It was always Jinx and Vi. They’re the sisters at the heart of Riot Games’ hit Netflix series, Arcane, and they were picked for the spotlight out of a lineup of more than 150 League of Legends champions.
For Arcane creators Christian Linke and Alex Yee, the stars really couldn’t have been anyone else from League of Legends lore. Especially not Teemo. Linke and Yee have been preparing Jinx and Vi for their leading roles in a mature, mainstream, animated TV series for the past nine years, even if they didn’t know it the entire time.
Back in December 2012, Vi debuted and became the first League of Legends champion to receive a login screen complete with an original, lyrical song. A year later, Jinx joined the game’s ranks and starred in its first character-driven cinematic, a high-energy music video called Get Jinxed. Linke and Yee worked on both of these releases, flexing their creative muscles in music and narrative storyboarding, two aspects that didn’t get much attention in the core game-development process.
The Jinx cinematic was also the first time Riot partnered with Fortiche Production, the studio behind Arcane’s otherworldly animation style.
“They kind of got our special treatment already because we just really liked them,” Linke told Engadget. “And so, when we had to think about like, which characters do we want to stick with for many years to come? I think it was pretty obvious.”
Yee agreed and added, “Both of them were a bit of a milestone, I think, for our time at Riot.”
In-game, Jinx and Vi are sisters and bitter enemies, though this story fades into the background of the action, appearing only in small voice lines and character descriptions. As an online MOBA, narrative isn’t critical to the way League of Legends plays, but Riot has infused its champions with more lore over the years, focusing on expanding their universe beyond the game launcher.
Nowadays, Riot is a hub of creative development across multiple mediums, including short stories, graphic novels, cinematics, music videos and one truly fantastic K-pop group. Arcane is the studio’s biggest push onto a mainstream service, and Jinx and Vi carry the story, surrounded by a handful of other champions, including Caitlyn, Jayce and Viktor, and other original characters.
Jinx and Vi were always intriguing to Linke and Yee. They were grounded in a way that the game’s more fantastical champions weren’t, with distinct, opposing personalities and an unexplained rivalry that clearly cut both sisters to the core. Vi was a powerful, rigid Enforcer working for the prosperous city of Piltover, while Jinx was an anarchist with a belt full of bombs and no filter. Vi’s hair is short and pink, while Jinx’s is long and bright blue.
“If you just imagine those two characters together in a scene, whatever location, whatever they would be debating – you know, what kind of food they're going to get in the evening, or what kind of movie they're going to watch,” Linke said. “It's just always going to be fun, because they're always going to have these very different perspectives.”
There’s an inherent question in Jinx and Vi’s shared backstory, Yee said, and it’s a mystery that fans of the game and newcomers to the show would be able to grasp quickly: If they’re sisters, why do they hate each other so much? Arcane asks that question and slowly answers it, providing a rich, emotionally charged origin story for Jinx, Vi and their surrounding champions along the way.
“The fact that Jinx and Vi’s relationship is a bit of a mystery from the outset allows us to sort of satisfy both audiences,” Yee said.
In Arcane, Linke and Yee were able to zoom in and focus on the small details that bring their characters to life, showing micro-expressions and all-consuming rage on Jinx’s face, or giving Vi a nuanced nervous tick, like bouncing her leg. Fortiche Production, the studio that handles animation duties for Arcane and other Riot projects, was a pivotal part of this development process. Animators there were given leeway to express themselves in the characters, Linke said, and this resulted in a unique visual style that flowed like motion-capture, even though it was completely hand-drawn.
“We also tried to really treat the animators like actors who can find their ways of expressing things, rather than just kind of saying, make Jinx or Vi do this,” Linke said. “But instead, just being like, here's what's going on in their head, how can we really make that feel real?”
After nearly 10 years of in-game development and cross-media projects, Jinx and Vi are still able to surprise Linke and Yee. Developing Arcane, for instance, marked the first time they’d seen any League of Legends champion actually speaking, mouth movements and all.
“When we did our first trial, or our first test animatic for the show, it was the first time we'd ever seen any of our champions talk,” Yee said. “We'd never – their mouths don't move in game, you know. So it was a very funny milestone to cross at that point.”
Given how well Arcane has been received by League of Legends fans and newcomers alike, there are plenty more creative milestones to come as Riot continues its ride into mainstream entertainment. Season two of Arcane is in production as we — and Jinx and Vi — speak.