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.

21 Comments

  1. Laurentius says:

    I don’t have particularly strong feelings about this.

    • Gothnak says:

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      Laurentius says:

      I don’t have particularly strong feeling about this.

      • mechabuddha says:

        CLICK HERE TO FOLLOW GOTHNAK’S ROCK PAPER SHOTGUN FEED!!!11!:

        Gothnak says:

        Laurentius says:

        I don’t have particularly strong feeling about this.

        • Gothnak says:

          Prepare for a DMCA takedown, shortly after I’ve hit you with a Gravedigger clothesline…

    • Turkey says:

      I dunno, man. That bejeweled barbarian guarding the mountain temple from Skyrim looks pretty scary.

  2. mpk says:

    Brilliant

  3. Subatomic says:

    Why doesn’t Riot just restrict spectating to players on your friends list or let’s you opt out of being spectated (Hearthstone does it like this I think)? Seems a better solution than arbitarily take down streams.

    • Underwhelmed says:

      Part of LOL’s success, has hinged on how accessible and ubiquitous they have made it to current and potential players. If someone watches a few games, they are more likely to start playing, and more likely to pay for content. They might institute an opt out system, but you are not going to see any sort of a blanket change in policy that eliminates it.

      People monetizing their games is going to make this a lot more complex. If say you and I are having a match, and you have an exclusive broadcasting contract, am I still allowed to broadcast? It will be interesting to say the least.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      An opt out system (with an option to restrict to friends etc) sounds like the perfect solution, with the obvious proviso that if you’re playing a public match, then one of the other players might be streaming.

  4. Reapy says:

    Seems like a pretty tough issue to see what is ‘right’. I think the main problem is they allow the spectating of games automatically.

    I guess I don’t quite understand how it works, you can connect to and view any game that is happening in LoL at any given time? That just seems like a weird API to have in place. Really the whole thing is ‘solvable’ if the 10 players in a game are able to determine if they want their game public or not via streaming or posting a replay file or edited file.

    But that is the thing, if they want an open API that lets anybody watch any game of LoL being played, you can certainly do those things described above and more. I don’t know why they thought anything different would happen when putting a system in place like that.

  5. mxxcon says:

    There are rumors that Merrill was personally paid off by Azubu to shutdown this stream.
    Essentially Merrill took personal interests over the interests of community of the game.

    There was a reason why Twitch stream had so many more viewers than Azubu…

    • khalilravanna says:

      I think it’d be more accurate to say Riot is putting the interests of the individual player over the interests of the community. “An individual player should have some control over their own content” is seemingly what they’re saying. I think in this case it’s a good decision. Especially when you take into account professional gamers who derive a sizable amount of income from their streams.

      • mxxcon says:

        Riot doesn’t care about individual players. he’s out of 100s of thousands. if he’ll quit the game, there are tons more to fill the ranks. what they do care about are the big sponsor money from tourneys.

        • pepperfez says:

          It seems like a safe generalization that if DMCA takedowns are involved, the real issue is some company’s cash flow. ESPORTS!

  6. vlonk says:

    So Riot is NOT changing their Spectator-mode, they will NOT offer an opt-out but rather will law-punch people on a need-to-DMCA basis. So… all the harrassing and stress comes from community abuse and clearly not from the automated window into my living room that I have no way to deactivate.
    I would not bother spending so much time questioning social features if the companies developing them would be more understanding of the needs of ALL their customers.

    • vlonk says:

      Just checked the original statement. Merrill says there: “This doesn’t mean that there won’t be a technical/API fix in the future that helps us tackle these kind of problems at the root. Spectator mode is an evolving tool that should not only enable players to watch gameplay live, but also be sensitive to the concerns of players who feel targeted or harmed by others who systematically stream each of their games without their consent.”
      I guess that means I spoke to soon and an opt-out is in the making (just not ready yet for a rollout clientside). My apologies Rito!

  7. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    I am very pleased that “spectate” and “spectated” are back in common parlance. Too long have these venerable words languished in obscurity.