Winter is nigh and there’s a chill in the air. It’s a time for celebration, togetherness, and, of course, sharing stories passed down through the ages.
So why don’t you come cozy up by the fire with your Scorchclaw Pup and let us tell you a tale of the Winterblessed…
Holiday season skins of yore have been all candy canes and jingle bells—festive and fun, but a little on the nose. We have kitschy Christmas skins like Snow Fawn Poppy and Santa Braum, and Winter Wonder skins that go all out on icy weapons, snowflake motifs, and fluffy cloaks.
Those classic skins will always have a place in our hearts, but the Skins team wanted to take on a new challenge: completely reimagine the concept of a winter skinline and create something that’s not overtly focused on a specific holiday.
“Most of our winter skin lines feel very December-only, so it was fun to explore more fantasized winter thematics, especially with a bit of dark fantasy too,” says concept artist Julia “Goobia” Nguyen.
The team started creating mood boards and drawing concept art—and dreaming up a world for these characters to exist within.
European folk tales became a major inspiration for the narrative design and storytelling of Winterblessed, including the borderline nightmare-inducing tales of the Brothers Grimm, Krampus, and Perchta.
“Perchta has many incarnations, but one of them was that around Christmas she would enter peoples’ homes and if the children had behaved well, they would get a silver coin. But if they hadn't, she would slice their bellies open and stuff them with straw and pebbles,” says senior narrative writer Max “TwoWeevils” Folkman. “All these European folk tales have high stakes and danger. They are all based around telling moral tales to teach lessons to children. A lot of our modern folktales have darker roots that were softened over the years as they were told and retold, and one of my intentions with Winterblessed was to tell our version of those darker stories.”
Artists on the team also took inspiration from these stories. Goobia zeroed in on the central European legend of Krampus for a Warwick concept. Each year on December 5, St. Nicholas and Krampus—a horned anthropomorphic goat demon—visit childrens’ homes. Santa leaves treats for well-behaved children like fruit, nuts, and chocolate. Krampus, on the other hand, delights in punishing kids who have misbehaved. Essentially good cop, bad cop, but make it whimsical nightmare fuel.
With this tale in mind, Warwick’s concept came to life, complete with horns, a forked tongue, and a bubbling barrel on his back.
As the team explored the darker sides of our beloved winter stories, an elevated holiday celebration (with a touch of darkness) began to take shape, inspired by folk tales, ballet, and ornate, lavish materials like velvet and gold.
But there were almost too many great ideas. And one of the biggest challenges was whittling down the thematic to something that felt cohesive.
“It was a journey,” says concept artist Megan “Ze Ocelot” O'Rourke. “We started with four thematics and four spreads of champions, visual styles, and VFX ideas and then we whittled it down to three. From one of them we loved the dark fantasy, from the second one we loved the Aurora Borealis power source, and then from another we loved the Nutcracker feels and the shimmery effects. It's like, alright, how can we get everything in—and we somehow did it.”
As the visuals began to take shape, the narrative design did too, each inspiring the other and building out the world of Winterblessed.
In Winterblessed, all power is derived from the Aurora—a power source with unlimited potential. Each year after the first snow, the Aurora (like the one you can see at the North Pole) selects a new Polaris, someone to carry its power and share its gifts.
And this winter, Diana holds the title. She is a cold and cynical Polaris, (they aren’t always this way) but she is fair, doling out blessings and punishments as she deems fit.
“As Polaris, Diana is not cruel, she’s fair.” says TwoWeevils. “Say you took advantage of someone the entire year and then last week did one good deed, that's not going to cut it for her. There is a holiday spirit we're trying to celebrate, with doing good by each other and being thankful for what we have.”
The other champions also have distinct roles to play, and titles to match.
“The roles are a reference to old European folktales, where you often don't really get names, just titles for characters. Focusing on these titles gives it more of a mythic feel and quality,” says TwoWeevils.
In this story, there are three leaders: Swain, the Hunter; Zilean, the Sage; and Zoe, the Warden. All of them have been eagerly awaiting Polaris and the blessings of the Aurora.
When Polaris arrives, she creates two gifts to bestow upon the leaders: Warwick, the Beast, created to protect the lands of the three leaders, and Shaco, the Automaton, created to work those lands. The two gifts—whose ultimate allegiance lies with Polaris—were created to be shared between the three leaders.
Believing he is entitled to his own gift, Swain stakes claim on the Beast, leaving Zoe and Zilean to fight over the Automaton. Ultimately, the three leaders fail to share their gifts with one another, earning them the ire of Polaris. Diana sends Warwick and Shaco to carry out her punishment, telling them: “Winter is cruel, and warmth is meant to be shared. Let this punishment serve as a warning.”
Though there are no clear heroes and villains in the world of Winterblessed, there are moral lessons. The three leaders’ folly serves to teach a lesson about selflessness and sharing.
The unique roles of the champions—like Swain as the Hunter and Warwick as the Beast—and their relationships with one another appear within the game, particularly in their recalls.
For Swain, you’ll spot paw prints tracking through the snow as he sends his bird off into the sky. In Warwick’s recall, Swain’s bird appears briefly. Zoe’s recall shows off her role as Warden, responsible for herding her sheep and tending to the land. And Shaco,
creepy spirited as always, surrounds himself with puppet versions of the other Winterblessed champions.
The Aurora’s awe-inspiring power is on full display in each skin. Each champion’s visual effects are a huge part of showing off their connection to the Aurora, through iridescent washes of color, intricate snowy outlines and ornate golden filigree.
All champions in Winterblessed use the Aurora in some way, but Polaris is the only one who can “keep” it. For Diana’s skin, senior VFX artist Riot Sirhaian turned up the power and ethereal beauty for her ability visuals.
“I tried to show off her colder personality by using cold colors that matched the Aurora. She's also powerful and righteous, and we tried to show that by using powerful impacts and flashes, especially in her ult, and by adding in sharp, spiky shapes,” says Riot Sirhaian. “The golden colors are there to remind people that she's royalty, and they also offer some nice color contrast”
When Diana damages at least two enemies with her ultimate, she transforms into her punishing form, her visuals take on a purple hue, and her Polaris crown appears. And to top it all off, when you get a Pentakill as Winterblessed Diana, the Aurora will shine and snow will fall over Summoner’s Rift. How’s that for legendary?
When you’re playing in a Winterblessed skin, the team hopes you feel elegant, cozy, and a little bit tense.
“The feeling I want people to have is a bit of magic with a bitter taste to it. I guess it’s like a dark chocolate cake, that’s what I'm trying to say,” laughs TwoWeevils.
We hope you’ve taken the lessons of Winterblessed to heart—a little selflessness goes a long way, especially on the Rift. So hand over that red buff to your ADC and feel the blessings of Polaris. And who knows, if you all chat like an honor 5 gamer, maybe the Aurora will select your main in the winters to come.