Heartsteel, a virtual K-Pop boy group in League of Legends comprised of six champions — Ezreal, K’Sante, Kayn, Sett, Yone, and Aphelios — captured the hearts of many during this year’s World Championship (Worlds) with their debut track, “Paranoia.”

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The group boasts collaborations with renowned artistes across various music genres, including Baekhyun, the main vocalist of the K-pop group EXO, Los Angeles-based rapper Cal Scruby, Taiwanese-American singer-songwriter and rapper ØZI, and Nigerian hip-hop/rap artiste Tobi Lou.

Heartsteel boyband members and collaborations featuring Baekhyun as Ezreal, Cal Scruby as Kayn, Ozi as sett, and Tobi Lou as K'Sante
Credit: Riot Games

The impact of their debut led fans to draw comparisons to their predecessors, pop sensations K/DA.

K/DA are an all-girl virtual group also within the League of Legends universe, featuring champions Ahri, Akali, Evelynn, and Kai’Sa. The group debuted with the song “POP/STARS,” which also featured a collaboration with real-life musicians Soyeon and Miyeon from K-pop group (G)-I-DLE, and American singers Jaira Burns and Madison Beer.

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Following their success, Riot Games Music eventually expanded its universe, introducing mixed-gender virtual group True Damage and, most recently, Heartsteel.

Congratulations to
on their Gold Record for POP/STARS!
Credit: Riot Games

As Riot Games Music continues to showcase its impressive roster of musical talents, how do newcomers Heartsteel distinguish itself from the queens of pop, K/DA, within the League of Legends universe?

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In an exclusive interview with ONE Esports, Stephanie Leung, Riot Games’ Product Lead for LoL Personalization, and Thomas Randby, Lead Concept Artist, shared insights into their vision for Heartsteel and the factors that shape the creation of a virtual group.

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Riot Games wanted to avoid making the boy group feel like “it was derivative of any of (their) other music.”

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“We really wanted Heartsteel to feel unapologetically themselves,” Thomas told ONE Esports. “Just bold, bombastic, vibrant, kind of raw, just unfiltered. That informed not only how we costumed the characters, but also how the music was visualized in their spell effects as you’re playing the skins in the game.”

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The distinctive personalities and core truths of the six male champions were pivotal in shaping the overall vibe of the virtual group.

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“Personality is huge because that’s our approach to champion selection for every single one of our thematics,” Thomas said. “(We ask ourselves,) ‘Does this skin make sense with how this character navigates the world?'”

Heartsteel and K/DA's Spotify pages
Screenshot by Kristine Tuting/ ONE Esports

In contrast to the “very polished” image of K/DA, Heartsteel is portrayed as a group in the early stages, navigating their path as they go along.

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Stephanie highlighted, “They’re having fun in the process, but that also means they make silly mistakes, seen in the blooper reels, for example.”

The “Paranoia” music video, created by Sauvage TV and executive-produced by Riot Games Music, played a crucial role in the concept art team. It helped solidify the final visual direction for the boy group and clarified the narrative they wished to showcase to the world.

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“I think every single one of our disciplines — concepts, the character models, the visual effects, the animation — ultimately, it’s intended to serve as a vessel for players to understand a story and connect with the characters,” Thomas said.

Will we see more virtual groups like Heartsteel or K/DA, or new music from Riot Games Music (RGM) in the future?

Heartsteel Worlds 2023 opening ceremony official art
Credit: Riot Games

Riot Games is open to the possibility of introducing new musical intellectual properties. Stephanie told ONE Esports that the Riot Games Music team “is really interested in continuing to expand the universe.”

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“There’s obviously so much space that we still have yet to explore,” she said. “I’m just waiting for them to be like, ‘Hey, we’re ready to start exploring again.’ I think it’s just something that when we get there, it’ll just click.”

Heartsteel and K/DA collaboration? EXO Baekhyun is up for it

EXO baekhyun and Heartsteel Ezreal from League of Legends
Credit: SM Entertainment, Riot Games, ONE Esports

The possibility of collaboration between two of Riot Games’ virtual groups, K/DA and Heartsteel, is not entirely out of the question, and EXO Baekhyun is open to the idea.

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“I’m really looking forward to a collaboration with K/DA and Heartsteel members if Riot ever approves it,” he said during the Worlds 2023 Media Day, as translated by ONE Esports. “I think the members here would really like it. I felt that League of Legends has a lot of similarities with the K-pop genre — they both have infinite possibilities in the future.”

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