Star Guardian Interview: Stephanie Bedford On Bringing The World, Themes, And Champions To Life

Star Guardian has taken over the League of Legends universe in recent weeks. All games under the Runeterra banner have been outfitted with new content and cosmetics themed around the universe of friendship, bravery, and super stylish magical girls.

It all kicked off with Everything Goes On, a new song from Porter Robinson accompanied by an anime music video focusing on the friendship between a number of Champions. Much like Arcane before it, this new spin on the franchise has pulled me and several other newcomers into the fray. It’s refreshingly beautiful, while not requiring too much prior knowledge to admire the new stories being told. Oh, and it will probably make you cry.

To delve deeper into Star Guardian, I caught up with narrative producer Stephanie Bedford to talk all about bringing this take on League of Legends to life. 2022 pushes things further than ever in so many unexpected ways. For full transparency, I also asked about the potential romance between Akali and Kai'Sa and whether fans were reading too much into things, or if there was genuine queer intention behind their bond. Sadly my question went unanswered, so us gays are still in the dark for now. That aside, let’s jump into things!

TheGamer: I’ve always viewed League of Legends as an outsider, but Arcane brought me into the fold and Star Guardian has only furthered that interest. How has it been as a narrative producer to watch so many new fans fall in love with this universe?

Stephanie Bedford: This experience has been so exciting for both me and the team. We are such fans of this universe and the stories of the Champions within so to watch other people fall in love with it has been incredible. We feel really passionately about this space and the positive reactions from fans old and new have been wonderful after so much hard work!

TG: Star Guardian obviously takes place in an alternate universe, albeit with existing characters. How much freedom was provided in growing their personalities and allowing them to pursue relationships and goals that might not be found in the base game and other projects, is it a case of striking a balance?

SB: A champion always must stay true to who they are, regardless of the thematic they appear in. This doesn’t mean they are a 1:1 with their base lore, but Jinx (for example) is always Jinx no matter if she is base Jinx, Jinx in Arcane, Jinx in Odyssey, Jinx in Heartseeker, or Jinx in Star Guardian. There is a visual read in place that the champion should always look like and similarly, there are core truths about a champion that they should always narratively feel like themselves as well. Changing these core truths could make a champion no longer recognizable and resonant with our players. Some examples of these things are: their personality, important interpersonal relationships, sexuality, gender, and motivations. We really regard skins and thematic development as one of our greatest narrative opportunity spaces because we get to explore a bunch of different worlds and how these champions would react when anchored in a different setting, with different rules and world building elements. This means that while we get to imagine what a champion like Akali looks like in Star Guardian, things like her independence, youth, rebellious and confident stay the same even though she is no longer a Kinkou assassin, but a young girl struggling with the trauma and weight of what it means to take the Star Guardian oath and protect her friends and loved ones.

TG: More so than previous years, Star Guardian is delving into the smaller details of each character as they live their lives in this universe. We’ve seen gorgeous animated videos on social media, comprehensive stories on the official website, and of course the music video and in-game lore. There’s so much, and how was it ensuring that it all remained focused yet compelling enough for fans to keep exploring?

SB: From the very beginning of development, the narrative team created a strategy to ensure the event would be consistent across every game and execution. Because the event was planned for League of Legends, Wild Rift, and Legends of Runeterra, we wanted to make sure that players experienced a unified Star Guardian universe that was consistent across all of our games. We thought a lot about which moments to feature, in which medium, and when. Chronology was important, as well as mapping the player journey on how they would experience the story through all of these different expressions. One critical rule for us in this campaign was to make sure we didn’t show any moment in two different expressions. This was for a number of different reasons, but also to keep everything compelling and unique.

TG: I’m a huge Porter Robinson fan so ‘Everything Goes On’ broke my heart and pulled me straight into things. The song and accompanying tale tells a story of love, loss, and moving on from grief to accept support from those around you. It’s a powerful message that extends far beyond the confines of Star Guardian. As narrative lead, how was it to see that ambition realised in such a complete form?

SB: We were super lucky to have an amazing creative marketing team that we worked very closely with to ensure that Everything Goes On was a truthful interpretation of the lore and stories we were writing for this year. From the early ideation and scripts we could tell that this music video was going to be super special and add another layer of storytelling to the event. The original scripting work was done by a very talented writer named Bethany Higa and carried forward by a host of other writers including Cat Cheresh, Phillip Vargas, Caytie Davenport, Julia Shen, and Winnie Huang as well as support from our game narrative team in terms of cohesion, character expression, and 2022 game stories (myself, Jared Rosen, and Ty Sheedlo primarily). As you can see it takes a village in narrative staff alone to tell something as epic as this, and have it feel tied into the campaign and other stories in an authentic way. We think that the Star Guardian universe has appeal far beyond fans of League of Legends or even Riot Games fans, and I think that is proven by the sentiment in your question! That is very much our goal in crafting these worlds and stories.

