Arcane Showrunners Christian Link and Alex Yee: We Wanted to Tell a Great Story!

Arcane Showrunners Christian Link and Alex Yee: We Wanted to Tell a Great Story!

Christian Linke: From day one, we tried to craft something that can stand on its own as a great story about characters that you can relate to no matter your knowledge of the game. We wanted to craft something you could follow and fall in love with regardless. This was always something we said we had to achieve because it was important to us not to just create another “fight porn,” hours-long cinematic experience. We wanted something that goes much deeper than that into what the characters feel, what their challenges are, what their concerns are. Really, we just wanted to tell a great story.

Alex Yee: The thing I would tell people who don’t have a familiarity with League is that this is fantasy but we were looking for a more dynamic, modern take on fantasy. We call it pop fantasy, which is fantasy with a more energetic, newer kind of feel to it. The first episodes can feel like a younger, feel-good type of story. But as you go across the season, we took on a more mature tone to tell stories that can engage with a much wider age range. We always wanted this to be accessible for people regardless of how much familiarity you had with the game.

On the flip side, League of Legends is one of the most popular video games in the world. How should people familiar with the game think about Arcane in relation to League from setting to timeline to characters?

Linke: I would look at it as something that stands on its own. At the end of the day, League of Legends is a game and it has very different needs in terms of what you can do with characters in the game. In Arcane, we can go much deeper. We also don’t want to constrain the game in what the game can be. One of the things that makes League so special is that it is an eclectic mix of different genres and tonalities. The worst thing we could do is to tell a story where it feels like it boxes the game into one direction going forward. We just have to look at these as different entities because we want to maximize the game experience for players, but also tell a great story. So we have to take certain liberties. We just don’t want to limit each other between the games and the stories because they’re just simply different expressions with different needs.

Yee: We’re using our own barometer but, we’re also using the best judgment that we can to make sure we are giving you the core essence of the characters and the regions. Everything is meant to feel that, wherever liberties may be taken, everyone is always focusing on making sure that the heart of the characters and the big elements always stay the same.

What were some of the inspirations for Arcane?

Linke: It started with the characters that we have been with for a long, long time. Both Alex and I have been at Riot for over 11 years. We were part of the team that worked on these characters when they were created. Vi, Jinx, Jayce, Victor, Caitlyn, we’ve always loved them. When we started thinking about what kind of characters we wanted to focus on if we had the opportunity to dive deeper into the IP, these characters seemed like an obvious choice. They felt like a fresh take to the fantasy genre that you often see in video games, they just have a certain edge to their tone.

Yee: For a long time at Riot, there was always this dream of delivering a product that let our players see the champions at eye level. League of Legends has a 40 feet overhead view. We tried for a long time to find a different way to tell stories. It always felt like, that, as much as people were engaging, and as much as we were building these stories behind the scenes, it was getting more and more silly that we hadn’t given people something of higher fidelity to engage with them on a story level.

Previously League of Legends lore was built out through comics and stories, what does Arcane bring to the world of Runeterra that fans haven’t seen before?

Linke: We really wanted to focus on showing characters living their everyday lives. We know relationships between these characters already exist and we wanted to show them taking shape and breaking apart. You see them as fighters in League of Legends. What do they do when they’re not just clubbing each other over the head? What would the home look like of a character like Vi or Jinx? Before we did the first animation test for Arcane, we’d never seen any of our characters talk. We just don’t have that perspective in our game.

Yee: The way the story of Runeterra was built was very champion-centric. The world was built out around the in-game champions. Arcane is the first time you get to see the champion and the other people in the world who aren’t champions who surround them and influence them. You get to see the full view of the world, the technology, the people, the architecture. It’s many things that live in different people’s imaginations. Previously, you could put together different images and imagine how they all connected, this time you can follow the whole course.

You guys have both worked at Riot Games for over a decade taking you back to the earliest days of League of Legends. How does that history with these characters and this world come through in Arcane?

Yee: I was there for a lot of the births of characters and really defining the world. What was hard was that we had so much content to generate. We didn’t feel like we had the time or the mechanisms to deliver a story for these characters beyond just bios and color stories. So the people who worked on these characters would build all these big narratives and sagas in our heads around the characters. But oftentimes, we wouldn’t be able to tell those stories because they didn’t fit the format we were looking for or we just didn’t have time. So there’s this enormous wealth of content to draw from mentally in addition to all the things that have been published publicly for players to see.

Being at Riot for so long, I was there for the discovery of the characters, the evolution of the characters as we worked internally but also the reaction of fans, I know that whole journey. To me, that just puts an extra feather in your cap when you’re tackling these stories. Every character has its own story but then there’s also the meta story of how it came into existence in the real world in addition to the fantasy world.

Many of the champions portrayed in Arcane have a counterpart. Vi and Jinx, Jayce and Victor, even Heimerdinger and Singed. The setting itself of Piltover and Zaun, showing two diametrically opposed city-states follows that. Is that a theme you were looking to explore in Arcane and what other themes were throughlines for the series?

Linke: There definitely is that theme of dichotomies, of siblings, of things that belong together but have trouble making it work. What’s interesting about twin cities but also siblings in a family is that you don’t really get to choose each other but you just have to go with it. Then pushing that further and further, at the end of the day, coexistence is necessary but there’s a line that you draw and say ‘I can’t follow you there.’ It’s really about the theme of where they are different. Siblings have so many things in common but they are so often total opposites of each other as well. That was something really important for us to explore, those situations where they have different opinions and where that actually creates big problems.

Yee: The other aspect of it was that we wanted to begin telling our story at a point where there would be the type of disruption that could take us wherever we need to go in the world. Hextech was the answer. It’s a fairly new invention that enables common people born without magical ability to tap into magic for the first time. It’s a big game changer for the world. What does it mean when that type of technology is democratized and given to everyone, not just mages who were born with it? How would that shake up the world and the various people who are interested in it? So we chose this place because of the emergence of disruption.

Linke: Then, also, living in a society where there’s two sides who are struggling to communicate, that’s a pretty real thing for all of us who live in the US. That was definitely something on our minds. Piltover and Zaun, here’s another place that can be so amazing, these wonderful places are all about invention and progress. They are cities of opportunity. Then there’s this pettiness of social disagreement making things worse and worse. It’s similar to the US. This country is this amazing place where these kinds of revolutionary inventions and new directions of technology often come from. At the same time, right now, it is so embarrassing to look in the mirror and think about how we as a society have handled these differences.

Yee: I would say, interestingly, both the rise of technology and the polarization of society has only become much more pronounced over the time we’ve been working on this. It was not nearly so bad when we started in 2015. So call that prophetic or just call it bad luck.

Finally, you have touched on Riot’s history with Fortiche on the music side, what did the studio bring to the creative vision of Arcane as a whole?

Linke: Our work with Fortiche was so amazing and inspiring that we wanted to do something that stands on its own. We were really lucky to be able to work with a studio like Fortiche with so many talented people that take their craft so seriously. They made it possible to imagine something like this in the first place. We wanted to create something with Arcane that wasn’t like other animated series. It seemed like there were two options for animated shows, it was either the kid stuff or the stuff that’s made for adults but it’s always very quippy and fast-paced.

We wanted to do something that is animation but is actually real drama. Where the moments where the silence between characters says as much as the words they do say. To do that, you need a certain subtlety in detail, in animation, in the camera work and in the mood setting. Fortiche was just so good at that.