'We're Sorry': Riot Pledges Sweeping Changes To Address Accusations Of Sexism

Riot Games’ Los Angeles campus (Image: Riot Games)

Today, 22 days after Kotaku published an article detailing the culture of sexism at League of Legends development studio Riot Games, Riot posted a blog apologising that Riot “hasn’t always been — or wasn’t — the place we promised you” and promising to make big, impactful cultural changes.

The company says it will expand its diversity and inclusion initiative, revisit its long-held cultural values, and hold problem employees accountable. Riot has also hired two consultants to pave the way for its next steps. The post notes that the company is “prepared to make big changes and have begun taking action against specific cases, including removal of Rioters”.

Earlier this month, Kotaku spoke with 28 current and former Riot employees, many of whom alleged that Riot games’ so-called “bro culture”, which several described as “cultish”, inspires and, in some instances, rewards sexist behaviour.

Women interviewed detailed how Riot employees’ recruiting practices, interview process, obsession with “culture fits” and “core gamers”, and constant reinforcement of aggressive personalities disadvantages and harms female employees. Several said that, when they called out their colleagues’ sexist behaviour, their concerns were brushed aside or weaponised against them.

The company employs 2500 people, 80 per cent of whom are male. Its three top leaders, and 21 out of its 23-person senior leadership team, are men. You can read our report here.

Three days after the article went live, and after other current and former Riot employees began sharing their stories, Riot posted this on Twitter:

“To listen, we have to be quiet. You haven’t heard from us, because we’re focused on listening and supporting internally. In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll share the immediate and long-term actions we’re taking to enact real change for women at Riot.”

A half dozen former Riot employees have published their own stories about sexism at the company in blog posts after Kotaku’s investigation (here, here, here, here, here and here). Several others detailed their experiences in Twitter threads and Facebook posts and comments. Victims of Riot’s culture are healing together in private channels.

The company, for its part, has spent much of the last three weeks internally reacting to the public outing of its sexist culture in meetings and one-on-ones. In an all-hands meeting discussing Kotaku’s reporting, Riot co-founder Marc Merrill began crying, two sources watching told Kotaku. Co-founder Brandon Beck handed him tissues, the sources added. Leaders promised change to current employees, and many of them demanded it.

Riot co-founders Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill (Photo: Vivien Killilea, Getty Images)

Today, Riot elaborated on what change at the company may look like. “We will weave this change into our cultural DNA and leave no room for sexism or misogyny,” the post reads. “Inclusivity, diversity, respect and equality are all non-negotiable. While there is much to improve, there is a tremendous amount of good at Riot that will drive this change. This is our top priority until we get it right.”

In the coming weeks and months, Riot says it will expand its diversity and inclusion initiative. The company says it is looking for a Chief Diversity Officer to become a part of its executive leadership team and promises to evaluate its recruiting practices and offer more anti-harassment training.

The studio is also pledging to revisit “the language of Riot, words like ‘gamer’ and ‘meritocracy’, to ensure they mean the same thing to all of us” — a problem that over a dozen sources told Kotaku led to widespread marginalisation of women.

Riot says they will also more rigorously investigate and hold accountable problem employees.

The post reads, “No one and nothing is sacred. We are prepared to make big changes and 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.”

It’s tough to say whether these professed changes will get at the heart of what makes Riot’s culture unfriendly and sometimes harmful to women who want to work there. Riot’s demographics are overwhelmingly male.

And Riot’s infatuation with hiring and promoting what they call “core gamers” — gamers who play first-person shooters and MOBAs such as League of Legends — will continue to disadvantage women if it’s still a top priority in the future, considering that only 10 per cent of gamers who play MOBAs and seven per cent of gamers who play first-person shooters are female.

It’s a nice idea to build a company around notions of “meritocracy”, but when “merit” means “fitting in”, considering Riot’s demographics, there isn’t a lot of room for true diversity.

Unless Riot examines why women don’t seem to be clearing its high cultural bars, and dismantles internal systems that perpetuate bias, there will be no impactful change.

Reached for comment earlier this month, Riot told Kotaku that these behaviours sources described are “explicitly opposite” to its culture. Today, Riot seems to be singing a different tune. It’s acknowledging that these behaviours are a result of its culture. Thankfully, acknowledgement is the first step toward change.


Comments

    It seems they've responded well to the criticism and the fact they've acknowledged they can't do it on their own and have hired consultants to come in seems like they're really willing to change.

