Riot Games

Riot Games, Inc. is an American video game developer, publisher, and esports tournament organizer based in West Los Angeles, California. The company was founded in September 2006 to develop League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena game. Since its release in 2009, the company has produced several spin-offs in the same franchise. For the game, Riot Games operates 14 esports leagues internationally, and the League of Legends World Championship. As of May 2018, Riot Games had 24 offices across the world and employs around 2,500 staff. Since 2011, Riot has been a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate Tencent.

Riot Games, Inc.
TypeSubsidiary
IndustryVideo games
FoundedSeptember 2006; 14 years ago (2006-09) in Santa Monica, California, US
Founders
  • Brandon Beck
  • Marc Merrill
Headquarters,
US
Number of locations
24 offices (2018)
Key people
  • Brandon Beck (co-chairman)
  • Marc Merrill (co-chairman)
  • Nicolo Laurent (CEO)
  • Dylan Jadeja (CFO)
Products
Number of employees
2,500 (2018)
ParentTencent (2011–present)
Divisions
  • Riot Forge
  • Riot Tabletop
Subsidiaries
Websiteriotgames.com

Riot has received criticism for allegations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace and, consequently, for its use of forced arbitration in disputes.

HistoryEdit

 
The original Riot Games logo, used from 2006 to 2019

Riot Games' founders, Brandon "Ryze" Beck and Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill, became friends while roommates at the University of Southern California, where the two studied business and bonded over video games.[1] Beck and Merrill believed too many video game developers jumped from game to game too quickly, and thought the success of Defense of the Ancients indicated games could be supported and monetized long-term.[1][2] They also drew inspiration from Asian video game designers who charged for additional perks.[3]

Beck and Merrill sought funding from family and angel investors, raising US$1.5 million to launch their company.[3] Riot Games was established in September 2006 and opened an office in an old, converted machine shop under an Interstate 405 overpass in Santa Monica, California.[4][5] The first person Riot Games recruited was Steve "Guinsoo" Feak, one of the early developers of DotA Allstars, a game considered to have been foundational to the MOBA genre.[1] As they refined League of Legends' initial creation, they pitched investors a video game company rooted in e-commerce. Merill said that they approached publishers who were baffled by the game's lack of a single-player mode and free-to-play business model.[6] After several rounds of funding totalling $8 million, including investments by the Benchmark and FirstMark Capital venture capital firms, as well as Chinese holding company Tencent, who would later become League of Legends' distributor in China.[3][7][8]

Following six months of beta tests, Riot Games released League of Legends as a free-to-play game on October 27, 2009.[1][9] Their game designers and executives participated in online forums to make adjustments based on player feedback.[3] On May 10, 2010, Riot Games announced that they would take over distribution and operation of their game in Europe; to do so, Riot Games relocated their European headquarters in Brighton to new offices in Dublin.[10] In February 2011, Tencent invested $400 million for a 93 percent stake in Riot Games.[3][11] Tencent bought the remaining 7 percent on December 16, 2015; the price was not disclosed.[3][12]

In 2012, in response to toxicity and harassment in League of Legends, Riot Games launched a "player behavior team" of psychologists to combat harassment on its platform.[13][14] Riot Games' tactics to address issues on League of Legends, including an opt-in chat function between opposing players, informing banned players of the reasoning behind the ban, and creating a tribunal of players to weigh in on bans, resulted in a 30 percent drop in reported harassment behavior.[13] The efficacy of their results has been questioned by players and the gaming press.[15] By 2013, League of Legends was the most-played multiplayer PC game in the world.[16][17] From 2014 to 2016, the number of active League of Legends players grew from 67 million to more than 100 million.[3][18]

Riot Games relocated to a new building on a 20-acre (8 hectare) campus in West Los Angeles in 2015.[3][19] In March 2016, Riot Games acquired Radiant Entertainment, another developer who was working on Rising Thunder and Stonehearth at the time.[20] Rising Thunder was effectively canceled following the acquisition, with the game's team allocated to a new project.[21] On October 13, 2017, Beck and Merrill announced that they were returning their focus to developing games, aiming to create new experiences for video game and esports players.[22] Beck and Merrill handed over the day-to-day operations and overall management of the League of Legends team to three longtime employees: Dylan Jadeja, Scott Gelb and Nicolo Laurent, who previously served as chief financial officer (CFO), chief technology officer (CTO) and president, respectively.[22] Subsequently, Gelb and Laurent assumed roles as chief operating officer (COO) and chief executive officer (CEO), respectively, while Beck and Merrill became the Riot Games' chairmen.[23] As of May 2018, Riot Games employs 2,500 people,[24] operating 24 offices around the world.[25]

