I’ve been up all night after reading Kotaku’s article on the company culture of Riot, and its effect on women in particular. Cecilia contacted me as a potential source, but I didn’t commit to…
HN Discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17723104
Posted by nostalgeek
(karma: 442)Post stats: Points: 185 - Comments: 139 - 2018-08-09T11:02:25Z
I’ve been up all night after reading Kotaku’s article on the company culture of Riot, and its effect on women in particular. Cecilia contacted me as a potential source, but I didn’t commit to providing my experience on the record because I was worried about the ramifications of speaking out. The discourse around this conversation and the reticence to believe the women who came forward has stunned me. I’ve been carrying around a heavy weight on my shoulders since 2014, and I feel it is finally time to let it go. I only lasted six months at Riot before resigning.
In 2014, I left a job I loved and colleagues I adored to take up a post at Riot Games in Dublin. One of their recruiters had reached out to me nearly a year prior, and while I was immensely happy at my current place of work, I had always wanted to work abroad at least once in my life. I was becoming addicted to League of Legends, Riot had a history of great community-centric initiatives, and I felt that if I turned down the opportunity, I would always ask myself, “What if?”
I was initially apprehensive, as I had been told firsthand that Riot could have a “bro” culture at times. So I did my research. I asked the recruiter directly about the mysterious “culture” of Riot, and why conforming to it was so important. I even messaged a handful of women ex-Rioters to ask about their experiences. They all confirmed that Riot could have a “frat party” type atmosphere at times, but didn’t relay stories of overt sexism or harassment.
I took the job in early 2014. I sold my car, packed up all my belongings in a shipping container, committed to a long-distance relationship with my partner, and sent my cats off for the mandatory 30 days of quarantine. I fully committed, expecting to work there for several years at the minimum.
Before I detail some of what I experienced at Riot, first, let me state the obvious. The behavior below is NOT indicative of all Riot employees. The large majority of Riot employees I’ve met have been lovely, and as evidenced above, there are many people who weren’t subject to sexist behavior and harassment. That being said, from my own experiences and that of many others speaking out this week, an unacceptable number of people – primarily, but not exclusively women – have been subject to inappropriate behavior at Riot for years. It is systemic to the company’s culture and needs to be addressed as such.
I’ve outlined some of the most notable negative encounters with Riot staff below. These don’t account for the daily microaggressions and condescending remarks that are too numerous to detail. For transparency, being four years removed from Riot has not degraded my recollection of these events. I am drawing them directly from the eight-page resignation letter I sent to Riot in August of 2014.
Content-Warning: Sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic language, as well as mentions of sexual assault.
At Riot, employees are encouraged to play League before/after work, or during lunch. My very first week at the Dublin office, I heard shouting from individuals playing together, calling each other “fggots” repeatedly. I was unnerved, but it was my first week and I didn’t know if this was a common occurrence. I didn’t say anything at that time. Eventually, the language would escalate to “n
gger”. No one flinched, and I realized it was considered the norm. Nearly the same thing happened my first day of meetings at the Riot LA office, where two men were loudly calling each other “c*cksuckers” right outside the office of the CEOs.
Soon I began to notice gendered language regularly being used among male Rioters to insult each other. Guys would tell each other “not to be such a girl” and call one another “pssies” quite regularly. They would casually refer to women as “b
tches” and say that “all women were crazy.” I also overheard a group discussing how a female professional made it far in the industry, suggesting she “sucked c*ck to get to the top.
My first month at Riot we had an opportunity to talk with one of the CEOs for an office-wide AMA. We were encouraged to submit questions anonymously. I submitted something that had bothered me for some time as a League player. I wondered why – other than the child characters and Yordles – nearly all the female champions had the exact same body type. The male champions were young, old, skinny, athletic, obese, handsome, monstrous, and more – they were unique and diverse. The most prevalent characteristic of female champions at the time was sex appeal. I wanted something more. I wanted to know when we would get a female equivalent of Gragas.
