Talking Tactics: Creating Kobuko

The team gets into the ideation and making of our most beloved new Yordle.

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Inkborn Fables marks a number of firsts for TFT, particularly in the realm of characters. We created Aphelios’s twin sister, Alune, as her own unit, brought Wild Rift’s Mythmaker Zoe into the game, and last but not least, introduced a completely new character to Runeterra. Today we’re joined by Game Designer Michael Sloan, Concept Artist KK Zhang, and Animator Steve Oh to discuss how TFT created their first Runeterra-based original character: Kobuko, the Joyous Paw!


With Fortune's return, a brawny, joyful new Yordle was in order—Firecracker Tristana and Teemo needed a friend on the front lines.

Whenever TFT has a Yordle or Yordle-adjacent trait (like Emo from Remix Rumble) we look to the same couple of tanks (Poppy and Amumu) to establish our frontline. Oftentimes we have to get creative and take champions that aren’t easily identifiable as tanks (Kennen, Vex) and slot them into tank roles, as at TFT we’re more reliant on having a solid number of frontliners than the my average solo-queue game of League. But you’ve seen the above champions in the tank role many times at this point, so it was finally time for us to come up with our own tank Yordle concept to fulfill the role. But it wasn’t just the role of a tank Kobuko had to fulfill, he also had to thrive in the glorious trait that is Fortune.

As a fan favorite trait from Fates, bringing back Fortune had a high level of risk to it—kinda like actually playing the trait. Fortune during Fates brought memorable units, like Tahm Kench’s first TFT appearance as a reroll Sunfire Cape/Thornmail Bruiser certain to evoke strong memories of early experimental builds. But in bringing Fortune back, we had to be sure to not only keep up with the ever-rising bar of champion quality in TFT, but also the fun that Fortune units like Tahm Kench and Annie brought to the trait when it was first released.

That’s where the need for Kobuko came from, as well as the need to collaborate with other awesome expressions of the Runeterra IP, such as Mythmaker Zoe from Wild Rift. Fortune is an awesome trait, so it made sense to highlight the awesome work of other Riot Games, as we’ve done in the past (T-Hex from Legends of Runeterra or Baron in Runeterra Reforged).

Mythmaker Zoe is a fan favorite skin from Wild Rift that we were able to bring over to TFT. It not only fit perfectly into our Fortune color palette but also shared the visual identity and theme of the Mythmaker skin line we were using for Zoe’s Storyweaver trait. We really were able to push our luck here. This was a cool moment for Wild Rift players as well, as the Wild Rift Executive Producer David Xu commented, “Being part of the League of Legends family is a tremendous privilege as we get to learn, share, and celebrate with all the other Runeterra-based games. We’re over the moon that Zoe’s Mythmaker Skin is being celebrated in Inkborn Fables. Cross-collaboration has always been part of the Wild Rift DNA, and the reception each time has been warm and welcoming, which gives us the confidence to keep collaborating…maybe even more in a future set?”

Whoa, David, slow down with the spoilers please.

Okay, back to Kobuko! Let’s take a trip down memory lane with Sloan, KK, and Steve.



Since we’d never done anything like this before, the biggest hurdle was that…we’d never done anything like this before. Instead of designing Kobuko’s narrative and art in tandem, the first thing we focused on was his personality and story. We built a really strong idea of the character we were making, but for a while we had no idea what he’d look like.

Kobuko is a martial artist with innate Yordle magic, but that’s far from the most important thing about him. The most important thing about him is his personality and his view of the world. Since we had such a solid grasp on Kobuko’s personality, we wrote his voice lines early on in the process, long before we had an art concept. Here are some of my favorites where you can see his worldview shine through:

“When life gives you sour Bandle berries, make Bandlebrew.”

“Don’t cry, stumbling is how we learn to walk.”

If you fail at something, Kobuko is the sort to pick you up and encourage you to try again. You might lose to him, but he's confident you'll get him next time!

When we were working with our voice actor, we had the idea that Kobuko could hum the Ionia theme from Legends of Runeterra. We knew Kobuko loves to sing—he’s just not that good at it. We asked the VA if he wanted to hear the original tune, but he suggested he hum along on the first listen, trying to get the tempo right on the first try. The result was a little off-kilter, but so perfectly in character for Kobuko.

After we had the voice and personality locked in, we took everything we had to KK and asked her to go wild with concept art. But we really didn’t know what we were looking for until we found it.


Since this was my first champion concept, I was super excited. At the very beginning, I just exploded with ideas. I created a whole list of what he could be, began sketching based on my list, and just started to explore all of the things Kobuko could be.




I got a lot of help from the League Champions team and our art director, who shared their experiences and lessons about making a champion look like a champion.

