Review Women in Game Studies

A Survey of League of Legends Champions from a Gendered Perspective

Art by KnockWurst @ http://knockwurst.deviantart.com/

The following is a statistical analysis of the League of Legends Champion’s character design from a gendered perspective. In this analysis data was collected directly from the champion profiles listed on leagueoflegends.com/champions. Data is valid as of Aug 6 2014, where I surveyed 119 champions, each having between 3-10 alternative skins.

League of Legends is a massive open battle arena, or MOBA that allows characters to choose from 119 champions to fight team matches with anywhere from 5 to 10 players. I was originally drawn to the game by the readily available choices of strong female characters, but as I started playing more frequently I began to question the actually distribution of male to female, and the representation of such characters via their official artwork and skins. So out of curiosity I set out to gather some stats. I recorded the champions gender, their appearance as one of human, humanoid (human body and aesthetic with non-human features), or other (modelled of an animal or abstract concept), the percentage of skins with an exposed stomach, the percentage of skins with an exposed chest, and the class(es) of each champion.

Gender Ratio

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 2.46.32 PMMy first observation was the ratio of male to female champions. Let it be noted that all champions have their gender specified on their profile page, and no champion does not have either male or female specified.

In the league there is currently 78 male characters and 38 female characters, making the league only 33% female. So at just over 1/3 female I was curious about the distribution of human/humanoid/other over the male versus female ratio.

Humans, Humanoids, and Others

My categories of human, humanoid, and other were based on my own subjective analysis of the characters bodies. I tried to approach it with some rubric, human is typical human proportions, with typical human limbs and facial structure. Humanoid were clearly non-human characters that had human face structure and characteristics (for example Nami the mermaid character) or characters that have compressed anatomy like Poppy, and Tristana. Other were characters image (2)whose anatomy is drawn directly from animals or other influences, this includes characters that are beastial or have gaseous bodies.

There are many characters that wear heavy armour or are entirely covered (for example Amumu the mummy character) where it is hard to tell what kind of anatomy exists under the costume, but I tried to categorize these characters based strictly on their proportions.

Based on the stats collected of the female characters, only 1 (Anivia) classified as non-human (bird anatomy) every other character that fell into the category of “Other” was gendered with masculine pronouns. This includes characters like Blitzcrank the robot, Maokai the tree monster, and Thresh a reaper; all three of which are specifically gendered in the lore section of their champion page.

It is also interesting to note that the distribution between male and female is nearly 1:1 if you exclude the “Other” characters.

Showing Skin

The next statistic I collected was the amount of skin showing for each character specifically if their stomach or chest was bare. I thought this was relevant not only from a gendered perspective (because people have had issues with costume design for female characters in fantasy games in the past) but also from a perspective of practicality. In League of Legends the costume design has zero influence on the stats of the character and thus is purely reflecting the cultural and aesthetic desires of each individual character and thereby the culture and values of the artists and developers and Riot as a company. Of the 119 characters I surveyed every current skin available on the champions page (this obviously excludes special issue skins like the PAX skins), of these skins I calculated the percentage of exposed chest and stomach per character and separated them based on gender.image (3) Exposed chest counted as any kind of cleavage (v-necks on men, and front or side cleavage on women), exposed stomachs counted as anything where the navel or most of the sides or front of the stomach was bare (heavy stomach armour but bare chest would be a 1 for chest 0 for stomach.) As well non-human (other) characters I counted as 0 in cases where they had non-human chests/stomach or fur covering any trace of human anatomy, and 1 if they had a human body with an animal head (for example Renekton).

My results are posted to the right. Of all the characters men had a bare chest or stomach in around 11% of all skins, where as women had a bare stomach in just under 30% and cleavage in nearly 50% of all skins. That is a lot of boob. So much boob. This is a bit difficult to digest, as these characters are warriors and regardless of their personality or clothing preferences they are all objectified. The only female character (aside from the non-human Anivia) who scored 0 on no cleavage and no stomach in any skins is Kayle.

What I found nearly as disturbing as the quantity of overall cleavage was the clear use of male gaze in all of the revealing and non-revealing costumes. I actually debated on adding another metric for skin-tight top to bottom or nipples-through-shirt, because nearly all the female characters had multiple skins that would’ve checked off this metric.

