Riot Games have said “we want to keep our broadcasts focused on the game, the sport, and the players” in a public statement preemptively warning against political protests in their tournaments. The League Of Legends 2019 World Championship is currently underway and Riot doubtless want to avoid ‘doing a Blizzard’. You know, like how after a Hearthstone player voiced support for Hong Kong’s pro-autonomy protests on a tournament stream, Blizzard banned him and have since been tripping over their giant clown shoes trying to recover from the PR disaster. So here’s Riot trying to head it off by making their stance clear in public.
Riot tweeted a statement from John Needham, the global head of LoL digital sports, on Friday. He explained:
“As a general rule, we want to keep our broadcasts focused on the game, the sport, and the players. We serve fans from many different countries and cultures, and we believe this opportunity comes with a responsibility to keep personal views on sensitive issues (political, religious, or otherwise) separate. These topics are often incredibly nuanced, require deep understanding and a willingness to listen, and cannot be fairly represented in the forum our broadcast provides. Therefore, we have reminded our casters and pro players from discussing any of these topics on air.
“Our decision also reflects that we have Riot employees and fans in regions where there has been (or there is risk of) political and/or social unrest, including places like Hong Kong. We believe we have a responsibility to do our best to ensure that statements or actions on our official platforms (intended or not) do not escalate potentially sensitive situations.”
The rule under which Blizzard punished Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai is vague. It forbids acts which “in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image” and did not give any indication that the punishment might be a one-year ban and losing prize money. Blizzard have only dug themselves deeper into the hole with daft statements, despite reducing that punishment. Riot don’t say what potential punishments might be but are very clear in advance that they do not want anyone talking about Hong Kong or other hot-button issues during Worlds.
It’s certainly worth noting that Riot Games are owned by Chinese publisher Tencent, and that the China-Hong Kong situation is hugely controversial within China. All the same, I do imagine Riot would take this stance even if they weren’t owned by Tencent. They’d still want to avoid running afoul of China’s notoriously twitchy censors so they can profit from the huge number of players there.
A stance of ‘no politics here, we’re just about the game’ is exactly the sort of mock-apoliticality I’d expect from a digital sport which wants an uncontroversial place in the mainstream. The Olympics forbid political statements and protests. Or look at how the USA’s National Football League tried to ban players kneeling during the national anthem in protest against racism and police brutality. As much as they like to think they’re wild rebels, Riot have demonstrated they’re well into the status quo.
Riot Games are already mired in controversy from within. Over the past year-and-a-bit, their garbage workplace ‘bro culture’ of discrimination has been dissected publicly, they’ve tripped over their own clown shoes by insisting their lived values weren’t actually their values, they insisted they had no gender discrimination after settling lawsuits for gender discrimination, over one hundred staff staged a walkout to protesting forced arbitration clauses… the list goes on. This is not a company to take a bold political stance.
Needham’s talk of the “responsibility to keep personal views on sensitive issues (political, religious, or otherwise) separate” is tosh, mind. Riot have raised funds for queer charities with rainbows galore and that is somehow still controversial. But throwing around rainbows is a lot less risky.
LoL’s Worlds 2019 run until November 10th. I am curious to see what might happen.