Inside The Culture Of Sexism At Riot Games
August 9, 2018 10:32 AM   Subscribe

One day, Lacy conducted an experiment...

After an idea she really believed in fell flat during a meeting, she asked a male colleague to present the same idea to the same group of people days later.

He was sceptical, but she insisted that he give it a shot. “Lo and behold, the week after that, [he] went in, presented exactly as I did and the whole room was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing.’ [His] face turned beet red and he had tears in his eyes,” said Lacy. “They just didn’t respect women.”
posted by haemanu (29 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
My experience suggests that something like this is true at almost every gaming company out there, although not usually to this extreme.

I'm male, but not a gamer, and yet somehow I've been employed by a company making video games for eight years now. I get teased occasionally about my at-least-one-generation-old consoles (non of which are even currently hooked up), but not very much. Nobody even seems to really care, but I can say with confidence that they would care a lot more were I a woman.
posted by pwinn at 10:59 AM on August 9, 2018 [12 favorites]

This is true everywhere. I suggested we do a full inventory audit before we moved offices a few months ago, and was rebuffed. My same-level co-worker (a dude) suggested it a week ago and suddenly we're doing it. (Thankfully he knows I suggested it first and is like "Naw, it's her idea I just reminded you")
posted by FritoKAL at 11:14 AM on August 9, 2018 [11 favorites]

There is definitely sexism everywhere, but this is super fucked up.
posted by medusa at 11:25 AM on August 9, 2018

I totally believe this is just sexism, but I am curious: is there also an element of "priming" at work, where the woman suggests an idea and it is rejected, but it feels more familiar (and is thus easier to accept) when the man suggests it the second time?

It is just sexism, isn't it? *sigh*
posted by wenestvedt at 11:39 AM on August 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am curious: is there also an element of "priming" at work, where the woman suggests an idea and it is rejected, but it feels more familiar (and is thus easier to accept) when the man suggests it the second time?

This anecdotal hypothesis is really, reeeeeaaaally easy to disprove: look at all the jobs done by men that are lauded as incredible and amazing and oh my gosh just genius we must reward them for their unique and incredible creativity and depth and just gush all over them

and ask yourself how many women, if any, you can name who are granted that

here I'll start with some examples:
- people who cook food (most obvious example: Michelin-starred chefs)
- people who teach children (another obvious example: university professors)
- people who write books
- people who play the piano
- people who manage people (know any parents considered incredibly talented managers? here's a hint: men are when they do more than the bare minimum! the rest generally falls to mothers, who keep a budget, schedule, handle HR a.k.a. kids' energy and education, but with two major constraints: they can't fire their reports and have to fill 24 hours a day 7 days a week)
posted by fraula at 11:48 AM on August 9, 2018 [18 favorites]

I used to see the Riot peeps at lunch and getting coffee when I had an office near (and then in) The Water Garden and they were still at Yahoo! Center.

You could tell they were from Riot because 100% of them wore at least a t-shirt with the Riot logo. Often times it was both the t-shirt and a hoodie. They also talked about work (so, League of Legends) 100% of the time at lunch/coffee as well. They also talked the company-wide trips to The Dominican Republic and all the other stuff their work could afford to do since their Chinese parent company was just pouring money into them at the time.

Since we saw them literally every day, my coworkers and I would often just talk about what kind of company they worked for. Our consensus was since video game companies are as a rule terrible (except for Insomniac, I have a friend that worked there for 15+ years and and says it's super great), there must be a real cultish type push to get everyone to just think that RIOT IS THE BEST PLACE TO WORK EVER!! I WORK 12 HOURS A DAY AT RIOT, THEN I GO HOME AND PLAY LoL FOR LIKE 8 MORE HOURS! was just the best thing that could happen to anyone.

So, not super surprised to hear they have a culture of terminal gamer bro.
posted by sideshow at 12:27 PM on August 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

The whole article is worth reading here just for how well-sourced it is. Kotaku clearly did its homework.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:45 PM on August 9, 2018

(Or, rather, Cecilia D'Anastasio did.)
posted by tobascodagama at 12:45 PM on August 9, 2018 [11 favorites]

Supplementary material: this entire nightmarish tweet thread.
posted by Drastic at 12:50 PM on August 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

From the Twitter thread:
I asked for guidance at Riot from my manager and was told Riots a place for people to thrive in ambiguity.
Man, what the fuck does that even mean? Other than the obvious, which is that it's just a polite way to say, "You'll get fired for not reading our minds."
posted by tobascodagama at 12:57 PM on August 9, 2018 [18 favorites]

13 years ago, I interviewed for a technical position with the cinematics team of an LA game company. Everything was going fine until group get to know me over lunch. The team members were impressed with the tv shows I was working on, but kept insisting that I needed to up my gaming to work there. At that time, I was a mental ray shaderwriter and cg generalist. My responses were variations of “i don’t need to be a gamer to work on this team. that’s why you’re interviewing someone with tv and film experience.” HoD kept trying to reiterate that but his own team was too socially tone-deaf to hear. I withdrew from the process almost immediately.

i’m disheartened things are still this bad now. Great article by D’Anastasio
posted by lemon_icing at 1:06 PM on August 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

He was sceptical, but she insisted that he give it a shot. “Lo and behold, the week after that, [he] went in, presented exactly as I did and the whole room was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing.’ [His] face turned beet red and he had tears in his eyes,” said Lacy. “They just didn’t respect women.”
The second factor here one must ask is, where was this gentleman when the proposal was first floated? Just another silent face, probably checking email instead of paying attention to the meeting?

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

When the culture is 'propose an idea, and if nobody tears you down over it, we approve,' an implicit filter is built based on how much of a drag down fight presenting an objection will be. And I think we know where any gender bias there resides. So here's a simple, gender free challenge: once per meeting, verbally and publicly endorse a colleague's idea.
posted by pwnguin at 1:21 PM on August 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

This story makes me feel horrible inside for many reasons, but the thing stuck in my craw at the moment is the "hardcore gamers only" policy because it's effect, if not its purpose (and obviously it IS its purpose), is to keep out anyone who doesn't have all the resources to be a hardcore gamer. So parents (especially single parents) or caretakers of any kind or people with community/education obligations that take up most of their free time, people with all kinds of visual processing or motor skill incompatibilities with video games (particularly given that they only "count" certain types of game), people who can't afford the time or equipment, people who are housed/share living space in such a way that gaming isn't feasible.

A smarter, better-run company would be able to communicate internally to employees what users want/need/respond to. That companies like this cannot is indicative of the prevailing white man belief that every thought they have is correct, accurate, and 100% pure gold, so instead of using science or methodology or words it's just "you know it when you see it". If you just hire all white guys who can talk real loud, that's literally a goldmine, right?

Similarly, the culture of "you have to yell over everyone else to be considered a leader here" excludes many women (and men perceived as "beta"), people from cultures where you don't talk over a superior/elder, introverts, people with sensory processing differences, people who literally can't talk loudly, and people who are actually competent leaders who know that volume is not the same as talent. It's a culture designed entirely for young white able-bodied men who aren't very good at things but are pretty cool. This should literally be the dictionary definition for "meritocracy" because that's all it means, it's just dogwhistle.

I look forward to the day when companies get sued into oblivion for it, assuming we all live long enough to see it.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:37 PM on August 9, 2018 [32 favorites]

This story is remarkably thorough and well reported. I like the game and know people who work at Riot or used to. It's really disappointing and also not entirely surprising to read about how rotten their culture is.

Riot's put out an inadequate "we are very sorry" statement that somehow manages to not actually admit fault or talk about any concrete changes they might make to address the problems Kotaku uncovered.

Some further reading: a list of tweets from Riot employees, also this post about six months at Riot Games detailing sexual harassment at the Dublin office.

