When Riot Games first released League of Legends in 2009, LoL champion themes didn’t exist.

Fast forward more than a decade later, every single champion now has their own theme song, written and tailored to their personality, background, relationships with each other, Runeterra region, and more.

LoL champion themes are now a core part of new champion releases (and updates) that players eagerly look forward to. They’re also easily accessible on major streaming platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music.

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In an exclusive interview with ONE Esports, we find out from Riot Games music composer JD Spears how the music team conceptualizes these themes from start to finish, what are some of their major considerations during the process, and how they work together with related departments to create a holistic experience.

How Riot Games Music kicks off the process of writing LoL champion themes

LoL champion themes are a part of the larger champion creation process, which takes a while as it moves through early stages of conceptualization, to concept art, game mechanics, character design, lore, and more.

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As such, themes don’t have fixed timelines either. However, the music team usually tries to be involved early on, JD tells ONE Esports, where they “chime in with any thoughts or ideas before we get too far into our creative process.”

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“For Milio’s theme, I was involved very early as it was my first project at Riot, so the team wanted to make sure I had enough time to wrap my head around the champion before actually writing anything,” JD shared.

Joining the company in October 2022, Milio was his first big assignment — but even an industry veteran like himself experienced self-doubt at the start.

“Getting through those initial imposter syndrome-laden nerves of ‘Can I do this?’, ‘Did I trick them into thinking I’m able to hit the bar here?’ and finally arriving at that very first music review meeting… that was a monumental moment for me,” JD shared. “Everyone was so kind, encouraging and helpful. On the other side of it getting to see the player reaction to the theme– just an unreal experience overall!”

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“However for Smolder, I ended up being brought onto that project a bit later on due to a number of factors. So like most creative endeavors, we have a process and timeline that we try to follow, but we also accept the reality that we will need to be flexible as each project will have unique challenges,” he elaborated.

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Because there’s diversity in LoL champion themes — not just in terms of individual characters, but also the fact that Riot Games backtracked to compose for those already released — the music team has to be clear about their goals at all checkpoints.

For example, if they’re creating a theme for an older champion, the music team recognizes that there’s “a different set of player expectations” compared to new champions. Likewise, if a champion is clearly inspired by real-world cultures, it impacts how the music is approached, JD explained.

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Credit: ONE Esports, Riot Games
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After all, the way Riot utilizes LoL champion themes overtime has also evolved. From his viewpoint, these themes had primarily helped players and potential players connect with the lore, to something they can identify with.

Music has since expanded alongside the Runeterra universe. “Music is one of the most useful tools for world-building, and on top of elevating the material that our amazing marketing team works on, it allows our players to connect with their favorite champions, even when they aren’t playing the game,” said JD.

All these considerations are kept in mind throughout the process, from composition, to production, to live recording.

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For JD’s personal composition process, he’ll gather as much inspirational material as possible, such as concept art, narrative beats, voiceover, or all of the above. “I try to have a sense of who the character is from a lore perspective before writing a note of music,” he said.

Of course, as all creatives know, it’s never a straight track down the road. Sometimes the theme may or may not come to him due to a variety of factors.

“The biggest challenge for me so far was Smolder’s theme. I felt like I knew what I wanted to do, but the first few executions of it just weren’t quite right,” JD said.

“Luckily, Riot affords me the opportunity to get on-demand feedback from the other composers, all of whom I have a ton of respect and admiration for, which quickly results in specific action items to make it better or confirmation that I should try a different approach altogether.”

Relationship between LoL champion themes, the champion, and the Runeterra region where they originate from

While each champion’s Runeterra region and affiliation “often plays very heavily into the LoL champion theme,” JD says this is not a hard and fast rule.

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Credit: ONE Esports, Riot Games
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“I feel that the number one priority is that the theme represents the character first and foremost. For example, if there is a champion that’s from Demacia, but their personal relationship with their home is full of resentment, it may not make sense to try and make the theme feel too ‘Demacian’,” he explained. “We want to make sure that the champion’s personal experience with the region is prioritized.”

Besides their relationship with their homeland — or lack of it — the character’s relationship with others is also examined.

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For example, Hwei came out in late 2023, many years after Jhin’s 2016 release. According to JD, the way the violin is featured and performed is a direct result of the creative vision accounting for Jhin’s representation in Hwei’s theme.

Praising composer Ben Hicks, he’s one of the many freelancers that Riot Games Music works with when they decide to outsource certain LoL champion themes. When they’re able to construct a clear creative vision of the theme, they’ll discuss who might be a good fit and shortlist composers in their network.

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“Once we bring a composer on board, we schedule regular check-ins and feedback sessions, which is very similar to the way feedback is handled for internal composers as well,” said JD.

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