Yesterday, the world witnessed a walkout for the first time in the history of the video games industry. The Riot Games walkout is something that is grabbing attention from inside and outside of the industry as it highlights some of the horrible business practices that are being used by companies in the United States. Before we can really dive into what took place yesterday we need to take a look at what led up to this point.
In December Riot Games suspended COO Scott Gelb for two months for inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. What was he accused of doing? Farting on employees, dry humping them, and slapping or flicking testicles. Things that would get any average employee fired on the spot. Along with this came sexual harassment allegations in the company as well as a heaping dose of sexism and discrimination. Kotaku broke the story with dozens of accounts from current and former Riot employees, we’ll link to that and other articles below if you’re interested in reading even more in-depth on the topic. Riot responded by promising a significant culture change and improvements. This included Gelb’s suspension and the hiring of Angela Roseboro, the first-ever Chief Diversity Officer for the company.
Five former and current Riot employees have filed lawsuits against Riot Games. Riot then made motions to force two of those women into private arbitration, saying that the women had waived their rights to sue the company when they were hired. This is actually a pretty common part of employee contracts, though highly controversial. In fact, in the last few months Facebook, Google, and Uber have all announced they would end forced arbitration practices for harassment cases. Riot themselves have even ended forced arbitration for sexual harassment and assault claims. But, it only applies to future employees, meaning those two women who are facing forced private arbitration instead of being allowed to take Riot to court are still impacted. In a statement on the Riot Games website the company said, “As soon as current 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. At that time, we will also commit to have a firm answer around expanding the scope and extending this opt-out to all Rioters.” They also went on to give a 90-day timeline for changes they plan to make within the company as well as outline what arbitration means with Riot Games.
Over the weekend Roseboro spoke to employees on the company’s private Slack saying, “We’re also aware there may be an upcoming walkout and recognize some Rioters are not feeling heard. We want to open up a dialogue on Monday and invite Rioters to join us for small group sessions where we can talk through your concerns, and provide as much context as we can about where we’ve landed and why. If you’re interested, please take a moment to add your name to this spreadsheet. We’re planning to keep these sessions smaller so we can have a more candid dialogue.” In Waypoint’s report, however, one anonymous employee responded saying, “When Angela Roseboro offered to schedule focus sessions with people there was backlash because people were frustrated at yet another example of closed-door discussions instead of transparency. Overall, I think Rioters are sick of feeling like they have no visibility into what leadership is actually doing to improve.”
This all finally brings us to yesterday’s walkout. More than 150 Riot employees in their Los Angeles headquarters staged a walkout that took place in a parking lot on Riot’s campus. The employees carried signs and passed around a megaphone sharing stories of harassment, as well as their hopes and fears for the company. More than one employee said that they would be quitting because they were failed by the internal investigation process and because walking around the campus makes them uncomfortable. Upcomer has posted transcriptions of 3 of the speeches from the walkout, these are just a few of the highlights.
“We want Rioters to present a unified front. I spent every day listening to people who were scared. There’s a gap here between our sense of safety and leadership’s perception of those numbers.”
“We cannot thrive if any of us is scared. Imagine a Riot where everyone felt safe and included. If you already feel that way, take a second, look around, and think about who might not, and why?”
“In almost five years here, I’ve heard these words repeated again and again. Constant calls for Rioters to hold one another accountable. I’ve heard it from every one of my managers. I’ve heard it from all the leaders throughout the company. I’ve heard it from those named in the lawsuit articles. ‘Hold me accountable.’ That’s what they said. We are here today to do just that.”
The signs being held up by Riot employees further expressed their feelings. Some signs read “I reported and he got promoted”, “Forced is not a word women like,” and “It shouldn’t take all this to do the right thing.”
Toward the end of the walkout the main organizer of the event, Jocelyn Monahan made an announcement saying that if Riot doesn’t make a commitment on the forced arbitration by May 16th she and others involved in the walkout would take further action. There was no specification on what that entailed but, talking to Kotaku another organizer, Indu Reddy said, “we do have plans, and we do have days that we’re planning, and we do have commitments that we have responses for.” The May 16th deadline was put in place because it is the date of the next scheduled bi-weekly townhall style company meeting. We’re just a little bit over a week away from that event now and as things stand it looks like we might not hear anything else about this ongoing story until then. But, if anything does come out we will be sure to update this article with the latest.
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