Riot Games says that League of Legends pro players and caster should refrain from sharing their views on what it calls “sensitive topics” ahead of this weekend’s League of Legends World Championship. The developer’s statement follows days of controversy after Blizzard banned a Hearthstone player for calling for Hong Kong sovereignty in a post-game interview, but Riot doesn’t mention that incident directly.
Blizzard’s controversial week started after the developer banned champion Hearthstone player Chung “blitzchung” Ng Wai for his pro-Hong Kong statements. In an interview after winning a Hearthstone Grandmasters match, blitzchung voiced support of protesters opposing the Chinese government. Shortly thereafter, Blizzard announced that it was rescinding his tournament winnings and banning him from the game for one year.
Blizzard faced swift backlash from several sources, including players and other developers, over seemingly banning blitzchung to avoid censure from the Chinese government. Since then, Blizzard has issued an official response claiming that it wasn’t blitzchung’s sentiments that led to the ban but his violation of its rules against political speech. Judging by the response on social media, most people view Blizzard’s statement as insincere, only fueling further anger at the company.
On Friday, League of Legends global esports head John Needham put out a statement on the official lolesports Twitter account about what topics of discussion are not allowed on Riot’s League of Legends broadcasts. The statement doesn’t mention any past incidents at League of Legends events, but does mention Hong Kong by name when it says it wants to avoid statements on its platform that might “escalate potentially sensitive situations.” The statement expresses hope that League of Legends can be “a positive force that brings people together” and calls attention to the fact that the game has a large international audience with varied personal and political opinions. Generally, Needham says, Riot wants broadcasts to remain focused on League of Legends rather than any outside commentary.
A message from John Needham, Global Head of League of Legends Esports pic.twitter.com/5Au9rE7T86— lolesports (@lolesports) October 11, 2019
While Riot has so far managed to avoid a situation like the one Blizzard is now in, the developer doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation as a “positive force,” as it says it strives for. Riot Games was in the spotlight for much of this year for sexual harassment claims against some its employees and its use of the controversial practice of in-house arbitration to settle disputes. The company was investigated by the state of California (where it has its headquarters), faced an employee walkout over its policies, and Riot eventually settled with multiple employees over sexual harassment and gender discrimination allegations, but denied that they stemmed from systemic issues at the developer.
Riot’s statement looks a good deal better than Blizzard’s disastrous explanation for blitzchung’s ban, but only because it remains hypothetical for now. While it’s fair to acknowledge that issues like the Hong Kong protests deserve more nuance than would be possible in a short victory speech, the blanket policy to “keep [its] broadcasts focused on the game” still leaves plenty of room for uneven enforcement and ultimately clears the company to rule on cases in whatever way best fits its own business interests. The policy may be put to the test soon, if anyone in attendance at the League of Legends World Championship this weekend decides to push it.