TG: Alongside canon queer relationships and representation, is it a source of pride to see fans view characters as figures they can look up to when discovering themselves? To me that always feels like one of the greatest achievements you can have as a creative.

SB: It is a huge source of pride for the writers and editors to create something that resonates with fans where they can either see themselves in that person, or perhaps leads them to doing some kind of self discovery along the way. Creatives often create to be seen as individuals and to shape the worlds that they wish they had seen as fans. My narrative team is no exception to this, and having fans look up to characters is definitely one of the many motivations that keeps them going. For Star Guardian we wanted to focus on topics like identity, relationships, and belonging, things that are part of the universal human experience… while also telling the stories of magical heroes who are protecting and saving the world while still trying to pass their high school classes! We want these stories to appeal both broadly but always personally, because these are personal stakes for us when creating.

TG: Star Guardian also breaks the gender binary often associated with the magical girl genre. So many characters are adopting the power and values of embracing their true self alongside killer outfits that all look fabulous. While this universe takes so much inspiration from mahou shoujo, part of me feels it also stands alongside some greats after years of progress. How do you feel about that?

SB: I certainly appreciate the sentiment! I personally think that magical girl anime is for everyone, regardless of your gender, but I hope that we have given the Riot twist to our specific expression when developing Star Guardian that makes it one of the ‘greats’. We want to be able to honour and use the best parts of the mahou shoujo genre inspiration to create and push the boundaries of our games, media, and experiences. But it is also important to make sure that these stories and characters are a relevant take that we can be proud of, and that means pushing past certain tropes or expectations associated with older expressions of magical girl.

TG: A lot of fans – myself included I suppose – are afraid of jumping into League of Legends and some of the other games because of how daunting they are on the surface, and thus prefer to consume events like Star Guardian through other means. As narrative producer do you approach the storytelling and characters from that perspective, knowing how far reaching they will be even to more passive fans?

SB: League can be intimidating to jump into as a first time player and so this fear is super valid! We have a whole host of games that Riot makes that hopefully you will eventually find something you love, whether that is Wild Rift or TFT. But part of the approach to this event was to make something that stretched beyond the confines of a single game that may be scary or hard for certain players. We want to make sure that while we are providing a rich experience for our core audience (as we are League game developers first and foremost), we also want to invite anyone who wants to be a fan to come join us along the way. We approach our storytelling as creating whole worlds that people want to live in and building upon an IP we want to be first class, whether your engagement is through our music, games, or entertainment offerings. Games are the core of what we do at Riot, but that isn’t the only way to be a fan! Star Guardian was 100 percent built with this in mind, especially for this year’s event.

TG: What has been the personal highlight of working on Star Guardian this year, and where would you like to see it go moving forward? The music video this time around just made me desperate for a full animated series because it was so well done, or even deeper examples of lore to dig further into featuring these characters.

SB: I think all of us developers are fans of what our entertainment group has done with Arcane and it would be amazing to see Star Guardian as a full length anime someday! It isn’t clear exactly where or what we will do with Star Guardian next, but it is clear that the fans love it as much as we do and that is something that is really important to us when making shot calls at Riot Games. For me, one of the highlights has really been in seeing it all come together and finally be in the hands of players. It was important that we had an experience where the lore was made easily available for our players, and so I really enjoyed collaborating with Erika Haas on our “Previously On Star Guardian…” article to make sure we started out strong with a foundation going into the event. I am also very in love with the prose piece we did for this year “Twin Stars” that was written by Cat Cheresh and edited by Siege Gary. I remembered pitching an initial outline for that story on how this could achieve the marketing and product goals of bridging the gap between the past and present 2022 stories while still giving a huge narrative opportunity space to be realised. Not to mention our amazing art intern Zoe Zhu who came in and did mind-blowing illustrations to what Cat was able to write! And the in-client narrative stories themselves are spectacular on both League PC and Wild Rift (writers Jared Rosen, Ty Sheedlo, Taylor Dinwiddie) for both the character driven “bond” missions to the main story themselves. I feel so humbled and honoured to have been able to lead and advocate for an amazing group of narrative folks working in way more spaces than I have just mentioned to ensure that the players and fans got to experience something intentional and beautiful that tells an interconnected and expansive story! It’s been a labor of love to make sure that things were intentional, correct, and quality along the way.

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