Riot Games has been making waves in the Filipino gaming community recently with the release of Neon, VALORANT’s first Filipino agent and the reveal for Zeri, the newest Marksman for League of Legends.
While both characters certainly look the part of Filipina heroines, what really brought them to life was the voice of Filipina voice actress Vanille Velasquez.
Yahoo Gaming Southeast Asia talked to Vanille Velasquez to know more about her journey with Riot Games, about Neon and Zeri, and the importance of diversity and Filipino representation in the gaming industry.
Creating the voices for Neon and Zeri
Vanille had a big role in really bringing the characters of both Neon and Zeri to life. After all, she was the voice for these two characters.
When she got cast for these two roles, she did her best to prepare for it, especially since she wasn’t given a full preview of the characters in the beginning.
“For the longest all I that I had working off of them was early concept art. I got a little bit very early on, but I didn’t see Neon’s final design until much later. I have no idea when her design was finalized but I myself didn't get to see it until just a month ago,” said Vanille.
She added that she read the lore and watched cinematics for both games “so that I don’t have to rely on what my director tells me”.
Vanille even went as far as playing both games before her first recording, just to understand the mechanics.
“I did try League and VALORANT, I do admit they have a bit of a learning curve,” she said.
“I’m pretty bad at competitive games that’s why I didn’t play them before I got cast, but I definitely really want to put in the work now and learn how to play now that I’m a part of them,” the voice actress added.
A deeper look Into Neon and Zeri's Filipino traits
VALORANT has been teasing Neon, the newest agent since the beginning of the year, and Filipino fans were thrilled to find out from the trailer that she hails from the streets of Manila.
“I know something unique about her is that she can sprint and slide, we’ve seen that in the trailer, and she’s supposed to be the fastest agent so far, that’s really cool,” Vanille mentioned.
Neon’s abilities are based on lightning and electricity, and her signature ability High Gear allows her to electrically slide forward when charged (or backwards, if you know how to). Her Relay Bolt allows for some crowd control, bouncing once and stunning an area.
But there’s more to Neon than just her electric abilities and lightning speed. “What I especially love about Neon is how they crafted her personality, you know, as a Filipino woman. She’s a very confident woman, you know that type, strong, confident female character,” Vanille said. “As a female gamer, I appreciate that.”
Zeri, from League of Legends, comes from Zaun, a place in Runeterra, the game's fictional universe. Vanille emphasized that Zeri comes from this setting so “she’s not actually Filipino, but she is Filipino-inspired”.
In the trailer, we see her step in to save a fellow Zaunite from the chem baron’s gangsters, as she shouted “Hoy!” (the equivalent of saying "Hey!" in Filipino) before trying to shoot at her enemies. On the Summoner’s Rift, Zeri uses electric pulses and shocks her enemies with Lightning Crash, her ultimate ability.
We also asked Vanille what similarities these two characters share. “[Zeri] and Neon share familiar traits, especially their Filipino traits like the love for the family, being close to the family, and the sense of community that they both have in them.”
“They’re united by their common Filipino traits… and of course their lightning abilities,” she said.
League of Legends champions team Lead Ryan “Reav3” Mireles also confirmed in a Reddit thread that even the abilities of Neon and Zeri were Filipino-inspired because their lead concept artist, Longewingy “is Filipino and she was telling us how the electricity always goes out in their [country]. So we made that part of her [Zeri].”
With that said, some players in the community have criticised Zeri as “just a copy of Neon,” since both have lightning and speed abilities and even sport the same hairstyle in their games.
Vanille shared her thoughts on this as well. “Many people are saying that they are so similar because they were both voiced by me, but in my defense, they have different voices, even if they were both voiced by me.”
Their personality, according to the voice actress, is very different. “Neon is more sarcastic, her humour is dry, she will be reluctant to do something.”
In Neon’s trailer, we see her sigh and say “Hay Buhay,” (something a Filipino bemoaning life would say) after what seems to be a long day as an agent.
“On the opposite side, Zeri is super happy-go-lucky, she’s super positive and cheerful, she’s so game all the time, that’s what separates them,” Vanille explained.
In Zeri’s lore, she was described to have “eagerness to help,” and even to lead and protect her people in Entresol, a vicinity in Zaun. Zeri comes out on the Summoner’s rift on Wednesday (19 January).
Filipino Representation in the Gaming Community
But more than just being able to voice two characters from two of the biggest games in the world as a Filipina, Vanille also emphasized how important representation and diversity are in the industry.
“I know how much [the release of Neon and Zeri] means for Filipino gamers because I am a Filipino gamer. I grew up playing video games and growing up, I didn’t see a lot of Filipinos in the games that I play, it was very rare if any. And for games as huge as League of Legends and VALORANT to add a game [character] like this is. I think that makes a statement,” she said.
Vanille also discussed one of what she thinks is the most important line that both Neon and Zeri say in the game: “I belong here. We Belong Here.”
“Those lines are actually a reference to Asian hate crimes in America," she said. “The writer at VALORANT and League wrote the line, Michael. He read an article about this Filipino woman in the States and was told that she doesn’t belong here. So then he wrote that line for that.”
On 10 January, narrative writer Michael Luo revealed on Twitter the inspiration for those lines: A New York Times article about a 65 year-old Filipino woman, Vilma Kari, who was assaulted near Times Square in New York. Her attacker, Brandon Elliot, had yelled at her, “You don’t belong here”.
— Michael Luo 骆博洋 (@SkiptoMyLuo) January 11, 2022
When asked about what advice she wanted to give to anyone, especially Filipinos and other Asians who wanted to be a voice actor, she mentioned that it wasn’t an overnight success.
“You can’t take any shortcuts here, it’s like any other profession. You have to put in the work and get relevant experience, just like any other job. So I want them to remember that it’s not as easy as asking Riot Games for an audition. This is not what happened," said Vanille.
I worked hard to get to this point where I got that audition and when I did get that, I was prepared for it. So I’d say, go out and get experience. So the next time they’re looking for a Filipino voice actor, maybe another big studio, you’re ready for it, you’re prepared, you have the experience.”
Vanille Velasquez is the voice actress of Neon from VALORANT and Zeri from League of Legends. She grew up loving anime and games which led her to pursue a career in voice acting and has been a voice actress since 2017.
She has been the voice to many anime, animation, and gaming characters such as Krystal from "Starry Love", Selinda from the MOBA “Genesis”, Kokeko from Singaporean animation “Lil Wild”, Jelly from Filipino animation “Jelly, Ben and Pogo”, and more.
She’s also the VA for Naoko in the upcoming game "Ikai", which will be released in March.
Vanille grew up loving fighting games. She loves narrative-driven games like “Life is Strange,” “The Last of Us,” and “Detroit Humans.”
Anna is a freelance writer and photographer. She is a gamer who loves RPGs and platformers, and is a League of Legends geek. She's also a food enthusiast who loves a good cup of black coffee.