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Udyr VGU: Rebuilding the Spirit Walker

The dad bod of the gods.

DevAuthorSMALL BABY PANDA
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In the more than a decade since he was unleashed onto Summoner’s Rift, Udyr has become an icon in his own right.

Running around the jungle like a possessed wild man? Iconic. Not having a traditional ultimate? Iconic. Flash, bear, slap? Iconic.

But as zoomers like Zeri debuted on the Rift, papa Udyr found himself needing to get with the times. His kit and appearance had fallen behind the rest of the game, earning him the most votes for a VGU. 

We know it’s been a long road since that vote, but we hope the new Spirit Walker has been well worth the wait. Prepare to harness the power of the Freljord, stance dance like everybody’s watching, and, of course, run in and punch stuff.

Udyr Awakened

When we take on a VGU, the primary goal is to preserve the things that players love about a champion, dial up their fantasy, and bring their kit and visuals up to modern standards. But doing an overhaul of a champion as old as Udyr is a huge effort, especially when numerous skins are involved, not to mention an Ultimate. 

As we mentioned earlier this year, we had a few core goals for Udyr’s VGU: preserving his stance-changing, melee identity; upgrading his visuals to modern League standards; and bringing his in-game portrayal closer to his recent lore.

On the gameplay side of things, Udyr’s stance-dancing identity is what makes him feel so unique within the League roster. So his kit remains that of an immobile melee juggernaut, punching his way through the jungle.

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Different look, same capacity to maul you to pieces

“Udyr’s gameplay stands out because he’s so different from other champions. He doesn't have an ultimate, he only has four basic stances, and he can only use one at a time,” says game designer Stash “Riot Stashu” Chelluck.

“Players were very clear about what they liked about him. A lot of the longtime Udyr mains I’ve spoken to gravitate towards him for his unique combination of versatility and simplicity,” explains Riot Stashu. “But his skills just fell a little flat in terms of execution. They weren’t quite as satisfying as they could be.”

To up the satisfaction and make Udyr more versatile, the team wanted to create a kit where all of his stances felt useful, satisfying, and cohesive—and one form wouldn’t become his default state.

Prior to the VGU, Udyr players would often plan their game around either a ‘Q max’ or ‘R max’ build, depending on the meta. (Because before this update, Q and R were essentially just damage spells.) Now, both abilities still deal damage, but R’s damage has been reigned in and combined with a slow to help the two stances coexist a little better. 

One of Udyr’s new passives takes this one step further by “Awakening” each of his stances and making them even more powerful.

“The Q Awaken doubles down on Q's high damage output and offers all builds a potent burst option if they find their target isolated. The hefty base damage and AP ratio ensures it will be the stronger burst option compared to R, even in AP-heavy builds or lower Q-rank builds,” says Riot Stashu.

R Awaken grants Udyr the flexibility that no other stance can—range. This, combined with some considerable base damage and slow power, ensures that even AD-building, Q-maxing Udyrs will find themselves in situations where only the R Awaken can give them or their team what they need.

These were key changes that delivered more satisfaction, versatility, and power in Udyr’s gameplay. And with the addition of Freljord-infused stances, updated lore, and reimagined visuals, we believe the ‘Dyr is finally living up to his full potential.

Spirits Gather

Instead of completely reinventing Udyr’s kit, the team spent a lot of time deeply connecting Udyr’s gameplay with his wild Freljordian roots, martial arts training, and Spirit Walker identity. To bring Udyr’s kit and visuals more in line with the region he hails from, the team went back to the drawing board with his stances.

Instead of bear, turtle, tiger, and phoenix stance, base Udyr now has claw, mantle, stampede, and storm stance. These new stances are rooted in the power of the Freljordian demigods: Volibear, the Iron Boar, Ornn, and Anivia.

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“There was a lot of opportunity to build really satisfying and interesting connections to the rest of the world, make him cooler, and spend the time and love on him that he deserves,” says Riot Stashu.

When he goes into each stance, Udyr is not channeling the demigods themselves, but the animal spirits around him. The unique personalities of each animal spirit subtly reflect in Udyr, like the joyfulness of the bear spirits or the stubbornness of the boars.

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Freljordian boars against the backdrop of the Iron Mountain, one of the only places in the Freljord that won’t hold snow

But there’s a fifth demigod that introduced an entirely new level of power to Udyr. With his new “Awakened Spirit” passive, Udyr can now Awaken his active stance periodically, enhancing its effects. Awakening stampede stance, for example, grants Udyr even more movement speed and crowd control immunity for a brief period.

This power was bestowed upon Udyr by the Seal Sister, a playful and powerful demigod who leaves no pot unstirred. Disguised as a strange old woman, the Seal Sister challenged Udyr to complete impossible tasks, all of which he inevitably failed. But she delighted in his efforts and gave him her blessing—the ability to amplify all of his stances.

