Riot Games

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Riot Games
"Riot Games' Logo and Headquarters" Site
Type Corporation
Launch Date 2009
Status Active
Product Line League of Legends
Platform Mac

iot Games
is a software company known primarily for their mainstream popular video games League of Legends and Valorant.[1] Founded in 2006 by Brandon Beck and Mark Merrill, they released League of Legends in 2009 and Valorant in 2020 as well as some smaller, spin-off games. Riot Games also hosts a number of esports tournaments and have worked with Fortiche Productions to release Arcane, a TV series focused on two playable characters in League of Legends. League and its spin-offs have a total of around 180 million players monthly, with Valorant pulling in around 14 million monthly, as of late 2021.[2] The company earned an estimated 1.75 billion dollars in 2021, and its games have continued to grow. [3] They are wholly owned by Tencent, and have been since 2015. They have also been involved in multiple sexual harassment lawsuits since 2018, and have been criticized for their use of forced arbitration in the workplace.


According to their website, Riot Games was founded to "develop, publish, and support the most player-focused games in the world". They are headquartered in Los Angelos, California, and currently have over 3,000 employees worldwide. [4] Founders Brandon Beck and Mark Merrill met at the University of South California where they took classes together. Both Merrill and Beck worked in banks after college, but eventually realized that wasn't what they wanted. The two had connected together over their love for video games, specifically Warcraft 3's Defense of the Ancient: Allstars[5] and Starcraft's Aeons of Strife, both of which were community made mods for their games which resembled the very first Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs). In fact, Riot Games would hire one of the developers of DotA: Allstars as one of their first employees.

Along with creating the first mainstream MOBA, Beck and Merrill were also hoping to continually update their game after it had been released, as well as release it entirely for free and earn money solely based off of in game purchases (micro-transactions). At the time, this was a completely new business model, now known as, games as a service. As they were developing League of Legends (at the time called Onslaught) in 2007, they had been meeting with publisher after publisher, none of whom seemed to really get on board with the "freemium" model. Finally, they realized that they were going to have to publish the game on their own, which they did in 2009. [6] Along with continuing to update League and release other small games, in 2014 Riot started development on Valorant with the goal of making an FPS game that could cater to newer players but also have a large competitive scene. Valorant was eventually released in 2020, to critical acclaim, and hosted it's first esports competitive tournament only the year after.


Riot Games hosts a number of esports leagues, the most well known of which is the League of Legends World Championship. This event is the amongst the most watched sports events in the world[7], and had over 100 million unique viewers in 2019, making League of Legends the most popular esport.[8] In 2021, the prize pool was $2,250,000 USD[9] and had 22 teams compete (usually there are 24, but 2 teams couldn't attend due to their country's COVID-19 restrictions). In order to qualify, each team needs to place highly in their own regional esports league, which Riot Games also hosts. Each region has a different way of qualifying teams, but in general it works in the following format: The regional esports leagues have each team play against each other in smaller competitions known as "splits", and there are two splits per season (spring and summer). After the spring split, the top 3 teams from each region qualify for the Mid-Season Invitational (an international tournament hosted between the spring and summer splits). After the summer split, the top 3 teams from each region qualify for the World Championship.
League of Legends World Championship Knockout Stage 2021

Once worlds start, the best 12 teams advance past the first "play-in" stage and go directly to the "group" stage. During the play-in stage, the remaining 12 teams are split into four groups of 3, and they then play round-robin style matches against everyone in their group. The top 2 teams of each group from play-ins play a best-of-five series against each other to determine who advances. In total, the play-in stage has 4 teams move on to the group stage, where they meet the 12 teams that got to skip the play-in stage entirely. In the group stage, the 16 teams are split into 4 groups of 4, and each team plays every team in their group. The top 2 teams of each group move to the final stage, knockout. The knockout stage works like a traditional bracket with 8 teams competing to be the World Champions.[10]

Riot Games also hosts esports leagues for Valorant, of which, like the League of Legends World Championship, culminate in the Valorant Champions tournament. It debuted in 2021, and crowned its first ever winners, a team known as Acend. [11] This tournament has a slightly smaller prize pool of around $600,000 USD but this could be due to it being the tournament's nascent year.[12]

Ethical Issues

Tencent and Culture Exporting

Tencent is a Chinese corporation known for being the biggest corporation in the gaming industry and for their ownership of and stakes in large video game companies such as Epic Games, SuperCell and Riot Games. It drew criticism in early 2022 for failing to consider the work-life balance of its employees, leading to at least one individual who worked a 20 hour shift.[13] Tencent has also earned criticism from the United States government for it's apps WeChat and TikTok that, according to a letter from the White House in 2020, "automatically capture vast swaths of information from its users" and could possibly allow the Chinese Communist Party to "conduct corporate espionage". [14][15] In August 2020, the White House issued an executive order prohibiting transactions with both WeChat and TikTok. [16][17] Tencent is also notorious for copying games. Its CEO, Ma Huateng has famously been quoted as saying "[to] copy is not evil". Tencent did, however, successfully sue Montoon Technologies, for their game "Mobile Legends: Big Bang", a game which they claimed looked "strikingly similar" to League of Legends. [18]

