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Riot Issues Statement And SpectateFaker Takedown

Documentary footage of Marc Merrill cutting a slice of bread

Riot Games co-founder Marc Merrill stated over the weekend that Riot was pursuing the removal of a contentious League of Legends Twitch stream which broadcast the matches of professional player Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-hyeok. That stream – SpectateFaker – is now no longer operational.

I wrote a longer post explaining the issues at play last week but the short version is:

A streaming platform called Azubu sent a DMCA takedown notice to Twitch regarding SpectateFaker. The reasoning was that Faker had signed a deal with Azubu to stream exclusively for them. However, the stream operator was using League of Legends’ spectator mode, not anything Azubu could claim legal ownership for. As Merrill puts it, “the DMCA issued by Azubu did not have a legal standing as we, not Azubu, own the gameplay content”.

In a number of Reddit and Twitter posts, Merrill was clearly unhappy with how the stream focused on Faker given the player had expressed dissatisfaction with the situation. An official statement from Faker’s team, SKT T1, reiterated Faker’s discomfort at having his name and games being used without permission and pointed out that it impacts gamers’ streaming businesses. Streaming is a source of income for pro gamers so it’s not surprising that they’re protective over it.

To me it seemed to become an issue of whether it was possible to protect a professional gamer’s brand and one of their sources of income given the ground rules and tools Riot themselves had provided. However, Merrill likened the stream to “automated paparazzi“, stated that it “reeks of harassment and bullying” and brought up the issue of e-stalking.

In the official statement he admits he made “several mistakes” when jumping into the debate and now acknowledges the SpectateFaker streamer (he’s called StarLordLucian, by the way) was broadcasting with good intent:

“the SpectateFaker stream provided a service for thousands of players who were able to watch Faker solo queue games on the platform they prefer and using the tools they’re accustomed to. It was an innovative use of our API which identified a unique edge case, and we believe that the stream was born out of positive intentions to provide esports content to fans worldwide. I regret insinuations otherwise that I made on Reddit in the heat of the moment.”

That said, Riot pursued the takedown of the stream because it was viewed as harmful. (Riot’s terms for use of their intellectual property reserve the right for the company to deny use of their IP at any time.) In this case the harm they describe was of a financial nature. I mentioned the basics of that earlier but here’s Merrill’s phrasing:

“Systematically streaming spectator mode of each of Faker’s games (rather than a few sporadically) on a rival platform understandably lessens the value of his partnership with Azubu and even more importantly, the potential of pros to gain equally lucrative streaming partnerships in the future. In a very real and material sense, the SpectateFaker stream causes Faker harm in his own judgment – and we believe he should have the right to see it discontinued.”

The statement also points out that other types of harm might be possible using spectator mode and these (thus-far imaginary) uses of spectator mode appear closer to what Merrill was describing with his bullying and harassment comments. One describes a hypothetical bronze player “targeted by an unwanted stream that meant all of his ranked games were broadcast to a crowd who made fun of him and his gameplay – all against his will.” Another imagines “a stream targeting a female player, where a narrator or automated system harasses her and comments on every move she makes in every game she plays online.”

The solution Riot has put in place for now is to assess reported or problematic streams on a case by case basis, looking at whether they cause harm to individual players. Future tweaks to spectator mode haven’t been ruled out.

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