In October 2019, Riot Games announced several new games: a version of League of Legends for mobile devices and consoles called League of Legends: Wild Rift, a standalone mobile version of the Teamfight Tactics mode from League of Legends, and the digital collectible card game titled Legends of Runeterra, with all three scheduled for a 2020 release.[note 1] The company also teased further games — tactical shooter Valorant (under the codename Project A), Project L, and Project F – that have not been detailed outside of genre descriptions.[27][28]

In December 2019, Riot Games announced Riot Forge, a publishing label headed by Leanne Loombe. The label partners with smaller game development studios for the creation of League of Legends games, with some games of this type already being in development.[29] Two titles from Riot Forge were announced at The Game Awards 2019: Ruined King: A League of Legends Story by Airship Syndicate, and Convergence: A League of Legends Story by Double Stallion Games.[30] Another division, Riot Tabletop, was announced in January 2020, to producing tabletop games; the first was Tellstones: King's Gambit, released in 2020.[31]

Riot acquired Hypixel Studios in April 2020, which they had been investing in over the previous eighteen months to help them publish Hytale, a voxel-based sandbox game.[32] Also in April, Riot announced plans to establish a Singapore office later that year. Riot Games Singapore is to support Riot's existing titles and will have a major focus on developing the company's newer titles.[33] Jason Bunge was hired as Riot Games' chief marketing officer in October 2020.[34]

EsportsEdit

Riot Games operates esports leagues worldwide. This includes the League of Legends Championship Series, comprising leagues in North America and Europe.[35][36] In total, there are more than 100 teams in Riot Games' 14 regional leagues around the world.[37][38] Teams compete over the course of a season separated into two seasonal splits.[38] Teams earn championship points to qualify for two major international competitions: the Mid-Season Invitational and the League of Legends World Championship.[39][40] Riot Games' World Championship is the annual professional tournament at the conclusion of each season.[41][42]

During 2010 and 2011, the Riot Games team developed new content for League of Legends;[1] it was during this time that the company realized that people also liked to watch the game being played.[1] As a result, Riot Games established its own League of Legends esports leagues which produce weekly broadcasts and create a professional game schedule.[1] Following Riot Games' first world championship event in 2011, a small affair at a conference in Sweden, the company decided to turn their tournaments into professional sports-like events.[3] It invested in broadcasting equipment, hired sports programming producers, and trained pro gamers to be "TV-ready".[3] In 2012, Riot Games held its tournament at University of Southern California's Galen Center, offering $1 million in prize money.[3] Riot Games has since held tournaments in Berlin, Seoul, Madison Square Garden in New York City, and the Staples Center in Los Angeles.[3]

The company sells corporate sponsorships, merchandise, and streaming rights for its esports league.[3] In 2015, investors bought stakes in teams and began building their own squads.[3] Among the team owners in Riot Games' leagues are the owners of the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Dodgers, AOL co-founder Steve Case, and life coach Tony Robbins.[3][43][44] Inc. cited the growth of the leagues and high-profile ownership as part of its reasoning for making Riot Games its 2016 Company of the Year.[3] Following debates over whether pro players and coaches should have a greater share of Riot Games' esports revenue and concerns raised about the company making in-game changes prior to matches, the company issued an open letter in 2016 promising higher revenue shares and more collaboration with professional teams.[3] In 2017, Riot Games held the League of Legends World Championship in China, with the finals taking place in Beijing.[42] The same year, the company announced it would franchise its ten-team North American League of Legends Championship Series, which cost at least $10 million to enter.[45]

Riot Games disallows the expression of personal views on what it deems sensitive issues (including politics and religion) during its live-broadcast esports events.[46]

GamesEdit

Year Title Genre(s) Platform(s) Notes Ref(s)
2009 League of Legends Multiplayer online battle arena macOS, Windows
2019 Teamfight Tactics Auto battler Android, iOS, macOS, Windows [27][28]
2020 League of Legends: Wild Rift Multiplayer online battle arena Android, iOS, unrevealed consoles Official release date is unknown; currently in open beta across several regions.
Legends of Runeterra Digital collectible card game Android, iOS, Windows
Valorant First-person shooter Windows Codenamed, and announced, as Project A. [47]
LoL Esports Manager Simulation Android, iOS, Windows [48][49]
2021 Ruined King: A League of Legends Story Tactical role-playing game Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows Published by Riot Games and developed by Airship Syndicate. [50]
TBA Project L Fighting TBA [27][28]
Project F Action role-playing, hack and slash
Unknown MMORPG Riot's VP of IP and Entertainment announced via Twitter that a MMO based on the League of Legends IP was in early development. [51][52]

