With the League of Legends 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" 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call to boycott its games, high-profile Hearthstone figures Brian Kibler and Nathan "ThatsAdmirable" Zamora have withdrawn from Grandmasters casting in protest, and cosplayers are working to turn Chinese Overwatch character Mei into a symbol of the Hong Kong protests, a potentially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.
A message from John Needham, Global Head of League of Legends Esports pic.twitter.com/5Au9rE7T86October 11, 2019
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, 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, 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.