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Arts Vanity: On Love and ‘League of Legends’

Outgoing Music Executive and incoming Covers Editor-at-Large Clara V. Nguyen ’23.
Outgoing Music Executive and incoming Covers Editor-at-Large Clara V. Nguyen ’23. By Courtesy of Kalos K. Chu
By Clara V. Nguyen, Crimson Staff Writer

[Disclaimer: This Arts Vanity was created under the Riot Games Legal Policies using assets owned by Riot Games. Riot Games does not endorse or sponsor this article.]

Soon after I met my friend Leo at our first orchestra rehearsal of freshman year, he told me I’d be really good at “League of Legends” — which, like playing the piano, largely involves pressing the right keys at the right time.

When I finally downloaded the game eight months later, on the same laptop screen that had just become my only classroom for the spring 2020 semester, I couldn’t have proven him more wrong.

“At its most basic level, League of Legends is a game of capture the flag,” reads a 2014 New York Times article, “though that is a bit like describing brain surgery as ‘a medical procedure.’” In the most popular game mode, two five-person teams face off on the battlefield of Summoner’s Rift. As with many of my important life choices, I trusted Leo’s unassailable guidance on which player character, or champion, to pick.

“You should be Morgana,” he said, “because you both wear purple all the time.”

Minutes into my first match, I found myself struggling to follow the only advice Leo had given me — “Don’t die.” Bullets and magic spells, seemingly flying at me from all directions at once, depleted my health bar as I launched purple fireballs at nothing in particular.

Still, I hadn’t had so much fun in months. The only other place where I’d ever experienced that level of sheer immediacy, a feeling I’d almost intentionally forgotten for fear of missing it too much, was onstage. Leo’s earlier comparison made perfect sense: “League” and music require players to be completely in the moment, and with rehearsals postponed indefinitely, only the former could make a dent in the monotony of quarantine.

On Summoner’s Rift, you can leave base 15 seconds after a game starts. Minions and jungle monsters first spawn at 1:05. 14 minutes in, the protective plates on your team’s turrets give way. I remember memorizing these times as if “League” were my sixth class and reciting them to Leo over voice chat, in defiance of our declining ability to tell the days apart.

With each match, I got better at fighting not only the opposing team but also the ever-present temptation to reduce my favorite pastimes to mere tests of reflexes and muscle memory. Fixating on the flawless execution of an especially tricky cadenza or combo move makes it all too easy to forget that pressing keys for hours on end is only worthwhile when it’s fun.

But all those hours had started to take their toll on my hands by March 2021, when Riot Games announced the 155th “League” champion: Gwen, a fabric doll come to life who fights evil with her creator’s sewing tools. I’d always loved crocheting to relieve piano-induced joint pain, and Riot had given me a great idea for my next project.

Gwen from "League of Legends." Crochet pattern adapted from Isabelle Kessedjian's "My Crochet Doll."
Gwen from "League of Legends." Crochet pattern adapted from Isabelle Kessedjian's "My Crochet Doll." By Clara V. Nguyen

My crochet version of Gwen now sits on a shelf in my dorm room. Even though Leo and I haven’t had a lot of time to play “League” since moving back to campus this fall, I still wonder at how a game whose goal is destruction so powerfully asserts the joy of creating — and how, when we were hundreds of miles apart, it was the Rift that brought us closer than ever.

— Outgoing Music Executive and incoming Covers Editor-at-Large Clara V. Nguyen ’23 would usually rather be playing “League of Legends” than the piano. To share your thoughts on either, contact clara.nguyen@thecrimson.com.

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Gwen from "League of Legends"