Millions of people around the world tuned in to see FunPlus Phoenix defeat G2 Esports in 3-0 at the 2019 League of Legends World Championships last weekend, but the real stars of this year’s premiere Esports tourney may have been a surprise musical group who performed during the event’s larger than life opening ceremony.
Calling themselves “True Damage,” the virtual hip-hop collective (who are all characters in the game) thrilled the sold-out crowd at Paris’ AccorHotels Arena with a visually and sonically dazzling debut of their single, “GIANTS,” an original track created especially for the event.
The group was based on characters in League of Legends and fronted by real-life artists Becky G, Keke Palmer, the Los Angeles-based rapper Duckwrth, Nigerian-American rapper Thutmose, and Soyeon, a rapper and singer from the K-pop group, (G)I-DLE, who also participated in last year’s championships as part of the one-off K-pop group, K/DA. The five artists performed on stage in an intricately choreographed production alongside holograms of their League of Legends alter egos. The in-game characters, who range from a street-smart assassin name Qiyana (voiced by Becky G) to the time-traveling Ekko (voiced by both Duckwrth and Thutmose) are all fictional LoL champions with original backstories dreamed up by the team at video game developer Riot Games.
True Damage debuted an original song “GIANTS,” composed by Kole Hicks and Harloe. The music video for “GIANTS” was released to coincide with the opening ceremony and has already amassed more than 16 million views online. The club-ready hip-hop track was also released to streaming outlets and is climbing up the digital charts (As of this writing the song has more than 6.4 million streams on Spotify and was included on this week’s New Music Friday Playlist).
True Damage’s debut follows the global success of last year’s K-pop inspired group, K/DA, which featured singers Madison Beer and Jaira Burns, along with I-dle members Miyeon and Soyeon. K/DA debuted their track, “Pop/Stars,” with an AR performance at last year’s League of Legends World Championships, and the song reached number 1 on Billboard’s World Digital Song Sales chart the following week.
As for True Damage, Riot Music Group head, Toa Dunn says he’s been excited to see the response to the group both from gaming fans and from music fans, which proves the two worlds are more connected than people might think. “I think the future looks bright for this young collective and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear more from them in the future,” says Dunn, who set the vision for the group and picked the artists involved. “As for next year? Anything is possible.”
We spoke to the artists behind True Damage to find out how this virtual group pull it all off in real life.
How did you get involved with this project?
Duckwrth: I am very much a big kid, so anything that has to do with animation, games and toys, I’m keen. When Riot Games reached out and said they wanted me to do a verse for their character Ekko, I picked my jaw up off the ground and casually responded with a “Sure, I’m down.”
Becky G: I was familiar with [the concept] because I had seen other artists participate in previous years, but I’m not a gamer, so I had no idea what I was stepping into. I have two younger brothers though — one is 18 and the other is 20 — and they’re pretty big on video games. I asked them if they knew what League of Legends was and they freaked out. It was almost like everything else I had done up to now was kind of cool but this was by far the coolest. So I knew I had to get involved.
Keke Palmer: I learned about it through my team. I’d heard of the game before, through friends and my little brother, but I never played. It was after I attended the [Riot] headquarters that I truly understood the vision. Gaming has been elevated so greatly over the years, and I wanted to be a part of the excitement.
What was it about the partnership that made you want to get involved?
Soyeon: After working on the K/DA Project last year, I’ve enjoyed playing LoL, so I was very honored to receive another offer from them.
Thutmose: I love the global culture League of Legends has built and I consider myself a global artist, so being a part of something this historic and revolutionary is irresistible. And the opportunity to voice Ekko was so cool — I would have never imagined being able to voice a video game character. Of course working with amazing artists like Becky G, Soyeon, Duckwrth, and Keke Palmer was so exciting for me as well.
Becky G: One of my brothers is autistic, and he found a safe space in this community of gaming and felt like he really belonged somewhere, so I knew I had to get involved.
What’s the main difference between writing or performing your own stuff versus being part of this project?
Thutmose: Honestly not too different. I was very precise on how I executed my lyrics and visuals to create a world for the listener [Thutmose was also part of the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack]. Of course, League of Legends takes it to a whole new level.
Duckwrth: Everything League of Legends does is big: huge production, huge team, lots of organization and doing the same thing over and over until it’s perfect. My team is humble right now. I typically travel with three band members and two or three crew members. So this League production definitely hits different. Funny enough, I just came off of a few arena dates with Billie Eilish, so 20,000-seated venues are no longer a foreign dream to me. But still, performing with a hologram version of yourself and your character definitely puts League of Legends on a level of their own.
Becky G: Where it doesn’t feel too foreign is that I am embodying a character, and for me, being an actress as well as a singer, I’m familiar with that. The main difference is that I’m singing a song as someone else, but in a weird way it still felt very on-brand for me because Qiyana is also a rapper and singer and she’s Latina like me.
Palmer: I had to kinda get into the world of this character [Senna, a woman who was cursed as a child and spent years in a lamp] as opposed to the song being fitted specifically around me, so that was a different experience. But it turned out well.
The response from both gaming fans and music fans has been huge. What do you think it is about this collection of artists that has been so powerful?
Palmer: I think True Damage is special because of the diversity and the different genres of music that we all do. We came together to perform this original song, having never met and that to me is pretty dope.
Becky G: In the Latin community, we’re so big on collaborations and it’s so cool to experience that in this realm. There’s Korean rap, a little bit of Spanish, English. I also love that my character Qiyana just a badass girl who’s really empowered and creating her own story. She comes from a lot of exitas as you would say in Spanish and she has that pressure to succeed, but she’s showing that you’re so much more than where you come from; taking that agency and saying, “No, this is who I am.”
Thutmose: I love how passionate the entire team is. I bring passion to everything I do, so to work with similar minds is just the greatest feeling.
Palmer: This is the Super Bowl of gaming; this is the future. I’m just glad to be a part of it all.