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Riot warns League of Legends streamers and players to avoid 'sensitive topics' on the air

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With the League of Legends (opens in new tab) World Championship Group Stage competition set to begin on Saturday, Riot Games has issued a statement calling on casters and players to avoid discussing "sensitive issues" during livestreams.

"We serve fans from many different countries and cultures, and we believe this opportunity comes with a responsibility to keep personal views on sensitive issues (political, religious, or otherwise) separate. These topics are often incredibly nuanced, require deep understanding and a willingness to listen, and cannot be fairly represented in the forum our broadcast provides," global heead of League of Legends Esports John Needham said. "Therefore, we have reminded our casters and pro players to refrain from discussing any of these topics on air."

"Our decision also reflects that we have Riot employees and fans in regions where there has been (or there is risk of) political and/or social unrest, including places like Hong Kong. We believe we have a responsibility to do our best to ensure that statements or actions on our official platforms (intended or not) do not escalate potentially sensitive situations."

Riot's statement comes as Blizzard continues to struggle with a PR nightmare sparked by its reaction to former Hearthstone Grandmaster Chung "blitzchung (opens in new tab)" Ng Wai's call to "liberate Hong Kong" from China. Since then, Blizzard has faced a sustained call to boycott its games, high-profile Hearthstone figures Brian Kibler (opens in new tab) and Nathan "ThatsAdmirable" Zamora (opens in new tab) have withdrawn from Grandmasters casting in protest, and cosplayers are working to turn Chinese Overwatch character Mei into a symbol of the Hong Kong protests, a potentially very awkward development leading into BlizzCon.

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Riot Games is wholly owned by Chinese conglomerate Tencent, which will no doubt color some reactions to his statement, but Needham isn't wrong when he says that the issues facing Hong Kong are incredibly complex, and that Western perceptions may not line up very well with those of the average Chinese mainlander, who make up a significant part of Riot's audience. As we noted in our recent report on PC gaming in China (opens in new tab), League of Legends is wildly successful in that country, which has helped build it into one of the biggest videogames of all time.

It's a tough spot, and ironically, keeping the politics out of it may be the only practical approach for a company in that position to take. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney recently said that Fortnite players will not be punished for political speech (opens in new tab), but as we noted in our report, that position may be tough to maintain when the politics in question are less palatable to Western audiences.

Riot didn't say what sort of penalties could be imposed on streamers or players who violate the edict, but given the seriousness of the situation and the very clear advance notice, I would expect that it's not going to fool around. The League of Legends World Championship Group Stage gets underway on October 12; the full schedule is available at lolesports.com (opens in new tab).

Andy Chalk
Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.