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Current and former Riot employees discuss the toxic feedback culture of the studio

Current and former Riot employees discuss the toxic feedback culture of the studio

August 7, 2018 | By Emma Kidwell

August 7, 2018 | By Emma Kidwell
More: Console/PC, Social/Online

"I’ve seen myself argue endlessly for the value of something, and for that thing to never be taken seriously until a man or a player said it."

- An anonymous former employee speaking to Kotaku about the work culture at Riot.

In a recent interview with Kotaku, several current and former Riot employees discuss the toxic workplace environment which ultimately drives women out of the studio. 

Fellow devs should note that several sources spoke to Kotaku over the past few months, and each one came to the same consensus around what makes Riot a hostile environment for some of the women who work there: the culture.

According to these sources, the feedback culture at Riot rewards men and demeans women. 

Kristen Fuller, who departed Riot back in March, explains she got interrupted a lot. “It’s hard to get a word in edgewise,” she says. “I’ve been talking and someone else starts talking and starts to talk louder when I don’t stop. A lot of men don’t take no for an answer.”

Another former employee, who remains anonymous, describes how her largely-male division often insulted her after she refused to do secretarial work, despite her non-secretary position. “I feel like that type of working environment caters to men,” she explains.

“When I went to a stand-up meeting it’d be a lot of men talking over each other. I knew a lot of women were used to being interrupted or not feeling comfortable talking over men. I didn’t feel like I had the ability to talk over them,” she adds.

The apparent double standard for women within the company have made the culture of aggression worse. “I’ve seen myself argue endlessly for the value of something, and for that thing to never be taken seriously until a man or a player said it,” echoes a former employee.

Women who do speak up and follow Riot's on-paper ideals are reprimanded, often told that they're being too loud and emotional. Male employees who spoke to Kotaku agreed that Riot’s feedback culture wasn’t built to support women.

“The company dismisses feedback when it comes to gender,” explains a male employee. “Riot is a new upstart company whose explicit mottos are ‘Challenge convention’ and ‘Feedback culture.’ To not see that reflected in the way Riot addresses social issues feels extra bad.”

However, it's worth noting that there are women within Riot who are actively trying to work on improving the conditions expressed by current and former Rioters. Soha El-Sabaawi, who leads diversity and inclusion initiatives at Riot, explains how she’s training leaders at Riot to recognize different personality types in meetings and empower marginalized groups, including women. 

"We are trying to create touchpoints with Rioters about what good feedback looks like," El-Sabaawi says. "Just because we have an open feedback culture doesn’t just mean you can send someone a lot of super harsh feedback without context.”

Additionally, Katie Chironis, a senior narrative designer who has been at Riot for two months, echoed El-Sabaawi's statements in a tweet about working to cultivate a better environment for women at the studio.

"To all the women out there who were ever hurt by men above them, who were denied promotions, spoken over, harassed, objectified, or insulted, I have been you at some point in my past, and i stand in solidarity with you."

The investigative piece was part of a longer interview around the workplace culture at Riot, so be sure to read it in its entirety over at Kotaku.

Update: After this story was published a Riot Games representative contacted Gamasutra to provide the following statement: 

This article shines a light on areas where we haven’t lived up to our own values, which will not stand at Riot. We’ve taken action against many of the specific instances in the article, and we’re committed to digging in, addressing every issue, and fixing the underlying causes. All Rioters must be accountable for creating an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard, grow their role, advance in the organization, and fulfill their potential. 

From the beginning we’ve had a zero tolerance policy on discrimination, harassment, retaliation, bullying, and toxicity. As we’ve grown, we’ve made progress, and we’ve continued to put resources behind our Diversity & Inclusion programs as part of constantly improving Riot. We recognize we still have work to do to achieve our goals, which starts with listening to feedback from Rioters and others, and providing Rioters with the guidance and resources they need to uphold our values. You can read more about our D&I work here.

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