Esports
Esports

Riot's PR nightmare personifies a wider issue in esports

Riot's PR nightmare personifies a wider issue in esports

In recent weeks stories of misogyny, sexism and rampant toxicity in the workplace at Riot Games have gone viral, with multiple former employees coming out against their old place of work. This started with an in-depth report published by Kotaku on August 7th titled “Inside the culture of sexism at Riot Games”. Author Cecilia D’Anastasia spoke with an unnamed source who described, in disturbing detail, the many counts of sexism she witnessed, both first-hand and from afar, whilst working with Riot. The fallout of this saw more accounts and stories about the culture of sexism within Riot – it was clear that this wasn’t one woman’s unfortunate experience, but a deeply-ingrained cog in the machine behind League of Legends. A statement titled “Our First Steps Forward” was released by Riot Games, but by now the damage has been done and the company have lost a lot of credibility in the industry. What is most concerning is looking at the bigger picture. Of course, several people online have commented simply that these former Riot employees are being overly sensitive. That what is simply “office banter” is bad because the victims choose to make it so. This is only the start of the problem.

The source of the issue

Online gaming has always bred a certain kind of toxicity – behind the guise of an online ID, anonymity intact, people have been able to get away with saying whatever they like when playing online. Having racial, homophobic or sexist slurs used against you in-game became the norm several years ago and the generation that once initiated this behaviour are now industry leaders, the ones making the rules, as evidenced in the Riot case. You would be hard pushed to find a woman in esports who has hosted a stage without being mocked or a person of colour that has not had to endure racial slurs in-game. The mob mentality adopted by Twitch chat is a constant reminder of the issues that continue to plague esports. In short, it surrounds us every single day, on a constant basis. Speaking with several people of varying genders, races and sexualities within the esports sphere, it became clear that toxicity and harassment are not irregular occurrences in the industry. ‘I was referred to by two heads of organisations as ‘someone to stick your dick into’ and ‘someone to make your dick wet then toss aside’,” said one woman I spoke to. “I was turned into nothing more than a sex object and repeatedly objectified.” This same woman spoke of the difficulty she faced in making a positive impression on the industry. “It felt impossible to progress as an active member in esports due to the toxic and generally demeaning and biased nature of the men around me. The sexism was constant. The rape jokes and threats flowed freely. Inappropriate comments were commonplace. Females always came last on the totem pole.” In a lengthy discussion, she detailed how being bisexual in a male-dominated environment would often lead to uncomfortable situations between herself and both her male and female colleagues, at the offices of developers and tournament organisers that sit very high on the esports hierarchy.

Men are not the only perpetrators of toxicity

However, it wasn’t only from men that she faced hostility and toxicity – in fact, it was emphasised how much of a tough time many females had given her, too. “They spread rumours that I was sleeping with all of the casters and that spread to the players. The players began accusing one another of sleeping with me as well. At one point, there was an estimated six guys I was sleeping with at one event. I ended up losing my follow-up coaching job because of these rumours and was told by the females in the scene that they had made it their goal to ensure I never worked in the scene again.” This does not even begin to cover her suffering of death threats and hate messages from members of the community that were a result of nothing but rumours about her sexual interactions with those in the scene – irrelevant, whether true or not. Certainly not a justification for threats of murder and rape, and something a man in her position would be unlikely to face. It is also upsetting to see women attacking other women in this way – esports is so short of women at any level that it is a shame the few involved would be so malicious to their peers. Speaking with the above, I was horrified. Looking into the harassment and abuse that I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid in the industry, I was prompted to speak with others about their experiences – one simple tweet asking for people’s experiences gained a lot of traction and within hours my inbox was inundated with people who have suffered, primarily women guilty of being women.

The stigma around women in esports

One respondent to the tweet spoke about being pressured to remove the word ‘feminist’ from her Twitter biography as it “might affect sales”. At the same company, a miscarriage was not enough to grant her time off to recover and, if she was serious about her career, she would be attending their event that weekend. At an entirely different company, this respondent was then asked on her first day why she “hated men”. Again, due simply to stating her feminism on Twitter. This petty attempt at belittling someone on their first day, in front of everyone, is representative of such an innate lack of respect within esports that it is surprising these people are capable of getting jobs in the first place. “I interviewed two founders of a large esports company,” I was told. “I asked why they thought more women weren't involved with esports and what did they consider their duty to be in that regard. They told me girls needed to stop sleeping with players and that it's not the tournament operators job to help women if they're not helping themselves by being sluts.” This sweeping statement again exemplifies the issue so many men in esports have with women on any level of seniority. The fact that someone running a large company would happily make a statement like that, with no regard even to protecting his own public image, is deeply concerning. This attitude has been normalised, which it never should be regardless of industry or workspace. Of course, this isn’t a problem visible only in esports and is reflective of a much larger patriarchal toxicity, but the rate at which this is occurring in our industry is alarming.

Changing the norm

So how do we fix this? How do we change the culture that is so deeply ingrained in the psyche of so many in esports? We need voices. Voices of victims, voices of support, voices of reformed perpetrators. Voices that know the severity of the issue at hand. We’ve already seen this from the former Riot employees, who have potentially ostracised themselves to much of the industry due simply to exercising the humanistic instinct to oppose atrocities faced by those who are outnumbered and isolated. We also need to be understanding and intuitive as leaders, friends and colleagues. These voices do not come from a place of spite or anger, but from people who feel belittled due simply to who they are. In an industry that has been shunned for years, esports needs to do better to stand together, face adversity and overcome the issues that we have frequently chosen to ignore. Be conscious of your words and your actions, and be conscious of those you work with. We can make esports the inclusive industry it was always meant to be, but first, we need to address our issues head-on.