Some experts, such as Abishur Prakash, co-founder of the Center for Innovating the Future, are worried about Tencent using games to "export its culture" and "build a new kind of global power" while others, such as Steven Bailey, an analyst at Omida, have noted that "Chinese companies have had involvement in various Western game companies and content for quite some time, and understand that successfully making games for the West will not be supported by such changes."[19]

Chronoshift and Unprofessionalism

The Chronoshift Project was a community created and hosted version of League of Legends as the game was in 2009. Many fans of the game were nostalgic for the way the game was when it was released (due to the continual updates, the game today looks very little like it did on release). Chronoshift was originally released in 2020, but in late April of 2021, a member of Riot's security team, nicknamed "Zed", contacted the developers of the Chronoshift project over Discord and warned them that, "The Riot Games legal team isn't super thrilled about your project unfortunately and is looking for a way to come to a mutually acceptable end to it." Zed then claimed that they, Riot Games, had already archived all of the chat logs of the Discord server (which was for fans of Chronoshift to talk and discuss the project), and that "You've obviously put a lot of work into Chrono shift, but I assure you that the Chrono break is coming." This was followed then by demands to take down the website as well as release all of the source code for the website to Riot, with the statement "Give me what I'm looking for and we won't sue. Refuse and we will." [20]

After the Discord conversation between Zed and the developer was released, Riot Games sent a statement to blog and video game site PC Gamer stating that they were "disappointed about the tenor of the conversation", but that they had indeed sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Chronoshift developers and that "we understand the Chronoshift team is disappointed, but they shouldn’t be surprised by our request." On Riot Games' own legal page, section 3 says "We prohibit the use of our IP in games and apps. Please do not take any part of our IP (e.g., character appearance, character abilities, maps, icons, items, etc.) and use it in a game or app."[21] [22]

The Chronoshift developers later said that "We're more angry about the extremely rude and unprofessional way we were contacted and their demands that we turn over our source code which we developed ourselves.", and that they were disappointed that they couldn't reach a mutual agreement. There was then later an update to the Chronoshift website where a developer expressed frustration about the amount of time spent working on the project --5 years--. "We never asked for even as much a donation during all of this time, paying all of the expenses out of our pockets."[23] Despite their attempts, the website and project was eventually taken down in early May of 2020.[24]

There was significant community backlash, with the League of Legends subreddit ridiculing Zed and the legal processes at Riot, as well as at least one spoof article titled 'Riot Awards Security Representative "Zed" With Brand New Fedora For Exceptional Performance.' [25] Riot Games's statement about the issue accepts the criticism with dignity. "We fully expect this to make new memes and copypasta and totally deserve it all, so put it on the shelf right next to ‘200 years’ and all the others."[26]

Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

Class Action Lawsuit

In 2018, Riot Games was sued for sexual harassment and gender discrimination by Melanie McCracken and Jess Negrón, who filed a class-action lawsuit against the firm alleging sexual harassment and misconduct as well as gender discrimination. The suit was eventually settled in late 2021 for $100,000,000 USD, with 20% going to the plaintiffs legal fees. Part of the settlement also promises workplace policy changes, many of which are focused on making pay more transparent.[27]

The suit followed an exposé by video game website and blog Kotaku which stated that women at Riot had historically had great difficulties getting jobs in leadership positions, and the "bro" culture of the firm meant that there was high female turnover. Many former female employees interviewed about their experience at Riot Games couldn't speak publicly due to policy agreements forbidding employees from disparaging the company. Additionally, an employee named Lacy asked a male coworker to present one of her ideas that was shot down just a few days ago. He presented the idea in the same manner she did, and was praised for it. [28]

The Kotaku article also claims that only days after Riot learned about their investigation, they added a diversity and inclusion page to their website which cites the company's "zero tolerance" policy for harassment and discrimination. When asked about this, Riot claimed this page had been in their roadmap since April of last year and was therefore not connected to the Kotaku article.

Another woman alleges that when she was applying for a job at Riot, she felt as if she was being aggressively challenged about whether or not she actually played games and how long she had played them, including questions about her favorite trinket from a World of Warcraft event that had taken place 11 years prior. She was hired despite hearing from an informant later that her interviewer "didn't think she had the 'grit'". Kotaku noted that until that past June, Riot's career page had claimed to want to hire 'passionate gamers who are talented professionals', adding that potential applicants need to have the 'horsepower' to excel at Riot. Those statements have since been removed. Riot also sent a statement to Kotaku reading 'we must over-index on cultural reinforcement'. Kotaku's inside sources claimed that this notion of hiring only 'core' gamers, leads to a decrease in the number of talented women hired who interviewers don't think fit the ideal of a Rioter.

