If you recall from a few months back, we covered gender equality in League of Legends. The general outcome of that column was that women are under-represented in the tank and melee fighter roles and are very over-represented in the support role. Furthermore, women are heavily objectified in LoL, and there’s really no dispute over that. Some girls in the League stroll into combat with little more than underwear and a smile, and most of them wear some kind of overly sexualized outfit.
However, one woman fights against the tide. She wears her conservative armor proudly and fights in a rather unladylike manner. She doesn’t utter seductive remarks while she runs around the map in high heels. Everything about her is direct, practical, and in-your-face. She’s Poppy, and she’s my favorite character in League of Legends.
Awesome doesn’t have to be sexy
Poppy is one of three yordle females in the game. Unlike Lulu and Tristana, Poppy does not speak in a cute, childish voice, nor does she carry a sultry tone like Ahri or even Shyvana (who is otherwise a pretty tomboyish lady). “Fighting is serious business,” she says when directed to attack an enemy. Her voice is strong and a bit harsh — a stark contrast from Lulu’s “Yep, that tasted purple!” Of all the female characters in the game, Poppy is a strong contender for the most serious. When given the joke command, she exclaims, “Jokes? I don’t know any jokes.”
Her appearance is also striking. Poppy is a yordle, and therefore she’s built more like a fantasy gnome or halfling. She wears a suit of heavy armor. Unlike Leona, whose armor tastefully shows her curves, Poppy’s armor has a large chestplate, huge pauldrons, and even a codpiece. Her entire armor design could easily be worn by a male yordle without getting any funny looks.
Poppy’s weapon of choice is especially masculine as well. Unlike the other girls, who use magic weapons, guns or swords, Poppy wields a massive warhammer. Poppy’s hammer would look big if it were wielded by a human-sized character, but because it’s wielded by her, it looks especially terrifying. It’s anything but a girl’s weapon, and when Poppy uses it, it commands respect. She does not stumble over her hammer while she’s fighting. She hits you with it — twice. Why only twice? The simple answer: You’re already dead on the second hit. How many times does Riven need to hit her opponent to end a fight?
Poppy’s hairstyle is probably the most contentious element of her design, as her twin pigtails scream for a Lolita-style design instead of a dominant slayer of enemy champions. However, I’m willing to excuse them mostly because we wouldn’t even know Poppy was a girl by looking at her otherwise. The pigtails are a way of saying that, at a glance, Poppy is indeed a female and not a feminine guy (see: Ezreal).
Function matches form, and that means awesome too
League of Legends is an interesting game because, for the most part, a champion looks the same as she plays. Ahri looks, sounds, and acts like a devious and sultry temptress. When you play Ahri, she charms her foes and is tricky and evasive. She can chase after enemies if she wants to finish them off or escape if she needs to play hard-to-get. It’s rare that gameplay doesn’t match a champion’s overall feel, and when it doesn’t, it’s usually because the dissonance between function and form is actually what the devs intended for the character.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that Poppy is a complete monster in battle. Nothing about Poppy is subtle. Her basic gameplay is to charge into the fray, slam someone against the wall, and pound on him until he’s mush. Poppy doesn’t have any kind of ranged harassment or support abilities. Her kit is all about getting into battle, killing people, and living through people trying to kill her. She does have a stun, but it’s situational, and landing the stun inevitably means Poppy is right next to her target and hitting him. It’s more to help her kill people and not so much for helping others kill people. In fact, because her stun pushes her target, it can push her foe away from her allies if aimed improperly.
Poppy is a character who lacks finesse, for the most part. Playing Poppy is a simple matter of lining up a charge and going in hard. There is a bit of finesse in charging people so that they move in the right direction and hit walls, but there are many times when your only goal is to get the damage from the charge and get in close. Sometimes those two hits are all you need. The rest of her kit is extremely direct; Devastating Blow powers up her next attack, and Paragon of Demacia boosts her damage, movespeed, and armor. She doesn’t have a dash (other than her charge, which allows her to travel only to enemies), and she doesn’t have any “active defense” ways of avoiding damage, like Fiora’s parry. Poppy can’t get out of trouble. She can only get into trouble.
Of course, a character who can only commit to fights needs a pretty good way to win them. Poppy’s Paragon of Demacia helps a bit by adding armor and increasing her movement speed, which does allow her to run away, but Poppy never runs away. That bonus movement speed is always used to give her a better angle to charge someone. Her passive, Valiant Fighter, is one of the most broken things in League of Legends. If an attack deals over 10% of her current (not maximum) life, the remainder is reduced by 50%! This means Poppy can valiantly charge into battle, absorb the alpha strike of multiple enemies, and still survive to kill people.
However, sometimes you need a little bit more insurance. Poppy’s ultimate, Diplomatic Immunity, lets her outright ignore the attacks of all of her foes except for one. The one foe she chooses takes dramatically increased damage from her. This gives her tremendous flexibility; she can DI a non-threatening character and focus an enemy who can’t fight back or DI a threat and deal heavy damage to him and/or force him to retreat. In all situations, Poppy is immune to attacks from everything except her target, including minions and turrets. Poppy cannot be stopped!
Actually playing Poppy
While I’ve illustrated her weaknesses a bit above, her biggest weakness is a huge inability to lane. She doesn’t have harassment, and all of her abilities cost lots of mana to use. She has to really work at laning, and she has a lot of bad matchups. Jungling Poppy used to be unviable, but in the new jungle (where single-target damage is better), she might be good. I don’t really know much about that, as I haven’t tried it. I do know that she can win in top lane if she buys a lot of potions and trades favorably with her opponent.
Poppy is at home on the Crystal Scar, where the global gold and experience help her overcome her farming problems. She’s considered one of the top picks or bans in Dominion events such as the DominateDominion tournaments, though she’s not a #1 pick or ban. Her ability to dive turrets and generally swing teamfights in her favor is always useful, and she excels in the tight quarters of the Crystal Scar’s jungle. She also deals mixed damage, making itemization against her difficult — her Devastating blow deals %health so even building health will not work. Magic resist is probably the best recourse, but her slam > attack > Q combo still deals a fair amount of physical damage if Poppy has a Triforce and any follow-up hits will be physical as well.