The senior staff liked the question so much that they requested I ask it live, rather than anonymously. I was apprehensive at first because I was so new, but I also understood that this was an important opportunity to directly challenge someone in a position of power who could make a change. Unfortunately, the response boiled down to “giving the players what they want”, to which I rebutted that Riot was big enough to influence player perception of what characters are cool or fun to play. I was very disappointed by the response, which felt dismissive of the issue. (As a side note, I was happy to see Riot’s efforts to diversify their female champions these past few years.)
After the meeting, I realized I had put a target on my back with some of the men in the office. I didn’t even make it to my desk before a male colleague came up and told me that “women don’t want to play unattractive champions. They want to feel beautiful.” I was stunned. A woman behind us audibly laughed at the fact that he was informing us of our gender’s gaming preferences. A few male coworkers also asked why I would like to see an “unattractive” female champion, or a plus size female champion, because “no one wants to look at that.” These were several of dozens of conversations I would have on the matter.
Things only got worse the longer I stayed at Riot. I didn’t go out with colleagues after events because strip clubs seemed to be a common destination. Asking me what age I lost my virginity at was deemed appropriate conversation during a team dinner, and employees I didn’t know prodded into how my sex life worked in a long-distance relationship.
I felt out of place in my direct team as well. Our Jira sprints were named things like “thong.” I was the only woman on that particular team, and so a senior staff member named us the “Bros and Ho”. I immediately tried to shut that down, but it was used for weeks regardless.
Rape became a punchline to jokes quite frequently, including one instance where an employee went on for several hours about how he was going to rape his male colleague, who was his hotel roommate. He was graphic in exactly how he was going to rape his roommate, who was a new hire, and it was obvious that the individual in question was extremely uncomfortable.
While on a team outing, the same senior staff member messaged a new employee’s girlfriend on Facebook asking if she was “DTF” - shorthand for “down to f*ck”. He thought it was a funny joke. The new staffer didn’t feel comfortable challenging him, even though his girlfriend was very uncomfortable and called to ask why she was being harassed by his boss.
Then came the final straw. At a work dinner, it came up that I thought I’d been paired in a hotel room with a male Rioter. It turned out to be a typo in the name, and, as was standard, I was paired with another woman. A senior staff member proceeded to repeatedly call me sexist for not being willing to room with a man I’d never met before. At first, I thought he was kidding, but he continued to make arguments to his point. I explained why I would be more comfortable sharing a room with another woman, and told him I wasn’t enjoying the conversation and would leave if I was continued to be called sexist. The conversation continued, with him eventually saying that my unwillingness to room with a man was the same as not hiring a woman due to her gender. I left the table in the middle of dinner, unwilling to take any more after six months of such behavior. I submitted my resignation shortly after.
My biggest concern with Riot – putting my own experiences behind me – is the inappropriate and sometimes predatory behavior that some staff exhibited towards fans. I frequently pushed back against comments and scenarios like these but found I was one of the few that would speak up. Rioters are often seen as celebrities with dedicated fans, and it is easy to abuse that power.
I regularly witnessed lewd comments about women passing by at events, discussing their level of attractiveness, whether someone would sleep with them, and guessing if they were the age of consent.
Several times I heard male employees bragging and sharing intimate details about hooking up with players at events, including a cosplayer we worked with in an official capacity. Several male colleagues even asked me to “hook them up” with cosplayers.
When I brought up the inappropriateness of a young League cosplayer having silly-string unexpectedly sprayed across her chest during a video piece by a third party – the gag being that he had ejaculated on her – I was told I was the “comedy police”.
I overheard at least a dozen employees comment on how cosplayers only make costumes for attention and ask “is this even considered a costume?” when a very famous cosplayer recreated a scantily-clad female champion. I showed them that she was one-to-one with the splash art. They begrudgingly conceded that it was an official outfit. This is obviously highly hypocritical.
At least three times Riot Dublin employees made inappropriate comments via work email about a female cosplayer’s breasts (one they regularly worked with).
