Professionalism/Sexism, Riot Games, and a Class Action Lawsuit

History of Riot GamesEdit

OriginsEdit

 
The logo for League of Legends

Riot Games was founded in 2006[1] by Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill,[2] but it didn't become a notable company in the gaming industry until it released League of Legends in 2009.[1] League was one of the first major MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games to hit the market,[2] and is still Riot's main focus and top earning game today, garnering the company $1.75 billion in revenue in 2020.[3]

Past Problems with DiversityEdit

The gaming industry is often thought of as a boys' club, where there are little to no female players or employees, and female characters in games are often underrepresented or over-sexualized. And while the gaming industry is slowly shifting towards gender equality,[4] it can still be difficult for women to feel welcome; Riot is no exception to this.

Based on data collected from drivers' licenses in 2018, 80% of Riot's workforce was male, which reflected their practice of hiring only "core gamers."[5] At Riot, "core gamers" play either MOBA or FPS (first person shooter) games; however, according to data, only 10% of MOBA players and 7% of FPS players are female.[5]

Leadership positions at Riot are also dominated by men. Of the 23 leadership positions, 21 of them are men, down from 22 prior to 2018.[5]

Attempts at Increased DiversityEdit

Around 2016, Riot began incorporating diversity and inclusion initiatives led by Soha El-Sabaawi. She revised the sexual harassment training at the company, created bias training, and ran mandatory interviewer training in an attempt to decrease internal biases that impeded diverse hiring.[5]

El-Sabaawi refused to provide data on the gender makeup of the company when asked in 2018. After the 80% figure was leaked, El-Sabaawi said that the data was unreliable, but that Riot tended to stay at around a 20% female workforce from year to year. In addition, Riot had no quotas for hiring women into leadership roles, although they tried to have generally diverse candidate pools.[5]

WhistleblowersEdit

Kotaku ArticleEdit

In August of 2018, the whistleblower article was published by Kotaku, chronicling the rampant environment of sexism in the office environment, hiring process, feedback structures at the company. This article was contributed to by 28 current and former Riot Games employees who had seen or experienced this toxic culture at their workplace. The heart of the problem, according to one Riot Games former employee who left due to the sexism she personally experienced, was that, "They just didn't respect women."[5]

Some of the allegations made in this article included, "One woman saw an e-mail thread about what it would be like to “penetrate her,” in which a colleague added that she’d be a good target to sleep with and not call again," the same woman also found out she was on an email chain being sent around by senior leadership about "who they'd sleep with" and rating women, and "Efforts to add new female characters to “League of Legends” were delayed or squashed if their avatars were not deemed sufficiently sexually attractive to men, according to three former employees. ‘They would say it openly, with women in the room.’”[5] Here are the "champions" in League of Legends - most of the female characters share common traits such as skimpy armor and enhanced physical features.

Attempts to Deal with Problems InternallyEdit

Prior to seeking external assistance in dealing with the rampant sexism faced in this office environment, Melanie McCracken, prior to the class action lawsuit, went to Michael Cullen, a member Human Resources (HR) , to discuss the gender-based discrimination she was facing from her boss, Jin Oh. She saw that he did not hire women for "senior employment positions" and when she began to leave Oh's team, he attempted to delay her. She asked Cullen to document their meeting and to remain anonymous in her complaint but this was not heeded as Oh later confronted her about going to HR. [6]

Jessica Negron also attempted to go through HR prior to the class action suit. She spent nearly a year performing the job of her former manager, without an increase in salary or job title, just the implication that she would eventually be hired officially for the position. However, she was never compensated for this (despite the role she was performing having a salary approximately $100,000 higher than that of her current position) and was also passed up for this promotion in favor of their hiring new male employees to fill the role. When she approached HR, they did nothing. Later her new boss implied to her that he was being told to fire her which she also informed HR of, to no effect. [6]

Class Action LawsuitEdit

Mandatory ArbitrationEdit

Mandatory arbitration is "a controversial practice in which a business requires employees or consumers to agree to arbitrate legal disputes with the business rather than going to court."[7] Around 60.1 million America workers are subject to a mandatory arbitration clause in their contracts, including the majority of the women who went to work for Riot and would later file the class action lawsuit.[7][8] Arbitration is a controversial practice, especially when it comes to sexual assault, and other companies have begun removing that specific clause; Google only recently stopped requiring it after employees staged a walkout.[9][10]

Major ParticipantsEdit

Melanie McCracken and Jessica Negron were the original women from Riot who filed the class action lawsuit[6] with the help of their lawyer Rosen Saba.[6][11] The plaintiffs later severed ties with Saba and replaced her with lawyer Genie Harrison in February 2020.[12]

Riot Games, INC was the defendant in the suit, and had a whole host of corporate lawyers.[6] In January 2020, two federal agencies had to become involved in the case as well: the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)[8][11] and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).[11]

AccusationsEdit

In the class action lawsuit, countless allegations were made, painting the picture of an incredibly toxic workplace environment for female employees. Some of the worst listed were: unsolicited and unwanted pictures of male genitalia from bosses or colleagues, being required to participate in crude male humor on topics including masturbation and rape or be labelled "unwilling to fit in" (which could be costly on performance reviews), Brandon Beck, a co-founder, using the phrase “no doesn't necessarily mean no” as a slogan for the company, and a former male employee remained in a position of leadership "despite regularly making sexual comments in the workplace and drugging and raping another Riot Games employee."[6]

