Ever since Hearthstone pro Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai got suspended for a year by Blizzard after making a declaration of support for Hong Kong earlier this week, the issue of politics during esports streams has been a hot topic. The head of Fortnite studio Epic Games, for example, said he supports players’ right to speak out about politics and human rights. Now, however, Riot has taken the opposite approach.
In a statement on Twitter, the League of Legends developer and publisher said that pro players and commentators have been told to keep their political thoughts to themselves during official broadcasts.
“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, and otherwise) separate,” wrote Riot global head of esports John Needham. “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 to refrain from discussing any of these topics on air.”
He went on to say that Riot has fans in volatile places like Hong Kong, and as a result, “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.” In telling people to stay mum about politics, Needham said Riot hopes that League of Legends can be “a positive force that brings people together, no matter where they are in the world.”
As of 2015, Riot was fully owned by Chinese mega-company Tencent, who also owns portions of many other video game companies including Epic and Blizzard.
In this case, Riot clearly intends to remain neutral, but as Kotaku’s Joshua Rivera wrote earlier this week, video games are not neutral, and the furor surrounding Blizzard’s Hong Kong fiasco—which has led numerous players, commentators, and fans to protest—is proof of that. In making this decision, Riot is picking a side and, through its global influence, contributing to an oppressive and harmful status quo, even if it believes it’s just staying on the sidelines.