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League of Legends’ virtual K-pop band is helping the game attract a whole new audience

League of Legends’ virtual K-pop band is helping the game attract a whole new audience


Fan art and cosplay

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Image: Riot Games

This week, Riot Games tapped into three things the internet loves: K-pop bands, women kicking ass, and augmented reality. The K/DA music video for “POP/STARS” reimagines four of the murderous champions of League of Legends as internationally acclaimed artists back with their latest single. In addition to releasing a music video, Riot also brought the virtual band onstage using AR. They performed next to the actual singers at the 2018 Worlds Finals opening ceremony, the conclusion to an annual month-long battle between e-sports teams hailing from the US, Europe, and Asia.

The band started as Riot’s way of building hype for Worlds and getting players to buy in-game cosmetics for the four champions, Ahri, Akali, Evelynn, and Kai’Sa. But it transformed into a viral hit and gateway for new users and ex-players to get back into the game. In addition to being able to buy these looks for the champions in-game, you’re also motivated to keep playing to earn a “Prestige” Kai’Sa skin where the woman from the void dons a blonde wig and is dressed in all white. I, for one, have been playing League all week trying to win this skin.

There’s a variety of Easter eggs included in the music video and concept art that only League fans will pick up (for instance, K/DA is an in-game term that stands for kills, deaths, and assists). But at the same time there’s a universal appeal to K/DA. The music video exceeded 20 million views within four days and reached number five on the Apple Music pop charts in the US, performing better than any other League music video, according to Riot. As one meme on Tumblr puts it, the K/DA music video is something that K-pop enthusiasts, League fans, and the LGBTQ+ community all enjoyed. Many have put out fan art “shipping” romantic pairings, especially of Akali and Evelynn, as one rap scene in the music video provided plenty of fodder for that ship.

It also helps that Riot hired cool dancers and artists to perform its track. American singers Madison Beer and Jaira Burns contributed the English lyrics, while two members of (G)I-DLE sang and rapped in Korean. For the “behind the scenes” dance video, Riot contracted a variety of dancers, including Ellen Kim, who hails from Los Angeles. It’s a global experience, much like League itself.

You can find art for K/DA on Deviantart, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. Many users captioned their art by saying that they used to play League of Legends and then quit, or that they don’t know what this game is at all but are just participating in the fandom because the video looks so cool. Whatever their reasons, it’s clear that through the K/DA video, Riot Games has tapped into an audience bigger than the typical League fan base. Even some Overwatch players are thinking of switching to League now, as has been a running joke on Tumblr and other platforms.

Fans have mostly drawn art of Akali, the kunai-twirling assassin who hides in a shroud and glows in psychedelic neon colors as she raps. It’s a pretty big reversal from a few years ago, where Ahri, the lead singer who’s also a nine-tailed fox, charmed the most hearts. In the music video, Riot positioned Ahri as the K-pop group leader and granted Kai’Sa the most expensive in-game cosmetic skin, but fans have unexpectedly latched onto Akali as their favorite.

As K/DA continues to blow up, here’s a look at some of the amazing fan art it’s sparked.

Cosplayers have taken inspiration from the virtual K/DA pop group:

And even more fan art:

Users are pretty convinced Evelynn and Akali are dating.

And although more people dressed up as Ahri, Kai’Sa also received attention in some fantastic purple ombre art: