Current and former employees at League of Legends developer Riot Games have spoken up about sexism they experienced at the company in an extensive investigative report by Kotaku. Based in Los Angeles and founded by Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill, Riot is one of the biggest names in eSports, with League of Legends attracting around 100 million players monthly.
The extensive and detailed exposé on the company's allegedly toxic culture - especially for female employees - was the result of months of research and interviews with dozens of sources, some named and some anonymous, who either used to work at Riot Games, or still do. It also includes input from Riot Games representatives, who defend the company and explain recent efforts to improve diversity and inclusion. After the article's publication a considerable number of current and former Riot employees corroborated its contents on social media.
The Kotaku feature opens with the account of a female employee who worked at Riot for three years, before leaving in part because of the intense sexism she experienced at the company. She recalls conducting an experiment wherein, after having one of her ideas shot down in a meeting, she asked a male colleague to present the same idea in the same way to the same group of people, and watched them praise it as "amazing." Other female employees said they had been sent unsolicited pictures of male genitalia, and one saw an e-mail thread in which her male colleagues discussing what it would be like to have sex with her. After the article was published, more stories and corroborations from current and former "Rioters" emerged on Twitter:
Multiple women confided in me about being sexually harassed at work. About their asses being slapped, being groped at parties, or being raped at Riot events.— Kristen 🌹 (@MiniWhiteRabbit) August 7, 2018
At first it was shocking. Then it became standard.
Required reading for anyone in the tech industry.— Frank Fields (@FFMirhi) August 7, 2018
I can assure you that the vast majority of testimonials in this article are true.https://t.co/X4mB3pTcAR
Tough to read this but this is dead on about some problems in our house.— J.T. Vandenbree 🏳️🌈 (@RiotTiza) August 7, 2018
There's no acceptable amount of sexism. https://t.co/uzX7oJERpV
Days after Riot learned of Kotaku's investigation, a "diversity and inclusion" page was added to the company's website, claiming that "We aggressively enforce a zero tolerance policy on discrimination, harassment, and general toxicity." There is evidence that the company has been making efforts to improve its culture in recent years, with Soha El-Sabaawi appointed to head up diversity and inclusion initiatives two and a half years ago, and more recent employees saying that they hadn't experienced the kind of discrimination detailed in the article. While Riot representatives claimed not to be aware of some of the incidents and experiences described, the company also did not deny the report wholesale. In a statement to ESPN, Riot corporate communications lead Joe Hixson:
"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."
The article describes a general "frat-boy" culture at the company (whose employees are 80% male), with women saying their gamer "cred" was aggressively questioned in interviews - even for positions that had nothing to do with game development. Female employees also said that they took on managerial roles without a pay rise or promotion, only to see male colleagues with less experience promoted ahead of them. One source said that she was on track to a promotion until a Riot superior came on to her, and she rejected his advances. Shortly afterwards, a male colleague who was a close friend of the man she rejected was promoted to the position she was slated for, despite having "probably... three years less experience than me."
The detailed report is well worth reading in full, and shines a light not only on the sexist culture at this specific developer, but on the game industry and tech fields in general.