Why it matters: The gaming industry is known for its sexist culture, and after an expose by Kotaku last month Riot Games has been particularly under fire for discriminating against female employees. David Klein and Mattias Lehman were two of Riot’s boldest feminists but they’re both no longer employed and there’s no official explanation why.
A little over a week ago Riot Games released an official apology on their website – they promised that “inclusivity, diversity, respect, and equality are all non-negotiable” and that this is their “top priority.” After several dozen former and current Riot employees came out with stories of women being disrespected, sexualized, insulted, paid less for the same work and passed over for promotion the apology was sorely needed. As one of their first acts to create a better environment for female and non-binary gamers, Riot created a panel at PAX West last weekend that didn’t allow men, where they focused on League of Legends art design, game production, narrative writing and cosplay. Many fans were furious and called this sexist itself, but against Riot policy, Klein took to Twitter and Reddit to call them out as being misogynists and even calling them “manbabies.” Lehman supported his friend and defended him. They left the company shortly after and Riot insists it had nothing to do with their stances on discrimination.
It would be easy to say that Riot simply fired them for advocating feminism, an anonymous Riot employee even suggested this. It would also be easy to say that they were simply being rude to fans and deserved to lose their jobs. Both arguments have merit, but first, let’s fully consider the chain of events that led up to this.
Kotaku thoroughly investigated the sexist culture at Riot by interviewing many employees. It’s well worth a read, but in brief, they found that women were unable to pierce the “bro culture” that permeates the company. Women were essentially forbidden from management positions, jokes were made that they were only hired for their looks. A notable example from Kotaku’s source is an experiment she conducted after her idea was knocked back at a meeting. She asked a male friend to present the same idea to the same group a few days later and they hailed it as brilliant. Both male and female employees left the company due to their views on the sexism, some by choice, others not.
A few days after Riot found out about Kotaku’s investigation, they put up a page on their website saying how dedicated they are to gender equality.
The investigation came out and many fans of League of Legends were very unimpressed. Riot released their apology three weeks later.
As part of a larger two-day event at PAX in Seattle, Riot included one room that only women and non-binary people were permitted into. The goal was to create “sessions to support women and non-binary folks who are interested in getting into games professionally.” The agenda included reviewing resumes and giving advice, amongst the more typical art, narrative, design and production presentations. There’s been some confusion about this on Reddit, so I’d just like to emphasize that nearly all of Riot’s activities were open to all genders.
If you read through a few subreddits, you’ll find that many gamers were very angry and disappointed. They said that this was stupid, nasty to male gamers, backwards thinking and wouldn’t help solve sexism. Overwhelmingly, they said that the exclusion of male gamers was unnecessary and discriminatory itself.
Daniel Klein became the target of this anger when he released a long tweet saying that those complaining were manbabies, overgrown toddlers, trash and several other words I’m sure you can think of without me needing to write them. He argued his points well that men are incredibly over-represented in gaming and will thus receive a “billion” other opportunities that female and non-binary people won’t get anyway, and that an exclusive event like this can be a powerful moment for women and non-binary people because it is exclusive. There wasn’t exclusive content at the presentation – it looked cool – but it was to celebrate the culture of equality. Many people did agree with him, but his statements that it was impossible to be sexist towards men were particularly controversial.
After the Kotaku investigation came out, Mattias Lehman published an article detailing some of the racism and sexism he’d witnessed at Riot. Despite very strong (and as we now know valid) fears about his job security due to his outspoken stance, he saw Klein’s plight as another opportunity to stand up for equality. He did, and in a spirit of ‘if he goes down I’m going down with him’ he defended Klein and jumped in front of the smoking gun.
Now gamers on Reddit and Twitter were calling on Riot to fire them for being too aggressive to the community. Since then they’re no longer working for the company.
Riot tweeted that they expect “rioters to act with respect.” They maintain that they are highly committed to improving diversity and equality. Various sources have said that within Riot, there has been quite a lot of turmoil regarding the whole ordeal. Many are grateful that this is all coming to light, some are shocked and thankful they’ve found out, and of course, some claim this is far too aggressive, the wrong way to go about it and discrimination against men.
That’s the end of the story. Whether or not they took it too far, I sincerely commend Klein and Lehman for standing up so strongly for what they believe in and hope they find success at another game studio.