Fetish Skins and the Male Gaze

First lets start by defining “The Male Gaze”, from wikipedia, in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, “Laura Mulvey introduced the second-wave feminist concept of “male gaze” as a feature of gender power asymmetry in film. The concept was present in earlier studies of the gaze, but it was Mulvey who brought it to the forefront. Mulvey stated that women were objectified in film because heterosexual men were in control of the camera.” So when applying this concept to video games, we are stating that women are being objectified in the skins and character designs due to the game industry being dominated by the ideologies and perspectives of male developers, artists, and players.

Using this specifically to talk about character design in League the male gaze is vividly apparent in the disproportionate sexualization of female characters. Most obviously in the use of  what I will call “fetish skins”. My definition of fetish skins are skins that are costumes but are sexy versions of what ever the costume is. For example, if we look at the “Officer Caitlyn” skin and “Riot Graves” skin there are obvious similarities. One, they are both dressed as law enforcement, they have similar poses, a similar colour scheme, and are both wielding a giant gun. The difference is Caitlyn’s costume is the sexy-fetish version of law enforcement, while Graves looks as though he could competently complete the task of law enforcement in the outfit he is wearing.

OfficerCaitlyn

Officer Caitlyn

RiotGraves

Riot Graves

 

This is a common occurrence. The female characters are frequently shown in costumes that fetishize a profession. A couple more examples are Forecast Janna and Headmistress Fiora. Both show ridiculously busty versions of women in professional positions that are design to reward the player with a sexual fetish. This reduces the female characters to sexual objects, and these images tell players that the appearance of their bodies are rewards. This also tells players that they do not have to take women in these professions seriously because they are merely playing dress-up for their sexual satisfaction, they are not meant to be capable competent professionals.

ForcastJanna

Forecast Janna

Headmistress Vayne

Headmistress Fiora

Another theme in this fetish trend is dressing the female characters in cliche sexy-animal costumes. This is clearly disempowering female characters to reward the player with their favourite champion as a sexual fantasy. Also there is a long history in feminist theory of devaluing women by equating them to animals. And more here. This is called dehumanization and makes a privileged group feel less guilty (and sometimes justified) about treating an oppressed group poorly. Here are a couple examples of what I mean, Battle Bunny Riven and Kitty Kat Katarina. Only the female characters are dressed up and fetishized in this way.

BattleBunnyRiven

Battle Bunny Riven

Kitty Kat Katarina

Kitty Kat Katarina

 

Another common gender disparity that follows along the above themes is what I’m going to call “holiday skins”. They exists as a seasonal treat for players. Also male and female champions have holiday skins, but the difference between the two is blaring.

CandyCaneMissFortune

Candy Cane Miss Fortune

OldSaintZilean

Old Saint Zilean

 

And there is many more holiday skins for female champions than male champions, most of which are sexualized. Such as the HeartSeeker Valentines day series of champion skins.

Heartseeker Ashe

Heartseeker Ashe

Heartseeker Vayne

Heartseeker Vayne

Finally there was one example I could find that I would classify as an intentionally sexy male skin and I want to talk about why it is a little different from the sexualized female skins. This is Pool Party Graves:

Pool Party Graves

Pool Party Graves

Pool party graves looks like a direct reference to when Hugh Jackman was named sexiest man alive by People Magazine.

hugh_jackmanhughjack

 

Now lets break down why this is sexy. Graves has rippling muscles, chest hair, a manly beard, and he is lightly sprinkled in the essence of pool-party. If men want to obtain this physique they have to stop shaving, starting working out at least two hours a day, get some sun, get good at water sports, and eat a ton of healthy foods. That actually sounds like some positive things to strive for, and hey you might not be genetically pre-disposed to look like this, but if you want to try, the process might make you a stronger, and healthier person.

Lets compare this to the default skins for Miss Fortune and Caitlyn (marksmans who play similarly to Graves).

Caitlyn Default

Caitlyn Default

Miss Fortune Default

Miss Fortune Default

These are their default skins. They are sexy. Women are sexy by default. Now lets compare this to the break down of Graves.

They have no rippling muscles, no chest hair anywhere but on their heads, a manly beard  ultra-feminine make-up, and they are lightly sprinkled in the essence of pool-party a strange glossyness like rub-on-sparkles and massive amounts of cleavage. If women want to obtain this physique they have to shave everything, start doing cardio for at least two hours a day, get no sun ever, get massive breasts, and eat less than what your body needs for calories. These are not positive things to strive for, and you will never be genetically pre-disposed to look like this, but if you want to try, the process might make you a horribly unhealthy.

This doesn’t hold up a positive standard for women.