In a secondary mini-scandal, Reddit's League of Legends 1.7M user community fucked up bigtime and removed the original discussion because of a paper thin policy violation. That first discussion was surprisingly good but it's now gone. There's a second discussion which is totally spoiled by people talking about the removal. The actual charges of sexual harassment are now mostly lost in the mess. I know, Reddit amirite? But it's LoL's largest English-language community.
posted by Nelson at 1:41 PM on August 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

League of Legends’ playerbase, which in 2012 was over 90 per cent male, has earned a reputation for rampant sexist language that Riot has proactively addressed over the last few years. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women who play League of Legends have been regular targets of harassment, and data from Riot indicates that new players encountering toxic behaviour are 320 per cent less likely to return to the game.

In 2016, Riot surveyed its own employees to study the correlation between in-game and workplace toxicity. It turns out that Rioters who received complaints about their in-game behaviour were also awful to work with. According to that study, 25 per cent of employees “let go” between 2015 and 2016 had “unusually high in-game toxicity”.
"We're all about the culture of gaming! The hardest of hardcore gamers are our central mission! These are the only people we'll hire!"

"Wait, uh, these guys actually suck to work with."
posted by clawsoon at 2:38 PM on August 9, 2018 [16 favorites]

My experience suggests that something like this is true at almost every gaming company out there


This goes a level beyond what's described in the pull-quote, too. My mother has loads of stories about how, at the law firm she used to work for, her male boss would routinely shoot down her suggestions only to turn right around and propose them to the team as his ideas, acting as if he'd just invented them when in fact everybody in the room had just seen him reject then mere minutes ago when they had been proposed by her. She says it was surreal, like he had some kind of cognitive short circuit that made him genuinely believe that he had come up with them on his own.

That kind of shit is absolutely rampant in every field, everywhere. If you're a man, you need to be on the lookout for this stuff at work and you need to make sure that the women around you are getting proper consideration and credit for their ideas—because the default scenario is that women's ideas get rejected, only to be accepted later when claimed by a man. It's everywhere, as soon as you start looking.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:18 PM on August 9, 2018 [12 favorites]

I asked for guidance at Riot from my manager and was told Riots a place for people to thrive in ambiguity.

[searches page for it, doesn't find it yet] See: Glass cliff. Props to amanda for the recent AskMe answer where I learned the name of that phenomenon.
posted by limeonaire at 4:00 PM on August 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

This sort of thing is why I'm a big believer of convincing a decent guy to present my ideas so they will be listened to. It works. Depressing, but it works.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:33 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Throughout the hour-long interview, she said, her interviewer had been fact-checking her, looking for holes in the story of her gamer upbringing.

Oh hey, I guess those gatekeeping skills other kids practiced on me during recess were applicable to adult life after all.
posted by Tiny Bungalow at 7:05 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

It strikes me that if you actually want to build a diverse and well-balanced group of employees, what you don't want is nothing but hardcore gamers. Those guys are, by and large, assholes (viz GamerGate). I mean, building a diverse workforce is hard enough without tying one hand behind your back by starting with a big group of jackasses...
posted by axiom at 7:24 PM on August 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

I was looking for work fairly recently, and was down to three companies, ones of which was Riot games. I broke off negotiations with Riot games in part because I had two other offers I liked, and in part because they kept talking about their "black licorice" culture, which at first I didn't understand but eventually realized meant they were a toxic culture that didn't want to hear about change; you fit in or you leave.

When this article went up, I took a good look around the office of the company whose offer I accepted; I looked at how many women work there, at all levels, and how many older people work there, and thought about how I've been putting in long hours because I'm genuinely enjoying the work and the people I have the pleasure of working with, and how incredibly not toxic it is.

And I realized I didn't need that article to know I'd made the right choice.
posted by davejay at 11:01 PM on August 9, 2018 [17 favorites]

Black licorice wut? It's explained on this web page and this video. He's saying Riot wants to make products that are highly polarizing like black licorice, not sort of averagely OK like vanilla ice cream. It's a stupid metaphor (real vanilla is a fascinatingly complex flavor) but there it is.

