Burning Tides - Aftermath
Bilgewater, Burning Tides has just come to an end, and it’s fair to say that it was potentially the most impactful lore event League of Legends has ever seen.
Since Riot announced that they would be removing the Institute of War, Summoners, and the explanation of why Garen and Swain can end up fighting on the same team, many fans have been asking for something new to replace what was lost, and until now, the lore events haven’t come up to scratch. The Shurima event gave Azir’s release a little more oomph, but, honestly, I couldn’t tell you exactly what happened there without checking. The Freljord changes were similarly underwhelming, and even more confusing- I don’t know how many people could tell you off the top of their head which Freljord champions belong to which faction. However, the Bilgewater event has had a tangible effect on the game and has been unapologetic in making fairly big changes- the Graves/Twisted Fate enmity has been resolved, Miss Fortune has a whole new lore, and Gangplank has changed drastically. Riot pulled out some new tricks to tell this story, but one in particular might have gone a little too far.
Let’s look at all the things that have changed, and that we have gained, from the event. There were some unlockable icons, to add interaction between players and story; we got a new ARAM map skin, which I don’t imagine will stay gone for long; there was a temporary game mode, Black Market Brawlers, which tied in to the Icon unlocks; and Gangplank got a new base skin, new lore and a new voice over. We were also given the opportunity to unlock his old base skin, simply by playing one game as him. So the actual content of the event was incredible, especially since added to all that was a story that actually progressed and was revealed in chunks, so that you didn’t feel like you had to sit through a mountain of text just to understand what was happening.
However, the most controversial part of the event was definitely the decision to kill Gangplank for a week. He was completely unavailable in all queues, having just had his kit reworked and having just had his skins released in a bundle. I’ll admit, until I saw that little notification at the top of my client, I hadn’t been paying attention to the story of the event. I had assumed it would be as underwhelming as the Shurima storyline, and not affect me in any way. I was wrong. I’ll also admit that I originally thought he was disabled because of a fairly nasty interaction his new barrels had with Draven, and that the statement “Gangplank is dead” was just an amusing way of presenting the information. I was, again, wrong (although they took the opportunity to fix the bug while he was gone). Gangplank had been killed in the Burning Tides story, and as a result of this Riot had disabled him in the game. The Lore had an impact on the game. And that was the issue I had with the decision.
See, one of the things that impressed me about League of Legends when I first started playing was that it had a fairly interesting and unique way of explaining why, on occasion, characters who were enemies within the story would fight on the same side. The idea that we were Summoners that worked for the Institute of War and the champions we summoned were being used as tools to decide the outcomes of international disputes was actually quite cool, if a little heavy for someone alien to the fantasy genre. So when Riot decided that they no longer wanted to continue to shoehorn in reasons for characters to sign up to the League, I was a little disappointed.
So, while I was disappointed to see the old lore go, I get why it had to. I also realised that I had never really connected the lore to the game. Sure, I liked the idea in theory, but when I was loading into a game, I was never thinking “I wonder what conflict the fictional, Summoner version of me is helping to decide right now?” I let the lore go, and I stopped questioning why Jarvan was working with Katarina to gank Lux. I did what Riot wanted, and I let the lore and League of Legends gameplay separate. Each Champion has their own story, and a lot of stories connect and intertwine with each other, but they don’t have any bearing on the gameplay itself, other than perhaps dictating what abilities a Champion has. Until now.
The Burning Tides event killed Gangplank, or at least told us he was killed, and disabled him in all queues. Leaving aside the issue that he was still available for professional games despite players not really having time to practice against him, suddenly, the lore was once again tied to gameplay. Even though in every other way, it is not. As I’ve tried to explain above, the games that happen on Summoner’s Rift clearly are not part of the same continuity as the Burning Tides Event, because, for one, Gangplank and Miss Fortune can play on the same team. Graves and Twisted Fate can play on the same team, or, as the event ended, Graves and Twisted Fate can play on opposite teams. There are hundreds of combinations of Champions who, according to their lore, would never work together, or would never fight each other, and I was okay with that when I could differentiate between the lore and the gameplay.
Except now, that line is blurred, because Gangplank died. Burning Tides was the most ambitious lore event Riot has produced in a very long time, but by disabling Gangplank, it strayed further into the gameplay’s territory than any previous story had. While it has been incredibly interesting to follow and be a part of, the “Gangplank is dead” announcement was, in my opinion, too far.