League of Legends developer Riot Games has issued a statement saying that it has "a zero tolerance policy on discrimination, harassment, retaliation, bullying, and general toxicity," while at the same time acknowledging that it hasn't "lived up to our own values" in some areas. The statement comes in response to an in-depth Kotaku report on the pervasive "bro culture" at the studio, in which multiple current and former employees "painted a picture of Riot as a place where women are treated unfairly."
The report, based on an investigation that began in December, is long, thorough, and depressing: One former employee, who said she left the company because of persistent sexism, said the "bro culture" is "agonizingly real. It’s like working at a giant fraternity." Others reported constant questioning of their gamer credentials, or being drowned out in meetings by over-aggressive male co-workers; one woman, who had a pitch rejected during a meeting, asked a male colleague to pitch exactly the same idea a week later.
"[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," she said. "They just didn’t respect women."
Kotaku's report states right at the beginning that this is not a universal experience: some "top female employees" said that they had not personally experienced sexism during their time at the studio. But sexist attitudes and gender discrimination are clearly problems that the studio is grappling with, something it acknowledged in a statement sent to ESPN.
"This article shines a light on areas where we haven't lived up to our own values, which will not stand at Riot. We've taken action against many of the specific instances in the article, and we're committed to digging in, addressing every issue, and fixing the underlying causes," Riot corporate communications chief Joe Hixson said. "All Rioters must be accountable for creating an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard, grow their role, advance in the organization, and fulfill their potential."
Hixson went deeper in a message posted to Reddit, where he admitted that Riot's cultural values are "aspirational," and "aren't always perfectly reflected in the reality of the experiences of Rioters across Riot." But he said that the studio is constantly working to improve its performance.
"Talking over women in meetings, promoting/hiring anyone less deserving than anyone else, and crossing the line from assertive to aggressive are three examples of actions that are explicitly opposite to our culture. To say that these actions are emblematic of our culture and not an affront to it would be wrong," he wrote.
"To ensure our aspirational culture becomes a reality and isn’t lost in translation, we over-index on cultural reinforcement. We bake our values into company strategy, leadership attributes, and company-wide programs, systems, and processes. When we encounter any contrary behaviors, we dig in to understand, evaluate, and address. We have a zero tolerance policy on discrimination, harassment, retaliation, bullying, and general toxicity."
Hixson also pointed out Riot's Diversity and Inclusion program, saying that the studio has "accelerated and formalized" its efforts on those fronts over the past few years. The D&I page commits the studio to being "a welcoming, diverse, and empowering place for all Rioters and future Rioters," and clearly lays out its goals and processes for achieving them. The page went up in late May, after Kotaku had sent inquiries for its report, but Hixson said in an email that the actual program has been in place "for much longer," citing the 2015 hiring of Soha El-Sabaawi (who is quoted extensively in the Kotaku report) as a dedicated D&I manager, and the 2017 creation of "a larger cross-disciplinary D&I task force under the leadership of Soha and Riot President Dylan Jadeja."
"We’re excited for our future as we strive to improve in these and other areas. We’ll only get better if we constantly question the status quo and ask ourselves how we can be better," Hixson wrote. "But we can never sacrifice culture as we continue to evolve."