There are many champions in League of Legends, each with a unique story and personality. Today, we’re going to look at Nilah, The Joy Unbound.
A confident and joyful woman who always wears an eerie smile, Nilah’s sudden arrival in Bilgewater has sent the city into an uproar. Her duels with rampaging sea serpents defy the limits of human ability: Racing across the surface of the open ocean with a whip-blade formed from glittering, prismatic water, she scales the great beasts before dramatically slaying them, pausing only to thank her “worthy enemies” for their efforts. Any threat taller than a house is guaranteed to draw her into combat, and the deadlier and physically larger that threat is, the more determined she becomes to challenge and destroy it.
Her strength and origins are shrouded in mystery. Yet the truth, known only to Nilah, is that she once had a different name and lived a very different life.
The precocious child of a large Kathkani family, the girl who would become Nilah was not a warrior at all—rather, she was a lanky bookworm with an interest in myths and legends. Kathkan had known relative peace since its neighbor Camavor’s collapse almost a thousand years prior, and had no further need for great warriors or storied heroes. Or, at least, that’s what Nilah believed.
Wishing the age of heroes had never ended, she collected and obsessed over colorful tales of old—epics of great beasts and shining warriors who clashed beneath the eyes of the gods, back when the world was young and humanity’s enemies were a thousandfold. She read of the mad king Viego and his tragic fall, the genesis of the first dragons, and the foundation of the universe in the Kathkan tradition. Nilah memorized each in turn, knowing in her heart that their color and magic were more than simple fiction.
One story, in particular, was her favorite: The Cycle of Ashlesh.
It spoke of the fantastical Lord of Joy, Ashlesh: A many-limbed beast who menaced the world along with its nine ferocious siblings. Hungering for primal joy, Ashlesh attempted to consume the realm of the gods—but the gods struck the monster down, trapping it deep below the earth in an endless, shimmering lake within the seventh layer of the underworld. There it would be guarded by a mythical order of heroes.
An order of heroes that, after unraveling the story’s many riddles, Nilah realized was beneath her very feet in the heart of the Kathkani capital. Overcome with excitement, she struck out to find this hidden order—to learn its secrets and perhaps even stand among the heroes as an equal…
And then she was gone. All knowledge of the girl she was—her face, her voice, her true name—was erased from living memory. Records curled and evaporated, writing vanished from walls and texts, and words failed on the tongues of her friends and family. It was as though Nilah had never been born at all.
The woman who resurfaced ten years later was a stranger to her homeland, unbound from the world she knew, yet possessed of a strange smile and an unending, ceaseless joy. Whatever happened to her during her long absence, she would not say. Perhaps she met the mythical order after all, and they trained her in the arts of magic and war. Perhaps she stood face to face with the primordial demon Ashlesh, battling it in the apocryphal darkness for a decade before finally emerging triumphant. Perhaps this wasn’t the girl at all, but a pretender wearing her flesh… Or maybe the truth was somewhere in between. Whoever or whatever she was, she began calling herself “Nilah,” the name of the legendary river of fate.
And then her work began.
Possessed of wiry, acrobatic strength, and wielding a liquid blade of incalculable might, she embarked on a conquest of the greatest threats of ancient myth: Grandmother Viper, the invincible progenitor of all Camavoran dragons; Imago, demon of change and scourge of the Carnelian Valley; the mad demigod Nabavelicus, perpetrator of countless atrocities.
Each new foe rises against Nilah in challenge, and each is snuffed out in a ferocious battle of color and fury, dazzling all witnesses.
Nilah’s own legend grows with every victory. And with it, an epic tale has begun to take shape, following her journey through strange lands near and far. At her side is the power of Ashlesh itself, which Nilah wields against other evils that might one day threaten the safety of Kathkan. In her heart is the memory of what she has lost, and the knowledge of what is to come, driving her to face greater and greater opponents wherever they might be found.
Whatever happened to that lanky girl who was buried in books, Nilah now faces her future with unbridled bliss. Her mere presence inspires others to fight alongside her, while her deeds ensure that people remember the hero she has become, even if they cannot remember the woman she once was.
Facing the mythological villains of Runeterra with unerring glee, she will challenge the end itself if it means she can protect those who cannot protect themselves.
We recommend prioritizing R > Q > E > W. Leveling up Q first will give you the opportunity to use Nilah to her maximum capabilities.
Here are her abilities:
Passive – Joy Unending
Nilah amplifies the healing and shielding abilities of nearby allies. Allies that heal or shield Nilah gain a bonus heal or shield for themselves. And when an allied champion heals or shields themselves near Nilah, she gives herself a bonus heal or shield.
If Nilah last hits an enemy minion, she and her nearest allied champion will gain the normal amount of shared experience, plus half of the experience that would have been lost due to sharing.
Q – Formless Blade
Active: Nilah’s Formless Blade strikes in a line, damaging all enemies hit. Hitting an enemy will briefly increase Nilah’s attack range and attack speed and empower her basic attacks, causing them to splash in a cone and deal additional damage.
Passive: Attacks and ability damage against champions ignore some of their armor and heal Nilah for part of the damage dealt. This effect scales with crit chance and converts any excess healing into a shield.
