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League of Legends' Spirit Blossom Festival is so good it puts other seasonal events to shame

League of Legends' seasonal events are typically so dull you might not even know when one is happening. For the past few years, they've mostly been flimsy vessels to hype up the launch of new sets of cosmetic skins for champions. Each one is always the same: Complete generic quests, earn currency, and spend it on various limited-time goodies. At best, they're forgettable. At worst, they're annoying grinds that punish you for not logging in each day. But earlier this week, Riot launched a new format for seasonal events with its Spirit Blossom Festival. It's one part visual novel, one part social sim, and it's so damn good that it puts other seasonal events to shame.

The Spirit Blossom Festival is still fundamentally a way to entice players to log in by dangling cosmetics, like the excellent new line of Spirit Blossom champion skins, on a string. But the whole thing is packaged up in a compelling minigame where players mysteriously wind up in the gorgeous and whimsical spirit realm and have to find their way out.

Riot is firing on all cylinders, and I'm more excited about League of Legends than I have been for a long time.

To do that, they must meet and befriend spirit versions of notable League of Legends champions such as Yasuo, Ahri, and Teemo. The entire thing is built into League of Legends' main client, with a special menu screen where players can talk to these different champs and unearth more of their stories while unraveling the mystery of why we're in the spirit realm to begin with. Riot's stunning artwork especially helps it feel special. The whole minigame is beautiful, particularly the character designs, and there's even new music tracks that accompany dialogue segments.

The whole thing feels like a surprisingly fleshed out social sim. Each champion has their own story to tell, and during conversations I can respond by selecting one of a few different branching dialogue choices. It's not some sprawling narrative like you'd see in Mass Effect, where choices matter, but it is a lot of fun to interact with these characters and learn more about them.

Take Kindred, for example. She's actually two separate spirits and one of League's coolest champions. One side of her duality is Lamb, a playful, gentle spirit that guides souls to the afterlife. Those who try to escape her, however, have to deal with Wolf, who loves to hunt down and devour people. All of this lore has been around in League for ages, but none of it was ever presented directly in the game (or client) before.We had to read about it on Riot's special lore website, instead. But the Spirit Blossom Festival finally lets us experience it.

Each of the ten champions has their own Spirit Bond, which represents how friendly I am with them. By performing certain tasks while playing Teamfight Tactics or League of Legends, that Spirit Bond will steadily increase and earn me new rewards at different milestones along with a bunch of new dialogue that reveals more about that character. Yasuo's Spirit Bond, as an example, increases when I score major kill streaks or play games as Yasuo or if I activate the Rebel trait bonus in Teamfight Tactics. Meanwhile, Ahri's Spirit Bond increases if I avoid dying or play as Ahri in LoL, or build up a 3-star Ahri in TFT. 

My only real gripe with this system is that because each champion's story is chopped up and locked behind Spirit Bond levels, they often feel a little disjointed. I'll unlock a new chapter of Kindred's story after I've forgotten where the last one left off, for example, and with 10 champions to befriend it's easy to get lost. Because the writing doesn't take itself too seriously—there is a ton of joke dialogue choices and fan service—it doesn't feel frustrating, but I do wish it were more cohesive.

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(Image credit: Riot Games)
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(Image credit: Riot Games)
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(Image credit: Riot Games)
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(Image credit: Riot Games)

In previous seasonal events, how you earned rewards was dull. You'd earn a currency that you'd spend on different items from a special shop and maybe a profile portrait or special banner. Spirit Blossom does a great job of structuring these rewards to be more satisfying. Each Spirit Bond level earns me currency, but at certain milestones I'll also earn that champion (if I don't already own them), a unique portrait of them in their nifty Spirit Blossom outfit, and, eventually, a special emote of them I can spam in game. All of this feeds into the overarching story, so as I befriend characters and level up our relationships, I'll also work toward escaping the spirit realm. Though Riot Games hasn't explicitly stated how the story will end, it did tease that there might be something special when the event ends on August 24.

Though LoL and TFT have sometimes shared quests in the past, this is also the first time the two games have felt this connected with one another. It's awesome. I love being able to play a few games of League in the evening before watching TV and playing TFT on my phone, contributing to my Spirit Bonds the whole time. And while a $20 event pass will earn you extra rewards and make the grind a little faster, it's completely optional.

It's also wild to see Riot support the Spirit Blossom Festival with two new champion reveals. Just today, Yone was unveiled with a whopping 10-minute-long cinematic that explores his backstory with his brother Yasuo. This, too, reinforces the aesthetic and themes of the Spirit Blossom Festival, as Yone was dead and trapped in the spirit realm until just recently.

As far as seasonal events go, Riot is firing on all cylinders, and I'm more excited about League of Legends than I have been for a long time. Chipping away at Spirit Bonds and having conversations with League champions is a much more engaging way to earn rewards, and the amount of visual splendor packed into what is effectively a minigame that ends in a month makes the whole event feel like something I don't want to miss out on. 

Toss in two new champions, lengthy cinematics, and even the return of the Nexus Blitz gamemode but with a special Spirit Blossom twist, and I'm a bit gobsmacked at how thorough and impressive this event is. At the beginning of the year, Riot said it wanted to improve its seasonal events to make them more unique and fun. If this is what we can expect going forward, League of Legends has a great year ahead.

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.