League of Legends developer Riot Games has responded to allegations that it’s a workplace rife with sexism, misogyny, and general toxicity by laying out a manifesto of steps it will take in order to make the company "a place we can all be proud of".
Sexism and bro culture at Riot
The road to this point in time is a long and winding one, though several articles published over the past month have shed new light on the inner workings of the studio. A Kotaku report, citing more than two dozen former and current employees, painted a picture of open hostility toward women and sexual misconduct. Sources said they had seen unsolicited pictures of coworkers' genitals, emails written about what it would be like to have sex with them, lists of the women bosses most wanted to sleep with, and more.
Meagan Marie, a former writer at Game Informer and current senior community manager for Crystal Dynamics, wrote a blog titled "Six Months at Riot Games," in which she detailed her experiences. In her first week at the Dublin office, she claims to have overheard repeated use of homophobic and racial slurs. Among her co-workers, gendered insults and insinuations that women slept their way into the company were reportedly common. Marie also writes that she was singled out personally, both for suggesting a wider variety of body types for female characters and for being the only woman on a team that was colloquially referred to as "Bros and Ho".
Software engineer Barry Hawkins, who worked at Riot for a year, also penned a blog post detailing his experience at the company. While Hawkins details several behaviors he felt were inappropriate, he specifically calls out a joke - "no doesn't necessarily mean no" as a reference to being persistent in talent recruitment - being the incident which would lead to his departure.
"That weekend, I debated whether this merited bringing the issue to leadership. Was it that bad? I mean, it was bad, but was it bad enough for me to put myself at risk by saying something?" Hawkins claims that after fellow co-workers shared with him their discomfort, he brought the issue to management and was reprimanded for it, with co-founder Marc Merrill allegedly warning Hawkins that his future at Riot was likely limited.
While some current Riot employees tweeted that they did not themselves experience such hostility in their work, they stressed that it was important to believe those who did.
My experiences at Riot are not reflected in this, but make no mistake: this is not an issue isolated one company or another. Tech and games are rotten with sexism. I'm proud of the steps I've seen Riot take, but we've all got a long way to go. https://t.co/INeFzFOY6j via @kotakuAugust 7, 2018
However, I would never want to silence anyone who is experiencing a far shittier time than me, and I'm proud of the courage expressed by the women here. While I may not feel as if I face any of this sexism from my own team, we must believe and support those who have done.August 7, 2018
Which brings us to today.
Riot takes first steps toward "rebuilding"
In a new post titled "Our First Steps Forward" on the official "Who We Are" page, Riot outlines how it's responding to the criticism:
"For the past three weeks, we’ve been focused on listening and learning. As a company, we’re used to patching problems ASAP, but this patch will not happen overnight. We will weave this change into our cultural DNA and leave no room for sexism or misogyny. 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."
The post goes on to apologize to current and former Riot employees, saying the company is "sorry it took so long for us to hear you" and that over time it hopes to be a "place we can all be proud of". There are apologies directed toward prospective Riot employees too, as well as League of Legends players, and business partners concerned about Riot's culture.
Beyond apologies, Riot has a seven step plan to affect change within the studio, which it lays out for all to see. The whole thing is quite exhaustive, with new teams and positions being formed, external agencies and law firms being brought in to more objectively evaluate company culture and structure, a hotline where employees can anonymously raise issues, expanded company trainings, and more. "No one and nothing is sacred," reads part of the manifesto.
"We’ve always believed that Riot should be the home for the very best talent in gaming," the studio states. "It’s clear we’ve fallen short of that goal. But we’ve never backed down from a challenge before and we don’t plan to start now."
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