My Story at Riot Games
Content warnings: Sexism, transphobia, attempted suicide, miscarriage
I’ve been hesitant to write an article before because I feel like an imposter in this conversation. I’m a non-binary transgender person. My outward appearance is femme, I was born female, and many of my experiences have happened under the assumption that I’m a woman. I’m not a woman, though, and this conversation about sexism at Riot doesn’t quite fit me yet. As much as sexism influenced how others treated me, there are just as many situations impacted by transphobia and ableism. I think I’m ready to talk about that.
So a few details to start this off. From March to August 2015, I was the Riot Esports Archivist as what we call a “blue badge” or contractor position. In August I moved to a “red badge” position, a full time employee, as Art Archivist. As Art Archivist I remained at Riot for an additional year and four months. After that, I left the company and the game industry entirely. I’ve subsequently gone to film archiving and have zero intention of every returning to this industry again.
Before I came out as transgender in August 2015, my experiences in Riot were entirely based on sexism. This was when GamerGate was still in full swing. I was rather quickly targeted by the group as a mentally ill Latinx person. The harassment was, to put it mildly, intense. Dozens of individuals wrote letters to esports demanding I be fired for being anti-gamer. All I had done is say the same choice words many said about GamerGate, but it didn’t matter. These harassers wanted me fired, and Riot always puts players first, even if their players are harassing their employees.
I’ll never forget my manager taking me aside and letting me know this email campaign was happening. He told me these people were complaining about my having a Patreon so I should delete the Patreon to stop the harassment. I told my manager this would do nothing, but deleted it anyhow. A week passed before my manager brought me in again and told me that the emails weren’t stopping. It was only later I discovered that a higher-up manager in esports demanded I be fired for my anti-gamer behavior but my manager and manager’s manager fought to keep me.
Throughout this time, I received no aid from Riot in regards to my harassment. Infosec said I was to blame for being doxed because I had put my resume online. How many of us have LinkedIn? Well, apparently my having LinkedIn was why I was doxed, which meant this was my fault and my problem to solve. No additional aid was given to me. No one reached out to speak to me. I’ve subsequently discovered numerous individuals in esports knew what was happening, knew I was suffering, but chose to say nothing. Under the pressure, I attempted suicide.
Coinciding with all of this has been my own journey of understanding my gender identity. I came out as transgender in August 2015, before switching to Art. Everyone I spoke to in esports was incredibly supportive. I told myself that being a full-time employee now meant things would get better. Looking back, I feel so stupid for thinking such a thing.
When a new harassment campaign started against me from some esports journalists, the situation had changed. I was now in a romantic relationship with a male game designer. Suddenly InfoSec was happy to help us. They sat us in a room, told us how to monitor our security, asked if there was anything we needed to feel safe. I was stunned. This was nothing like my own experiences. I was frequently spoken over in these meetings, dismissed as if I didn’t understand how harassment worked after years of it. My partner would often repeat what I had just said and be taken seriously. I didn’t care if he had to speak for me, I was thankful at least someone was listening. I feel so guilty having to use my partner as a way to get help, but what else could we do? No one cared what happened to me on my own.
That romantic relationship turned out to affect my interactions with employees in a number of other ways. Several times, my partner became rather famous internally and on social media for long rants about transgender rights. He would repeatedly say he was merely quoting me, saying things I taught him. And yet, he was the grand Riot champion of transgender people. Players and employees told me how lucky I was to be with him. Meanwhile, the League Reddit had several players looking at my profile photos to discuss whether my breasts were real. Coworkers told me to ignore it. That’s just how players are. I learned to cry in the 1:1 rooms silently enough no one would catch me.
There is a saying that’s part of Riot’s manifesto, “default to trust.” It is supposed to mean defaulting to believing in another person’s competency. In practice, it means we must default to trust the good intentions of others regardless of the damage done. Damage done is damage done. In practice, though, damage done is seen as invalid if damage was not intended. It’s a fabulous way to silence those you harm. I had just come out as transgender, just changed my pronouns and name. I was out as transgender at Riot for sixteen months, but not a day went by that I wasn’t misgendered or deadnamed. Whenever I pushed back and said that I was hurting, I was told I had to default to trust these people meant well. One time, I snapped at an employee. My manager took me aside to complain about my tone. I said I was in a constant state of dysphoria due to the misgendering. They said Rioters meant well and if I wanted to succeed at the company, I should learn not to take it to heart if others “got some things wrong.”
My team was responsible for putting newsletters up in the restrooms. One day, no women from the team were in the office. The men in the team asked me to hang the newsletters in the women’s restrooms since I blended in and it wasn’t much different. I did, then immediately went home and fell into a deep dysphoric spiral. I made sure to never be in the office when newsletters were distributed again.
Eventually, it got to a point where I feared correcting others about my pronouns, and my depression only got worse. My partner tried to help me by correcting those who misgendered me. That is, until one corrected person pulled me aside and got incredibly angry with me about my partner correcting them. I left the conversation shaken. After that, I asked my partner to never correct anyone. It was better to suffer in silence.
So far I’ve only discussed sexism and transphobia at Riot. What I haven’t yet gotten into is the ableism so pervasive to the company. As with any company focused on “meritocracy”, disability simply wasn’t a thing anyone talked about. I learned that rather quickly.
During my sixteen months on my Art team, I lost several family members. My father in law, aunt in law, two uncles, and a friend passed away. I had a miscarriage. No one on my team, or anywhere else at Riot, ever offered me a word of sympathy or offered to help me. I remember one morning joining the team Slack channel and saying I needed some help covering my tasks because another family member had died. No one answered. Later on, another team member said they had a cold and needed help. The rest of the team jumped in to help. I was ignored.
Whenever I asked for understanding for my mental illness, I was rebuffed. My depression didn’t matter. My dysphoria didn’t matter. I had to perform perfectly, and it was unprofessional to say I couldn’t. My teammates and other coworkers could miss work due to hangovers, no one said a word. I had a miscarriage, a teammate took me aside to describe how uncomfortable I made him.
By the time I left Riot, under circumstances I don’t think I’ll ever feel safe revisiting, I was a shell of who I was when I entered the company. I had gone to graduate school with the dream of archiving video games. For months after I left, I felt nauseous hearing one of my partners playing the game. I’m still uncomfortable passing the building on my way home to work.
My own experiences are nothing, I know that. Others experienced far worse than I did. But I still needed to say this, to make it clear that sexism is just the tip of the iceberg at Riot. Only by talking about it can we hope to maybe see them acknowledge all the damage they’ve done.