Riot Changes Mind On Pro LoL Streams, But Issues Persist

By Nathan Grayson on December 9th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.

The witch is dead, League of Legends pros can once again stream whatever they want, and eSports is saved! OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but I really didn’t like the potential implications of Riot’s decision to contractually forbid its pros from streaming Dota 2, Hearthstone, World of Tanks, and tens of other extremely popular games. Fortunately, after copious uproarious outcry, Riot decided to rethink its portentously controlling decision. Now pros are able to stream whatever strikes their fancy or tickles their murder bones, though certain sponsorships/promotional angles are still off-limits. This is admittedly much better, but I’m still concerned about Riot’s position near the top of the eSports food chain. Allow me to explain why.

Riot took to Reddit to both clear the air and explain the rationale behind its previous stance on the matter:

“First, background on why we did this: there’ve been instances of other game studios trying to buy access to League fans by using (or trying to use) LCS teams/players to promote their competing games on stream.”

“The way we chose to deal with this was clearly an overreach. It hit our goal of preventing companies from advertising through LCS players, but it also encroached on pros’ ability to have fun and entertain viewers during long Challenger queues – and we realize that’s not cool.”

“After reading all of your comments and having a LOT of internal debate over the last 24 hours, we’re going to be changing the LCS team requirement to something that more closely matches our intent. While under contract to the LCS, teams and players can’t accept sponsorship from other game companies to promote other titles. Besides that, they are free to stream any games they want.”

That’s definitely a big improvement, though I’m still not entirely pleased with how this played out. The first version of that contract was indicative of some very problematic priorities on Riot’s part, and it only ended up in history’s mighty paper shredder after customers – the people who give Riot money – stormed Riot’s lanes with pitchforks and torches aloft.

I applaud Riot for stepping back and making the much-needed change, but the original contract still came from somewhere. And whether it was a highly calculated maneuver or some horribly uninformed lawyer given leeway to frolic about and deck the halls with boughs of red tape, it doesn’t speak well of Riot’s prioritization of pros.

Meanwhile, in the above response Riot talks about pros more like they’re entertainment/promotional tools than valued employees or people with a career limelight akin to a ticking time bomb. Their well-being, as well as that of eSports as a whole, is not getting the public attention it should. ‘We champion eSports better than just about anyone,’ Riot essentially boasts, ‘but, you know, only when it directly benefits our game.’

On some level, that’s perfectly natural; Riot is a gaming company first, and an eSports promoter second. And League of Legends is a very good game with a particularly rabid player base. It’s not like giving those things preferential treatment is unjustified or born of some stumbling, out-of-touch madness or something. Moreover, this was Riot’s public-facing response. Perhaps treatment of pros is getting more discussion deep in the burbling belly of the Riot machine, away from prying public eyes. But again, based on this most recent incident, I can’t help but be skeptical of some of the conclusions Riot is coming to in this area all by its lonesome.

The fact is, Riot has become one of the single biggest forces in eSports, and – whether it wants to accept responsibility or not – it is setting precedents for the evolution of the entire scene. Traditions, rules, and regulations that could stick around for years to come, carving bones and molding flesh for a beast entirely independent of its own will and priorities. There is incredible power in this, but also tremendous danger if it’s wielded haphazardly or with a heavily skewed agenda.

I think some sort of player’s union or association is definitely in order – something to protect pros when Riot (or any another entity) makes a decision that’s blatantly not in their best interest. Yes, these sorts of things have caused some of sporting history’s biggest controversies, but pros deserve a voice in all of this. A voice that companies like Riot can’t help but listen to. There have been some attempts in other countries, but we need more of that in Western nations and more unity between players in general. Unfortunately, eSports’ relative youth, players’ extremely short career spans, and a squirming smattering of other issues are making that very difficult at the moment.

If nothing else, however, eSports are growing and picking up speed like a snowball rolling down a friction-less mountain. Very little is actually set in stone, and change for the better is obviously still possible. Here’s hoping for a bright future, or at least one that’s healthy for all parties involved – not just the ones who want to pull the strings behind the scenes.

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25 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    Devan says:

    I was very glad to see Riot’s announcement on the weekend. One good thing about that company is that so many (all?) of the employees are gaming enthusiasts themselves, right up to the top executives. They claim that this change would have come about even without community backlash, which I’m not 100% sold on but am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I have met a handful of engineers and designers working there and they do seem like very decent folk who aren’t just in it for the profit.

    That said, they still did set a precedent and I would not be at all surprised to see Blizzard or some other companies aim to put restrictions on streaming in the future (whether it’s eSports related or not). I hope I’m wrong.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      It’s classic Overton Window pushing: suggest something really terrible, then back down and “compromise” with something only a little bad.

      It’s an extremely successful tactic, as you can see from the adoring comments on that Reddit post.

      • Premium User Badge

        darkChozo says:

        Eh, I rather doubt that this clause would have caused the outcry that the original did. Taking money from a competitor is one of those conflict-of-interest things that people are more likely to accept as a reasonable thing to restrict. That, and the Internet thinks that doing things just for the money is the ultimate evil ever.

        Now, if they’d fallen back to “you can’t take money for other games and you can’t stream our big competitors (DOTA, Starcraft, etc)”, that’d be a different story.

      • Premium User Badge

        jimbobjunior says:

        Yep, it’s contract 101. Ask for everything you want and make them talk you back. Worst case, you’ll end up with the reasonable contract they’d have signed off the bad, best case you get a ton of value from their not having a lawyer.

