Explainer: Riot Games’ summer of controversy continues at PAX West in Seattle

Explainer: Riot Games’ summer of controversy continues at PAX West in Seattle

2:40pm, 8th September, 2018
“Stickies of Support” from Riot Games at PAX. (Thomas Wilde Photos) Riot Games, the California-based studio behind the mega-popular PC game League of Legends, is having a rough summer. After that depicted the company’s internal culture as a hotbed of gender discrimination, Riot entered this year’s Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle on stage one of a new mission. As part of , Riot held a series of presentations during PAX in Room 613 of the Washington State Convention Center, on topics such as narrative design and video game production, as well as opportunities for one-on-one resume review and feedback, in order to reach out to and potentially recruit new employees. Further, as part of Riot’s goal to “ Riot limited attendance to its presentations to women and non-binary people until 2:30 PM. Official art for Riot’s League of Legends. (Riot Games Image) Subsequently, all hell broke loose. You wouldn’t necessarily have noticed it if you were at the show — Riot’s presence was mostly on the sixth floor of the convention center, well away from most of the major events and booths, and their activities were primarily advertised via their own website; the most visible thing they did from the show floor was the –but on social media and Reddit, the League of Legends community The discussion became heated, to the point of personal insults and worse being directed at Riot employees. The worst of the online abuse, in conjunction with the at a Madden tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., has caused Riot to at the next League of Legends e-sports tournaments. Several members of Riot’s staff participated in the social-media discussions surrounding the panels, speaking up in defense of the practice and against the loudest critics from outside the company. On Friday, it was that two Riot staff members, Daniel Klein and Mattias Lehman, were dismissed from the company, over what was a violation of Riot’s internal social media policies. Both Klein and Lehman had been vocal about the need for internal reform at Riot, on Twitter and elsewhere, with Lehman writing an essay . This reddit thread about some events we're hosting at PAX being open to women and non-binary people only was just as much of a toxic landfill as I expected it to be: So let's talk about this for a little bit! — Daniel Z. Klein (@danielzklein) Riot Games has offered the following comment when contacted by multiple sources: “These departures are independent from our efforts to evolve our culture. Our culture remains our top priority, and we remain committed to taking the steps that we need to become a leader in Diversity & Inclusion. We will always encourage Rioters to share their perspectives, and we fully support efforts by Rioters to further our Diversity & Inclusion initiatives. We are committed to making real, positive change in Riot’s culture and internal advocates are a crucial part of making that happen. Beyond that, we can confirm that these individuals are no longer with Riot Games, but we cannot provide further details on personnel issues.” Klein and Lehman’s dismissal over their social media usage echoes from the Bellevue, Washington-based Arena.net, developers of the Guild Wars series, back in July. The Background Gameplay in League of Legends. (Image: Riot Games) If you follow video games at all, you’ve probably at least heard of League of Legends. An estimated 100 million players log into the game every month, League is a perennial hit on streaming services like Twitch.tv, and it has several professional competitive divisions, such as the League Championship Series (LCS). Seattle is represented in League competitive play via the , which competes regularly in both and . League is one of the most visible games in a genre called the MOBA, for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. The genre, which originally developed from a player-created mode for StarCraft, is a team-based competition in which each player controls a single character. Both teams’ goal is to besiege and destroy the other team’s base, despite opposition from both other players and AI-controlled units. Other popular MOBAs include Defense of the Ancients and Heroes of the Storm. Riot Games was founded in 2006 by Brandon “Ryze” Beck and Marc “Tryndamere” Merrill, who raised money from private investors to work on what would become League. Their game plan from the start was to focus on , rather than releasing multiple titles, which eventually turned into League‘s business model. Anyone can start playing League for free, but you can spend real money to get various cosmetic options such as new costumes, or to get new characters faster than you’d otherwise be able to unlock them through standard play, and Riot continually releases new content, including short films, to keep players engaged. Riot is currently owned by the Chinese company Tencent, which in late 2015. As of 2018, it employs over 2,500 people in 24 locations worldwide, including an office for player support services in Redmond, Washington. The Controversy Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio released “” on August 6th, after months of research and interviews with current and former Riot Games personnel. It’s a comprehensive, well-sourced piece about the company’s internal politics, which was backed up by from . Despite the runaway popularity of League of Legends, Riot has struggled with PR problems–it’s had to take significant strides in the past to of its community, as it was creating a problem for the game’s ability to retain players. The company quickly responded, indicated by D’Anastasio’s piece. It then followed up with a longer essay on August 29th, just before PAX West, detailing the steps the company is taking. Riot’s plan for moving forward includes the expansion of its preexisting Culture, Diversity & Inclusion initiative; the improvement of its internal investigation process; and bringing in exterior consultants for evaluation. In an essay published on its website, Riot mentions that “we’re accelerating our efforts to make our recruiting system more open. We’re overhauling our job descriptions to ensure they’re readily accessible to all demographic groups; reassessing which universities we recruit from; and expanding the pools from which we target our candidates.”
Game developer ArenaNet fires two employees following Twitter exchange, spurring controversy

Game developer ArenaNet fires two employees following Twitter exchange, spurring controversy

11:57pm, 6th July, 2018
Official press asset for ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2. Two narrative designers for Guild Wars 2, developed and published by the Bellevue, Wash.-based studio ArenaNet, were fired on July 5, following an argument on Twitter that went viral. The move has been widely condemned in the games industry even as many fans of the game are vocally celebrating it, which has spurred a larger conversation about the frequently-acrimonious relationship between video games, those who make them, and those who play them. On July 3, Arena.Net narrative designer Jessica Price on her personal Twitter regarding the challenges of writing and characterizing a player character in an MMO, who is by necessity a blank slate. came from a Denmark-based YouTuber, Deroir, which drew a sharp response from Price. Today in being a female game dev: "Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job." — Jessica Price (@Delafina777) According to Price, asked to comment on the firing , Deroir’s tweet was a typically frustrating exchange for her on social media. “By the time that guy came along, I was so tired of having random people explain my job to me in company spaces where I had to just smile and nod that it was like, ‘No. Not here. Not in my space.'” Price’s tweets began on the Guild Wars 2 subreddit. Via Reddit, Twitter, and the official Guild Wars 2 forums, players issued a series of ultimatums and attempts at boycotts over Price’s conduct. When Price’s fellow narrative designer spoke up in her defense (with several tweets that have since been deleted), he got . The situation was abruptly resolved by on July 5, where he announced that due to failing to uphold standards of communication with players, two employees —presumably Price and Fries — had been dismissed. This was met with applause from the GW2 community, but condemnation from developers and journalists. As Arkane Studios’s Hazel Monforton wrote on Twitter: Gamers treat developers’ personal twitter accounts like customer service hotlines. We’re expected to have no boundaries and to take in good faith and humor everything from ignorant complaints to accusations of incompetence. As soon as we say “no”, we‘re harassed out of a job. — Dr. Witch Hazel, PhD