I kind of admire Riot's commitment to gaming excellence. One specific game, at that. It's a remarkably good game. But all this "are you a gamer enough to be one of us?" is gross. Then again so is farting on your friends and sexually harassing women. That's really gross. It's all one gross bundle of bullshit. Not to mention an enormous legal liability.
posted by Nelson at 8:12 AM on August 10, 2018

So by this black licorice analogy, does he mean that they aim to make a strong, complex product that will only be well received in Scandinavia (and Germany and the Netherlands to a lesser extent) or does he mean they'll be making a poor, bland thing that'll l be a severely toned down version of the real thing (salmiaklakrids/DOTA) to try and broaden the appeal?
posted by Dysk at 8:43 AM on August 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

farting on your friends

Farting on your friends is certainly juvenile but not particularly appalling. Farting on your employees, on the other hand....

(Not the worst thing they did by any stretch, but appalling nonetheless)
posted by randomnity at 11:21 AM on August 10, 2018

I've been thinking about the people who got fired because their workplace toxicity matched their in-game toxicity. I think that toxic masculinity is a calibrated thing, and people who don't know how to calibrate their toxicity are going to be disliked as too toxic even in a toxic environment. Do you always catcall women, or do you only do it when the woman is alone and you're with a group of like-minded men? Do you always get angry and loud in meetings, or do you do it when you've read the social situation and you know it will increase your power? Do you always make penis jokes and/or pull it out with women, or do you only do it when you know that the woman you're with is, in one way or another, trapped and unable to speak out?

I suspect that that's what they're actually looking for when they go on and on about "culture fit". They want to know that you've absorbed all the calibrated lessons of toxic masculinity. Don't know them at all? You won't get hired. Don't know how and when to calibrate them? You'll get fired. If you're not in that window, you just won't fit in.

If a woman you respect is in the room, you have to recalibrate. That comes up in the article: They don't want to promote women, because then the inner circle will have to tone down its bro-tastic behaviour. They know how to calibrate their toxicity, which is why the company hasn't exploded in a toxic fireball at the top. They know that having a respected woman in the room means recalibrating in ways that they'd rather not.
posted by clawsoon at 1:25 PM on August 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Ugh, and it just gets worse:

• Two Riot Employees Leave Under Complicated Circumstances After PAX Session Excluding Men [Kotaku]
“The PAX session offered résumé feedback as well as presentations on art design, game production, narrative writing and cosplay. In line with its focus on female and non-binary aspiring professionals, men were not welcome at the event, which sparked an outcry from League of Legends’ Reddit community. (/r/League of Legends removed a large thread linking to Kotaku’s investigation days after its publication.) Several League fans referred to the panel as “sexist” because it excluded men. One post summed up a common reaction: “You don’t fix your shitty corporate culture by being sexist towards men.”

Sources currently employed by Riot say that Riot asked some employees representing Riot not to publicly engage with the controversy, yet both Klein and Lehman—whom current and former employees say advocated for women and women’s issues while at Riot—commented on it publicly. (Lehman and I attended the same college and took one class together.)”
posted by Fizz at 11:18 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

The fish rots from the head, and the head's still attached, sooooo...
posted by tobascodagama at 11:41 AM on September 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

What makes me the most upset about this is that even people who try to stand by those impacted, even just being an advocate for the wronged party, to just support them in solidarity, even that is a thing that can be used against you and can cause you to be punished/fired/attacked.

So all this does it teach other people in the community, in the business, that if you go against our gamer gate bro bullshit, we'll talk you down to, even if you're not a part of the minority or group in question.

I fucking hate this shit. Some days I want to just throw all my gaming shit into a pile and set it on fire. Ugh.
posted by Fizz at 11:54 AM on September 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

But then you wouldn't get to play Battle Chef Brigade, and that would be sad.

Also, burning plastics and electronics is a bad idea, avoid doing that.
posted by asperity at 12:38 PM on September 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

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