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Creating a Legend: How Respawn delivers diverse representation in Apex Legends

Hello! Eurogamer is once again marking Pride with another week of features celebrating the intersection of LGBTQIA+ culture and gaming in all its guises. And if you’re only just joining us, you can see everything you’ve missed so far this week (and over the last five years, in fact) on our brand-new Pride Week hub. Today, though, Eurogamer’s Ed Nightingale chats to developer Respawn Entertainment about delivering diverse representation in Apex Legends.

The online hero shooter is a well-established genre these days, but Respawn’s Apex Legends has proven particularly popular, in part thanks to the diversity of its character roster.

Since its launch five years ago, Respawn has continued to add new Legends from all across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, most recently introducing asexual Legend Alter. But how are these Legends created? How does Respawn ensure its representation is authentic, and why is that important? I spoke with narrative lead Ashley Reed and Alter writer Jaclyn Seto to find out more.


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Eurogamer: I’m going to start with the really big but really obvious question: why is it important for players to feel seen through strong representation in the Legends roster?

Ashley Reed: Gosh, that is a big question! There are a thousand very good reasons for that. It’s important to me that people feel seen. I know what it’s like, to a degree, to really enjoy a space, a medium, and feel like you’re not seen as part of that even though you’re right there. Feeling disregarded, feeling pushed away, is a bad feeling, especially when you want to engage with that thing because you love it.

It’s also great for us to build that community, to have a larger player base of different people with different experiences. You get a much more vibrant community. And I like being nice to people! I want people to feel like this is their space, because why shouldn’t it be?

EG: Going back to the first roster of Apex Legends, how did you ensure there was diversity and strong representation from the start?

AR: This will be hearsay, because I showed up around the time Crypto was shipping. My understanding is that there was a lot of focus on: we have a wide varied world, and we wanted to represent that, and we wanted to represent the people we know. We don’t know just one kind of person, we know lots of people. So we wanted to represent that in the game. It was a bit of a fly-by-night, because it was the first time we really engaged with ‘Okay, we want a big diverse cast and we want that to be a defining pillar of the project, because this game is going to be about the characters’. If you were going to do an ensemble cast, then the focus is going to be on making those characters very interesting and unique and having them stand out.

The original version, as I understand it, was a lot of speaking with developers who were either part of a group or were intimate friends or relatives with someone who was part of a group and we could bring them in for consultation. That was the very early stages of what we do now, which is more defined ideation, engagement with staff, then actual official consultation work.

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Catalyst in Apex Legends
Catalyst from Apex Legends | Image credit: Respawn

EG: How important is representation when you are creating new characters?

AR: We don’t open with what box haven’t we checked yet, because we don’t feel like that’s an authentic way to design – it feels very obligatory and that’s not really what we want to do. We want to create these characters, because we’re passionate about them and we’re passionate about exploring these identities.

We start with the kit, because ultimately Apex is a design-first game. We want to make sure everything flows naturally together and it all feels cohesive, characters are fun to play, they’re fun to play against. So that has to come first before anything else. And then art, design, narrative, and animation will get together and we’ll look at what kind of person would do this kind of thing. Who would base their survival on doing this? And as we build that out, we think, how do we feel about filling in the gaps with this character? First we come up with the personality and then we need to develop the character’s backstory. So about then is when we start to look at what’s something we want to do? What are we interested in? What do we feel is missing? When we worked on Catalyst, we’d actually talked about doing a trans woman character for a long time. There was actually a trans woman working on her in the very, early stages, who actually suggested the techno witch idea that brought it all together and that fits really well with a trans identity.

“We want to create these characters, because we’re passionate about them and we’re passionate about exploring these identities.”

EG: Once you’ve decided on the background of the character, how do you ensure that representation is authentic?

AR: Once we’re pretty sure this is the direction we want to go, in the very early stages we still do something similar to what we did with the original characters, where we start engaging people from the dev team. We want to make sure we’re on the right track, this is the right direction for this character, we’re not tripping into any horrible stereotypes, this doesn’t feel weird or inauthentic. Especially if the character is going to speak another language, we will bring in folks who speak that language. Then as we start writing the lines, we’ll bring in authenticity readers to check our work, to make sure we’re not running into anything we don’t intend. Then we take that on board and adjust accordingly. By the time the character comes out, it’s gone through roughly three different levels. I would say the initial person who was interested in creating that character – not always, but will usually in my experience – have some kind of connection to that identity. It’s something they’re interested in and want to explore. Then we have the internal level, and then we have the external level.