“Udyr has these two types of power as a Spirit Walker: One is an empathic power where he can hear and understand the wants and needs of the spirits around him, and then his other power is channeling animal spirits,” says narrative writer Dana Luery “griddlebones” Shaw.

“And when he Awakens each stance, he’s tapping into this power that was given to him as a blessing by the Seal Sister in disguise.”

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The most powerful Spirit Walker alive, Udyr seeks to preserve balance in the Freljord, a concept he never would have fully understood had he not left his homeland. During his training with Lee Sin, Udyr saw the cooperation and harmony that maintained balance in Ionia. This brought him to the realization that the recipe for balance in the Freljord is a different beast, built on continuous struggle. 

While the Avarosan attempt to unite the Freljordian tribes as one, Udyr believes doing so would undo the balance of the land. He’s no warmonger, but Udyr thinks the future of the Freljord depends on the inherent conflict and struggle that comes with living in such a brutal environment. The animals, spirits, and people of the Freljord must be pushed and challenged in order to grow and maintain that balance. This belief leads Udyr to offer his wisdom to the Winter’s Claw and Sejuani in order to hinder the Avarosan.

Similar to Udyr’s gameplay, there was a great foundation to work from in the narrative department. Griddlebones says she had a great north star to work from in the short stories written by Michael “SkiptomyLuo” Luo and Odin Austin Shafer—but there was still a lot of work to be done to bring Udyr’s story into the present day.

“A lot of it was working around the framework that already existed,” says griddlebones. “We now know a bit more about his relationship to the Winter’s Claw from his youth. We know a bit more about his time in Ionia and his time with Lee Sin. We know more about the people who he has loved and the people who he has left."

Born of the Freljord

The team wanted to make sure that Udyr’s body type, hairstyle, and clothing enhanced who he is meant to be: A warrior shaman with a background in martial arts; A wild loner who hears the nonstop feelings and voices of the animal spirits around him; A bulky, strong survivor.

He’s no Olaf-style bodybuilder, nor does he have a belly like Gragas. He’s a strong, burly, hairy wildman who can undoubtedly survive the harsh elements of the Freljord. Basically, he’s an absolute unit.

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Udyr’s hand wrapping and belt come from his time in Ionia training with Lee Sin

“Udyr’s personality, body, and mentality have been shaped by the brutality and the ferocity and the harshness of the Freljord,” says senior concept artist Justin “Riot Earp” Albers. “But the humility and practicality of how he looks belies the true power that he has been able to harness through training and discipline.”

Udyr carries talismans related to each demigod that help him focus his channeling and tap into the right spirits—the spirits he knows will serve him best in battle (and on the Rift). He wears a bear claw bracelet, a boar tusk hanging from his belt, a buckle with the insignia of the ram, and a cryophoenix feather in his hair. And the cloth wrapping on his hand comes from his time training in Ionia with Lee Sin, a parting gift he promised to someday return in person.

The team tried to add some extra flavor to Udyr’s visuals, but in some instances it didn't work out. The team initially included a pair of antlers, experimenting with how they could change with each stance, whether that be bursting into flame, freezing over, or turning into metal. But ultimately they decided to scrap the idea for clarity’s sake.

“In theory the antlers seemed pretty cool, but when we tried them out in game, they just did not look good,” explains Riot Earp. “It was kind of an obstacle for him moving around and fighting, to have these big things sort of coming off of his shoulders. They looked cool in concept, but in game they just hindered his movement and readability.”

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Early concepts that included Udyr’s antlers

The team also reimagined Udyr’s VFX to convey his power and personality, taking inspiration from Udyr’s tattoos, his Legends of Runeterra card illustrations, and fighting game VFX.

VFX artist Luis “Riot Bloois” Aguas had to first create a strong foundation for Udyr’s visual style, before taking on his stances. “Udyr is mechanically straight forward, and visually I needed to communicate only the important things the player playing as Udyr or against Udyr needs to know so they can easily identify what is going on,” says Riot Bloois.

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Next, building out VFX for each of Udyr’s stances was like working on four champions in one, while keeping it all in one cohesive package.

“While color is the first and most common thing that sets Udyr’s abilities apart, I had to rely on shape language that made each stance unique from each other,” explains Riot Bloois. “I focused on confident, bold colors and strong shape language to link back to his narrative design and voice over.”

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We can’t stress enough just how many Rioters around the globe worked on Udyr’s VGU, reimagining and redesigning visuals, gameplay, narrative, sound design, and more, not only for his base model, but for his many skins too. Spirit Guard is now the most ultimate of ultimate skins, blackbelt Udyr got a masterful makeover, and yes, Definitely Not Udyr is as goofy as ever.

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The ultimate hope is that both longtime Udyr mains and players who’ve never stance danced a day in their lives will appreciate the love and listening that went into this project. 

“I want players to feel like the Udyr that they read about has come to life,” says griddlebones. “And that that's who they’re playing.”


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