On May 18th, Riot released the newest addition to their League of Legends champion pool: Taliyah the Stoneweaver. This spirited girl hails from the desert realm of Shurima, having been both cursed and gifted with the ability to move mountains. Fearful of her growing powers, Taliyah left home in search of a proper teacher. While there are several things I love about her, I’ve managed to narrow down said reasons to my top three. It turns out that she not only brings a lot to the recent Shurima update, but to the worldbuilding of the game as a whole.
Taliyah the Stoneweaver is…
1) One of EIGHT Women of Color in the Entire Game
And that’s me being generous.*
Among the one hundred and thirty-one champions released, only forty-five of them are female. Of these forty-five, only thirty-five are what I’d qualify as human and/or humanoid characters for whom real-life cultures and physical traits are determining factors. Among these thirty-five, only eight of them are women of color – a mere three within this group being representative of black and brown women. In conclusion, the game only has THREE champions who happen to be black and/or brown women.
Besides Taliyah, Karma the Enlightened One (released in 2011 and re-released in 2013) and Illaoi the Kraken Priestess (2015) are the other characters in question – but even this statement is complicated by the fact that the former used to have a lighter complexion – one closer to that of a character of East Asian descent – prior to receiving a visual upgrade in 2013. However, the different body types represented by the trio do point to the growing diversity of Riot’s more recent and (hopefully) future female champions.
Though Riot has a long way to go before rectifying this problem, the inclusion of Taliyah – a champion largely based on Middle Eastern culture – is a BIG step in the right direction.
* Besides the more obvious Ionian and Shuriman champions, I chose to include Sona and Sivir as women of color seeing as the former was presumably adopted from Ionia, and the latter is described as being a descendant of Emperor Azir (in spite of her alternate skins and complexion suggesting otherwise). I also chose to exclude Nidalee the Bestial Huntress as she was mentioned as simply having ‘jungle-toned’ skin in the Journal of Justice. Due to ongoing changes on Riot’s part, some of this information may no longer be canon.
2) A Fully Fleshed-Out Character
The world of League of Legends has undergone significant changes since retroactive continuity permanently removed the Institute of War – the backbone of the game and champions’ interactions with one another – from the lore in 2014. Since then, Riot has done what they can to explore every champion’s full potential without having to worry about the limits of the Institute.
For this very reason, Taliyah serves as the perfect pair of eyes for newcomers and those more in the know of the characters. Her geokinetic powers allow her to navigate the land with ease, providing the narrative team with an array of storytelling possibilities. The lore also ties her to four city-states from the get-go, weaving together different narratives as easily as she does stone.
While the character’s youth and headstrong nature may make her an unreliable narrator, both are simply part of the fun. In fact, she is one of the few teenage champions available in the game. Because the game lacks a solid timeline, a lot of the champions’ histories are left to speculation. However, Taliyah is confirmed to be sixteen and she acts like it. She’s an endearing combination of awkward and determination who really gets a chance to shine through her voiceover as well as the two short stories included in her release. Players get a strong sense of who the Stoneweaver was, who she is now, and where she’s heading for in the future. Unlike other champions, her secondary skin even acts as a continuation of her story rather than an alternate universe.
3) The League’s True Earthbender
Since the dawn of time, fans and players have clamored for a sand mage. We had the colossus Malphite – essentially a living boulder – and later Azir, Emperor of the Sands. But we wanted more. We wanted an earthbender.
And before you say anything, yes. Taliyah does seem to have a lot in common with Toph Beifong and Terra in terms of her aesthetics, powers, and soul-searching journey. From an in-game perspective, Taliyah’s kit doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the mage role. But on the visual end, her abilities look amazing.
The Stoneweaver’s earthbending translates well, carrying out the fluidity and power expected of one capable of bringing down mountains. Her overall design doesn’t fall victim to unreasonable beauty standards or cutouts like most female video game characters either. As an enemy of Azir, the young Shuriman both shares and subverts the “bird” motif he’s known for – staying true to the “Little Sparrow” nickname given to her by her mentor, Yasuo.
Needless to say, this rocksurfing champion has provided us with some solid groundwork for future League of Legends lore and gameplay alike.