W – Jubilant Veil
Nilah shrouds herself in a Jubilant Veil and briefly gains bonus move speed, takes reduced magic damage, and dodges all incoming basic attacks.
Touching an ally champion hides them in the veil as well, but they’ll be protected for a shorter period.
E – Slipstream
Slipstream lets Nilah dash through a target unit, traveling a fixed distance every time and damaging all enemies she passes through. She can store up to 2 charges at once.
Cast Formless Blade during Slipstream to pull a wave in your path, dealing damage after a quick delay and granting Formless Blade’s enhanced basic attack effect.
R – Apotheosis
Nilah unleashes a surge of power, lashes her whip in an area around her and, with a final burst, pulls enemies in toward the center.
Apotheosis heals Nilah for part of the damage dealt, converting any excess healing into a shield. This effect scales with crit chance and is granted to nearby allies.
There are no specific counters for this champion yet, as she has not been released to the general public.
It is recommended to go to the Precision tree with Lethal Tempo as the main rune for Nilah. The secondary tree can be Domination. Using Overheal, Legend: Alacrity, Coup de Grace, and Taste of Blood and Treasure Hunter from the Domination tree will be the most beneficial.
For items, we recommend building Bloodthirster, Infinity Edge, and Lord Dominik’s Regards. Using The Collector on champions that are high in burst or AOE damage can be beneficial as well.
The most recent additions to the League roster have been, how do you say… big meanies.
But we’re breaking the cycle with a surge of joy named Nilah (“Nee-lah”).
Her Waters Cut Deep
Nilah’s development started with a core gameplay idea: a melee skirmisher ADC. The goal was to create a new experience not only for bot laners, but also for Yasuo or Yone mains who might want to try their hand (sword?) at another position. We know, we know… before you bot and support mains turn caps lock on, keep reading.
The team really didn’t want to create another sad Ionian sword boi. With this in mind, concept artist Nancy “Riot Sojyoo” Kim began looking into weapons that might fit the bill and stumbled upon the urumi, a flexible whip-like sword with South Asian origins. This worked out beautifully, as the team wanted to increase South Asian representation in League. Similar to how we’ve approached champions like Samira, Akshan, or Zeri, we want players from everywhere to see reflections of themselves in League, and we were lacking South Asian representation, especially for women.
The urumi fit Nilah’s intended background, her melee gameplay, and is just really, really cool. Plus, whips were essentially missing in League. The idea had been floated before, but never quite made it onto the Rift.
“When Nancy’s first group of concepts came back, there was one with, like, six arms and one with a more traditional talwar (curved sword),” says principal narrative writer Jared “Carnival Knights” Rosen. “But when we saw the concept with the urumi we were like ‘Oh my god, do we not have a whip champion? There has to be one. Maybe Zyra? No, she’s a plant lady. Anybody else?’ And there just wasn’t anyone.”
“It felt like the perfect time to finally create a whip-wielding champion because the urumi is a good nod to her South Asian inspiration and it fits her gameplay,” Riot Sojyoo adds.
But making a whip-sword look realistic and feel good in game was a challenge. Have you ever seen an urumi in action? Recreating the snappy yet flowing movements was a challenge for the animation team.
“We spent extra time early on to determine if a fluid, satisfying whip was a weapon we could achieve with the tools we usually use,” says lead animator Drew “sandwichtown” Morgan. “We tried a few different approaches to help sell the physics, but ended up landing on a mostly hand-animated style, with some different technical tricks layered in there.”
Before continuing, we should talk about the difference between tool-based animation and hand animation. A lot of modern games utilize physics and simulation with engine tools, but Nilah’s whip needed to be custom animated just for her. This meant sandwichtown set all the keys and animated every frame of motion.
“I think the most challenging part was just how many attack animations that were required to make all the motions feel directionally appropriate, at different distances with different conditions,” sandwichtown explains.
Animation testing of Nilah’s basic attack.
But Nilah’s whip isn’t just any old whip. It’s a two-pronged, flexible water-sword that she unsheathes from a magical jar that sits on her hip. Honestly, it’s pretty cracked. So obviously it needed some extra visual attention.
“To convey a joyfulness to her visual effects and not have it look like ‘just water,’ I added a sense of iridescence and rainbow to her abilities,” explains VFX artist Megan “Fairy Flan” Bayona. “In a way it’s as if the influence of the demon of joy refracts outwards and Nilah uses it as her strength.”
Nilah’s water whip hits with the force of a rogue wave, only sharp.
Yep, you heard Fairy Flan right. Nilah channels the power of a demon of joy to slay mythical beasts and defeat her enemies. She’s an epic, monster-slaying hero who’s building out her own legend day by day. (Editor’s note: Let’s be real, would this be a Carnival Knights champ without demons?)
An ascetic warrior, Nilah practices a strict code of rite and ritual that gives her power over Ashlesh, an ancient demon of joy who was sealed away eons ago.
Ashlesh is a member of The Ten, the oldest and most powerful demons in existence. It pushes joy to its hideous extremes, feeding on the dark, inverted aspects of the emotion, like delirium and obsession. But Nilah has harnessed Ashlesh’s power to do good.