Intervention and Current LawsuitEdit

By the end of 2019, the Riot Games and the plaintiffs had agreed to settle for $10 million[13]. However, as the settlement was being processed by the LA Supreme Court, two state agencies, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, intervened in January 2020 [11]. The DFEH indicated that the plaintiffs could actually have grounds to settle for upwards of $400 million, citing workers' rights violations and certain non-monetary provisions with the gender wage differential not accounted for by the plaintiffs lawyers[11]. After word of this new settlement amount came to Riot Games, the company decided by the beginning of 2021 to revert all but one of the plaintiffs back to individual mandatory arbitration[12]

Riot's ResponseEdit

The first action taken by Riot Games was adding a Diversity and Inclusion page to their website in May 2018, a couple months after Kotaku began investigating the state of the company and Riot became aware[14]. Then, after Kotaku asked for their response to the allegations of the 28 whistleblowers, they dismissed any and all claims, stating that "We have a zero tolerance policy on discrimination, harassment, retaliation, bullying, and general toxicity"[6]. Following the release of the whistleblower article in August 2018, Riot published a public response, apologizing to victims and outlining steps they will take to amend past mistakes, including "Expanding the Culture, Diversity, and Inclusion (D&I) Initiative; Revisiting Cultural Definitions; Third-Party Evaluation; Investigation Process; Reevaluating Recruiting; Trainings; and Staffing up for D&I"[15].

By September 2018, the company had announced it had hired Frances Frei, an operations manager who had previously been brought on by Uber in the wake of its widespread sexual misconduct allegations[16]. At this point, Frei had already been meeting with the leadership of Riot and had started working on building a diversity coalition at the company. Come April 2020, Riot published the Diversity and Inclusion Progress Report with the help of Frei[17]. This outlined the steps Riot had taken since the Kotaku article to elevate diverse voices in the company and change its toxic culture. The company had made single digit growths in hirings and promotions of women and underrepresented minorities, but new hires still remained less than a third women, and women managers went up only 1%; the 21 to 2 men-to-women leadership remained the same. Additionally, the company expressed its continued commitment to delivering justice to the women working at the company since 2013; however, less than a year later, the company would re-enforce mandatory arbitration on the plaintiffs. Finally, the report highlighted efforts to recruit more diverse candidates, as well as enforce Diversity and Inclusion training for everyone at the company, especially those in leadership or managerial positions.

ReferencesEdit

  1. a b Riot Games. (n.d.). Who We Are. Riot Games. https://www.riotgames.com/en/who-we-are
  2. a b Crecente, B. (2019, October 27). League of Legends is now 10 years old. This is the story of its birth. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2019/10/27/league-legends-is-now-years-old-this-is-story-its-birth/
  3. Field Level Media. (2021, January 11). Report: League of Legends produced $1.75 billion in revenue in 2020. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/esports-lol-revenue/report-league-of-legends-produced-1-75-billion-in-revenue-in-2020-idUSFLM2vzDZL
  4. Clement, J. (2021, January 29). Share of video game protagonists from 2015-2020, by gender. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/871912/character-gender-share-video-games/
  5. a b c d e f g D’Anastasio, C. (2018, August 7). Inside the Culture of Sexism at Riot Games. Kotaku. https://kotaku.com/inside-the-culture-of-sexism-at-riot-games-1828165483
  6. a b c d e f g McCracken et al. v Riot Games. (Cali. 2018). Case No. 18STCV03957. https://www.classaction.org/media/mccracken-et-al-v-riot-games-inc.pdf
  7. a b Colvin, A.J. (2017, September 27). The growing use of mandatory arbitration. Economic Policy Institute. https://www.epi.org/publication/the-growing-use-of-mandatory-arbitration/
  8. a b Brown, C. (2021, January 26). Riot Games Backpedals Out of Class Action Settlement and Into More Litigation. Top Class Actions. https://topclassactions.com/lawsuit-settlements/employment-labor/sexual-harassment/riot-games-backpedals-out-of-class-action-settlement-and-into-more-litigation/
  9. Wakabayashi, D. (2019, February 21). Google Ends Forced Arbitration for All Employee Disputes. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/technology/google-forced-arbitration.html
  10. Stapleton, C. (2019, December 19). Google Loved Me, Until I Pointed Out Everything That Sucked About It. Elle. https://www.elle.com/culture/tech/a30259355/google-walkout-organizer-claire-stapleton/
  11. a b c d e Taylor, H. (2020, January 22). Women suing Riot Games may be entitled to $400m not $10m. gamesindustry.biz. https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2020-01-22-women-suing-riot-games-may-be-entitled-to-usd400m-not-usd10m-says-state-regulator
  12. a b Dealessandri, M. (2021, February 1). Riot Games pushes for arbitration in gender discrimination lawsuit. gamesindustry.biz. https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2021-01-29-riot-games-seeks-arbitration-in-gender-discrimination-lawsuit
  13. Valentine, R. (2019, December 2). Riot Games to pay out $10m to former employees in gender discrimination settlement. gamesindustry.biz. https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2019-12-02-riot-to-pay-out-usd10m-to-former-employees-in-gender-discrimination-settlement
  14. Riot Games. (n.d.). Diversity, Inclusion, and Culture. Riot Games. https://www.riotgames.com/en/diversity-inclusion-and-culture
  15. Riot Games. (2018, August 29). Our First Steps Forward. Riot Games. https://www.riotgames.com/en/who-we-are/our-first-steps-forward
  16. Riot Games. (2018, September 12). Welcoming Frances Frei to Riot’s D&I and Culture Strike Team. Riot Games. https://www.riotgames.com/en/who-we-are/welcoming-frances-frei-to-riots-d-i-and-culture-strike-team
  17. Riot Games. (2020, April 29). Diversity and Inclusion Progress Report. Riot Games. https://www.riotgames.com/en/work-with-us/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-and-inclusion-progress-report