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Riot Games apologise for workplace culture they let fester, vow to 'become a leader on diversity, inclusion, and culture'

Following numerous reports claiming that Riot Games have long suffered an inappropriate and sexist workplace culture and resisted many attempts to even critique it, let alone change it, the League Of Legends studio have vowed to “rebuild” their culture and “leave no room for sexism or misogyny”.

A Kotaku report earlier in August drew from 28 current and former Riot employees, painting a picture of a workplace where men have sent unsolicited photos of their dicks to coworkers, women have found out their colleagues and seniors sent e-mails discussing their fuckability, one senior male dev would fart in other men’s faces, women were taken less seriously than men, and women felt pressure and rejection for not fitting in with this fine culture. But don’t worry, they’ll fix all this. “… we’ve never backed down from a challenge before and we don’t plan to start now,” say the studio who seem to have spent years pretending the challenge was anathema to their existence.

Go read that Kotaku report for many of the accusations. Several other former Riot employees have since come forward to confirm the broad picture and raise other terrible things the initial report hadn’t hit.

The accounts combined paint a picture of a workplace with a real “bro culture” problem, where women can feel disrespected, mistreated, and ignored, and as if they’re hindered because they don’t fit in. Men who aren’t so into that “bro culture” can feel the sharp end of it too. It sounds like attempts to report perpetrators or change the culture tended not to have much effect, often being treated as against Riot’s values – and causing more trouble for those who spoke up.

Several Riot folks have since reported not experiencing these problems themselves, to be clear. This has not been everyone’s experience of working there. But these awful situations were felt by enough people over enough time–and expressed publicly enough in recent weeks–that Riot have publicly admitted they have real problems and apologised.

“For the past three weeks, we’ve been focused on listening and learning,” Riot said a public statement on Wednesday. “As a company, we’re used to patching problems ASAP, but this patch will not happen overnight.” Hey, a patch! Like a video game! Real cute.

“Our goal isn’t just to be good; it’s to become a leader on diversity, inclusion, and culture,” they say. A leader! What a lofty goal that is.

They lay out seven steps they plan to take, including revising recruitment practices, improving training, expanding their ‘Culture, Diversity, And Inclusion Initiative’, bringing in workplace culture experts, and establishing procedures to actually do a damn thing when people report problems.

“We understand we lost trust with Rioters, so rebuilding trust is key to making Rioters feel safe and empowered to raise issues,” they say. They add that they “have begun taking action against specific cases, including removal of Rioters, though we aren’t likely to get into those details publicly on a case-by-case basis for legal and privacy reasons.” Better late than never, I suppose.

“We’re sorry that Riot hasn’t always been—or wasn’t—the place we promised you,” Riot say to current and former employees in their statement. “And we’re sorry it took so long for us to hear you.”

Part of this is a big PR stunt, of course. The reports paint a clear picture of a culture which isn’t this way by accident, with social and structural pressures resisting attempts to change it. Riot is this way because enough people with enough power wanted it to be. Riot have seen their awful-sounding culture as part of the reason they’ve found such success, something to be cherished and protected.

Many have felt the pinch of an obsession with “culture fit”, they told Kotaku, from the interview process through to the everyday experience. When talking about their culture, Riot often present it as a “meritocracy”, which has an idealised sense of people earning positions purely on merit but in the real world prizes homogeneity while expressing dominance and punishing difference. They also have an obsession with hiring “gamers”, a term which some staff found weaponised against them in the hiring process. One former employee who preferred RPGs told Kotaku their interviewer pressed them on whether they played “real games like Call of Duty”, and they ended up fending off questions by saying “Well, I’m looking at my TV right now that has 16 game consoles plugged into it.”

But hey, Riot are on that too. Riot say their plan “includes reevaluating the language of Riot, words like ‘gamer’ and ‘meritocracy,’ to ensure they mean the same thing to all of us. If the words are misused or don’t help us describe our vision for the future, we won’t use them.”

If they’re feeling into public displays of penitence and prostration, I’d love to read a version of Riot’s much-ballyhooed manifesto which laid out definitions as currently understood.

I’m angry at this. I’m angry these people were treated so badly. I’m angry that it went on for so long. I’m angry that many protestations were ignored at best – at best! I’m angry that Riot talk proudly about “our focus on player empathy” while apologising for how little they’ve had for employees. I’m angry that Riot’s apology tells potential future employees that the company “need people who will drive change and fight for what’s right” as if it’s their responsibility to come in and help fix the mess Riot created. And I’m angry about all the other studios and developers and community figures I’ve heard about from people who understandably choose not to share their stories publicly.

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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