MinigamesEdit

Year Title Genre(s) Platform(s) Developer(s)
2013 Astro Teemo Arcade Browser Pure Bang Games
2014 Cho'Gath Eats the World
2015 Blitzcrank's Poro Roundup Android, iOS
2017 Ziggs Arcade Blast Windows Riot Games
2018 Star Guardian: Insomnia Shoot 'em up
Project.execute
Super Zac Ball Sports

Tabletop gamesEdit

In October 2016, Riot Games released Mechs vs. Minions, a cooperative tabletop game based on League of Legends.[53][54] Riot's first tabletop game under Riot Tabletop was Tellstones: King's Gambit, a bluffing game for two or four players, released in 2020.[55][56]

Criticism and controversyEdit

Allegations over gender discrimination and sexual harassmentEdit

Over the first half of 2018, Kotaku spoke to about 28 former and current employees at Riot Games. Several claimed that female employees at Riot were being discriminated against. For example, some noted that ideas from female employees were overlooked while the same ideas from male employees were readily accepted, and some female employees were groomed for more senior positions only to be passed up by a new male hire. These employees described Riot's working environment as a "bro culture". Other allegations included receiving images of male genitalia from colleagues and bosses, an email thread speculating on what it would be like to penetrate a female employee, and a list shared among senior staff members detailing which female employees they would sleep with.[57] Kotaku speculated that this came from Riot's history of generally catering to "core" gamers both in products and in hiring practices, causing the company to favor male employees over females.[57]

Some Riot employees approached by Kotaku asserted these accusations were not true or were already being addressed; for example, according to the head of the platform, Oksana Kubushyna, efforts to improve the hiring process to be more diverse and inclusive toward women started nine months prior to article's publication.[57] Riot Games' corporate communications lead Joe Hixson acknowledged the problems and said they did not align with Riot's core values. Furthermore, he said that all Riot employees must be held accountable for the working environment.[58]

In the week following Kotaku's article, several more current and former developers came forward to speak on their own experiences at Riot, which included claims of sexual harassment and misgendering. In a statement to Gamasutra, Hixson indicated that the company is taking action based on the story and its response. He elaborated that, in regards to claims of misbehavior by higher-level executives at Riot, the seniority of the individuals would have no impact on disciplinary proceedings.[59] By the end of August 2018, Riot revealed they were implementing seven "first steps" to change the company's internal culture in light of the issues raised, including a "Culture and Diversity & Inclusion Initiative" priority.[60] To help implement these, Riot hired Frances X. Frei as a senior adviser for diversity, leadership, and strategy.[61]

As a response to the Kotaku article, Riot offered a session at PAX West in 2018 for prospective video game developers with a panel and one-on-one sessions to review résumés; the session only admitted women and non-binary people. Members of Riot's game communities expressed outrage at the exclusion of men, while Riot employees defended the decision as such gender-exclusive support was necessary to correct the male-dominated nature of video game development. Some of the feedback towards Riot included harassment and threats. In response a shooting at a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida in August 2018, Riot planned to increase security at its upcoming events.[62] Two employees of Riot attempted to address the feedback from the PAX event, leading one to be fired and the other to leave the company; Riot stated that these departures were separate from their Diversity Initiative.[63]

In December 2018, Riot's CEO Nicolo Laurent sent an email to all employees stating that following the company's internal investigation, their COO, Scott Gelb, was suspended for two months without pay for workplace misconduct and would take training classes before his return. Riot stated to Kotaku that there still other cases they were investigating but did not involve those as senior as Gelb, and thus would not discuss these cases publicly.[64] By January 2019, Riot updated the company values on its website, the first time since 2012, to reflect the apparent "bro culture" mentioned in the Kotaku report,[65] and by February 2019, had hired Angela Roseboro as the company's chief diversity officer to further help improve their culture.[66]

About three months after Kotaku's story, one current and one former Riot employee filed a lawsuit against the company, asserting the company engaged in gender discrimination in relation to their pay and position, and that the company had created a "sexually-hostile" workplace. The lawsuit seeks to qualify it as a class-action suit, and for damages to be based on unpaid wages, damages, and other factors to be determined at trial.[67] Three other employees followed with their own lawsuits against Riot Games in the months that followed. Riot Games attempted to have two of the suits dismissed in April 2019, citing that the two female plaintiffs of these suits, when hired, had agreed to third-party arbitration rather than take court action.[68] Internally, several employees of Riot threatened to walk out, an idea that had been around since the first Kotaku article, as alongside the coercion to use arbitration, these employees felt Riot had yet to improve its transparency on the processes and had otherwise continued to retain Gelb despite his suspension.

