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Seraphine, a girl drawn in real-world settings, blows her pink hair off of her face Image: Riot Games

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Riot on how League of Legends’ latest character may have gotten a little too real

Once Seraphine started voicing her anxieties, things took a turn for the weird

Julia Lee (she/her) is a guides producer, writing guides for games like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Genshin Impact. She helped launch the Rift Herald in 2016.

Seraphine, League of Legends’ newest character, is a glitter bomb of fame and success within the game. But Riot went so far as to create real-life social media accounts for her character, and in those, Seraphine is a bedroom producer who lives in our world. She has a cat named Bao, she likes to do face masks, and she is a fan of K/DA. She is a café worker who wants to pursue music. Her Twitter became a venue for telling her backstory. One day she posts a cover of K/DA’s “Pop/Stars” and gets “noticed” by the group; the next thing you know, she’s flying out to help record with the group.

In the lead-up to Seraphine’s release, it all seemed like a fairly obvious promotion for Riot’s upcoming champion and skins, but things took a turn for the weird when Seraphine began to tweet about her anxieties. She suffered from imposter syndrome now that she was performing with K/DA, and she asked fans to send her encouraging messages — which she later pinned to a corkboard.

In the replies to the initial request for encouragement, there was tons of disdain among the kind messages. “This is frankly fucking disgusting,” one read. “Hey, this is fucked up using mental health struggles and crises as a marketing ploy,” another read. Any user who replied with encouragement was also met with another reply noting that Seraphine wasn’t real.

“Something about a marketing account using self-doubt & mental health to come across as relatable is Sadge capitalism,” said Golden Guardians Academy head coach Barento Mohammed on Twitter.

While there were fans who still found solace in Seraphine, who related to her tweets, and enjoyed what she represented, others found her anxieties upsetting, especially in our current gloomy COVID era. She’s not a real person, and she shouldn’t be coercing people into feeling close to her using mental illness when she is a social marketing campaign for a video game character.

Some people compared Seraphine to Miquela Sousa, the fictional CGI influencer, since she was creating relationships with others, all while not being real. Her anxiety-posting was a startling reminder that brands and the characters used to promote them are not our friends.

While K/DA’s campaign was run by creative director Patrick Morales, all of Seraphine’s tweets were written by Bethany Higa. Higa used her own experiences to craft Seraphine’s story, making them relatable. But maybe a bit too relatable.

“Honestly, I wrote a lot of that story based on my own experience, as a young woman coming to Riot. It’s like one of my first jobs after college. I personally experienced self-doubt. I personally experienced imposter syndrome and all those things,” Higa said. “The intention behind the story was to show that sense of hope, that sense of persistence, and show her growing in confidence and overcoming those struggles and those fears that she might have.”

That isn’t to say that Riot Games is unwilling to admit the mistakes made with Seraphine’s later posts.

“I’m personally proud of the people on our team, like [Higa] who put very intimate parts of themselves into the character, but we also recognize that the story we chose had an unintended impact outside of the narrative that we were trying to tell,” Morales said. “Right now, what I could say is that we’re conscientious about how she engages her followers, as well as topics that may potentially hurt or mislead people.”

We don’t know what’s next for Seraphine or what Riot Games has planned for future champion promotions, but hopefully it won’t involve making a fake social media influencer and giving them relatable mental illness.