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Two Riot Games employees out in wake of controversial PAX panel

Riot Games’ internal culture war continues as two employees leave the company

Riot Games
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Riot Games, the creator of League of Legends, currently runs one of the biggest online games and esports scenes in the world. The company has also been embroiled in a controversy over its internal culture over the past few months. The discussion around Riot’s culture kicked off with a Kotaku report in August — which was further validated and discussed publicly by former and current employees — then escalated over a PAX West panel. Now, two outspoken Riot employees are unemployed, at least one of them fired, in the wake of their interactions with the community.

Daniel Z. Klein, a systems designer, and Mattias Lehman, a communications designer, are no longer working at Riot. Klein and Lehman were both outspoken about problems in Riot’s internal culture and communications; they also both engaged with the community after the PAX West panel led to an outcry on social media. Both Klein and Lehman discussed the problem of inclusivity at Riot. Lehman, wrote about his personal experiences at Riot on Sept. 2, saying in a Medium post:

One thing I’ve learned in my life: if somebody has to tell you they’re on their side, they’re not. At Riot we’re told to “default to trust”, but as I’ve said many times, my ability to default to trust ends where my blackness begins.

Anyway, after my tweets, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was on thin ice, and that I had risked being fired. In a meeting with my manager, I was told that my job performance was great, but my cultural misalignment was concerning. I was told that in my conversation with Marc, it was clear to my manager that I hadn’t been listening or open to Marc’s viewpoint.

Since then, I have gone to work most days wondering if I would be fired.

Since the original report by Kotaku, Klein has been actively signal-boosting the voices of other Rioters and encouraging conversation. In the wake of the PAX West panel and the following controversy, he wrote a detailed thread with his thoughts.

“Systemic sexism and racism exist at the intersection of bigotry and power dynamics,” he said. “The reason that ‘sexism against men’ makes no sense as a concept is that men have the power.”

Klein explained his reasoning at length; he also used the terms “manbabies” and “overgrown toddlers”. In a follow-up post on Reddit, he further elaborated that the community reaction was “fucking terrifying” because of “violently angry” posters; a behavior he linked to the toxic atmosphere and incidents alleged against Riot Games.

Sources within Riot Games told Polygon that after the PAX West controversy went viral, employees were instructed not to engage with fans on the topic. Klein told The Verge that he was “fired for violating our social media policy.”

In the wake of the PAX West conversation, Lehman defended Klein, writing on Twitter, “Being an ally means listening to, learning from, and standing up with marginalized people. [Daniel Z. Klein] has done that in the years I’ve known and worked with him. It’s telling when people spend more time tone policing him than calling out those harassing and threatening him.”

When contacted for comment, Riot Games offered the following comment:

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. Beyond that, we can confirm that these individuals are no longer with Riot Games, but we cannot provide further details on personnel issues.

In a previous comment provided to Polygon about moderating employees, Riot stated, “In cases where a Rioter is found to have behaved inappropriately, the outcomes aren’t determined by community sentiment and instead are evaluated through the lens of our values and principles.”

Klein and Lehman were unable to provide comment at the time of publishing.

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