    As a side note, I don't have an issue with trying to employ people that fit into the culture or "core gamers" for a gaming company so long as that culture is clearly defined and is not a toxic one.

    Also I have an issue with these paragraphs:

    And Riot’s infatuation with hiring and promoting what they call “core gamers” — gamers who play first-person shooters and MOBAs such as League of Legends — will continue to disadvantage women if it’s still a top priority in the future, considering that only 10 per cent of gamers who play MOBAs and seven per cent of gamers who play first-person shooters are female.

    It’s a nice idea to build a company around notions of “meritocracy”, but when “merit” means “fitting in”, considering Riot’s demographics, there isn’t a lot of room for true diversity.

    In my opinion, there shouldn't be an issue with wanting to hire people that enjoy/play the types of games they are creating. If that means women are hired less because they don't play/enjoy those types of games I think going out of your way to hire them anyway is a bad idea.

    Last edited 30/08/18 9:42 am

      What that's getting at isn't so much enjoying games or MOBAs specifically, but some of the problems around workplace culture and what's appropriate that was cited in the original report. I won't requote them here, because it'll just jam up the comments.

        I've probably misunderstood the context which is why I said this:

        As a side note, I don't have an issue with trying to employ people that fit into the culture or "core gamers" for a gaming company so long as that culture is clearly defined and is not a toxic one.

        If the culture is toxic or inappropriate (in which this case it definitely seems to have been) then obviously you shouldn't be hiring people who will fit within it but rather fix the toxicity.

        EDIT: What they've written is a first good step but it needs follow through.

        Last edited 30/08/18 10:46 am

      Well ask yourself why do so little women play those games? Is it maybe because they're social games and women get an insane amount of harassment online, which drives them off or stops them picking them up in the first place?
      Your attitude just feeds the problem. Women are driven away (from tech, from sport and enjoying superheroes/geek culture) leaving only men, who end up becoming the majority because the selection pool in heavily skewed male.

        My attitude? What exactly is my attitude?

        I've said there is nothing inherently wrong with attempting to hire based on culture fit and people that enjoy the medium they are working on. I clarified my point that both these things need to be clearly defined and not toxic.

        Perhaps next read my point in its entirety before assuming what my attitude is towards anything.

        I feel like you've misunderstood his comment. There's no need for such hostility.

      Regarding your last point, the problem with their hiring reflecting the current state of their community is it won't lead to meaningful change or improvement. It ends up bringing in people whose attitude is "I like it the way it is" because of course that's the view most of their core community (not to be confused with the 'core gamer' general term) is going to have.

      Generally, I think it would be better to bring on to staff the kind of people they want their community to be, rather than what reflects the community as it is now. More friendly, diverse staff to hopefully guide a more friendly, diverse community as well.

        @zombiejesus - I actually understand that point and I agree to a certain extent but not fully.

        From personal experience, I think forcing the change in that way only leads to more heartache and more people being distressed. I don't think you can force it (by force it I mean shoehorning people in) before you've attacked the underlying cause.

        You've got to fix that first before you start bringing people in which is what it seems they want to do.

        As I mentioned my comment was more attributed to the fact that there was a negative connotation being associated with hiring to fit your culture and I don't think there is unless that culture is toxic. When it's toxic, you need to fix that first and weed out those unwilling to conform.

          I agree that toxic players need to be outed, but I don't view it as something that can be effectively changed without a top-down cultural change as well. When the underlying cause is a social issue, particularly where a positive outcome requires that attitudes change, leading by example is often the more effective approach. The cause-and-effect chain tends to be cyclical.

          STEM jobs have a similar issue. There's immense power in the mind of a person deciding their path to just see people like them in the things they want to pursue. I'm not saying the two are identical, but there are similarities both in the problem and its solutions. Both approaches - weeding out toxic players, and showing top-down cultural change - are necessary. More diverse developers (especially public-facing ones) leads to more diverse players (because all good developers are players too), more diverse players erodes at the notion of the community as homogeneous and over time any actual hostility towards other groups of players in the community tends to diminish.

          Sure, it doesn't always work. But there's a better chance of it working when you hit it from both sides than just one.

            Again I see your point and agree to a certain extent. Change/reform absolutely needs to come from the top down, there is no question. From experience however, changing the recruiting policy before the toxic culture has been fully changed led to people still being upset.

