CHAMPION INSIGHTS: SMOLDER
Bot lane is a place for very serious gaming. Miss a cannon? Straight to jail. Forget to swap to blue trinket? Straight to jail. Die? Jail.
And many of the champions who occupy the ADC role take themselves just as seriously. Ashe, Aphelios, Jhin, Varus—super fun at parties. After taking stock of the marksman roster, the Champions team thought it was time to throw a little charm and cuteness into the mix. (While some of us believe in the adorableness of Kog’Maw, others are nonbelievers.)
So it’s time for us to introduce you to Smolder, the Fiery Fledgling. He sure is cute, but he’s still a powerful dragon—his mom told him so! Just tread carefully, or you might get burned.
Just A Silly Little Guy
While making an aww-inspiring marksman was a big goal for the team, another aim was to add an AD carry that was straightforwardly fun to play.
“We wanted to introduce a simple to play marksman because all of the ones that we’ve shipped recently are really mechanically complex, like Zeri, Samira, Aphelios, and Nilah… who’s like a melee marksman. We thought it was time to introduce a champ that’s a bit easier to play, a bit more traditional for the role. You don’t need to be Ruler to play it, kind of thing,” recalls producer Rob “Riot KingCobra” Rosa.
The cute creature thematic seemed like it could fit really well within these gameplay goals. But what kind of cute creature? After exploring a few other creature possibilities, the team decided on a dragon since it has the range to be a natural marksman.
But in the realm of dragons, there are infinite variations of cute. Concept artist Oussama “Riot Whiteleyth” Agazzoum did some intensely adorable concept art explorations to figure out exactly the kind of cute that Smolder should be.
“I explored different feels and personalities that could fit within the bounds of cute, from the typical wide-eyed innocent little guy, to something on the pretty side, to something more cocky or grumpy, but also cuddly. That last one resonated with a lot of the team members, but we didn’t want Smolder to feel bratty or unlikeable. We looked for the right balance and focused on him being proud rather than cocky,” explains Riot Whiteleyth.
“Another exploration that caught people’s attention felt very princely and elevated with an interesting headpiece, which translated into the final design as Smolder’s fiery horns.”
Smolder is a little overconfident, but not in an obnoxious way. He’s also very playful, a trait the champions team leaned into to make sure Smolder’s personality felt different enough from other young champs like Nunu and Milio.
While Smolder is League’s only young dragon, he’s in good company with other dragon champs, namely Shyvana and Aurelion Sol—or as Smolder calls him, Mr. Airy Lion Soul. However, he’s not linked to them directly. He’s also not related to the elemental drakes (because that would be pretty weird for a juvenile dragon to be regularly taking down adult versions of itself).
For Smolder’s background, the team looked to a more mysterious part of Runeterra: Camavor. Lucky for the champions team, Legends of Runeterra already had some inspiration at the ready.
“The Camavoran Dragon that some players are familiar with from Legends of Runeterra has been twisted by the Black Mist. So we were trying to imagine a version from before the Ruination,” explains Riot Whiteleyth.
The imperial dragons of Camavor are immensely powerful creatures who had strong ties with the royal family before the Ruination. Once thought to be lost forever, we now know that their lineage lives on in Smolder—and he’s pretty stoked about it (though he doesn’t quite understand the gravity of what it means).
“HERE HE IS, THE MOST SPLENDIFIROUS PRIZE OF CAMAROAR! MEEEEEE!”
But before he learned about his imperial dragon heritage, Smolder was separated from his mother after being stolen by Noxian beastmasters. Their ship was destroyed before they could collect their reward, but the dragon hatchling was lost to the sea.
After the waves carried him to an island, Smolder found himself in the care of an unlikely friend who taught him some less-than-draconic mannerisms.
“A lot of Smolder’s personality comes out of the fact that after his mom lost him, he ended up finding a little boy named Marinos who became his friend. Marinos taught him how to talk and play in a sort of Smolder-was-his-secret-outside-pet kind of way,” explains senior narrative writer Kristina “Riot Goblin” Atanasoski.
As a result, Smolder walks, talks, and jokes around like a human—and he drapes his wings on his back like a royal cape. This is also where the name Smolder comes from, because what imperial dragon names their heir Smolder? Ignacarious Gigantareno Rex Le Spes Offerentis, on the other hand? That’ll do.
As the years passed, Marinos became an adult while Smolder aged more slowly into a young dragon. With a family of his own, Marinos had less time to play with Smolder, who spent time on his own discovering little pieces of his dragon power. After a sneeze gone awry, an entire forest went up in flames, drawing the attention of Smolder’s mom who had been searching for a sign of him for decades. But more on her later…
Despite Smolder’s Camavoran origins, he still has some things in common with Shyvana and Aurelion Sol—they are all dragons after all.
“It would be kind of a crime to make a dragon that doesn’t one, breathe fire, and two, fly,” says game designer Glenn “Riot TwinEnso” Anderson. “We did that originally with ASol… it didn’t work out. We did that with Shyvana… she’s the most commonly requested VGU. Dragons fly and they breathe fire and that should happen in any dragon that we make.”
But there is one aspect that really differentiates Smolder’s gameplay from his fellow dragons. Whereas Shyvana and Aurelion Sol are fearsome dragons from the time the announcer welcomes you to Summoner’s Rift, Smolder takes a little time to warm up.
How to Dragon
“Smolder starts the game as like a little baby tadpole of a dragon,” says game designer Jacob “Riot Llama” Crouch. “He’s kind of got little squirtgun fire. He’s learning how to dragon. Like, as long as I keep shooting fire and keep learning and figuring out how to fly I’m gonna get better and better.”
The full extent of Smolder’s imperial dragon power lies in performing consistently throughout the game. Smolder’s passive grants him stacks of “Dragon Practice” when he hits champions with Abilities and kills enemies with his Q, Super Scorcher Breath. You’ll start the game weak, so if you’re not last hitting and making the right moves at the right times, it’ll be tough to reach your full potential.
“Everything Asol does looks very effortless. He’s like, ‘I’m just gonna rip this moon out of the sky and drop it on you,’” laughs Riot TwinEnso. “And Smolder’s like, ‘I’m gonna fly two feet and that’s gonna take my entire body and mind to accomplish.’”
Smolder’s journey of growth and learning is told through not only his design, but every discipline. Sure, his building strength shows up in his gameplay with his spells getting stronger and more confident over time, but his trajectory of growth also shows up in his sound effects and visuals, as well as his voiceover throughout the game.
For instance, when Smolder gains more stacks, his Q evolves to deal area of effect damage, and splits off to throw more fireballs.
“These upgrades not only happen to gameplay, but also audio as well,” explains sound designer Daniel “Riot KDan” Kim. “They sound bigger and more powerful as you unlock new thresholds. As you’re playing Smolder, you’ll feel like you’re becoming stronger.”
Making sure these pieces are working together in a cohesive way is vital to making a champion’s story, personality, and thematic come to life.
I’m Calling My Mom!!!
One of Smolder’s most iconic abilities is undeniably his ultimate—appropriately named “MMOOOMMMM!”—where he calls in his mom to help him rain dragon fire down on his enemies. After being separated from her baby for too long, she takes helicopter parenting literally.
While Smolder’s mom doesn’t actually set foot on the Rift, you’ll see her shadow soaring across it. You’ll also hear her fearsome roars, carefully designed by Riot KDan to include animal cries including tigers, hawks, buffalos, crocodiles, dogs, snakes, and sometimes even mongooses.