Gender and Class Distribution

image (4)Most (but not all) champions have 2 classes. Curious of how these classes were distributed across the characters so I recorded them and found and interesting distribution.

When we look at the percentage of classes of all characters separated out by gender its we get the following two pie charts.

image (6) image (5)

 

From the percentages we can make a couple observations. Close to 50% of all male character classes are listed as a Tank or Fighter on the League of Legends champions page. Over 50% of all female character classes are listed as Mage or Support.  Only 5% of male character classes are listed as Support and under 5% of female character classes are listed as Tank. So the male characters are more likely to be used in melee combat and the female characters are more likely to be ranged or support characters. Arguably this is flawed because characters are often played in roles that are not listed on the Champions page. But I found it interesting that this gendering of roles exists.

Critiques and Conclusions

A critique I want to acknowledge is the exclusion of massive amounts of legacy skins. I felt it was only manageable to stick with the official information and skins currently listed on the League of Legends homepage. As well as there are many male characters that have bare chests with overly-prominent abs that are also very thin and this is not a healthy body type to glorify either. Diversity is good and diverse representations are necessary to make all people feel loved and included. Another critique would be my exclusion of a conversation on race. There are many different races represented in the League, however there only exists two clearly non-white human characters, Karma and Lucian. That is also a startling observation that would require another 2000 word post to deconstruct.

In conclusion, it would be great to see more non-human female characters, more non-white human characters, and of the human female characters a lot less sexualized or fetishized skins. I really appreciate Riot for creating characters like Vi, Kayle, Jinx, Annie, Tristana, Karma, Poppy, and Anivia for diversity however the diversity that exists for female characters pales in comparison to the vast amount of variety in the male character designs.

 

 

 

 

 

18 Comments

  • Max
    January 7, 2015 - 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Well written article in general. However I fail to see how tristana didn’t score a 0 on the “Percentage of champion skins with exposed stomach or chest”.

  • Grant Engberson
    January 8, 2015 - 5:50 am | Permalink

    That headmistress skin is fiora, not vayne. Also, instead of using painful wikipedia citations that aren’t done correctly I might add, maybe just use terminology that people actually use? Like “fan service” instead of “male gaze”. I was actually interested in reading this but was a little let down that it was written by such an outsider.

    • Grant Engberson
      January 8, 2015 - 5:55 am | Permalink

      Also, Varus, Aatrox, Braum, Lucain, Lee Sin, Twisted Fate and Yasuo all exemplify attractive males, and many of them have large amounts of exposed skin, so I’m kind of confused by you saying that pool party graves is the only sexualized male, I really don;t think that’s true.

      • Grant Engberson
        January 8, 2015 - 6:00 am | Permalink

        Side note before I continue my rant, you article isn’t bad or anything and I’m not hating, I just see a lot of bias and I want a response on it from you…

        “They have no rippling muscles, no chest hair anywhere but on their heads, a manly beard ultra-feminine make-up, and they are lightly sprinkled in the essence of pool-party a strange glossyness like rub-on-sparkles and massive amounts of cleavage. If women want to obtain this physique they have to shave everything, start doing cardio for at least two hours a day, get no sun ever, get massive breasts, and eat less than what your body needs for calories. These are not positive things to strive for, and you will never be genetically pre-disposed to look like this, but if you want to try, the process might make you a horribly unhealthy, and a possibly dead person.”

        That’s not entirely true, you don’t need to eat very little to be very thin, you can maintain 15% body fat (a dangerously low number I might add) as a woman by simply not eating carbs or sugars, enough protein and fats and you will be perfectly healthy, well fed, and you won;t store and fat, also arguing that staying inside is worse than tanning until you’re all leathery and shit is an odd argument, as cancer is farm more dangerous than a vitamin D deficiency.

        • Grant Engberson
          January 8, 2015 - 6:05 am | Permalink

          My final point:

          The reason males have a higher percentage of tanks and fighters is because riot values game play clarity above all, and clarity comes from a parity between visuals and game play experience. That said, female tanks are difficult to pull off because they have a much more slender frame from a scientific perspective and therefore would look odd when beefed up to look like braum. I do however they magnificently executed a female tank with leona. But do you understand my point? Riot values a cohesive experience above a political agenda.

    • SarahBeck
      February 9, 2015 - 8:59 pm | Permalink

      I totally missed the mis-caption. I will change that now. Also I would ask at what point is someone not considered an outsider? I’ll admit I wrote this a couple months after I started playing, but it helped me get familiar with the champs and become a better player. Also I would love to see this kind of analysis coming from pros, but I don’t think we will see that any time soon.