            Toxicity in the workplace absolutely breeds and manifests. All you need is one person who is looked up to by peers (doesn't necessarily need to be a leader in the corporate hierarchy) and it remains. Need to cut out the rot before you change how you recruit.

            Good discussing it with you though. Always nice when people can remain civil even if slightly disagreeing.

          I think forcing the change in that way only leads to more heartache and more people being distressed.

          but that is only if you are dealing with people with closed minds. What do you do? Wait a week for them to grow the hell up, a month, two years, a decade? Some people dont want change, they dont want to learn or develop, they just want the status quo, THEIR status quo.

          In some senses you cant fix people like that, to fix such workplaces, the best you can do is hire fresh blood and offer existing staff security. Over time you will end up with more new open minds, less dinosaurs. As a person who worked in a highly male setting and when woman started in it, the dinosaurs did what dinosaurs do, we put them in place, made it all to clear their ideals are no longer welcome. At first they were the majority and their toxicity was 'normal' but within months, they were the black sheep and eventually some grew up and others left. There was no way to fix the misogyny, without having the woman there in the first place.

            As I said above, yes you have to wait. Forcing the change (which is something we personally did at work) did not work. Women who were hired were still made to feel inferior. You need to change the inside first and cut out the rot. It is the only way.

            Just hiring women and hoping over time that calling them out will work only puts the first women of their kind through that behaviour which is already prevalent.

            In any case this is becoming a bit of a straw argument, my argument isn't about whether or not they should hire women. They absolutely should.

            My argument is that there is nothing wrong with wanting to hire people with the same culture fit (as long as it's not toxic) and who are core gamers. That is not something they should have to shy away from in order to force a more diverse workforce.

            If women shows those two traits then they should be hired, I just don't think they should be made to feel bad or to compromise away from the traits they want simply to ensure any person gets hired.

      I get what you are trying to say, but the fact that the strategy is employed company-wide is where it starts becoming problematic in several levels. You want game designers for a competitive game such as LoL, or its content creators and community managers that "get it"? Then yes, you need someone with the right mentality or culture. But for everything else, every other position in such a big company? You definitely want to diversify as much as you can. Not only to be more inclusive of women or whatever other demographic, but rather to have a wealth of point of views and to better help keep in check the behaviour toxicity that flourishes in closed and identically-minded groups of people.

        I still disagree.

        I would never personally hire someone that isn't passionate about what it is we are doing. If you're not into gaming, I can't see how you're going to be passionate about making a game.

        Regardless, my main objection is that the author of the post made out that it was something negative to want to hire based on that criteria and I don't think it it is. Whether or not you agree on the strategy is I suppose really subjective but it shouldn't be held up as something to be ashamed of, which is how it came across.

          Of course that vague, positive things such as "being passionate about videogames" are entirely fine. Remember that the issue was that they established a culture that decided what kind of videogames are actually "gaming". Such gatekeeping attitude has nothing to do about seeking positive and useful traits in a job candidate but rather, finding the next mate for their circlejerking club.

    Apparently TheQuartering (YouTuber) has 'many Riot employees reaching out' to him about this and he'll release a piece about it soon. I'm curious to hear what current employees have to say.

      Jeremy Hambly has a dumpster fire of a track record, I wouldn't trust him in the slightest to do honest investigative reporting.

        He seems like a top bloke to me. If Riot employees are reaching out to him I'd like to hear what they have to say.

          Hambly is the same person as MTGHeadquarters/Unsleeved Media/WisconsinBeard (among many, many other aliases), which Kotaku has covered before. He has a laundry list of problems, from harassing cosplayers and content creators, constant false accusations and insults against other MTG community members, offering rewards to his viewers if they go to conventions and ask insulting questions to people on the panel that he doesn't like, telling a woman "I wouldn't even rape you", got pissy when WOTC suspended his DCI membership and launched a vigorous campaign to try to paint the company as housing and protecting pedophiles, accused WOTC staff of being part of Antifa and women staff of only getting their job because of sexual favours, falsely accused a university professor of being a pedophile and then tried to start a shitstorm (including writing fake reviews) when the guy allegedly punched him (even though the police have no record and the bar it allegedly happened at denies anything happened).

          "Top bloke" is probably the furthest possible description that would appropriately describe Hambly. He's a long-time toxic member of the MTG community until his lifetime ban, a serial liar and massive drama instigator, and I really hope you don't accept the things he says at face value.