We knew we wanted Kobuko to be short like other Yordle champions, but he’s a tank, so we also wanted him to be bulky. We actually wanted him to be very large, but since he’s a Yordle, we landed on about 4 feet for his colossal stature. I thought about giving him armor to drive home the idea that he’s tough and strong, but his power comes from within himself, so it didn’t really fit.

Whenever I was drawing him, I couldn’t help but smile. Kobuko is like a mentor to others who has healing powers, so I imagined burying my face in my cat’s furry belly and imagining her healing me… and I wanted that for Kobuko.


We landed on having his palms be really big and powerful. Palms feel really supportive and warm compared to aggressive fists—they’re for hugging and clapping and other encouraging things. We were super happy with that direction and felt like it really fit his personality.


Getting to that point took a ton of concepts and back-and-forth. The final version was actually an eleventh-hour change after I realized the final concept we'd aligned on didn't quite feel right and asked Art if we could maybe give it one more shot. So KK sent me this last-minute sketch of a giant-pawed Yordle with big fuzzy arms and cool palm patterns, and I was immediately sold.



Previously, we were exploring the direction that we wanna give Kobuko something to make him unique and chunky. Yet, we wanted to maintain that his power comes from his personality and not his beef. So I came up with the solution of having training weights on his arms which would differentiate his silhouette from other champions too.


It ended up looking cute, but I got feedback from the League Champion team that it's not an intuitive solution, and the weights may be mistaken for handcuffs or gauntlets. We definitely want to deliver a clear and fun idea to our players rather than confuse them, so I took a step back. How can I keep the current shape of Kobuko while making his power source clearer? And how can we maintain his joyful personality? That’s where the giant palm idea popped into my head and felt just right.


It felt like every piece of concept art that KK made brought us closer to the final version. Each time, we spiraled closer and closer to getting it perfect until she hit it so far out of the park that it crashed through the wall on its way out.



We had a big advantage in terms of narrative since we were making a Yordle. Yordles are eccentric—they kind of do their own thing, and they very rarely make a significant impact on Runeterra’s storytelling as a whole in the way that some of our other characters do. Kobuko’s not a mover and shaker; he doesn’t have immense power; he’s not about to save or end the world. Kobuko’s ultimate goal is to share some smiles, discover new joys, and help others learn to love life. And if Sylas were to steal his ultimate, he’d just learn to smile with a bit more joy—maybe he should do that come to think of it.


Even though Kobuko is canonically from Runeterra, his presence in the Convergence is as ephemeral as the set itself. TFT utilizes champions in ways that are true to them as characters but, when you see them in any given set, they are in a world apart from Runeterra.

Editor’s note: @necrit please read the above paragraph in your video.



The very first kit was almost exactly where we eventually landed: he gained health based on interest, and when he cast, he danced and healed for a percentage of his maximum health.

With the original kit, we got games where the entire team would die around him. He couldn’t kill anything, but he also couldn’t die. So we changed that percentage heal to a flat number. Once we knew about his magic paws (Thanks, KK!) we knew we could fix this by making his dance also empower his paws to deal bonus damage on his next attack. We wanted to give him the chance to end a fight, and we also wanted to sell the idea that he is very strong and can hurt you—he’d just prefer not to.

In the future, we may find different things for him to do that use his inherent Yordle magic, his positive personality, and his muscles!


When I encountered Kobuko’s concept and narrative, at first glance, the first thing that came to my mind was that he was more of a friendly guardian than a brutal tanky fighter.

In comparison to the Yordles we already know of, Kobuko is quite a unique character. To start, he’s the first visually tanky Yordle on our roster, which helped define the way his movements would appear in game.


To build on his art and narrative, I really wanted to convey how full of joy and happiness Kobuko is through his animations. He has no intention of aggression or violence—he’d much rather protect and mend. And while he loves to spar with friends, it’s about enjoying the moment together rather than fighting to the death.

All of these things were pillars of my work as the animator for Kobuko, both in his facial expressions and his movements. Combining facial expressions like his warm smile and joyful laugh with sturdy-but-still-light-on-his-feet movements ended up working perfectly for Kobuko. You can see how his personality and movements come together in the animations below:


Kobuko’s run animation is full of energy and excitement.
During his idle, Kobuko’s breathing is slow and relaxed (and big!)
Gathering a mending spirit to heal allies with a joyful ritual.
And of course a celebratory dance!


From Nomsy to Sohm to Silco, finding ways to get newfangled characters in the Convergence has always been a side quest of ours on TFT. And being able to bring the awesome things our other games have created into TFT—like Mythmaker Zoe from Wild Rift—can really bring something special to a set.

We’re constantly looking to collaborate with other Riot Games to deliver sets that allow our roster to lean into the thematic fantasy, whether that means Lillia becoming a K/DA Superfan or Alune becoming a fieldable unit. Keep a lookout for how we level up this process in our next sets, and let us know who and how you want to see your Runeterra favorites appear in TFT next!


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