Culture Shifts at Riot Games

Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed – the culture reflects the realities of people working together everyday.”
– Frances Hesselbein

On the surface, arbitration provisions are not thought to be the impetus of social change, but in the case of Riot Games, the issue has potential to bring about real cultural change at the business’s Los Angeles Campus and other facilities around the world. Furthermore, the means and the ends to the Rioters action towards freedom of choice when it comes to arbitration will likely have repercussions beyond the video game development industry.

Rioters making moves within the company described the issue more accurately, saying, “We’re asking that forced arbitration be ended for all past, current, and future Riot employees, including contractors and in current litigation.” The ladder demand is finding some legal friction but Riot has been uniquely receptive to the request of their employees.

An activist and Rioter, Jocelyn Monahan, is a social listening strategist who commented on the matter, “We are what makes Riot great. I want us to feel solidarity and connection with each other. I want us to feel connected. I want us to feel like our voices are heard and heard in a way that matters.” Robin’s message and the sentiments of many more were conveyed during the active discussion in May.

Riot has taken recent labor discussions as an opportunity to better their company culture. This can almost be expected from a company that publicly prides itself on its ambitions of increased diversity and inclusion.

An L.A. chapter organizer from the advocacy group Game Workers Unite, attended the labor discussion and was hopeful about the progress made during the event. That organizer told said, “The fact that this action went so well—there were people on the mic, everyone was so excited, there were so many people sharing their stories—I think that’s going to inspire a lot of other people at companies to realize they have a lot of power over the conditions at their workplaces…This is going to be a tremendous example for people to know that they can make their conditions better.”

The message sent by Rioters was heard loud and clear within the organization most famous for their online strategy game, League of Legends. The company’s website addressed the recent concerns, reading:

Many Rioters shared their perspectives on arbitration, issues they’ve experienced at Riot, and changes they hope to see. Many also showed their deep love for Riot and their desire to make Riot better. The Rioter walkout was an important moment in our company’s transformation, and it reaffirmed our commitment to keep fighting to make this the company we believe it can be.

“It’s not your workers versus management narrative,” Jocelyn Monahan said, “This isn’t about being anti-Riot or not wanting to be here, we’re doing this because we deeply believe in Riot’s mission and we love this place and we want to make cool stuff together. And we know that we are part of Riot.”

Arbitration Defined

At it’s core, Arbitration is the process of bringing a civil (not criminal) dispute before a disinterested arbitrator. Think judge, without the robes. The arbitrator will research the dispute at hand, hear evidence brought by both sides and ultimately make a decision if the parties do not first reach their own agreement.

Arbitration is a considered an alternative dispute resolution to bringing issues in Court. For a company that is looking to co-operate with the needs and wishes of their employee’s, there can be many be advantages to using arbitration over legal means. The advantages of arbitration over taking an issue to court are:

  • Arbitration brings faster results that traditional litigation as the arbitration process is considered more flexible
  • Arbitration awards are generally easier to enforce than court-orders
  • Arbitration is cheaper and more flexible for the parties involved
  • is often faster than litigation in court, and a time limit can be placed on the length of the process
  • Taking an issue in front of a jury is always subject to risk

When matters go to the courts, the parties involved automatically revert to an adversarial position. Whereas, arbitration often works better with parties that share common goals. For the issues coming to light at Riot, arbitration could produce a more amicable result than Court. Despite the benefits of this form of ADR, Rioter’s are primarily concerned with what they feel is the use of mandatory arbitration.

It is not all peaches and cream with arbitration and Rioter’s have pinpointed some of the downside to using arbitration during the walk-out. Many have argued that arbitration can be more business friendly than a jury of your peers. Whether arbitration favors industry at large is unclear, although we know the inverse of this proposition is true. The rigidity and adversarial nature of the Courts can produce a wider range of results than in Alternative Dispute Resolution as arbitrator can take into consideration more than judges who are bound by procedure. As businesses thrive on stability and being able to weather future storms, it makes sense that they would more frequently turn to ADR or at least make it a part of their litigation process.

With a clearer sense of what arbitration is, it should be noted, that the group of Rioters gathered in May were primarily concerned with Riot’s quasi-mandatory use of arbitration in relation to their contractual relations with their employees. It’s hard to say which provisions Rioters are raging against as litigation is likely preventing public disclosure.

To add another level of discussion to the matter, the use of arbitration provisions in relation to employee contracts has been a huge policy debate that has been playing out in California courts and legislatures. How Riot’s arbitration disputes are handled will likely make history whether they are solved in the courts, through arbitration, or in private negotiations with those opposing the game design company’s arbitration practices.


Industry-Wide Change

“The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades.”
John P. Kotter

Not the only tech company to be re-evaluating their arbitration by way of employee walk-outs, Google employees recently did the same in an effort to end forced arbitration. In a post on Medium, Google announced a change to their arbitration provisions. They liken their movement against compelled arbitration to the launching of a new product. In a post on medium, Google representative announced, “But at Google, we don’t just measure success by launches. We measure it by landings. So we will launch and iterate until we land our goal of all workers in America having access to their civil rights.”

In an attempt to land as successfully as they launched their new employee agreements Google. organized their efforts into three categories: Coalitions, Education and Legislation. “And today, we’re firing on all three fronts,” reads the Medium article. All in all, it took Google seven months to respond to their employees demands and ultimate walk-out. Riot’s clock started in May, it will be interesting what kind of response timeframe they will work with.

