Systems designer Daniel Klein and communications associate Mattias Lehman, two employees at Riot Games, have left the company under hazy circumstances. This marks another chapter in the ongoing internal culture wars over an allegedly toxic work environment.
The issues surrounding Riot Games’ culture first came to light in a investigative Kotaku article posted last month, which painted a picture of a male-dominated culture that systematically disadvantages women and is fixated on “core gamers.” The article and its claims were later validated and discussed by former and current employees in a piece on Polygon. While their official response promises to try harder, some question how dedicated they are to change (click the Tweet for the full thread):
Does everyone remember this article from not to long ago? https://t.co/TkVqEQNOAc
Because this particular story hits on everything I write about (video game news, rampant sexism, trans rights, fascists campaigning to have good people fired) I have been following the aftermath of
— Secret Gamer Girl (@SecretGamerGrrl) September 7, 2018
The current episode of the controversy stems from a panel held at PAX West. This panel, held on August 31 in room 613, was specifically for women and non-binary attendees only. This raised a swift and loud outrage from the community, who derided the panel as sexist and a poor response to culture problems. Riot Games offered a response and, according to insider sources, asked company representatives to not engage with the community on the controversy. However, some of its employees offered counterarguments to these protests. Among them were Daniel Klein (click the tweet for the full thread):
This reddit thread about some events we're hosting at PAX being open to women and non-binary people only was just as much of a toxic landfill as I expected it to be:https://t.co/H8xoYPCLoF
So let's talk about this for a little bit!
— Daniel Z. Klein (@danielzklein) September 1, 2018
His thread spoke a good deal about systemic sexism and referred to some of the angrier complainers as “manbabies” and “overgrown toddlers.” He followed up in a Reddit post in which he stood by his words and stated that the community reaction was “fucking terrifying” because of “violently angry” posters. Mattias, who recently published his own call-out on Riot’s culture, backed up Daniel with his own series of tweets:
This "both sides" equivocation has to stop, as does the obsession with civility in the face of dehumanization. Criticizing somebody for being rude while they are being harassed and threatened is a poor prioritization and a red herring.
I stand with him in these trying times.
— Mattias Lehman (@MattiasLehman) September 5, 2018
According to an article on The Verge, Daniel was fired “for violating our social media policy.” It’s still unclear if Mattias left or was fired. Riot Games has given an official response to the firings:
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.
The departures are an uncomfortable echo of an incident in July when ArenaNet, the creators of Guild Wars 2, fired two employees for negative interactions with some of the community. One of those employees, Jessica Price, was expressing frustrations with fans of Guild Wars 2 when, after talking about the differences between writing characters for linear games and player characters in MMOs, had a popular Youtuber named Deroir disagree with her, despite having little writing experience.