League of Legends developer Riot Games has been dealing with allegations of a sexist work environment for the past month, and two employees who defended diversity efforts left the company yesterday, anonymous sources confirmed to Polygon and Kotaku.
Systems designer Daniel Klein and communications associate Mattias Lehman were known to be outspoken on social media within the game’s community. Most recently, that discussion revolved around a controversial decision to keep some events at PAX West open only to women and non-binary people. Klein told The Verge: “I was fired for violating our social media policy.”
On September 12th, Lehman published a blog post that implied he left Riot after a disagreement. He declined to comment further.
With some of my recent social media presence, I was told that I should go home for the day and think about whether or not I wanted to remain at Riot. The next day, I was presented with with an ultimatum: that if I were going to keep my job, my social media presence had to be not just in line with our social media policy, but held to a higher standard given my role in communications.
I’ve never been one for agreeing to things I can’t guarantee.
Many employees at Riot have come forward after Kotaku published an exposé early last month that described the company’s sexist culture of prioritizing loud male voices at meetings, denying women promotions, and making uncomfortable innuendos in professional settings. In tweets, Tumblr posts, and Medium posts, employees described voicing their concerns with management and hearing their feedback get brushed off.
“We’re sorry it took so long for us to hear you.”
Riot issued a public apology at the end of August saying that “we’re sorry it took so long for us to hear you” and that working on fixing its culture was “a top priority.”
There are multiple pieces to the ever-unfolding story. First off, employees are leery of the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, which some suspect are the outside law firm mentioned in the public apology that Riot brought in for an external investigation of its corporate culture. Seyfarth Shaw has a union-busting reputation and many on social media expressed fears that results from the external investigation will not be in favor of the employees.
Then, there’s the PAX West controversy. Riot received major backlash for making some events open only to women and non-binary people, barring men from attending. Male viewers could still rewatch the panels from Riot’s Instagram account, but the policy was vilified by League fans on Reddit and elsewhere.
Klein was one of the Riot employees who spoke up in defense of the PAX West decision and explained it to Redditors who voiced their criticism. The rift between Klein and League players widened as he called some of them “manbabies” in statements.
I really, really hope someone here will make the connection. The behavior r/lol is demonstrating around the PAX room thread comes from the same place that enabled the toxic behavior at Riot. This entitlement to always be catered to and be the most important people in the room even when others are be excluded and hurt is the root cause for sexism in our community.
Lehman’s Twitter bio says he’s a feminist and a Black Lives Matter supporter. Lehman has spoken up in support of Klein and called out people threatening and harassing him. He’s also written a Medium post about Riot’s corporate culture, as spotted by Polygon.
Their departures echo what happened in July when Guild Wars developer ArenaNet fired two of its employees for negative interactions with Guild Wars players. ArenaNet president Mike O’Brien had characterized their interactions as “attacks on the community.” ArenaNet employees told The Verge that their employer had let them down, allowing the internet mob to judge them.
Riot responded in a statement to The Verge:
These departures are independent from our efforts to evolve our culture. Our culture remains our top priority, and we remain committed to taking the steps that we need to become a leader in Diversity & Inclusion. We will always encourage Rioters to share their perspectives, and we fully support efforts by Rioters to further our Diversity & Inclusion initiatives. We are committed to making real, positive change in Riot’s culture and internal advocates are a crucial part of making that happen.
Update September 12th, 9:26PM ET: This article has been updated with a statement from Daniel Z. Klein and a blog post by Mattias Lehman.