

Zyra, Riot Inc., Lolking.net

The rest of the leafy bits aren’t even given the appearance of life or growth, they merely drape statically over her breasts or shoulders to keep her form from being ‘obscene.’ And don’t worry, we’ll be back to that in a bit.

Onwards to the spell effects, there are a lot of subtle enhancements to Blackthorn Morgana’s skin that further pushes her into a living creature formed from a particular aspect of nature. Her Tormented Soil has vines and thorns pulsing around the outside, but deeper and more revealing than that is what happens when the spell fades. The effect created by Morgana is blown away on the wind, the poisoned ground becoming nothing more than black leafs swept away on an unseen breeze. Secondary effects on Dark Binding and Soul Shackles has more leafs caught up in the swirl of magic, binding around until collapsing on the target and being swept away.

Morgana snaring with her Dark Binding

Zyra on the other hand has almost no secondary effects, and as a result a good deal of her kit feels extremely samey and bland. The only special with a special effect is Rampant Growth, either when the seeds burst or grow into plants in conjunction with another spell. They feel alive, especially when compared to the other spells in her arsenal. Comparatively, Deadly Bloom, Grasping Roots, and Stranglethorn all feel incredibly similar with an extreme over-reliance on a very basic “green vine with purple tip” design. None of them feel particularly special or alive. They don’t look like living plants, they look like bland spells from a hyper-specialized mage. Note I said mage, not plant creature spreading her roots and growing in power.

Zyra casting Grasping Thorns

In summary of this part, Zyra doesn’t feel like any real reflection of nature. She feels like a stagnant mockery of a vibrant and living world, and that strips away her classification as an ‘other’ humanoid and plants her firmly in the camp of ‘human’ character. Which is where the next fun part comes in…

Zyra is a clearly hyper-sexualized character that has devolved into eye-candy for the standard male demographic. And you know what? That’s not too bad. Everyone needs to have characters they can like. The problem is, almost all of Riot’s female characters fall into this sexualization ditch, and you should feel insulted. Yes you, the male viewer. Not because you like this, but because Riot is banking on a bit of tits and ass to distract you from lazy half-hearted design that doesn’t show their full potential.

No. Stop. Yes, you in the back. Again. Hands off the keyboard and listen. This is not okay for the same old bullshit excuse of “but all the guys are totally sexualized as well! it’s completely equal!” No it isn’t, and here is why: That slab chested six-pack was never, ever designed for a female viewer. That was design for you as a self-image fantasy. And that cheap T&A that plagues the industry? Also designed for you. For a list of champions Riot has said they’ve designed specifically to be attractive to a female audience, there is a single champion. Varus. I’m not saying he’s the only one attractive, some girls like the image of someone like Jarvan or Darius, but that is the singular example of a champion being designed for females to be attractive. That’s the one designed with us in mind. Remember that before hammering out some bullshit about sexualization being equal.

Sexualization is ‘equal’

Speaking of Jarvan, Zyra has the same stick-up-the-ass problem he has, only it’s made even worse because of everything I’ve covered already. Jarvan stands up that way in full wargear to appear regal or commanding. Zyra stands that way solely so she can shove her breasts and her ass into your face. Remember  how I said she was a bland and static character? That removed any chance of her being something other than a scantily clad woman whose sole goal in life is to titillate the viewer. That’s all she’s left with.

And you know what? Sexy isn’t bad. Riot has done dark and attractive before (Morgana), they’ve done playful and sensual (Ahri) and a few more. The problem is that almost all the females fall into this trap. And before anyone starts, Yordles do not count. Yordles are a joke race, meant to be silly and cliche for the sake of humor. They’re diminutive gnomes that have never been sexualized, male or female. I’m talking about an honest to god human woman. Remember, that’s what Zyra has fallen in to. Think about the great character of Fiora, nonsexualized, arrogant, powerful, great female champion. Remember her splash art? Ass and chest out, accentuating both for the viewer for no better sake than because they can. Sexy as a characteristic is fine, sexy for the sake of sexy to titillate when it has no business with the character is bullshit and insulting, for me and you. It’s insulting to me because it says Riot doesn’t give a damn about its female demographic, and it’s insulting to you because that means they think with a little T&A you’ll buy anything.

Kate Beaton illustrates the classic “T&A” pose

Now, what does this have to do with Zyra? Well, someone asked Morello if Zyra was supposed to be an attractive or sexual character. His response? No, that’s not what Zyra is about.

Then why the hell is all that shit I JUST COVERED doing on this character?

So I’m sick of this. Completely and utterly. Riot can do better than this and I expect them to do so. What happened to all this “We’re pushing boundaries and raising the bar on champion design” talk I heard from Riot so much recently? Because the only bar Zyra is pushing is to see how lazy in design they can get away with and not face any outcry. Zyra is insulting in form and display for a multitude of reasons.

Now, despite this she is incredibly solid mechanically, and not without some salvation in the thematic department. So, I’ll cut a deal with you Riot. I’ll get Zyra (with IP, and the spare RP I have on my account going into her Wildfire skin, which is far better than her default and much more thematically whole) if you can actually try with the next female release. Sexy is fine, as long it is has a place and reason. Sex appeal for the sake of it is garbage. If you can actually try, I’ll be happy. Hell, I’ll sing high praise about you as a company for as long as you like, even buy the champion and her skin with money, even though my account has more than enough IP for the next three champions (and climbing).

But if you release another lazy, eye-candy piece for no better reason than you can, that’s it. There will be nothing but caustic criticism and refusal to buy that champion or anymore in her vain. On top of that, I’m contacting Player Support and demanding Zyra be removed from my account. I don’t want my IP and RP back, that ship has sailed. I want you to know that I’m so disgusted with that lazy design I don’t even want anything back, I just want her the hell of my account.

I expect better from you, Riot. Because I know you can do better. Prove all that talk about pushing the bar for excellence wasn’t just talk. I’ll be waiting to see what comes next.

From a long time and dedicated player.

-Kana

PS- Find all the puns I wrote, win a cookie. Find all the puns I wrote without facepalming, win two.