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‘League of Legends’ developers accused of fostering culture of sexism

League of Legends developer Riot Games has been accused of fostering a culture of sexism, Kotaku detailed in a lengthy report Tuesday.

Kotaku spoke to nearly 30 current and former employees at Riot Games to paint a picture of the kinds of things that women face at Riot Games and its “bro culture,” including comments about women’s looks, women’s ideas being dismissed, and a lack of opportunities for women at the company.

According to employees who spoke to Kotaku, the 12-year-old company behind League of Legends has a certain idea of the kind of employees it wants: dedicated gamers. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the broader tech industry, men in power tend not to consider women to be as serious about this stuff as they are, no matter how passionate they actually are about gaming or tech at large.

This seems to be the case at Riot Games, where one anonymous woman was grilled on her knowledge of games in an hour-long interview, asked to pull out obscure details to prove she wasn’t faking it, she told Kotaku.

Riot Games’ staff is 80% male

Another female Riot Games employee who went by the name Lacy told Kotaku that she had a difficult time hiring women at the company, and a common excuse was that they just weren’t a good fit. According to data obtained by Kotaku, Riot Games’ staff is 80% male.

Lacy also described a time when she tested to see whether her ideas were being shot down just because of her gender:

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 skeptical, 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.”

More stories followed in the report, including stories of women being talked over in meetings, women finding out that male employees are sending sexually explicit emails about them, and women being asked by men to take care of secretarial work like changing the thermostat and office decor, and women being passed up on promotions despite being the clear candidate.

Jes Negrón, a former editor on Riot Games’ editorial team told Kotaku that a “bros before hoes” mentality trumps the meritocratic approach to promotions that Riot claims to adhere to.

the feedback system in place at Riot Games doesn’t actually work very well for women

While Riot Games portends that it values feedback, that doesn’t always seem like the case according to the report, especially when it comes to Riot’s treatment of women.

One former Riot employee said that whenever she tried to explain to a colleague why words like “bitch” and “pussy” were gendered insults, or how it can make women feel undermined when men interrupted them during meetings, those colleagues resisted strongly. “Suddenly, the conversation was about why do I choose to interpret things badly and not trust people,” she said.

Other employees, including males, agreed that the feedback system in place at Riot Games doesn’t actually work very well for women. 

In one anecdote, an employee had taken over her boss’s old job when he was slacking, and was likely in line for a promotion to his old position, but that changed when she denied the advances of another superior at Riot Games.

A week after she was told she was an important asset to the team, she said, “I was no longer welcome.” When she sought feedback, nobody could tell her what she did wrong, she says, and those people were similarly in disbelief, which Kotaku corroborated with a former colleague. She was eventually fired, in 2017. “They walked me out like a criminal. They wouldn’t even let me get my bag.” (When asked about this situation, Riot said it would not comment on specific “talent-related cases” but that it was an example of behavior the company “would not tolerate.”)

This is just a drop in the bucket of all the disheartening stories recounted in Kotaku‘s thorough report, which details an all too familiar situation happening in the professional world: Women not being treated fairly, and people in privileged positions routinely ignoring it.

Reports of situations like this have been popping up routinely in the wake of the Time’s Up movement spurred by women coming forward with stories of the sexual harassment, assault, and general misconduct that they experience in entertainment, tech, politics, and beyond.

Riot Games did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the company did respond to some of Kotaku‘s points saying that much of the described behavior and events would not be tolerated in the company, with one representative saying “We absolutely hold people accountable to bad behavior, but if we don’t know about issues, we can’t address them, so we do rely on Rioters to be brave enough to call out that behavior either directly or through other channels.”

In fact, Riot Games even has a set of diversity and inclusion initiatives led by a woman named Soha El-Sabaawi. El-Sabaawi told Kotaku that her job has been to help Riot Games for the last two-and-a-half years think about diversity and inclusion “holistically and thoughtfully.”

It seems this approach hasn’t been quite enough for the women and less bro-y people to feel comfortable at Riot Games.

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