EG: The latest Legend is Alter who is asexual. Why was that particular representation important for this character?

Jaclyn Seto: The truth is, I’d wanted to write an ace character for a while, but you have to go in with an open mind when it comes to making a Legend so that the character can become who they need to be without the pressure of fitting into pre-established ideas. As Alter’s personality and backstory came together, I began to think about her relationships and desires. Was there a kind of love or intimacy that she wanted? And if there was, what kind was it? Ultimately, in answering those questions, asexuality felt right for her as a character. I was fortunate that it came to be very organically. In terms of representation, we always hope people find something in our characters that makes them feel seen. If Alter’s addition to the cast reaches more people in that way, then we’re very happy about that! Our Legends can be a bit eccentric, but at the heart of things, we strive to make them feel reflective of the world we live in.


Apex Legends Loba aims a gun at the camera
Loba from Apex Legends | Image credit: EA

EG: Do you think diverse representation has had a positive impact and led to the success of the game? Do you think there’s a direct correlation?

AR: I hope so. It’s hard to say 100 percent for sure. But anecdotally, from what I’ve seen from the community, we’ve seen a lot of really positive feedback from people like, ‘This is the first time I’ve seen a character like this, I feel very appreciated by the Apex team, I feel like because they’re here, I can be here’. And that’s exactly what we’re going for. That’s what we want. We want people to feel like they’re not the first one in the room, the character is the first one in the room.

EG: How does it make you feel as writers to receive positive comments like that from players?

AR: Happy but relieved! A Legend is probably one of our heaviest lifts in terms of features, they take about a year to make start to finish. When you are locked in a project that only people internally, and a few select external folks can see, you get to a point where you’re iterating and iterating and iterating. And it’s like saying a word too many times, it doesn’t sound like a word anymore. So then you launch it and people love it. It’s really amazing when those comments roll in. I was recently in Japan for Asia Fest and there were some amazing cosplayers there. Vantage is not my character, but a Vantage cosplayer came up to me and there was a bit of a language barrier, but she was able to tell me ‘I love Vantage’, and just the the pure emotion, the actual true love for this character, it was like she punched me. So for a character that I didn’t even personally create, but knowing that this game made that available to this person to connect with this character, it was just so meaningful to me.

Apex Legends: Altered Horizons trailer.Watch on YouTube

EG: Do you think having such diverse characters has contributed to less harassment in the game for LGBTQIA+ players?

AR: I hope so. I think the reality is it sets Apex up to at least be a little bit better than it otherwise would be. There are still a lot of measures that need to be taken, it can’t just be we have some diverse characters, and our job is done here. But if for whatever reason, being around people who are different than you is completely intolerable, then you’re not going to like it here and you should go somewhere else. This is not the spot for you. And if you want to be in a place with a lot of different kinds of people and want to feel represented by somebody in this big diverse cast, you are welcome here. Don’t let anyone tell you differently because they’re wrong.

“If you want to be in a place with a lot of different kinds of people and want to feel represented by somebody in this big diverse cast, you are welcome here. Don’t let anyone tell you differently because they’re wrong.”

EG: There’s a lot of wider discourse at the moment about forced diversity in games and “wokeness”, particularly through diversity consultants. What would you say to anybody who may accuse Apex of being “woke”?

AR: Where have you been? We’ve been doing that since the beginning. It’s been five years! But also, this is interesting! Why do we want our games to be more boring, less colourful, less meaningful, less useful to fewer people? I don’t get it. The alternative is just, everyone’s the same? It doesn’t seem interesting to me. I would be bored out of my skull, if I just did the same character over and over and over again.

EG: Are there any other areas of representation that you would love to include in the game? Have you considered more disability representation?

AR: Yeah, that is something we thought about a few times. We briefly looked into what if a Legend was blind? But we found there were barriers within the game that made that difficult to represent effectively. But it’s something we think about, we’re always thinking about what’s the next thing we can do? What’s interesting to us? We thought about a deaf Legend as well, we’re still toying with some of those ideas.

There’s a very big world out there with a lot of different countries, and we have just scratched the surface of including people from all of them. There are character prototypes with certain nationalities attached since launch that we’ve wanted to do. We just have to find resources. If we could just vomit all of these characters out into the game like ‘go!’ we would do that. But it takes time and resources are finite. But there are more and more characters from more and more parts of the world we’d want to include. That’s the dream.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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