On May 6 at 2:00 PM, nearly 200 Riot Games employees walked off the job in a protest against forced arbitration, the first of its kind for the gaming industry. Problems of sexual abuse, discrimination and problematic leadership have plagued the company since its inception, and many members of the community feel their voices have been quashed under the fearful boot of leadership.
Gathered in a company parking lot before a massive canvas mural blending the cast of League of Legends (the company’s flagship game) with their designers, the walkers-out hosted “Rioters Unplugged,” an open mic for the jaded and abused. Signs held by some attendees set the tone: “I reported and he got promoted.” “Be the company you say you are.” “It shouldn’t take all this to do the right thing.”
The first few speeches were planned, given by organizers of the walk out.
“In five years here,” said Dylan Buck from Creative, “I’ve heard these words repeated again and again – constant calls from Rioters to hold one another accountable. I’ve heard it from every one of my managers…Hold me accountable, that’s what they said. We are here today to do just that.”
“As a person whose gender and race have been conspicuous in my workplace, something immutable, it’s more important than ever that people of color and minorities are represented and spoken for,” shared Indu Reddy, a Riot writer who notably worked on the company’s very popular KDA project. “I could not have imagined this event being so necessary.”
Some other employees gave prepared presentations as well:
“[The organizers] did this because they believe in standing up for what is right; they did this because they recognize what they went through wasn’t a singular anomaly, but a systemic issue,” said a blue-badge (part-time worker). “If it weren’t for you, if it weren’t for the press, if it weren’t for everybody who spoke up, I think that these issues of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination would remain buried, and other victims, like myself, would have never known, and never had the courage to speak up.”
Those who chose to talk were not allowed to disclose the nature of the harassment or abuse they suffered, sexual or otherwise, due to their cases being labeled “confidential” by company leadership. One did, however, share that she would be leaving the company in two weeks. “I have been labeled a red flag, and I worry that my reputation will hurt my colleagues who interact with me. I don’t even spend time with my husband, who works here, because I worry he will also be labeled.”
“We can be a leader in diversity and inclusion, but not if we don’t choose to acknowledge the things that are happening right now,” said Su Liu, a 5-year veteran of the e-sports department. “Equal opportunity, equal pay, equal treatment. That’s not too much to ask for.”
After the initial speakers, the megaphone was opened to any who wanted to share. Many took a turn.
One worker recounted a celebratory event he attended with some members of management. “I overheard a conversation: “I don’t want so-and-so on my team, because they’re a female engineer.” “I don’t want so-and-so on my team, because I’ve already filled my brown quota.” My first thought was, holy s—. If I said that in Champ Select, I’d get chat-banned, or banned from the game!” He issued a challenge to his fellow Rioters: “I did nothing…but I challenge us as Rioters, to exercise our ability to make Riot a place that we feel great about working at.”
One individual almost didn’t present despite being asked, but hearing her colleagues inspired her enough to come to the fore. As much as she could say, she explained how she had been a victim of abuse, as well as the callousness of forced arbitration that followed. “Ronnie stood behind me and she spoke for me in Talent [Riot’s PR department] when I wasn’t brave enough to do that. Jocelyn has fought so many of my fights for me.” She faltered once, on the verge of tears, but a swell from the crowd and cheers of support brought her right back. “I love the Riot you guys have created.”
About 25 speakers in all took up the megaphone. They came from many departments. There were full timers and contractors; veterans of a decade, people hired this year and everyone in between.
The hashtag #Riotwalkout was trending on Twitter halfway through the day, with about 12,800 tweets by its conclusion. The message carried internationally, reaching groups such as French game workers union STJV, Game Workers Unite International, and Google’s own walkout organizers, who all wrote letters of solidarity. STJV made a move the same day to file harassment charges against a major French gaming company, and Riot’s own Dublin branch hosted their own walkout on the next day, following the lead of their Los Angeles teammates.
Jocelyn Monahan, one of the lead organizers, concluded the two-hour protest with a firm message: “Unless we have a clear commitment from leadership by the next Riot Unplugged (which by the way is may 16th), you WILL hear from us again. This is not the end of the conversation, this is the beginning.”