Friday, October 10, 2014

Japanese in League of Legends

League of Legends is a hugely successful MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) and currently the most played online game in the world. I've been at it since I was in Japan, so perhaps about 4 years now. For some people it's serious business, and it has been one of the driving platforms for Esports in recent years. As with games like Starcraft, there are professional teams out there, especially in Korea - that is, people whose literal job it is to train at League of Legends and then compete in tournaments. These individuals play on teams that have some high-profile sponsors like Samsung.

Personally I'm not that great. Increasingly I like to read about what's going on in the pro scene, but I hadn't even really participated in ranked mode (akin to ladder matches in other games) until this year. I did a fair amount of duo queue with a friend of mine this season, but we just didn't seem able to break out of the Silver league. If we could perhaps scrape together a team to fill all 5 positions we might get further. Anecdotally, playing by oneself (solo queue) or with a full team (team queue) seems to be easier than duo. Perhaps that's not it; perhaps we're just not good enough to get out of Silver. Regardless, there's something for players of all skill levels to enjoy.

LoL also boasts over 100 different "champions," unique characters with their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. There are some cool affiliates and links between characters - factions, "types," etc. For example there are pirates, ninjas, and yordles (a race of short and sometimes furry humanoids). I've noticed there are also a few characters with Japanese names. Here they are:

Akali - Akali is one of the ninja characters. 明かり (Akari) is Japanese for "light" or "brightness." This may seem odd, as she is seemingly a character of darkness. Two of her abilities are Twilight Shroud, a smoke cloud which grants her invisibility, and Shadow Dance. Her name and nature fit, however. In the game's lore, Akali is a member of the Kinkou Order. In Japanese, 均衡 (Kinkou) means "balance" or "equilibrium." Thus Akali represents both darkness and light.

Kennen - This one I am a little unsure of. Kennen is another ninja (also a yordle) and is a member of the Kinkou Order with Akali. League reference sites (and a commenter here) I have read note that Kennen means "to be familiar with" in German and Dutch. However 懸念 (Kenen) means "worry" or "fear" in Japanese. And Kennen is a ninja, so I think his name could be of Japanese inspiration. Though the consensus is that his name is German, I'm not sure I get what the meaning would be there.

Nami - Nami, the Tidecaller, is one of League's water denizens. Inspired by the mermaid, she possesses the lower body of a fish, and her abilities are water-based. 波 (Nami) means"wave" in Japanese. You may recognize it as a component of 津波 (tsunami).

Soraka - One of League's healer characters, Soraka's lore states that she was once a celestial being who sacrificed her immortality to enter the world of mortals. That being the case, I suppose it makes sense that the first part of her name, Sora, means "sky" in Japanese. The character for "sky" (sora) is 空.
An anonymous commenter adds that "ka" is probably 下, which means "under" and can also be used to be "fall" or "descend." This makes a lot of sense, as she descended from the sky.

Yasuo - The quintessential samurai character, Yasuo is a master of the sword and the wind. He searches for the one who killed his master and framed him for it. Yasuo is a Japanese given name, with many different possible kanji expressions. According to League of Legends Wiki, his kani are 康夫. 「康」typically means "health" but can also indicate "peace." 「夫」means "husband" or "man." So perhaps they were going for "peaceful man."

There are a lot of reasons why I have enjoyed League of Legends so much - the solid gameplay, constant updates, amazing focus on the player community, the fact that it's free! Little tidbits of culture-influenced lore and nods to Japan are frosting.

Images Source: League of Legends


  1. "kennen" is indeed a German verb. I wouldn'T have expected it as a name though, so I would probably also have assumed that it were supposed to be Japanese when seeing it for the first time. :)
    Ich kenne Herrn Ueda. = I know Mr Ueda. ;)
    As for Soraka, I assume that ka refers to the character 下, so her full name would be 空下, representing her descending from the sky when she gave up her immortality.

    1. Hey Anon, good catch with 下 - that didn't even occur to me but makes total sense. =)

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