Riot Games accused of sexist work culture, the testimonies are damning

Posted on August 9, 2018

Riot Games is the developer of the MOBA League of Legends, to date the most-played PC game in the world. In 2016 Riot Games estimated an active player count of over 100 million, with that number only looking to go up. The company has grown exponentially since its creation in 2006, with a total of 23 offices worldwide and a fancy head studio in Los Angeles. And, according to a nine-month investigation conducted by Kotaku, it has enabled a sexist workplace culture that should have been left behind twenty years ago.  Kotaku spoke to 28 past and present employees of Riot Games, men and women, about their experience working for the powerhouse developer. Most spoke anonymously for fear of losing their jobs, and the majority of them did not have many positive things to say.

official art for Riot Games' League of Legends

Popular MOBA League of Legends is infamous for the toxicity that plagues its online community. Online matches are a haven for foul insults and threats, ranging from distasteful to outright horrific. Female players are unfortunately a common target for online harassment in the wider gaming sphere as well. The toxicity problem is so well known that Riot Games have tried to step in with various methods to try and curb the behaviour and promote a more honourable style of play.  That’s why it’s so chilling to hear that Riot Games itself might face eerily similar troubles within its own offices.

Kotaku’s full report can be found here. The reported experiences include being spoken over, ignored, sexualised, and denied promotions in favour of less qualified men.  One employee recalled being slated for a promotion only to lose the position when she rebuffed her manager’s advances. A common expression used by the interviewees was “bro culture” –  an oppressive atmosphere that made Riot Games feel like a fraternity rather than a professional studio.  Women who express their concerns as well as men that tried sticking up for them are pressured to conform or leave, according to the report. It’s absolutely disheartening to hear, and unfortunately all too familiar for any woman working in a male-dominated field. 

“The ‘bro culture’ there is so real, It’s agonizingly real. It’s like working at a giant fraternity.” 

Riot Games office

If there’s one good thing about hearing reports like this, it’s that companies are starting to feel the heat for allowing poor workplace conduct. Just this year, Detroit: Become Human developer Quantic Dream came under fire for a similar issue, and recently lost a lawsuit to a former employee over work conditions that ultimately led to an unfair dismissal from the company. They are currently suing the french news outlets that originally reported on the developer’s allegedly hostile workplace.

In contrast, Riot Games seems to be taking a different approach to criticism. In a statement to Variety regarding Kotaku’s report, Riot Games said: “This article shines a light on areas where we haven’t lived up to our own values, which will not stand at Riot. We’ve taken action against many of the specific instances in the article, and we’re committed to digging in, addressing every issue, and fixing the underlying causes.”

While just a start, it’s already a better move than attempting to deny the report or silence the outlet. If the allegations turn out to be correct, the real test will come next –  they’ll have to actually change. Words are easy, after all. Riot Games will need to put their best foot forward, and if their efforts to better themselves are sincere, we might see a positive change. Riot added a Diversity and Inclusions page on their website in May of this year, allegedly after learning that Kotaku was making inquiries in preparation for their report. In it, they state “We want every Rioter to feel like they can bring their whole selves to work. There is no cookie cutter template for what a Rioter looks like”, but if Kotaku’s report is correct then they have a lot of work to do before that’ll be true.