'League of Legends': The Tragic Rebirth of Annie

A painterly reimagining of Annie as explained by the developers

'League of Legends': The Tragic Rebirth of Annie

The story, never seen before, seems to swirl to life in a tapestry of thick paint. It’s about a friendship between a little girl and her teddy bear. It’s about a girl who’s lost her mother, who maybe worries she’s losing her father. It’s about a girl who finds in herself a tremendous, an awful power that takes almost everything away from her.

It’s about a girl. And that’s the point.

Before recasting the story of League of Legend’s Annie, she was almost more sidekick than hero, the “dark child”, a controlling evil that often took a backseat to her demonic shadow bear Tibbers, which occasionally took the form of a stuffed animal. This reimagined story was meant not to just rework Annie’s origin story, but to refocus that story on Annie, empowering her to be the one in charge and the one to fear, not Tibbers.

If you haven't watched the new lore video, you may want to stop reading here until you do.

Annie’s original story has her parents, both powerful leaders of the Gray Order, leaving the city of Noxus to seek privacy in the Voodoo Lands. It’s there that Annie is born. At the age of two, according to the original story. Annie captures a powerful shadow bear and turns it into her pet. Nothing in that story, though, explains why this little girl seems so malicious, why she is on her own in this tournament of legends.

The new lore, recasts most of that to address those issues. While Annie’s parents still flee Noxus into the forest land and have Annie, everything after that changes. “The fact that she captures a shadow demon and puts it in Tibbers, that’s not true anymore,” says Riot Games’ Anthony Possobon, creative director for the lore video.

In the new story, Annie becomes sick and her father goes out to seek a cure for her. When he returns, he discovers Annie’s mother, his wife, missing, never returned from a trip to fetch water. Years pass and Annie’s father eventually accepts his wife’s death, returns to the city and falls in love with another woman. That new woman returns to their home in the woods and brings her daughter with her. Now Annie has a sister and a new mom and she doesn’t seem to happy about it.

“Annie’s mother is magically empowered,” Possobon says. “She’s the only one out of the entire [family] to have magic and that’s the catalyst. No one knows how to raise Annie, a powerful, destructive mage, even the father. To him, Annie is just this sweet little girl.”

While Annie has great power, she doesn’t quite realize it, instead of using her power willfully, she expresses it through her stuffed bear Tibbers, the last thing she has to remind her of her mother. “Annie is the powerful one,” Possobon says. “She is the one holding all of the cards.”

It’s during her father’s trip away that Annie brings Tibbers to life, in her own way. “Her mother is gone and Annie is left to own devices for a long time,” Possobon says. “Now Annie is by herself with destructive power and no one to play with and her being a child, her imagination comes over here. She has to entertain herself and she has a lot of imaginary friends. Tibbers is one. This teddy bear is one of her favorites.”

With the father now home with new wife and new daughter, Annie seems conflicted. She still misses her mother and sees the new woman and new girl as interlopers, women vying for the same love and affection from her father. And she has inside her this terrible power, which she has no control over and which only comes to life when she’s emotional. It’s in this powder-keg that the new lore video takes place.

That first moment of power, burning her new sister’s hand, is an accident, Possobon says. “It’s unintentional. Her emotions are strong and she’s growing into her power. She knows she can manipulate fire. But it was accidental. In the heat of the moment. Whenever she is in emotional distress she naturally funnels her magic into Tibbers.”

So she burns her sister’s hand. But things get better and Annie becomes closer to the girl, the two become friends. Then one day, Annie is thrust again into a defining moment. Her sister’s life balances on the edge of slippery rocks, the only thing preventing her death, the threadbare stuffed body of Tibbers. And in the moment, she again burns her sister’s hand, but this time it results in her death.

Later, when she hears her new mother calling her evil to her father, her worst fears are confirmed and in a blaze of emotion she accidentally sets the home on fire, leading to the death of her father and the mental collapse of her new mother.

“The mother is in shambles, she’s lost everything,” Possobon says. “She’s lost her biological daughter, lost her newfound husband and home, she has nothing. By the end of the video she stands up to punish Annie, she believes Annie is to blame for everything. She goes to hit her, to punish her, but realizes the best way to punish Annie is to take everything away from her. And the one thing she has from her mom is Tibbers, so she takes it to destroy. Annie tries to stop her, she can’t bare to be without the memory of her mother.”

In the video we don’t see exactly happens, but Possobon says that’s the moment when Annie essentially brings Tibbers to life and it’s Tibbers who deals with Annie’s step-mom. “Annie wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen,” he says. “She didn’t understand when she was creating tibbers. But this was the first moment where she fought back. That energy, that emotion, that desire to have something in her life that isn’t there, to have someone not as close to her as she was hoping to try and take that away. This is the first time we see the Annie in the game, the Annie who stands up for herself.”

Possobon describes Tibber and Annie’s relationship as one close to the sort a child has with an imaginary friend. But it’s not exactly the relationship you see in the game, nor is Annie the final Annie you see in the game. There’s still more of her story to tell, Possobon says. “She isn’t who she is in the game, who she becomes,” he says. “She still has to accept her past, to become confident, capable. That is the Annie we see in game.”

The team at Riot aren’t sure yet when we’ll see the rest of Annie’s story or how that story will be told. They haven’t planned it out yet. “We do need to have that journey before we see the true Annie,” Possobon says. “I like to think of this video as the ‘Batman Begins,’ before she becomes Batman. We’re showing her trauma with this.”

While this lore update doesn’t bring with it any changes to her in-game abilities or look, Possobon says the team may revisit how she looks after they tell the second part of her story.

The decision to give Annie this particularly tragic backstory was driven by a need to explain why she behaves the way she does in combat. “Annie has a dark sense of humor, almost like a child you want to love, but weilding a grenade,” Possobon says. “She’ll burn a person and laugh while doing so. Because of that we wanted to find a human behavior that would support that.”

Ultimately, they settled on trauma created by personal tragedy and her attitude and actions being a coping mechanism. She’s not evil, Possobon adds, “I think she comes from a background that is really difficult to swallow as a child. I’d prefer to call her our dark heroine.”