  2. cyrenic says:

    One of the non LCS streamers had my favorite [humorous] take on all of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hoYU0VEQP0

  3. TillEulenspiegel says:

    If nothing else, however, eSports are growing and picking up speed like a snowball rolling down a friction-less mountain.

    Maybe. I think that snowball is likely to hit a wall sooner rather than later. It remains very much a niche geek thing in roughly the same category as something like BlizzCon, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. It’s a minor factor even within the world of videogames.

    It’s absolutely tiny compared to say, the growth in football (soccer) in America over the past few years.

    • RogueJello says:

      Very much this. Until it stops being an “esport” and instead is just sport, I don’t think it’s hit the mainstream. Nobody talks about wsports (water sports), or bsports (ball sports), or tsports (team sports), it’s all just sports because fetishizing the medium is only something really new needs to do.

      Also, most professional players in the NFL and MLB also have careers that are ticking time bombs. One bad play, one bad injury, and they’re out on their ears.

  4. Bull0 says:

    So what I’m getting from this is that if you’re a public-facing company that makes a mistake, you may as well not fix it, because if you do you only did it because of the fan backlash and you’re still totally evil.

    • Serenegoose says:

      Admitting that they only fixed something because the people who keep them in business demanded it is not a particularly unkind thing to say, especially as it’s factually accurate. Riot doesn’t have feelings to hurt, so it’s OK to recognise the truth, and the people within it who do have feelings are only people, not machines, and need the occasional reality check from the outside world, which is also ok.

      • Bull0 says:

        Here’s the thing – if you do something for PR reasons, and then the PR take-home is “You were bastards for doing it in the first place, and you only changed it because we asked” rather than “Thankyou for listening to us and changing it”, then why bother changing it? You’ve accomplished nothing.

        Really I’m just sick of this “So it’s good that they changed it, but let’s all remember that it was a problem until they changed it” line coming up again and again. It’s like… yeah, good point. “We’re safe now, but remember that a minute ago the house was on fire”.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      I think you missed the point. This isn’t that Riot is totally evil, this is that there’s a legitimate conflict of interest here.

  5. Makaze says:

    I find the whole idea of an eSports player union somewhat laughable. For much the same reason as there is no game developers union. Because in both cases there are a legion of willing almost as capable volunteers just waiting to climb over your striking corpse just for a chance at their dream job, crappy pay and horrible work conditions be damned. Frankly the players have little to no leverage.

    Other existing sports unions (NFLPA, MLBPA, etc.) formed in times much more friendly to organized labor and under the threat of antitrust lawsuits. Somehow I don’t see LoL as being ruled as a distinct industry from DotA2 so that particular pressure doesn’t really exist. The above banning of players from forming any and all (not just monetary) associations with others may have been viewed as anti-competitive but it’s been smartly (for a lot of reasons) rolled back.

    • SomeDuder says:

      LoL is certainly a big name, but definately not the only one. The one thing that this case does, however, is set a precedent – Will other MOBA developers be setting up similar systems? Or is every popular game that gets streamed often a target?

      Anyway, streams are pretty much a novelty still, and not every game lends itself to it. I enjoy watching DoTA 2 streams, but can’t stand the game myself nor the community. On the other hand, I don’t see the appeal of streams of single-player games. I don’t see streams replacing Gray’s anatomy or DumbSportsBroadcast any time soon

  6. Freud says:

    This contract seems to be like any other employee-employer contract, something that’s mutually beneficial. If either party has a problem with that, they are free to pursue other things. It makes perfect sense that Riot doesn’t want people they pay promoting rival brands.

    It may be unfortunate that one game has a dominating position, but Riot paid a lot of money to make that happen. Of course they are going to be protective of their investment.

  7. Premium User Badge

    darkChozo says:

    Well, if we’re exploring intent, I’m guessing the reason that the original contract was so open is that it’s probably pretty difficult to prove that one of your players is taking money from the competition. Still one hell of an overreach, but it’s one I could see a legal team coming up with when trying to tackle the issue of “our players are taking money from X and Y, how can we stop this?”.

    Doesn’t really explain why they listed the games that they did, though. A blacklist of devs you know have been propositioning your players makes some sense, but somehow I don’t think there’s much Fat Princess money floating around out there.

  8. SaVi says:

    I think that the game publisher paying e-sportsmans will stop or at least change dramatically when e-sport really pics up, like every other sport. Hope sooner rather than later, though.

  9. jarowdowsky says:

    Still think the best bit of all of this was seeing LoL players described as ‘athletes’.

    If that’s true Jocky Wilson must be a goddamn superhuman

  10. mickygor says:

    I don’t see any more issues. There’s nothing wrong in preventing employees promoting competition to your audience. In fact, I’d question any contract that didn’t stipulate this.

    • Mechman says:

      But they’re not employees, they’re just people who entered a competition.

      • Premium User Badge

        darkChozo says:

        Roughly speaking, I believe that they’re contractors. They do collect a (relatively meager) salary separate from the tournament winnings, if nothing else.

      • CptPlanet says:

        They are not people who just entered a competition since they are getting paid by Riot regardless of the tournament prizes.

  11. surethingbud says:

    anyone getting technical about video games

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  13. Armitage says:

    I’m not sure I see what “issues persist”. The fact that an issue existed doesn’t mean it persists. These guys are being paid to play and no one chose this job or this game for them. It’s very common for an employer to require you to not work for their competitors. Gamers raised an issue and Riot reacted well. What’s the problem?

  14. Chris says:

    The suits prove once again that they are completely out of touch.