Riot Games is the studio behind the popular multiplayer online battle arena game “League of Legends.” The MOBA had over 100 million monthly players in 2016 and it continues to have a robust esports scene. Riot was named one of Business Insider’s 25 best tech companies to work for in 2013, but 28 people recently spoke to Kotaku about their own experiences with the studio, and many say the company treats women unfairly.
Some women say they were groomed for promotions by doing jobs above their pay grade, only to be replaced by men. Other people, both men and women, reportedly saw unsolicited pictures of male genitalia from bosses or co-workers. One woman reportedly saw an email thread where colleagues discussed what it would be like to “penetrate her.”
Some sources also told Kotaku talented women were turned down for jobs at Riot because they weren’t considered “core gamers.” The studio reportedly checked interviewee’s “League of Legends” stats before speaking with them. But, Riot said in an email to Kotaku that’s because it expects potential employees to have some familiarity with the game, not because it’s evaluating for skill.
After working on “League of Legends” for almost a decade, Riot is currently planning its next project. In a recent Variety interview, Riot Games co-founder Marc Merrill said devotion to its players is a defining point of the company’s philosophy and it wants to hire people who understand how game changes affect them.
“It is drilled into [our employees] that player focus is the thing we aspire to be our north star,” he said. “That’s why we hire gamers and only gamers because the difference between a great decision and a terrible one is how it relates to players.”
Riot isn’t the first studio to face sexism allegations. Recently, “Heavy Rain” and “Detroit: Become Human” developer Quantic Dream lost a harassment lawsuit after a former employee claimed colleagues, among other things, circulated crude and photoshopped images of employees.
In a 2017 International Game Developers Association survey, men made up 74% of the game industry’s workforce. Only 21% identified as female, 2% identified as male to female transgender, and fewer than 1% identified as female to male transgender. About 2% selected “Other” as their response. The prototypical game industry employee is a 32-year-old white male with a university degree who lives in North America and who doesn’t have children, the IGDA said.
The games industry has a diversity problem but some developers, including Riot, are actively working to change that. Riot hired a woman named Soha El-Sabaawi to lead its inclusion initiatives. Together with a small committee, she conducts bias training, evaluates job candidate recruiting sources, and forms partnerships with diversity-minded nonprofits.
“The world around us is changing,” she told Kotaku. “With a lot of women feeling less faith in the video games industry overall, the more we were like, ‘We need an outlet for minorities and a representative of minorities to make sure every decision worth making is doing right by everyone.”
You can read the full, in-depth report over at Kotaku. Variety contacted Riot Games about this story; it issued the following statement Tuesday night:
“This article shines a light on areas where we haven’t lived up to our own values, which will not stand at Riot. We’ve taken action against many of the specific instances in the article, and we’re committed to digging in, addressing every issue, and fixing the underlying causes. All Rioters must be accountable for creating an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard, grow their role, advance in the organization, and fulfill their potential.
“From the beginning we’ve had a zero tolerance policy on discrimination, harassment, retaliation, bullying, and toxicity. As we’ve grown, we’ve made progress, and we’ve continued to put resources behind our Diversity & Inclusion programs as part of constantly improving Riot. We recognize we still have work to do to achieve our goals, which starts with listening to feedback from Rioters and others, and providing Rioters with the guidance and resources they need to uphold our values. You can read more about our D&I work here: https://www.riotgames.com/en/work-with-us/diversity-and-inclusion.”