A month before the lawsuit was filed, in August 2018, Riot issued a statement titled "Our First Steps Forward". In it, they start by apologizing to corporate partners, gamers, and Rioters alike, acknowledging that "Riot hasn't always been--or wasn't--the place we promised", but also that "we’re going to set the bar high on culture and that we’ll update you as we make progress." [29] The statement then lays out seven steps the company is taking towards achieving these goals including an anonymous hotline for complaints, revisiting cultural definitions, and expanding their Culture, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiative. [30] In the same month, as part of that initiative, they hired Frances Frei, who was Uber's former senior vice president, in an attempt to fix the issue.[31] "After spending time with Riot’s leadership and many others across the organization, it became clear that Riot is truly putting everything on the table and committing to evolving its culture... I share that ambition and am eager to help Riot navigate this process.", said Frances when asked about her desire to join Riot.

In December 2019, Riot Games reached a settlement of $10,000,000 USD for the lawsuit, but both the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement urged the prosecution to counter-settle[32], arguing that the amount wasn't enough and could have reached over $400,000,000 USD and that Riot Games was failing to consider stock compensation when looking at pay differential, noting that stock compensation is a "significant portion of employee compensation, especially for men." Riot Games acknowledged that stock compensation wasn't used in any of the court analyses for pay compensation but called the $400,000,000 "outrageous, reckless, and without any basis in fact or law", and additionally that they had "worked hard" to achieve a fair deal already and the DEFH's move was "full of inaccuracies and false allegations".[33] The plaintiffs sued again and eventually reached the $100,000,000 in late 2021. [34] [35]


In December 2018, Riot Games suspended its chief operating officer, Scott Gelb, without pay, after multiple allegations of him farting on employees and assaulting their genitals as part of a "workplace gag". Riot conducted its own investigation and said in a statement that they had: "determined that a two-month, unpaid leave of absence, along with training, was the appropriate action given the allegations that were substantiated" and that they had found many of the accusations to be false. Employees later complained that the punishment was too light and that the decision to not fire Gelb was disrespectful.[36]

In January 2021, Sharon O'Donnell filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Riot Games' CEO, Nicolo Laurent. In her nearly 3 year tenure at Riot Games, O'Donnell had worked as Laurent's executive assistant. O'Donnell alleges that Laurent sent sexually explicit and suggestive messages to her, including describing his underwear size, and had invited her over when his wife wasn't home. She also claims Laurent told her to "act more feminine". After she refused Laurent's advances, O'Donnell claims she was punished by having her workplace duties limited, not given lunch breaks or overtime, and eventually fired in July 2020. [37] [38] Riot Games pledged their full support into uncovering these allegations and also dismissed O'Donnell's claims of being unfairly terminated, instead claiming she was dismissed "following more than a dozen complaints from both employees and external partners, and after multiple coaching discussions to try and address these concerns." Riot hired a third party to help investigate these claims. In March 2021, the internal investigation concluded and found no evidence of wrongdoing by Laurent. Regarding allegations of suggestive messages, the investigation found that: "this type of language does not appear anywhere in the years’ worth of emails and texts between Laurent and Plaintiff." and that "We have therefore reached the conclusion that, at the current time … no action should be taken against Laurent."[39]

Forced Arbitration

Arbitration, with regards to the workplace, is the process of resolving disputes by a third party, instead of using litigation, with companies that use arbitration forcing their workers to agree to it as a requirement to working there. Arbitration panels are usually composed of 1-2 people and make binding decisions on disputes. Additionally, arbitration is generally confidential, unlike traditional court rulings. It is often controversial, considering that employees win less money in arbitration, and also win less often. [40] [41] In 2018, Google, Facebook, and Uber removed their forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, but some companies, such as Riot Games, still have them, which could appear to uphold the apparent matrix of domination present in video game industries.[42] After a court ruling upheld Riot Games' arbitration clause, Riot released a statement saying: "This ruling will allow us to reach a fair and speedy resolution to these cases... We have always been, and will continue to be, willing to engage in constructive dialogue to bring these matters to resolution as quickly as possible -- so long as the resolution is grounded in the facts of these cases."[43] Employees staged a walk out in May 2019 with around 150 employees, partly in protest of both the ongoing lawsuits and the forced arbitration clauses in their contracts. [44]

Riot had originally attempted to force the class action gender discrimination lawsuit into individual arbitration after the $10,000,000 settlement was rejected, and this motion to force arbitration was upheld by the judge, until the Department of Fair Employment and Housing stepped in and sued (instead of just investigating), because government cases are not subject to arbitration as they didn't sign the contract. [45]


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