A proposed settlement was reached in the class-action suit in August 2019, which would include at least US$10 million in damages to women that had been employeed at Riot Games over the prior five years.[69] Representatives of the class indicated that they thought it would lead to change, while Riot said that there were other issues not covered by the suit, and that they also intended to resolve the unacknowledged issues.[70]

California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) had been investigating claims of gender discrimination at Riot Games since October 2018. In June 2019, DFEH announced that Riot had denied providing them requested documents and were seeking action to compel these documents, though Riot responded by saying that they complied with all DFEH requests.[71] Upon word of the settlement, the Department filed a complaint with the court that stated they believed the settlement was far too low, estimating that the lawsuit potentially could have been worth as much as US$400 million. The state's Division of Labor Standards Enforcement also filed a complaint, believing the settlement would release Riot from labor liabilities that had been raised by the lawsuit. Both complaints urged the court to reject the proposed settlement.[72] Riot dismissed the DFEH's larger value to the suit, and denied charges raised by the DFEH that it had colluded with the class's lawyer to reduce the amount they would pay through the settlement.[73]

As a result of the state's findings that the terms of the settlement should have been valued higher, the class withdrew the proposed US$10 million settlement and dropped their original legal counsel, bringing on new lawyers who had been involved in prior lawsuits related to the Me Too movement in February 2020.[74] In response, Riot said they found the US$10 million figure "fair and adequate under the circumstances" after analysis, but were remaining committed to reaching a resolution.[75]

Riot and Laurent were sued by Laurent's former assistant in February 2021 on sexual discrimination charges, which included inappropriate language and labor mistreatment.[76]

Dispute over forced arbitration clausesEdit

Riot has also been criticized by its employees for requiring the use of forced arbitration in its employment contracts as a result of the gender discrimination lawsuit. Riot allowed employees to speak anonymously with the press, and indicated their intent to use town hall meetings and smaller group discussions with Roseboro and employees to determine future action.[77] Riot also committed to removing mandatory arbitration in new employee contracts and potentially for existing ones after the current litigation had been settled.[78] Additionally, Riot established a 90-day plan starting in May 2019 to continue to address internal issues related to diversity and inclusion.[79] Despite this, over one hundred Riot employees staged their walkout on May 6, 2019, demanding that Riot end forced arbitration for all past and current employees as well.[80] About two weeks following the walkout, Riot reverted their position, saying that they will not change forced arbitration in existing agreements while the current litigation against the company is ongoing.[81]

OthersEdit

In June 2020, Ron Johnson, Riot Games' global head of consumer products, shared a Facebook post that claimed George Floyd had been killed by police "because of his criminal lifestyle". The company subsequently placed Johnson on leave to conduct an investigation, after which Ron resigned from the company.[82][83][84][85]

Riot had announced a planned partnership with the developing city of Neom in Saudi Arabia in July 2020, with the city to sponsor the upcoming League of Legends European Championship series. Shortly after the announcement, fans of the game, as well as Riot employees, criticized the company over social media and their streaming channels over the partnership, citing Saudi Arabia's record on human rights and the violent attempts to evict the Howeitat tribe from the area during the city's construction. Riot canceled the partnership within a few days in response, apologizing and saying that the partnership had been rushed.[86]

Riot was criticized for marketing a new League of Legends character by creating an in-character Twitter account in which they alluded to her struggles with her mental health, including low self-esteem, anxiety, and impostor syndrome.[87] Some wrote that the account was an attempt to trick players into feeling close to her in an attempt to advertise.[88] Creative director Patrick Morales said that, although he was "proud" of the members of the team who worked on the campaign, it had "an unintended impact outside of the narrative we wanted to tell".[89]

LitigationEdit

In 2017, Riot Games filed a lawsuit against Moonton Technology Co., the developer of the mobile game Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, because of copyright infringement, citing similarities between Mobile Legends and League of Legends. The case was initially dismissed in California on account of forum non conveniens. Tencent, on behalf of Riot Games, then filed a new lawsuit in a Chinese court, which ruled in Tencent's favor in July 2018, awarding it $2.9 million in damages.[90][91]

In October 2019, Riot Games filed a lawsuit against Riot Squad Esports LLC, a Chicago-based esports organization founded in March 2019, alleging that Riot Squad intentionally infringed on Riot Games' "Riot" trademark.[92][93]

NotesEdit

  1. ^ League of Legends: Wild Rift was delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.[26]

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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit