Arcane: League of Legends and a New Benchmark for Digital Animation

I want to start with a warning. The show you’re reading about is not for everybody. Adult language, drug-use and addiction, intense violence, suicide, murder, insanity. Don’t let the word “animated” fool you into thinking I’m talking about a cartoon. This show can get dark.

I am late to the party for the nine episode Netflix animated series Arcane: League of Legends, but squeezed it in over the holiday and can’t help but share some feelings about it.

A little backstory on the show’s subtitle: in a way, Arcane is an origin story for a large handful of characters from the 2009 Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) video game League of Legends by Riot Games. (It’s worth explaining that this game further popularized a fan-favorite map/mode called “Defense of the Ancients” [or DOTA] for Warcraft III. In it, the general idea of Warcraft – building up and battling two armies of varying strength against each other (called an RTS or Real Time Strategy) – is replaced with taking on the persona of one of a select group of “heroes” in a 5v5 match defending bases. Ten players playing ten heroes in two teams. League of Legends has gone on to inspire a generation of MOBA games and even worked its formula into first person shooters such as Overwatch, Team Fortress 2, and Apex Legends.) You do not need any of this knowledge to enjoy the show, but here’s why I mention it: While I’ve never played the game, I know that in League of Legends you can pick any hero before you jump headlong into battle – and you’ll have a fighting chance of winning. This is because in order to continue their decade (plus) of success, Riot Games has had to achieve expertise in one thing more than anything else – and that is the concept of balance.

And it is this concept that lends a sobering dose of realism to characters steeped in fantasy, magic, and impossible feats. Where many video-

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