            And just to be clear, I'm not saying you shouldn't listen to him. He has a voice that you're entitled to hear. I'm just saying to be careful about what he says because he has a demonstrated track record of harassment, mischaracterisation and lying and what he does say should be filtered through a lens appropriate to that context.

              The guy has the same amount of journalistic integrity as Alex Jones. I can already predict he is more than likely going not going to be interviewing those who were victims of the bullying and sexism at riot.

            I'm aware of most of this stuff and when you investigate further and hear both sides (something I'd also like to do with this Riot Games fiasco, and not just take Kotaku's article as the whole story) you realise it's mostly as you said below mischaracterisation, outright lies, and stripped of context. I'll add that criticism isn't harassment.

            I'm not going to tackle your entire list but lets go with the most recent event of GenCon. There was evidence of physical harm on his body, eye witnesses, a smashed window at the bar and indeed a police report. The attacker was made aware Jeremy would be about the area and also admitted to doing this (punch a nazi nonsense) before on camera. The fake reviews were by viewers who he is not responsible for and he is going to pursue this in court which should tell you he has got plenty to go on.

            So you and I have conflicting reports, maybe even two sides of the story? Hopefully we can agree it's healthy to hear both sides regardless of who is involved.

              You are more than free to consume his content. But be aware he has a political agenda when covering these types of things. If you look at most of his videos, 90% of it is all about how in his mind political correctness and SJW's are ruining everything. He is just another shit stirrer

              I give his opinions the same amount of respect as what Alex Jones spouts. He is not there to report facts, He is there to apply his own brand of politics and push his views. Im not saying dont watch him, Im just saying dont treat what he says as gospel truth just because he says it.

              I also watch him not because i enjoy his content (I greatly dislike it, He is a knobjob). I watch it because i dont want to live in a bubble.

                Of course. Make up your own mind like any adult should.

                His videos is mostly criticism of political correctness being forcefully injected to his favourite forms of escapism that has resonated with many viewers and myself. If Riot employees are contacting him they obviously feel like their voice hasn't yet been heard in all of this.

                  Yes but is appears he is only interviewing riot employees who support his views. And i can almost guarantee he will only report the interviews of those that counter what others have said in an attempt to invalidate the claims of those 28 people who spoke out.

              I didn't take Kotaku's article for any of the story, I'm a long-time MTG player and tournament judge. I keep up with the community so I've watched a lot of this stuff unfold directly. What I described isn't mischaracterisation or outright lies, it is what I consider to be an accurate description of the things he's done based on first- and second-hand observation, research of both sides, and experience.

              Do you have a link to the police report? All information I can find is the media tried to investigate and couldn't find any police record, or was told there was no report when they enquired with the department directly. Perhaps it happened, but the bar denies it, the police don't seem willing to share the report, and Hambly has a track record of lying, so I need more than that to sway me. If it goes to court, I'll be sure to follow the proceedings.

              The fake review was definitely posted by Hambly, he posted that his review was in moderation and then showed a screenshot of the review. Both screenshots are from his "members only" Facebook group.

              It's healthy to hear different sides, but it's not healthy to give them all the same weight. My informed opinion is that Hambly is unhinged, hefancies himself on a genuine crusade and doesn't understand why most people don't agree with him. He attacks people then plays the victim when they hit back, he trashes their reputations then cries foul when his own is tarnished. He's invented a fiction in his mind of how things are, how things happened, and always in that fiction he's the victim, always he's not responsible for the harm he's caused others.

              If you want to listen to him, go for it. But it's my view you're going to get a warped picture of reality if you believe anything he says, and I guarantee you're not going to get any kind of real picture of what Riot staff think from him.

                Based on their posts, it seems as though this commenter is not some innocent passerby, ignorant on the reputation of the guy, but rather someone who knows him well and likes his content because it agrees with his already held personal views.

                https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DjotFGgVsAAHoVM.jpg:large

                  You know what problem I'm going to have with that picture. No case number, half the incident title hidden. I found the case number myself by digging, but unfortunately the online portal for the IMPD that would allow me to access the report directly is restricted either to US-only or Indiana-only IP addresses.

                  Here's what we do know. The IndyStar reported a week after the incident that IMPD told them they were "unfamiliar with Hambly making a report", and that IMPD only met with Hambly the following evening after he'd made his video. The department didn't press any charges, nor did the bar, and GenCon issued a statement that they had not been approached by police requesting information.

