For many artists and creatives, the need to create surpasses the need for much else. Putting whatever is in your mind on paper or canvas feels essential, like breathing.
This is exceedingly true for Hwei, League’s newest champion, a mid-lane mage who paints the artistic visions that fill his head. But instead of painting on canvas, Hwei’s works are dynamic, living images that affect anyone who witnesses them.
With his paintbrush, Hwei wields destruction or support, controlling the thoughts and emotions of those around him. He may not have a sword or gun, but don’t underestimate the might of this brooding artist and his brush.
The beginning of Hwei is a tale of three pitches: a paint mage, a brooding antihero, and a humanoid male mid laner without purple skin or an exoskeleton. The art mage idea had been brewing for a while, and a number of Rioters contributed to shaping the concept.
“As soon as the possibility of an artistic mage was on the table, everyone gravitated to it,” says narrative writer Isa Mari “orkidian” De Leon. “This is an idea that's been of interest for a long time, but never yet executed, so I feel really lucky for this to be the first new champion I've contributed to.”
The Champions Team also wanted to end the year on a complex note, introducing a champ with a high skill ceiling.
But nailing down a difficult-to-master kit that fit within Hwei’s art thematic wasn’t easy. Three game designers had a hand in the process, each building on the last iteration. But something about it wasn’t quite working. So before the champ concept was put on the shelf in favor of other ideas, the team decided to try an about-face on his gameplay (more on all of this later). As a result, his narrative and art evolved as well.
Hwei’s visions and magic became more recognizable images and were infused with bright color, clearly communicating his new abilities. Armed with an Ionian paintbrush and a colorful palette, his power is fueled by his own artistic expression.
“I've been secretly waiting in the shadows for when we could do an art mage,” laughs art director Gem “Lonewingy” Lim. “We wanted to do a spell mixer mage, but being an elementalist or a druid had already been done several times, and the art thematic was a unique take for this kind of archetype for gameplay.”
Hwei’s inherent power bursts forth when he’s painting, manifesting in colorful washes of pigment and imagery. His source of power isn’t his brush, it’s the artistic ability within.
“Hwei’s not a warrior or a swordsman, so we didn't want to treat the brush as if that's what's elevating him. The power is all internal, and for a mage specifically, I think that that kind of internal inherent power makes more sense,” says orkidian.
Hwei's outward appearance hints at the creative power churning inside of him. This sad fellow is mostly muted in color, save for his powerful palette… and his eyes which change color based on his mood—a feature he’s unable to control.
“He chronically and magically needs to share how he's feeling and what he's envisioning. It's a thematic link to his source of power, which is the power of expression, and holding nothing back from what’s inside you,” says orkidian.
“There’s more than meets the eye for someone like him,” adds Lonewingy. “You don’t know that there are beautiful things happening in his mind and how he sees reality. That's impressionism. And how he combines fiction and reality, like realistic experience and also imagination—that's surrealism.”
Hwei is a genius at his craft. But with his brilliance and mastery comes a heaping dose of humility—an artist's belief that they can always do better.
“He's genuinely one of the best artists of his time, but he would never admit that,” orkidian laughs.
But that level of commitment comes with sacrifice. Lonewingy conveyed Hwei’s dedication to painting through his somewhat disheveled appearance. The time and effort Hwei puts into his art leaves him little time to pay attention to how he looks to the outside world. Though he'd prefer you focus on the art over the artist, he still manages to have that "just rolled out of the painting studio" sophistication.
“He doesn't think about how he needs to properly present himself to be accepted. He’s just like, I don't care. I'm just into the things that I like to do,” laughs Lonewingy. “We have characters where it’s like, it’s obvious she likes to dress up or he likes to put his hair this way. But Hwei is ready to give everything for his passion, which is painting and artistry.”
Hwei’s early life was spent in a temple on the tiny Ionian island of Koyehn, mastering the art of painting. The famed artistic temple in a small mill town is a place for pupils to learn the precision and balance necessary to wield the power of artistic magic.
But when Hwei attempts to combine his intense imagination with his talent for painting, the temple masters tell him he must rein in his abilities in favor of more traditional practices.
“He ends up hurting people with the force of his expression in his youth, but is darkly intrigued by that force and feels the artistic drive to explore it,” explains orkidian. “So he lives out his life in this duality between painting what is expected of him and what he's learned versus painting alone in his extremely expressive and emotional style.”
Hwei’s imagination is ceaseless, so he must practice his true art in secret, fascinated and fearful of his own power. Still, he thrives at the temple, a well-respected member of the community, while hiding the full extent of his power.
Later on in life, another remarkable artist arrives at the temple to hone his craft. He gets close to Hwei over the course of his time on Koyehn—but his visit concludes in a crescendo of destruction and death, forever altering Hwei’s path.
“Jhin, you opened my eyes to so much. I won't spare you from any of it.”
- Hwei’s VO line when he first encounters Jhin in game
“Hwei did not know Jhin's true nature until it was too late,” explains orkidian. “And that complexity carries through when the atrocity happens. This person betrayed me and is not at all what I thought, but at the same time, witnessed and understood my art on a level that I hadn't allowed anyone to before, and showed me something that empowered it.”
Following Jhin’s attack on the temple, Hwei is devastated. He wants answers, setting out into greater Ionia to seek out closure to ease his mind. As he tries to make sense of his experiences, he is confrontational and intense, but kind and empathetic. Solemn and broody, but not defeated.
"Hwei has experienced major loss, but emerged out of it still as an artist, not as an avenger or a cynic. Through his art, he navigates his deep sorrow and inner turmoil,” says orkidian.
Complexity is simply the nature of Hwei, from his kit to his personality to his backstory. He has a darkness within that recognizes Jhin’s forceful, limitless expression. But Hwei’s empathy and kindness allow him to hold onto his inner light.
“This is not a character you can overread,” says orkidian. “The depth of play is purposeful as is the depth of narrative. It was fun for me to write and dig into all the layers that he presents. And I hope that it's equally as fun for players to dig into what makes him tick and try to put together the nuances.”
He’s also not a character you can over-play. So while you’re piecing together your intricate lore theories, you can make some 300 IQ plays to match.
Hwei’s kit is all about giving you the tools to answer any problem you may encounter on the Rift. He wields a total of 10 abilities—three spellbooks containing three abilities each, along with an ultimate—to assist his allies, empower himself, and take down his enemies.
Hwei was always going to be a mage targeted towards high-skill players, but it took a few tries to nail down exactly what his gameplay hook should be. Like we mentioned earlier, multiple game designers had a hand in Hwei’s kit over time, trying out things like custom Summoner Spells and terrain manipulation. But when game designer Myles “Riot Emizery” Salholm threw out the idea of spell mixing, designer Daniel "Riot Maxw3ll" Emmons ran with it before heading off to lead what became Arena.
“Jonathan ‘EndlessPillows’ Fuller picked up the kit from Maxw3ll to create rules-based spell mixing—almost like an algorithm—where it was like, all the Q2’s are going to be a missile and all of the E2’s are going to be a fox-fire ability. There was a lot of value with that, so a lot of things are carried over,” says Riot Emizery.
But something wasn’t quite working. Hwei’s kit needed to shift dramatically, eventually landing on the 10 unique abilities he has now. These design changes also broke open Hwei’s narrative and art, which shifted in concert with his gameplay.
Riot Emizery focused Hwei’s abilities around three core subjects—disasters, serenities, and torments. By choosing a subject, you’re choosing what to paint, which spellbook to open, and what kind of magic to create. Within each of these three subjects, there are three abilities: disaster contains damaging abilities, serenity focuses on utility, and torment on control.
“A kit with so many abilities for different scenarios is definitely difficult to get the hang of, but don’t be intimidated out of trying Hwei. Most people who try Hwei have been pleasantly surprised by their first game,” says Riot Emizery. “I tried to set up what I call his spam buttons to be good buttons,” he says.
Basically, pressing Q, W, or E twice should have pretty good results for all you button mashers out there. But you won’t be able to get away with button mashing for long (or maybe you could, but you definitely won’t be climbing.)
“Ultimately, the long-term balance goal with Hwei is not to cater to low-skill players. He is for the elite player that is trying to get the most out of this character. Chances are if you're succeeding on him you're climbing with him.”
To master Hwei’s many abilities is to know which one to use at what time—it’s an art in and of itself.
“You can mix your different abilities together without being tied down to specific combos every time,” says Riot Emizery. “This added a lot of feeling like you were mixing paint and making artistic choices. Rather than just, ‘I'm following what I've learned from the past 10 games that I played and these are the combos and I just do the same thing every time.’”
But with an extensive arsenal, there may be games where certain parts of Hwei’s kit just don’t feel useful. That’s intentional—don’t expect to use each individual ability an equal amount in every game. You’ll end up favoring certain abilities over others to play around enemy champions or synergize with your teammates.
“Every single ability has a niche purpose because we wanted to make sure that there is a reason to cast it and not the other two abilities,” explains Riot Emizery. “Some games you may encounter an ability that you almost never cast, and you might feel like it’s a bad ability during that particular game. But there's going to be another game where it's the best ability on your kit and you're using it constantly off cooldown.”
It’s been a while since the Champions Team put so many years of design experience into a champ. With his versatile palette of abilities, Hwei invokes a new level of skill expression in the mid lane, and League in general. The League team is always looking for new ways to help players illustrate their mastery and skill expression on the Rift—hopefully the Visionary of Ionia’s formidable artistry helps you do just that.