The Riot Response

Probably the most crucial thing Riot can do here is listen to the folks trying to make their company better. To their credit, Riot Games is doing just that. Their website reads, “We’ve taken the time to clearly understand the range of perspectives and opinions related to our arbitration agreement, including those shared over the last three weeks.” Their view of the matters at hand are hindered by the litigation around the matter and the website reflects this:

Ultimately, given the complexities of ongoing litigation, we will not change our employee agreements while in active litigation. We know not everyone agrees with this decision, but we also know everyone does want Riot to continue to improve. We remain committed to having a firm answer around extending an opt-out to all Rioters when active litigation concludes. Everything we’ve heard will impact our discussions when we revisit arbitration and we hope to have an answer that will be satisfying to everyone. At a minimum, we will give new Rioters the option to opt out of arbitration on individual sexual harassment claims.

According to Riot, the issues that need overhaul are not limited to arbitration:

Arbitration was just one topic that Rioters spoke about last week, but there are many other D&I (diversity and inclusion) work streams in progress and in the planning stages. Last week’s walkout and related discussions proves that we’re stronger when we leverage the diverse viewpoints of all of Riot; Rioters are passionate and to meet our goals as one team, we need to channel that passion into productive dialogue that accelerate progress and drive change—or at a minimum, mutual understanding.

The Road Ahead: Riot Games Details Operational Change

Just as Google put a plan of action in place to implement their new goals, so too has Riot detailed their roadmap to success. “To facilitate continued discussions and to put concerned Rioters at the table with the leaders directing operational change, we’re taking the following actions:


  • We are creating a new forum called the D&I Rioters Council. Led by Angela, the goal is to leverage a group of engaged, thoughtful Rioters from teams across the company to participate in formal discussions on D&I. This will become a proactive approach to share perspectives, create change, and identify barriers and opportunities to move us forward in D&I and culture.
  • We have also invited a diverse group of Rioters to participate in reviewing aspects of our Code of Conduct where they have concerns. Rather than bringing the new code of conduct to Rioters as a finished product, we want representatives of Riot involved in the process, much in the way we drafted our values last year (though we’ll admit that to hit our 30 day goal on this project we’re going to be limited in who we include in this process).”

If you are wondering about the above-mentioned Angela, Riot is referring to their Chief Diversity Officer, Angela Rosenburg. When Angela was brought on back in February she commented:

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet some incredible Rioters who are passionate about creating a culture where everyone thrives together. I was so taken by the heart and soul of this company and—in spite of setbacks or hurdles—I’m excited to be part of this journey. I can’t wait to get started and to do my part to make sure we have a culture that embraces the uniqueness of every Rioter and a community where everyone feels a sense of belonging.”

As to Riot’s second goal of including diverse groups of Rioters into the Code of Conduct revision process, it is the only way to bring about lasting change. When folks, and groups have a seat at the table, they are able to voice their viewpoints and hopefully take ownership of the procedures they create. Getting a myriad of opinions and viewpoints in these endeavors will indefinitely benefit the process.

With Rosenburg at the helm of Riot’s Diversity efforts, the company has set forth short, mid, and long-term goals for diversity and inclusion. “We are also on track to meet our 30-60-90 day goals that we shared during the first week of May, which include revamping our recruitment process, accelerating our D&I-focused training programs across all levels of Riot, and creating a D&I scorecard that will keep us accountable for the change we have pledged to Rioters, players, partners, and fans.” Having concrete goals and tangible means for measuring success is crucial for meaningful change to occur. If implemented efficiently, Riot could be on to something here. With video games being such a pivotal part of post-modern living, it seems fitting to include a “D&I scorecard” to most effectively reach the gaming communities they build and maintain.

Riot Culture

Riot has taken significant measures to ensure diversity and inclusion will be a part of their company culture. And these efforts make sense. Utilizing a diverse pool of experiences not only leverages strength, but it also helps us recognize our weaknesses. So when the walk-out occurred at Riot they took it as a chance at working towards this recognition. While not always a pleasant experience, being honest with oneself or with one’s company is an essential process to success.

Moving forward, calling out sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, religious discrimination, and bigotry of all kinds will be a personal obligation for all Rioters, especially those working for the company that champions diversity and inclusion. There is no room for these behaviors at Riot, the video game industry, or any industry.

Culture building is no easy feat. Many larger companies maintain cultures within their organization and their clientele. But successful companies proactively manage the cultures that surround their products. Riot’s culture building is distinctly categorized into three work streams: Strong Leadership; Systems and Processes; Education & Recognition. None of these work streams entail a quick fix but all are essential to tearing down bad habits and practices and putting up positive ones in their place.

Again, the time frame of these proactive measures will be interesting to follow. If the Rioter who walked out in Los Angeles have any say, hiring practices will be first up. And Riot seems to be okay with that, “We’re prioritizing revamping our hiring process and Denewbification (new Rioter orientation) so we get new Rioters off on the right foot.” Reads the Riot Culture page.

Whether Riot’s efforts and stance on arbitration provisions, specifically the ones under litigation, will be enough to appease those demanding for more lax in-house rules about Arbitration is anybody’s guess. Seemingly unhappy with the rate at which these procedures are changing, the Rioter’s who walked out may take further action but what that could look like is unclear. According to the Verge, “walkout organizers intend to push the issue further by petitioning employees and presenting their arguments to the company’s board of directors.”

The Verge article detailed Riot’s response via their spokesperson:

“To be fair to the people that helped make the walkout happen and to everyone that participated…I think it’s really important to point out that while we didn’t change the arbitration agreement, some of the other changes — like the new committee we’ve set up to regularly connect concerned Rioters with leadership or allowing Rioters to be part of redrafting the code of conduct — wouldn’t have happened without the walkout.”

If you would like to know more about how Riot mending and building their culture, visit their website here.


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