      • medwards
        February 9, 2015 - 9:03 pm | Permalink

        He likely just means the academic feminist language is off-putting. It might be helpful to add sentences here and there that help ‘translate’ it into stuff the League community might be more familiar with. Like ‘fan service’ is a common term in the anime community (I think?) to describe scenes that cater very obviously to the male gaze (Ghost in the Shell was the most egregious in this imo).

  • Grant Engberson
    January 8, 2015 - 6:08 am | Permalink

    Kalista, rek’sai and nidalee all fulfill what you mentioned in your conclusion.

    one isn’t sexual, one is a monster and female and nidalee is dark skinned.

    • medwards
      February 9, 2015 - 9:05 pm | Permalink

      The count was made in 2014 and doesn’t modify the numbers that much. Nidalee is worth double checking for the racial analysis and while Riot may be taking positive steps, don’t forget much of 2014 was spent on creating new character splashes that were even more sexualized than before (Miss Fortune, Shyvana thigh-gap-gate, etc)

  • SK
    January 31, 2015 - 12:06 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the analysis! I had actually made a similar analysis to your last part (the gendering of class roles) in a forum thread, but it was predictably downvoted to hell and back.

    One thing I picked up is that there are basically 3 major contributions that characters bring to a fight: Tankiness, Damage and Utility. Damage is surprisingly evenly gendered, but tankiness and utility are strongly gendered. Not only are tanks overwhelmingly male, but other roles that have a spectrum of tankiness tend to fall into that same pattern. Almost all the tanky mages, for example, are male, and the same goes for the tanky fighters, tanky supports and the rare tanky marksmen. Utility, conversely, is typically seen as feminine. Most supports are female and other classes with utility (mages, typically) are female.

    Riot has been reversing this lately, with the release of Rek’sai, a monstrous female fighter, and Braum, a utility support (albeit a tanky one too).

    Another upcoming reversal is the new Heartseeker skin, Heartseeker Varus. Much like Pool Party Graves (and I would also argue Ruthless Pantheon), it’s designed to be deliberately sexually appealing, and for once it’s surprisingly not in a “hypermasculine” way, given that it’s mainly pink and heart-themed.

  • medwards
    February 9, 2015 - 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Any problem with me re-posting on reddit?

    • SarahBeck
      February 9, 2015 - 8:57 pm | Permalink

      not at all!!

      • medwards
        February 9, 2015 - 9:11 pm | Permalink

        http://www.reddit.com/r/leagueoflegends/comments/2vcafj/survey_of_champions_from_a_gendered_perspective/

        Good effort on this. When I was trying to choose between Heroes of Newerth and League back in the day I watched a video that said “People say that League characters are really sexualized, but thats totally not true because Tristana.” I didn’t pick League because of this reasoning, but I always get a chuckle when I think of that guy desperately defending League whenever I see Miss Fortunes arched back or one of the Valentines Day skins. Thanks for crunching the numbers on it. Keep it real.

  • Highly Troubled
    May 20, 2015 - 5:56 pm | Permalink

    I found this article to be highly biased and somewhat off putting, to be totally frank.
    Much of the sexualization is due to the fact that the gaming world is dominated majorly by men and as a result they look to cater to their interest. This is no different from the magazine’s dramatization when representing men and the “classy” tuxedo look.

    It would be different if more women played video games. It’s all about business. It’s the same reasoning with music artists whom have sexualized images on their albums. Sex sells. Consider “Debonair Vi” or “Debonair Ezreal”

  • Pingback: Ladies I Have Loved: Recent League Characters (Gendered Survey of League of Legends Champs Follow Up) | WinGS. Women in Game Studies.

  • Swagmeister
    February 3, 2016 - 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I feel like it is totally ok about skins beeing sexual cause that is how we are in nature. how much we want to fight against it we are still animals and one of animals survival instinct which is driven by hormons which both genders have. But with 92% of the accounts are said to be made of males it is not weird that there are more sexualized women then men. However i dont think that the designs of jinx, vi, karma and annie´s designs are so innocent. Jinx is made for the ones who like girls with a flat chest, While vi has number 6 to correspond with her name on her left boob and when humans see possible information they will look at it and then they see the boobs. Karma is for the guys that like black women and annie is for the ones who have a fetish for children

  • Anon
    June 4, 2016 - 5:19 am | Permalink

    Yeah. Yeah.. ok

  • Leave a Reply to medwards Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Powered by: Wordpress