The devil is real, and his name is Teemo. You’ll know him by the trail of poisonous mushrooms he leaves in his wake.
You know what I’m talking about, right? These mushrooms:
League of Legends developer Riot published an interview today between Jeff Jew, Colt Hallam, and Brandon Beck—a designer, producer, and CEO at the company, respectively—about the most iconic and insufferable character in their rockstar multiplayer game. The piece is packed with juicy nuggets that anyone who’s squared off against this lovable, detestable poison-wielding fur monster will appreciate. Such as, how they first created Teemo after realizing their new game needed some cute characters to help freshen things up:
BRANDON BECK: Teemo comes from an earlier time, really. It was the wild west back then — we were all over the place with ideation; the League Universe was just starting to come together. Yordles emerged as a result of Teemo and became a bucket for champs not originally conceived as such, like Amumu. You could say Teemo made that all possible.
JEFF JEW: We knew we wanted a diverse cast of characters, with everything from terrifying evil badasses to cute little guys you could root for. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of moogles, ewoks, and things like that, so I was really interested in developing some small but mighty champions that could embody the inspirational / underdog end of the champion spectrum. After Teemo and Amumu, we began designing more tiny, intrepid characters like Corki and Tristana, and they all ended up coalescing as this group that brought a really fun, plucky personality to the champion roster.
So the entire species of “Yordles” came to be thanks to Teemo. And cute, obnoxious characters more generally. Should I say thanks?
Teemo’s specific look was drawn in part from real-life Boy Scout iconography:
JEFF JEW: I love Teemo’s look, I really do. It’s a pretty timeless take on League’s style, with a great niche on the more light-hearted end of the spectrum. There’s a reason he’s a lot of players’ first favorite. The funny thing is that his look contrasts so much with his gameplay identity — you see this cute little guy and don’t realize he’s a huge asshole until you see him work his magic in game.
COLT HALLAM: Based on his look we pretty quickly pegged him for a cute scout identity in-game. I actually have a real-life Eagle Scout and Scoutmaster buddy, so I drew a lot of inspiration from him.
JEFF JEW: We’d ended up with a couple of these similarly small and cute characters, and decided since they were all such good buds they might as well be the same race. We started theorycrafting (they can’t lie, they love hats, that kind of thing), but actually didn’t have a name yet. Then Paul “Pabro” Bellezza showed up one day and was like “Jeff, I’VE GOT IT.” Apparently, the night before he’d had a dream about Yoda and Yaddle from Star Wars, and woke up saying “Yordles.”
At one point, Teemo actually had the power to launch nuclear missiles—which came complete with a StarCraft reference:
BRANDON BECK: I definitely recall my first time seeing this little scout-looking dude with a frakkin’ blow gun, and immediately seeing something trolly about what he’d represent in game. It’s no surprise he became the annoying little shit he did.
JEFF JEW: We knew we wanted him to be fast. Like, in a world of Garens and Katarinas, how does this little guy fight you? He’s not gonna overpower you — he’s gonna be fast, use his blowgun to blind you, and wear you down. It really started to come together once we hit on the mushroom idea. His personality started to really emerge and he changed from a guy who just kited you to a mischievous shit who could lock down whole areas and really piss off the entire enemy team.
We had some interesting steps along the way. I shit you not, he used to shoot a nuke. We’ve always loved making homages to our favorite games, and this was pretty much NUCLEAR LAUNCH DETECTED, complete with laser targeting from stealth. While it was certainly cool, we eventually came to our senses and saw that it wasn’t super interactive and didn’t really fit with the flavor and pace we were going for.
Interestingly, the developers describe how they originally tried to make Teemo more of proper scout character—one who could literally scout ahead into unknown territory for the rest of his team. But since Teemo is so squishy (i.e., low on health and armor and therefore easy to kill), they had to start giving him more killing power:
COLT HALLAM: This was way before we’d solidified champs into roles like ADC and Mage, so we were just looking for unique play patterns. We started developing Teemo as this guy who would go out scouting and lead the way for his teammates. His original passive was “Pathfinder” or “Leading the Way” or something like that — basically he left a trail behind him that temporarily granted vision and made allies faster. Two pretty funny things about that though. One, Teemo is, of course, squishy as **** so pathfinding tended to get him obliterated, and two, our tools weren’t great. The ability worked by leaving — you guessed it — an invisible minion every 100 units. Of course, it didn’t take too long for that to create MASSIVE slowdown.
The nuke was actually our second ult idea. The first one, while smaller in scope, was a true terror. Basically, it was a beefed-up poison dart that whacked you with a super strong DoT and put you to sleep for six seconds. Originally the target would wake on damage, but we switched it to invulnerability after a bit. It also burned mana, and a flat rate at that, so it would basically leave non-mages completely dry. Bruiser hell, I tell you. That obviously didn’t last too long, nor did the nuke, and after those we settled on the idea of him setting traps to fit his whole scout thing.
After realizing that giving Teemo a ridiculously OP poisoned dart or some nuclear launch codes were both bad ideas, they settled on having him use poison mushrooms to annoy the fuck out of everybody:
COLT HALLAM: We were close to lock on Teemo and I was banging my head against a wall trying to figure out how to make landmines work, since they easily can be pretty dang toxic. Eventually, we settled on making it a DoT effect. At that point we didn’t have any visual resources, though, and I had no idea what we were gonna do. One morning, I was just zoning out, staring at Summoner’s Rift, at nothing in particular, when I saw something. There, in the jungle somewhere, was a tiny little mushroom. I ran over to the artists, asked them frantically if they could cut it out from the map, yelled ‘ENHANCE’ and all that… It was perfect. Exploding mushroom = poison DoT. It happened to spin, but we just said hey, it’ll read better. I actually don’t think we ever figured out why they spin.
So obviously, that’s what we ended up shipping with, though he still had a couple post-launch changes. We gave him the badger dance at some point, and his stealth / speed aspects eventually got updated a bit. I never got to make the most important change though — Badger Teemo already has mushrooms, but I meant to get his dart changed to a snake and complete the homage.
I like the idea that the developers at Riot came up with Teemo’s poison mushroom traps by staring at the virtual ground in their own game. Like he was staring at the ground and thinking: “How can I make people fear for their lives every time they walk over this?” And then it hit him: make the ground deal damage too!
And at that moment, evil awoke.
Read the whole interview here.