Hello hello, Lexi “Riot Lexical” Gao here with an update on Skarner’s VGU with some of the Champions team! Last time we checked in we showed some of the wide visual explorations on the skittering scorpion. This time around we’ve got a lot more in store, but I wanted to start by diving into a breakdown of his position in our champion roster before looking at goals of his rework. Then we’ll shed some light on the arthropod’s rework development process before he scurries back under a rock.
Skarner’s been on the radar for a VGU for quite a while at this point, and it’s been a while since he won the VGU vote last year. We always knew that Skarner would be a challenging and large rework, but he is admittedly a bit more challenging than we had anticipated.
Going into this we knew that the crystal scorpion had some of the lowest scores for thematic enjoyment, thanks to player surveys. We also knew that many of you wanted to know more about his lore and what exactly makes the scorpion tick.
Fun fact! Skarner scored THE lowest of all champions in the following categories:
One of your favorite champions
I like this champ’s personal style
Visual fit with character
Clear understanding of the character
Bottom 4 of these categories:
Emotions for the champion
Enjoy his power fantasy
Consistent champ story
Hero or Side Character (Aka Most Likely to be Side Character)
Interest in overall theme
Surprisingly, Skarner is not at the bottom for familiarity with backstory. This tells us it is not that players don’t know who he is that is the causation. He also isn’t at the bottom 4 of “Would Romance this Champion”...eehm... Okay, moving on.
And in terms of overall popularity, Skarner has the lowest breadth and depth out of ALL League champions across ALL regions. In short: Skarner is one of the least popular champions in League in all areas that we survey.
When breaking all this data down, there are several potential factors for Skarner’s low popularity:
With these three elements in mind, we knew Skarner needed a bigger revamp—not just to rectify the problems he already has, but also to make sure we don’t fall into some of the same pitfalls. We cannot change the fact that Skarner is a scorpion-esque monster, and instead of fighting against monster champions’ unpopularity, we want to lean into their monster fantasy to serve the small but passionate monster-loving segment of our players.
At the same time, we’re not trying to turn Skarner into some brainless monster. He’s an intelligent, sentient creature and his lore has a certain nobility to it that really sets him apart from some of the other monsters in our roster.
So the team dove headfirst into searching for an incredible monster archetype that Skarner could fulfill while remaining committed to some of his core truths. We looked at every region of Runeterra to see where it would make sense for a scorpion monster to exist. Eventually, the team landed in a region that had everyone excited... On the eastern border of Shurima, there’s a land filled with wonder, deep jungles, and a thriving population based on elemental magic: Ixtal.
Now I'll pass it over to Riot apothecarie to go a little deeper on narrative.
Elyse “Riot apothecarie” Lemoine, Narrative Writer:
Skarner is the second VGU that I've had the chance to work on and I couldn't be more excited! Getting to be a part of Udyr's VGU through working on his Spirit Guard skin was an unforgettable experience and I'm excited to now get the chance to work on our favorite scorpion, Skarner.
For approaching Skarner's narrative, we wanted to explore the potential of what Skarner could become, especially in tandem with the art direction.
With Skarner's update, we wanted to take the chance to revisit the Brackern and reinvent what they are as a species, while maintaining their immense power and presence in Runeterra.
Where we landed was making the Brackern Runeterra's first earth elementalists, dating back to pre-civilization. Ancient and powerful, they're revered for their primal knowledge of earth, which they taught to the people of Runeterra long ago.
However, these changes aren't without a cost. Though we're approaching Skarner and the Brackern with the intention of patching up holes and solidifying their impact on Runeterra, the Brackern are tied to several regions and champions within Runeterra, meaning that we'll be working with other teams working in the Runeterra universe.
Skarner currently resides in Shurima. However, with a new direction for the Brackern, we thought that Ixtal, with its deep connection to elemental magic, would be the perfect region for them.
With the Brackern as the first earth elementalists, we're exploring the possibility of them having taught the first Ixtali people how to harness the earth element, as well as the possibility of them building the first Arcologies. This would position the Brackern as a revered species in Ixtal, deeply connected to the region's origin and history.
Either way, in modern Ixtal, the Brackern keep to themselves, not interested in human affairs. Which gives us the perfect opportunity to create an interesting space for Skarner, who we'll be centering within the greater story of Ixtal.
Larry “The BravoRay” Ray, Art Director:
For Skarner’s art direction, we first broke him down into his basics and characterized him by the following visual cues:
Based on this the team then identified what was working and what wasn't. Scorpions are an excellent creature fantasy, but does applying crystals to a scorpion elevate Skarner’s theme or detract from it? Skarner’s whole being has revolved around him being a sad, defeated, lonely scorpion who misses his kind... which isn’t as aspirational of a design as we’d like. When put all together, some of those elements make others less appealing. So we looked at the individual fantasies to figure out where they add to each other, rather than take away.
