Reaching new heights with “STAR WALKIN'”: Behind the scenes of Riot and Lil Nas X’s collaboration

The road to STAR WALKIN'.

On Sept. 15, Lil Nas X took over Riot Games and the League of Legends community as their self-elected “president” through a series of gold-filled comedic skits. When Nas visited Riots headquarters to film the three sketches as part of the pretend takeover, he had everyone on set laughing between takes. Whenever there was a break in filming these sketches, the global pop artist would ride his bike over to the LCS studios and become engrossed in the matches to the point where Riots producers had to pull him back to set to film again.

But his fictitious presidency and frequent bike rides were just the beginning of a collaboration that would reach new heights on both sides. 

Ultimately, the union between Nas and Riot yielded the first World Championship pop anthem STAR WALKIN’, a prestige skin for Leagues newest champion, and an opening ceremony of which Nas would be the kingand the artist was committed to this collaboration from the very beginning. Throughout the collaboration, he funneled his interest in the game into an unwavering heads-down approach in the studio by going above and beyond, according to Bob DeBelina, artist and creative partnerships manager at Riot Games Music.

Perfectionist doesn’t even begin to describe his work ethic, DeBelina said when sharing the experience of working with Nas, who he also described as one of the most involved artists Riot has ever worked with. 

Nas perfectionist attitude was noticed at different times and especially during key moments of the collaboration process. In the early stages of the partnership, the air conditioning in the artists room went out during one of the meetings between the parties involved. But while his team was trying to end the call to avoid melting, according to DeBelina, Nas kept inquiring about K’Sante, the champion he helped design a skin for, and his lore. And when it came time to record STAR WALKIN’, Nas was in the studio almost every day working on the song, an impressive feat considering the artists busy schedule.

Nonetheless, his team was unwavering in its commitment to helping Riot find enough days in Nas calendar for the collaboration. 

We needed to coordinate a massive cross-team effort inside of Riot to ensure we could fully support each moment of the campaign, DeBelina said, highlighting how the actual steps of the collaboration, including countless meetings, were made possible thanks to the shared belief in the vision between Riot, Columbia Records, and Rebel, Nas’ management team.

Riot was very excited to work alongside a pop star on the scale of Lil Nas X. The developer had been actively looking for a way to involve the artist in one of its projects since 2019and the 2022 World Championship was the perfect fit.

This years theme for the international competition is One & Only, and to better compliment the originality of the event, Riot wanted an artist who operated on a singular and elite level, similar to the players on stage. The songs genre also brings this distinctive trait to life; historically, Riot is more oriented toward an alternative ballad or an electronic-influence anthem instead of a pop one. 

[This year] was the first year where the anthem started with a chorus instead of the verse and definitely the first year we’ve ever had a drill beat on the verses, DeBelina said. Riot wanted to take a different approach and evolve Worlds, while still retaining the usual inspirational message of being an underdog, believing in yourself, and defeating your enemies. 

No matter the genre of the song, the lyrics, or the artist involved, the World Championship anthem has to match the tone of the competition, which Riot described as inspirational, aspirational, and bold. 

According to public sentiment, however, this goal was not achieved with the 2022 Worlds anthem. Prominent members of the League community agreed with the stance, believing the song was “all build up and no climax,” as described by LEC caster Aaron “Medic” Chamberlain. Every year, the comparison between anthems is unavoidable, and this years reaction didnt come as a surprise to Riot. 

All of the reactions, discussion, and comments were not surprising given Lil Nas X’s history with breaking tradition and sparking conversation, DeBelina said. Billboard took Old Town Road off the country charts, but that song went on to become a No.1 smash hit. For us, there was no better artist to evolve Worlds with than Lil Nas X. It was a tremendous privilege to be able to approach an artist whose first three singles have over 1.3 billion plays on Spotify and get his take on a Worlds anthem.

The collaboration between Riot and Nas didn’t extinguish with the release of the song. In fact, it still has to reach its peak at the live performance during the opening ceremony of the 2022 World Championship final in San Francisco on Nov. 5.

While the secretive veil on the performance still stands, its safe to say League fans can expect Riot and Nas to go above and beyond the expectations set by their previous performance.

After all, theyre headed to the stars.

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