A number of employees at Riot Games, the studio behind League of Legends, have initiated an organized walkout to protest the company today. This follows a streak of investigative reports (largely done by Kotaku) that highlight a culture of discrimination, misogyny, and outright sexual harassment at Riot. Although things finally came to a head after Riot moved to force current and former employees into “forced arbitration” — making it functionally impossible for workers to seek legal action against the company.
One organizer previously estimated the turnout at 100 employees. Although they have since told Fanbyte they expect closer to 200-300 participants — and hope for up to 500 to attend the two-hour walkout.
“I think it’s a first step,” the organizer added. “I’m not sure whether [Riot] will make a change or not. Today is mostly to show we’re not happy with this policy.”
Rumors of the walkout spread throughout Riot, and were further reported at Vice Games (known at the time as Waypoint). This, in turn, prompted its own response from Riot Games. The company’s chief diversity officer, Angela Roseboro, who was hired shortly after the initial Kotaku story, requested that employees discuss the issue in “small group sessions.” Although this drew criticism as a potential method to isolate workers and reduce their power of collective action.
Whatever the motive, it seems employees weren’t happy with that option, and will begin the walkout as planned. Many have also taken to Twitter with #RiotWalkout to spread the word. This appears to be the first such walkout of its kind at a single, major game studio.
Riot, for its part, has paid lip service to improving its working conditions. But as the motion to block two of five gender discrimination lawsuits leveled at the company indicates, that hasn’t led to much tangible action. Perhaps most notably, Riot COO Scott Gelb — who reportedly farted on, humped, and “ball-tapped” employees — still retains their position after two months of “unpaid suspension and training.”
The company more recently announced that it “will give all new Rioters [Riot employees] the choice to opt-out of mandatory arbitration for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims.” The studio also mentioned expanding that option to current employees, who potentially waived the choice in existing contracts, but would not commit to anything “while in active litigation.” A representative finally claimed that Riot “will not tolerate retaliation of any kind” against those performing the walkout — at least not during its scheduled window between 2-4 p.m.
And while this is one of the highest-profile strikes against a game studio, it’s far from the first time a tech company has drawn flak for private arbitration clauses. Google, Facebook, and Uber — none of which are strangers to criticism for their workplace culture and conditions — have all publicly announced they will not use the practice in cases of harassment.
The walkout organizer we spoke to concluded with the group’s official line. The participating employees are “asking for Riot leadership to end forced arbitration for all past, current, and future employees — including those in active litigation.” And while they stressed that this is not currently the prelude to official employee organization (i.e. a labor union), the participating employees don’t see this as the end of anything. Rather, the action is being considered as “the start of a conversation.”
UPDATE: Riot Games issued an official statement to Fanbyte regarding the walkout. It does not read any differently from what the company has said elsewhere. However, the full statement reads as follows:
We support Rioters making their voices heard today. We have asked all managers to make every accommodation to allow Rioters to participate during the 2-4pm window, including freeing up meeting times. We respect Rioters who choose to walkout today and will not tolerate retaliation of any kind as a result of participating (or not).While we will not make a change to our policies while in active litigation, last Thursday we announced that we’ve made the call to pivot our approach. As soon as active litigation is resolved, we will give all new Rioters the choice to opt-out of mandatory arbitration for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. At that time, we will also commit to have a firm answer on potentially expanding the scope and extending this opt-out to all Rioters. We are working diligently to resolve all active litigation so that we can quickly take steps toward a solution.As we have been for the past week, we will continue to listen to Rioters regarding their thoughts on arbitration and we’re thankful for everyone that has taken the time to meet with leadership about this issue.