                  Assuming the info on the case number I found isn't faked (I can't verify it myself for the reason I stated at the top), half the incident title missing is a big red flag. The title on that ticket says there's more to the story than Hambly has disclosed, and that's been his modus operandi for years, to spin stories beyond recognition to suit a fictional narrative he's come up with.

                  In any case, you seem to be firm in your support for this guy, which I genuinely think is misguided. I feel like you're giving him a free pass on his transgressions because it's wrapped in a thin shell of ideology that you agree with. That's obviously your right, but it does mean that any effort I put in to explaining why he's not someone you should trust is wasted. I've said my piece, I'm happy to leave it here.

    I’m still disappointed that it takes exposure to illicit change. The IT sector of much of our governments have similar cultures but no one is doing shit about it because it gets stopped the moment it hits HR and the accuser gets dragged through a process of having to prove their honesty.
    Nothing really anywhere changes until there’s a published aspect to it that puts blood in the water, and that sucks.

      elicit* (not trying to be pedantic, it's just that the word you used has a very different meaning).

      Otherwise, I agree. It's a shame but at least we have such recourse left. Some would love to make a society were exposure of its wrongdoings is discouraged or punished.

        Nah, correct away. I mix those two up both in written and verbal format.
        You don’t get caught out when you mix them up verbally though.

    Don't really have a problem with hiring people that fit, in this case they have done the wrong thing with rewarding shitty behaviour.

    What I will say though In support of hiring people that fit (even if it's based on gender) is that most sanitation and construction jobs are men, most child care jobs are female.

    Does that mean we need cultural change to get a balance in those industry's, or should we play to our strengths as men/women.

    I feel like we can do both, but at the end of the day there shouldn't be anything wrong with just hiring the best most capable person for the job.

      For sure. I agree that if you are hiring someone to work on the game mechanics of such a competitive game as LoL, you better hire somebody with the right mentality. But what about if you are hiring a character designer? Or an HR, or finance person? Why would you demand such mentality from them if not to circlejerk? When you get to that, that expectation (or requirement, according to some testimonies) actually is an obstacle to hire the most capable person for the job.

      The construction jobs being all men point has been debunked plenty of times. The reason they are is because women are refused the jobs they go for, not because they are uninterested.
      And the gender of childcare workers is closer to 60/40 to women, not 90/10. That's what I do for a living. That's what my friends do for a living.

        I'm actually in construction and there are women but very few particularly in concreting, we had one female concreter who could keep up and a couple that could finish, doing edging and broom finishes it's very hard work that even most blokes can't do.

        There are quite a few chippies and sparky's but not many. A lot of painters, but generally from the start of a apprenticeship it's basically digging every day in most trades, it's not that they are refused the job just that the tend not to gravitate towards them.

        Also a lot of tradies are 2nd/3rd generation just doing what dad did, like myself being a builder because of my father.

        As for child care I was just going from experience as the day cares In my area are predominantly women, I assumed that men would be refused the jobs as most people do with women being refused construction jobs. Good to know there are some men in childcare.

    I understand that this isn't the 50s and people can't just walk into work slapping people on the ass and doing lines in their offices, BUT, and big but here, calling 'bro culture' out as a women's issue is a little flavour of the year here. I know a lot of females who I've played league with who dish it out more than they take it, in my opinion it's just as much a problem that guys are expected to take it. Nobody should have to go to work and feel excluded for any reason and if the behaviour of individuals within the company is a large part of that, I would suggest addressing that first.. Rather than forcing diversity hires.

      calling 'bro culture' out as a women's issue is a little flavour of the year here

      no it really isnt, it is something that is very overdue in gaming and indeed the world as a whole. For any social change to happen, there will always be a period where highlighting such things is always going to appear 'in your face'. This happened with women's right to vote, the Civil rights Movement, and everything in between. At the time there were always people complaining about these social change movements as being the 'flavour of the year', yet now they are all so common place.

      Same to be said for diversity hires. Yes sometimes there are a little unfair, and yes sometimes they can be a bit to 'in your face' but once again, it is only because of that, so many industries in which women could never work in and now open to them and no one batters an eyelid now. Diversity hiring is nothing new, its been happening to decades, just these times the haters focus on it as bad.

    I'll believe it when I see it and not a moment before.

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