More than 150 employees at Riot Games staged a walkout yesterday. Outside of the developer’s LA offices, workers gathered to protest the company’s policies on forced arbitrations with signs and speeches in support of their colleagues.
Last year, Kotaku published an extensive report detailing a culture of sexism inside Riot. Employees are now suing the company for gender discrimination. Riot is attempting to force two of those women into arbitration — a move that would block them from taking legal action and instead requires them to go through a private system. As noted by our sister site Vox, forced arbitration is stacked in favor of employers because it “allows companies to hide misconduct that would otherwise be made public in court.” Arbitrators are also more likely to rule in favor of employers than jurors would, Vox notes, and they’re less likely to give sizable settlements when companies are found at fault.
The walkout is being hailed the first of its kind in the game industry: a protest against power on behalf of workers in support of labor issues. “You are demonstrating to all of us in this industry that real change can only come when you and your coworkers stand up for one another, share mutual respect, and develop deep relationships of care and support in the workplace,” said Game Workers Unite International in a public statement. “There exists a long and storied history of people, regular people, fighting fights just like yours in the game, tech, and entertainment industries. Today you build upon that foundation laid by countless workers before you who refused to accept things as they were and built a better world. Today you carry that movement forward.”
There is a strong and recent precedent that these demonstrations have worked in tech. Last year, tens of thousands of employees at Google participated in a walkout to protest the company’s culture of sexism and shielding of harassers. In February, Google said it would end its policy of forced arbitration.
On Twitter, many workers and game industry colleagues showed support with the hashtag #RiotWalkout. Today, Riot employees in Dublin are also holding their own walkout.
In a statement to The Verge, Riot says it supports its employees, asking managers to “make every accommodation to allow Rioters to participate” during the walkout from 2PM to 4PM PT. “We respect Rioters who choose to walk out today and will not tolerate retaliation of any kind as a result of participating (or not),” the company says.
Riot will not change its policies while in active litigation, but it does have plans to alter its policies moving forward. “As soon as active litigation is resolved, we will give all new Rioters the choice to opt-out of mandatory arbitration for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims,” the company says. “At that time, we will also commit to have a firm answer on potentially expanding the scope and extending this opt-out to all Rioters. We are working diligently to resolve all active litigation so that we can quickly take steps toward a solution.”
The decision to end forced arbitration was announced internally after word spread of the walkout in late April. In response to rumors about the impending walkout, executives addressed the issue with staff via Slack and in additional meetings. According to on-site reports from Kotaku and the LA Times, employees have plans to take further action against issues like arbitration if the company does not show commitment, though it’s unclear what that might entail.
“The people here — and the people walking out today — are passionate about their work, their workplace, and the people they work with, and that’s why we’re trying to communicate our dissatisfaction to management,” one Riot employee told The Verge via Twitter DM. “I can’t speak for anyone but myself to this point, but I wouldn’t be walking if I didn’t have faith that Riot can do what’s right.”