Nilah didn’t always have these otherworldly powers. Once upon a time, she was a normal girl with a normal life—until she wasn’t.
“She goes beneath her home city and disappears for a decade. When she emerges, she immediately starts putting down demi-gods and giant dragons that are bigger than mountains. She’s fighting creatures that should not be able to be defeated,” explains Carnival Knights.
But wielding Ashlesh’s immense power comes with a heavy burden: Nilah is erased from living memory. There is no record of her ever being born. She is a stranger to all she ever knew, even her own family.
“She returns not as this bookworm, but as a wiry stranger with heroic strength. She has no past and her future is unwritten. She’s literally lost herself to joy,” says Carnival Knights, noting that Nilah’s unflinching positivity is completely involuntary. “Ashlesh annihilates her entire emotional spectrum besides joy. She can observe that she is feeling other things, or that she wants to feel other things. There’s a lot of sadness and loss in her life, but she can’t feel anything but positive towards it, which is conflicting.”
She’s truly living her best life… whether she likes it or not.
“Very much like a hero from the Ramayana, she has given up everything for this incredible power and uses it to protect the world from ancient threats that have been long thought invincible,” Carnival Knights explains.
“Because she’s a very nimble character, we wanted to make sure her outfit wasn’t restricting and it was light and it allowed her to do a lot of jumps and tricks,” says Riot Sojyoo, noting that the art team wanted to convey Nilah’s ascetic warrior identity, while keeping her clothing practical for slaying mythical beasts.”
Legend has it Ashlesh has seven arms and is trapped in the seventh layer of an underworld.
Now, the wider world of Runeterra will bear witness to Nilah’s legendary powers.
After the Ruination, Nilah leaves Kathkan and decides to cross the ocean to Bilgewater to seek information on Viego—who is now imprisoned on her home continent—and The Ten. And she might as well hang around Oyster Bill’s Oyster Bar and slay some sea serpents who are rampaging around the docks while she’s at it.
Nilah’s goal is to do good wherever she goes, expanding the epic tale of her life—and to keep up with her ritual prayers so she stays in full control of Ashlesh.
“This is one of the most powerful women on the planet, and she spends almost all of every day sitting around in the dark, reading books or reciting prayers to make sure that she’s not possessed by a demon. And then occasionally she gets up, kills like a 40-story tall sea serpent and then goes back to doing the thing she was doing before,” says Carnival Knights. “In the parlance of our time, she gives no f*&^s.”
The Star of the Show
Outside of being an absolute monster-slaying badass possessed by an ancient joy demon, Nilah is designed to be a hypercarry—but she can’t go it alone. Just like her pledge to the Seventh Layer, Nilah’s allegiance to your team will help it reach its full potential.
While she has the weaknesses you’d expect to find in a melee bot laner (like being susceptible to every single spell from the enemy “support” mage), she makes up for them when her allies rally around her. When there’s an ally nearby, she has tools that relieve some of the burden of CS’ing well and managing laning phase without any CC.
Her passive, for example, allows her to amplify and share healing and shielding that’s done to her or that her nearby allies do to themselves.
Yasuo mains, now you can stop begging your team to pick knock-up champs and start begging them to pick enchanters.
“If she is with a character who has some sort of shield or heal, then she’s making them better. And at the same time, she’s sort of selfishly taking more for herself too,” explains senior game designer Blake “Squad5” Smith.
Nilah’s passive also includes an XP bonus that she shares with a nearby ally—but she has to last-hit minions to get it. So stay off her wave, Zyra mains.
“Her passive basically says, if you support me, I will make us win,” Squad5 laughs. But even though sharing is caring, she’s perfect for the player who wants to show off a little. “More so than almost every other character in the game, Nilah says put the spotlight on me. There’s a lot of pressure that goes along with playing her. But if you want to be the star, and you want to kill everybody, this is a great character to pick.”
The killing everybody part doesn’t come easily though. Nilah isn’t the type of champ that will simply snowball and dominate lane.
“We wanted to make sure she was not like a Jarvan or Pantheon lane where they’re just repeatedly killing you over and over and over again ‘cause that’s all they can do,” Squad5 says. “She actually needs to function in a way that feels familiar to bot lane players in that she wants to farm and is more oriented around trading. She’s not constantly going for those all-ins like other melee bot laners.”
The rest of Nilah’s kit shows off the true splendor of her magical water weapon. She can strike out in a line with her urumi, veil herself in mist, dash as though sliding over iridescent water, and pull enemies into her wake with her ultimate, an effervescent whirlpool.
“The idea is that she can lash out with the whip, dash into enemy targets, do her whirlpool ultimate, pull everybody in, hit them with the Q, and then just be sweeping auto attacks on all of them at the same time,” Squad5 laughs. “Her sustained area of effect damage is extremely good and should hopefully mean that she’s a top tier team fighter.”
Basically, get Nilah in a teamfight in late game and all bets are off. She’ll be demoralizing the enemy team in no time—with a smile and a laugh.
Do you agree with these suggestions? What do you like most about the champion? Let us know in the comments below!