Scorpion: Scorpions are a good design for a monstrous champion. They’re insectoid as well as somewhat crustacean-like. And when you look at them up close, they are otherworldly and alien.
Crystals: The recipe of insect and crystal could theoretically work, but we wanted to use Skarner’s VGU as an opportunity to evolve the material, and we felt like it would be too problematic and strange to keep him focused in his crystal thematic. Runeterra is a vast world that has evolved in the years since Skarner’s release, so keeping him tied to a thematic that wasn’t memorable or all that exciting didn’t seem like the right approach for his rework.
Good Hero Archetype: Skarner’s a lawful neutral character archetype with full sentience who is deeply intelligent—which sets him apart from many of the monster champions in the roster. He’s not just a monster who kills everything in sight. We sort of had a “King Kong” vibe—someone who wants to be left alone, but will protect his territory with extreme prejudice if needed. He’s not necessarily someone who is openly aggressive to everyone, but he can (and should) hold his own in a fight if need be. And we loved the idea of the people in Ixtal respecting and worshiping him as part of the land and its protector.
In the end we decided to amplify his good/lawful character archetype and scorpion fantasy, completely omitting his crystal theme. This allowed us to explore different power fantasies in the Runeterran universe, from Voidspawn to Hextech-empowered. But we decided to hone in on the elemental magic, as we felt it left a lot of creative freedom for every aspect of his development.
We brought in more of a crustacean’s heavily-weighted shell shape while leveling up his scorpion tail to a three-pronged stinger for grabbing his prey, making him appear like an intimidating indestructible beast to his enemies.
Jacob “Riot Llama” Crouch, Game Designer:
Skarner has been a challenge to rework.
Looking back at other reworks, nearly all of them have had strong resonant themes to improve upon. Irelia is a “telekinetic sword dancer,” Galio is an “anti-magic stone gargoyle colossus,” Fiddlesticks is a “spooky scarecrow.” Skarner’s core of “lonely crystal scorpion” just doesn’t seem to really excite... well, anyone. Our first goal is finding another theme or deepening his current themes to elevate his overall fantasy. Here are our first four attempts (that all were flawed) before we found something we really liked:
Poison (Editor’s Note: Actually it’s venom.): We leaned into what might make a scorpion special with an ability kit where all of Skarner’s damage was DoT (damage over time). While this was very unique we hit two big barriers:
While I personally want to revisit these issues for another champion someday, Skarner is not the time to take on these problems.
Hextech: This kit encapsulates “What would a Hextech crystal play like?” as a champion. It was explosive with active/inactive phases that cycled rather quickly all hinging on a Hextech resource.
The big issue here was that Skarner’s gameplay started to feel like something non-Skarner-like. It was highly academic and flashy, and while this matched some of the (now gone) deep lore, the gameplay was so disjointed with what players feel the core of Skarner is and should be.
Skarnerlings: This kit provided the experience of “Rebuilding the Brackern” over the course of the match. Skarner would engage in some mechanics to use Impale (his ult) to grab/retrieve smaller vulnerable baby Brackern that had been scattered over Summoner’s Rift. While emotionally resonant, a big part of this kit felt unsatisfying because the gameplay execution was never quite there, and Skarner was constantly competing in the “Cute Followers” space against other in-development champions (Hello Milio!) who were doing it quite well.
Carapace: Skarner would enhance his outer shell by molting off his current carapace and moving into a new one. While this was a really cool gameplay experience it ran into some issues of:
With what didn’t work out of the way, let’s talk about what’s working!
Skarner’s theme has found an appealing home as a “revered, larger-than-life daemon” who’s highly protective of the place he calls home. Expect to see him easily rip through the Rift to hunt down intruders. One way he could do this is by picking up enemies and moving them where you want. And lucky for us, it just so happens that Skarner kinda already does that with Impale!
Impale is very effective, but often not satisfying to use so it’ll be receiving a small adjustment. The fantasy of the ability is moving from being a single target pick tool to being a teamfight tool to give it some extra “oomph” and playmaking ability. Basically what I’m saying is Impale is now AoE.
While it has lost some reliability (lower duration, cast time, no longer point-and-click) against one target, Impale now gives Skarner a serious teamfight initiation threat if he’s able to get more than one target. This also adds a more strategic component to who, how many, and when to go in.
The rest of Skarner’s kit will help him get into a strategic position to use Impale and give him some additional things to do when Impale is active. I can’t wait to share them with you when they’re ready! Until then, keep scuttling, my scorpions.
We know it’s been a long time since we talked about Skarner, and we’re sorry about the wait. But we hope that this look into the new-and-improved
crystal scorpion gives you an idea of where we’re headed with him.
We’ll be sure to check back in more regularly in the coming months when we have more to share. See you then!