While in LA, I had a week of very successful meetings with Rioters to help get a new cosplay initiative off the ground. In a recap meeting, I expressed how happy I was that we were creating such great programming for cosplayers. The senior most staff member responded with “Who wouldn’t want to work with cosplayers? Because Boobs.”
During one event, a first-time cosplayer came to our booth crying because someone had commented negatively on her weight in relation to the character. Another coworker and I consoled her for nearly 30 minutes, and she left, feeling much better. After she left, a fellow Rioter called her a “fatass” and asked why she would try to cosplay the character she chose. I was in shock but told him how inappropriate that was to say about our fans, especially those passionate enough to make and wear costumes. Cosplayers have also been called “tr*nnies” and “attention whores” by Riot employees at events.
In meetings, I was told that we shouldn’t put cosplayers on stage to play League live, because they are mostly women, and therefore not very good at the game.
Further examples of disrespect include when I argued that we shouldn’t let a cosplayer in blackface on our stage for a parade, keeping in mind that Riot is a global company. I was repeatedly called racist by my colleagues, who tried to convince me that it was an acceptable practice and I was overreacting.
This is not a comprehensive list. These were only the very specific examples I could draw from when I drafted my resignation letter at Riot. After word got out that I quit, I was contacted by several other women from the office, asking to meet. I was told more horror stories, discovering that some of them had been physically touched, cornered in shared vehicles, and faced professional retaliation for turning down advances. They asked for advice. I told them that they needed to speak up too.
The reason I didn’t share any of this before is because I felt trapped. I am not proud of myself for staying silent. After I quit, I was stranded in Ireland with my entire life in an apartment, no job, no car, and not even a cell phone, as it was immediately taken away from me once I resigned. I needed to get back to the United States somehow. Riot was my best bet, and I worried that if I didn’t agree to their mandates or went public with anything that I’d ruin my chance of getting home. After six months of near-daily misery, I was exhausted. I signed their agreements. I needed to get out. I recognize that I put myself at legal risk by disclosing my experience now. After years of regret and the thought that these practices could still be going on today, affecting countless others who also feel alone and outgunned by a company they were once excited to be a part of, I am willing to take that risk. I want to work towards a better and more inclusive industry and show solidarity with the other women who have come forward.
I left Riot feeling like a failure. I felt like I wasn’t tough enough to stick it out or make a positive change at the company. I had been very public about my new adventure in Ireland, and all I could post about the return home was an agreed upon “culture fit issues’ statement to my social channels. Friends and followers could tell that something was wrong, but I couldn’t expand further.
To be clear, not everything from my time at Riot was negative. I became good friends with several of my co-workers and loved interacting with fans. Riot is a massive company that employs thousands of people. There are going to be women at the company who’ve never experienced sexism or harassment from their colleagues. I am very happy that they have found a safe working space with their particular branches or teams. That being said, these harassment-free experiences don’t invalidate the experiences of women like myself, and the dozens of others I personally met while working at Riot, who struggled with fair and respectful treatment on a daily basis.
The in-depth article on Kotaku and outpouring of other stories from both current and ex-Rioters finally gave me the courage to speak up, despite my concerns about professional or legal ramifications. I should have done this four years ago. I tried to facilitate change while working at Riot and after my departure. I’m hoping the groundswell of voices will now finally cause real, meaningful change within one of the most influential gaming companies in the world.
Two final notes:
To the many good eggs at Riot: I’ve seen many of your posts. I understand your frustration if you have not been witness to this type of behavior, or experienced it yourself. That being said, you can support your company and the individuals who have come forward. Your anger shouldn’t be directed at the subjects of this abuse and maltreatment, but rather the individuals who perpetuated these acts in the first place. Please keep an eye out for your peers, and hold others accountable for their actions.
To young women hoping to work in gaming: Gaming can be a tough industry, but please don’t let conversations like this drive you away from pursuing your passion. The more we dissect and discuss these situations in a public forum, the more steps we take to making the industry a more inclusive place. As tough as gaming can be, it is equally welcoming and rewarding.
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