Author’s Note: As a reminder, we do not have a place for hate or prejudice of any kind in our community.
Champions are more than just the pixels on the screen. They’re the culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears of the developers who created them, and the teams who supported them along the way.
K’Sante is the result of teams across Riot who wanted to create a character who brought something new to League: A tank who shirks his defenses to 1v1 the most terrifying duelists. A man who gives a new look at what it is to be Black in Runeterra and draws inspiration from West African culture. A fabled monster hunter whose desire to live up to his own expectations causes him to hurt the man he loves most. This is K’Sante’s development story.
Tanks are incredibly powerful. They occupy a unique—and much needed—role in the roster by engaging, peeling, and protecting their carries. But being an unkillable meatball comes with downsides. They get counterpicked by duelists and victimized under tower while praying they don’t get dove by the Fiora at level 6.
So when K’Sante’s team was thinking about the type of champion they wanted to make, they knew they wanted a tank who could occasionally avoid that situation, someone who could take matters into their own hands.
“Everyone asks, ‘Where is the tank?’ No one asks, ‘How is the tank?’ And we wanted to sort of answer that question by giving them a tank that addresses some of the pain points of the role with a new fantasy,” explains game designer Buike “AzuBK” Ndefo-Dahl. “Our goal from the beginning was to create a tank who was very skill-reliant—meaning that he has a very high skill ceiling. I had the idea that this tank would have a moment where he says, ‘I’m going to get this done myself.’ And we just went from there.”
What does it mean when a tank takes things into their own hands? Everyone knows the 1v1 power of the tank, bruiser, assassin, enchanter, support, front-liner, back-liner, burst DPS mage... Ornn. But that’s just one tank, and he wasn’t originally designed to clap every champ in League. K’Sante, on the other hand, was.
K’Sante’s kit has all of the things you would expect from a tank: shielding, dashing to allies, and CC. He scales off defensive stats. And he kicks you through terrain and simply kills you. Like we said, everything you would expect from a tank.
“When designing K’Sante’s ultimate I kept thinking of that moment in Naruto where Rock Lee drops his leg weights and everyone goes, ‘Wait he can do that?’ And when I handed over K’Sante’s design, that’s how I explained his ultimate,” laughs AzuBK. “The idea was that he’d be in the front of a teamfight, use all of his abilities to protect his carries and set up his team, and then once everything was on cooldown he’d go, ‘Welp, got nothing left. Time to frag.’”
“That Naruto moment was really key when I took over K’Sante’s design. In the earliest version of his ultimate—which has always been called All Out—he didn’t actually kick his enemy through the wall. We were thinking about how to make a tank the star of the show, and it turns out the answer is to just let them beat the f*&^ out of you,” laughs design lead Daniel “Riot Maxw3ll” Emmons. “That said, this isn’t some pure upside ability because in deciding to have his huge, exciting moment, K’Sante leaves his team without a tank. That’s why we added the kick—his carries become vulnerable to the enemy team, because he just completely leaves the teamfight to have his 1v1. There’s a tradeoff he’s taking that allows this spell to be a bit more balanced than him just taking over the fight.”
When K’Sante sees his moment to go all in, he must decide between protecting his team and hunting his quarry. So the team decided to make that decision a bit easier for K’Sante players.
“Getting K’Sante’s W, Path Maker, right was the most challenging part of his kit for me. It was problematic because during playtests people didn’t want to use it before he used his ultimate because it’s an exciting outplay moment,” says game designer Jacob “Riot Llama” Crouch. “Tanks very rarely have a moment where crowds freak out over a defensive play—Yasuo’s windwall is the closest thing you can get to that. But Path Maker should hit that same dopamine rush because it’s both a serious damage reduction and it counters CC. So to solve the problem of people not wanting to use it before he ults and finds himself in a potentially vulnerable 1v1, we just made the cooldown refresh any time he enters his All Out.”
K’Sante’s dual warden/skirmisher playstyle brings some interesting challenges outside of his gameplay. For one, what kind of weapon does someone use when they can both defend against damage while also beating the snot out of you? Where did K’Sante learn to fight like this? And, an even better question, why?
“During the Shuriman conflict between the Darkin and the Ascended, there was an absolutely astounding amount of refugees fleeing the conflict. A huge number of them traveled south and settled at the edge of the desert near an oasis and founded the city of Nazumah,” explains senior narrative writer Michael “SkiptoMyLuo” Luo. “The city has thrived in the 500-or-so years since it was founded. And it is composed of people from different regions, races, and cultures who have fled warfare over the years.”
But the oasis Nazumah’s founders settled on is far from a paradise. Their water source is the only one for hundreds of miles, and Nazumans have been forced to defend their home from Void incursions, sand leviathans, marauding raiders, and something far more terrifying.
In an effort to supplant Azir, Xerath did the unthinkable: He forced giant Shuriman desert monsters to undergo the Ascension ritual. The result of the failed Ascension being awful, twisted creatures called the baccai. These monsters threaten Nazumah and its residents, so the founders of the democratic city-state did the only thing they could: They hunted the baccai and the other monsters threatening their home and safety.
“Something that I hope is unique about Nazumah’s take on monster hunting is that they take the essence or characteristics of the monsters they slay and imbue their weapons, clothing, and general goods with it, opposed to just wielding bones and wearing leather outright,” explains senior concept artist Justin “Riot Earp” Albers. “K’Sante’s weapon comes from the hide of a cobra-lion and has reptilian characteristics, meaning they have regenerative properties. This worked really well with his gameplay, as he breaks the defensive hide of his weapons when he goes All Out.”
K’Sante’s weapons (called ntofos) draw from an unusual source of inspiration: tonfas.
Tonfas are weapons used primarily in Okinawan martial arts, and can be used for both blocking and striking—things K’Sante does in-game. In our world these weapons are often used to take the momentum of an attacker’s strike and redirect it back at them.
“Ultimately what K’Sante has aren’t actual tonfas. They’re much heavier and larger, which makes sense for his 6’7”, 250lb frame. But K’Sante uses them in a similar way. He blocks with them, swaps his grip and then can slam the earth and cause a small shockwave with his sheer strength,” says Riot Earp.
Oh yeah, we should probably talk about that... K’Sante isn’t magical. He’s just a man. A man who has been training his entire life to be the best monster hunter in Nazumah, and he is the embodiment of human perfection.
Nazumah historically relied heavily on monster hunting to survive. But they’ve long since moved on from mere survival—monster hunting has become one of the ways Nazuman culture has thrived. So the team started to think about ways it would be incorporated into their culture.
“The monster hunters of Nazumah are so idolized by their people that they take on a sort of celebrity status. I drew real-world parallels to Olympic athletes. K’Sante has trained his entire life to get to this level,” explains SkiptoMyLuo. “He stands out among the champions from Shurima who are magical, imperialist, god-like beings. He’s someone that the kids of Nazumah could grow up to become. I always had this mental image of him standing toe-to-toe with Azir, looking into his eyes, and just being like, ‘You are no one to me.’ And I think that image helps bring balance to that conflict. Humans can be incredibly powerful if they’re given the chance.”
“I spent a lot of time thinking about how we could create a Black champion who felt different from the other ones we already have,” explains AzuBK. “Senna, Lucian, Ekko, Rell, and Pyke are all great characters... in spite of something. They’re all defined by their problems or circumstances. Ekko is smart, plucky, and clever for a child of the Undercity. Lucian is a deeply hurt man whose entire life is about avenging his wife’s death. Senna is that dead wife who was stolen and imprisoned. Rell was imprisoned at a ‘school’ and experimented on. Pyke is a zombie obsessed with killing people. For the most part, they haven’t had agency in their own lives and stories.”
“That’s not to say this is a problem for these champions individually—many great characters are defined by their problems. But good representation, especially in a broad roster like League’s, comes from presenting all angles,” AzuBK continues. “There’s no Black champion like Garen who faces problems, but isn’t defined by them. No one is in charge. And so we wanted to create a Black character like that. Someone who has issues, yes, but someone in charge of their situation in life and their destiny, a paragon of Nazumah.”
“A paragon of Nazumah” became a north star for the team. They wanted to create a character who was the first thing you thought of when you thought of Nazumah—a place inspired by West African traditions and culture—particularly those of Ghana.
“We had another goal when we started K’Sante, and that was to create a champion inspired by Ghana. A good part of my family is from Nigeria, we’re neighbors and occasional rivals of Ghana. And so I talked to my mother about Ghanaian fashion designers, photographers, and general inspiration,” AzuBK shares. “She turned me on to a lot of cool Ghanaian designers and artists, and something that we immediately wanted to capture was the vibrant patterning and the cloth.”
West Africa is known for its beautiful fabrics and patterning. Kente is one of the most famous fabrics in the world, and it comes from Ghana. It’s known for its vibrant colors that have deep meaning, and its intricate patterning. And Ankara fabrics can be seen all over Africa and the rest of the world besides. The team knew instantly that this was the perfect starting point for K’Sante’s costuming.
The team wanted to pay homage to Nazumah’s monster hunting culture, but there are a lot of concerns with a West African-inspired character being decked out in clothing that is clearly made from monsters. Nazumah is a city of artisan craftspeople who are technologically and scientifically on par with Noxus—they don’t wear bones and leather. They embellish their clothing with rich designs and precious jewels. So Ghanaian fabric fit perfectly when the team started costuming for K’Sante... until they ran into League problems.
“Sources of power are important in League. We try to draw players’ eyes to them, and K’Sante’s source of power isn’t his clothing, it’s his weapons. Ghanaian textiles are so vibrant and intricate, they naturally draw the eye,” explains Riot Earp. “We ran into a few challenges with making it work in League. But ultimately we decided that if we were going to do this right, we needed to move forward with bold colors and patterning. To try to balance the in-game read, we saturated the colors and added some texturing and motifs to his weapons to make them stand out against his clothing.”
Beyond his visuals, the team wanted to convey West African culture and tradition through K’Sante’s backstory as well.
“We worked really closely with the Riot Noir RIG (Editor’s Note: Riot Noir is our Black Rioter Employee Resource Group) and they told us how important oral storytelling and folklore are in African culture—which was similar for me personally, as this is commonplace in Hui Chinese culture as well,” shares SkiptoMyLuo. “K’Sante had grown up hearing about these amazing stories and tales of his great, great, great, great, great uncle who fought against the Ascended, or how his father defeated some amazing monster and crafted his weapon. These stories are so ingrained into Nazuman culture that they’re built into the city and part of the people. They’re part of what drives K’Sante to become the pride of Nazumah.”
Sometimes characters just become whole. When you spend time thinking about them, it’s like they speak to you and write themselves. And as SkiptoMyLuo was thinking about K’Sante—about everything he was, everything he could be, his hopes and fears, his dreams... K’Sante told his own story.
“When K’Sante’s direction and kit were pretty much locked I spent a lot of time thinking about his personality. We had created this champion who was meant to solve some frustrations that top lane tanks face, and I wanted to create a character who sort of embodied the player’s experience there,” recalls SkiptoMyLuo. And so he wrote.
K’Sante lives with a massive amount of self-inflicted pressure. From his dreams of being the greatest monster hunter in Nazumah, to his desires to prove himself to his people and... well, himself. He’s a fiercely proud Nazuman: He proudly stands up against the Ascended, and he’s proud of how much work he has put in to get to where he is now. But pride is blinding, and it is sure to hurt those we love most.
Tope and K’Sante were a natural pair—Tope cool and tempered, while K’Sante runs hot Together they could accomplish anything. Together they hunted—Tope understands their enemy, while K’Sante lands the killing blow. And so the two men, who worked together so well, fell in love. Until they faced an insurmountable obstacle: pride and youth.
“They eventually reached this moment where they were unable to kill the lion-cobra baccai they hunted. And that’s where the falling out started to happen. K’Sante needed to kill it to live up to his own expectations as this heroic hunter and idol to his people. Tope tried to convince him to slow down and take a moment, but they would just devolve into arguments,” explains SkiptoMyLuo.
“Romantic relationships are often the place where a lot of your worst attributes come to light. But overall I want K’Sante and Tope’s story to be relatable to everyone,” SkiptoMyLuo continues. “We worked really closely with the Rainbow Rioters (Editor’s Note: Our LGBTQIA+ RIG) to craft a common experience to have a relationship where you and the other person aren’t quite able to successfully convey all your feelings and frustrations to your partner. And your partner ALSO doesn’t quite convey their own feelings and frustrations that they’re prioritizing. So at the end of the day you have to go your own separate ways—romantic relationship, friendship, or otherwise. Ultimately both K’Sante and Tope grew from this experience and acknowledged that they each had a part to play in their breakup, but still remained friendly.”
“Tope and K’Sante’s story might not be relatable or perfect for every single person. I think it’s important to embrace that. We needed to just find our story and tell it. Because the answer to good representation isn’t making something perfect. It’s doing it, and then doing it again, and again, and again,” says AzuBK. “I spent a lot of time talking to SkiptoMyLuo about K’Sante’s sexuality because spoilers: I’m gay. So I have a lot of opinions about K’Sante’s backstory. And it’s not perfect—it can’t be. So I had to put my player hat on and think about this not as a League dev, but as a gay Black man. I asked myself, ‘If I’m seeing this as a player do I think this is a good, solid attempt? Do I think this is worthy?’”
“I know it can’t be perfect, because one gay male character can’t make up for all the queer characters we haven’t made,” AzuBK continues. “But ultimately I think the answer is yeah. Yeah, I think this is worthy. And it’s a start. Now we just have to do it again. And again. And again.”