My relationship with League of Legends is… complicated.
The game has had a rather profound impact on my life. I’d even wager to guess that it’s had a comparably larger impact on my life than any other game, book, movie, or other pop culture medium has. In as few words as possible, the game has, either directly or indirectly, been responsible for several friendships, several friendships falling out, two cross-country moves, my entire career as a writer, my career aspirations, and more than 15 flights to Miami, Boston, Oakland, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles again.
I’ve sunk more than 4,000 hours into the game, starting on my 8-inch crummy high school netbook in 2011 and now on my full-blown gaming rig, and I’ve never managed to climb above Platinum. I’ve spent more than $3,000 on in-game skins, 85 percent of which was spent between 2013 and 2014 (it was a rough year). And, previously unknown to anyone other than my closest friends, I’ve been flown out to the Riot campus on three separate occasions for failed jobs, and to Berlin for another. I was actually accepted for that one, but after a decision from upper management, the position was axed before I could even sign the dotted line.
The game has given me a lot of good, but it’s also given me a lot of not-so-good, sometimes even bordering on resentment. But nonetheless, League and I, as well as Riot Games, have been all tangled up together for the better part of nine years—professionally and personally. I’ve criticized it, enjoyed it, loved it, and hated it all the while.
There’s a lot of weight on those nine years, and it mostly comes in the form of baggage. There’s memories, joy, pain, hundreds of nights blurred together that I stayed awake trying to climb the ladder. Short stories that I’ve spent hours writing about champions, only to crumple them up and toss them away in dissatisfaction. There’s all the esports baggage, too. There’s the time Riot couldn’t fix a bug in a professional match, so officials just decided to give the win to a team automatically. There was also a time where there was an hours-long game-day pause due to another bug that pushed the day’s schedule back late into the evening. You know the one(s).
And of course, Riot, as a company, has its own baggage. Most of you know what I’m talking about there, and it’s not the angry in-game community or the introduction of Dynamic Queue. Riot’s ugly, 200-ton baggage was showcased in 2018, when journalist Cecilia D’Anastasio unveiled the groundbreaking work she had been preparing for months—”Inside the Culture of Sexism at Riot Games.”
If you haven’t heard of, or read, this piece yourself since its publication last year, I encourage you to do so. It shined a very bright light on the very dark corners of a game studio beloved by millions. In the middle of the #MeToo movement, it gave countless employees and former employees of Riot the courage to come forward with their own stories of how they witnessed or were victim to horrible sexist and misogynistic practices during their time at Riot. It also forced people like me, people who had been a part of this game and a tertiary part of the company’s ecosystem for years as a writer, to consider what it meant to be a part of that very ecosystem.
To know full-heartedly that my time, career, and money had gone into helping it succeed, I felt betrayed, foolish, and guilty. A mix of just… bad stuff. And now, at the end of 2019, after a whole year of seeing and hearing about the things Riot’s been doing to try to repair, improve, and learn, that bad stuff is crammed tightly into the suitcase with the rest of the baggage. And shame, as it turns out, takes up a lot of space.
Luckily, even in the midst of all that horrible, and while piling onto the baggage again and again, there’s one thing Riot has always done right. It’s always tried really hard to make things better. Riot employees always come forward and just directly say, “Hey, we messed up. Sorry. Here’s how we’re going to make it better.” Even for D’Anastasio’s investigative hit and the countless stories that followed, Riot sunk a ton of money into trying to make things right, even if that would never truly be possible. And because of those efforts, people like Chief Diversity Officer Angela Roseboro were brought into this ecosystem to improve the situation. At least Riot was showing it could attempt to prevent history from repeating itself.
Luckily, not everything Riot has needed to own up to has been as problematic or serious as a culture of rampant, unchecked sexism and misogyny. There are many game-related examples of Riot owning up on smaller scales, like that time Dynamic Queue was pulled from the game. Or that time the designers realized reworking entire classes of champions at once wasn’t doing the trick anymore. Or when Ed “SapMagic” Altorfer, the creator and caregiver of position ranks for solo queue, completely tore down his creation because the community didn’t like it, even after he had spent upwards of the last year working on it. The people at this company care.
Through all that baggage, both good and shameful, they really do care. And it was that mindset that I held onto so firmly at the forefront of my mind when walking into the Riot campus for League’s 10th anniversary event last week.
I didn’t really know what I expected when I arrived. A friend invited me to the event, half for work and half to just hang out. I signed some NDAs, I knew I’d be doing at least a single interview while I was there, but that would only take up a fraction of my time. For the most part, I was just excited to experience it, but I had no idea what was in store for me. When I walked through the doors and saw the crowds of people, the Tibbers statue covered in Teemo mushrooms, and a strange talking robot wearing a t-shirt, it didn’t take me too long to figure out. This was a celebration. But I knew it was a celebration already, I’m not that dense. Usually.
It was a celebration, just not the kind I thought it would be.
Sure, there were a handful of players there. Sure, there were some streamers in attendance, a professional wrestler, and Moobeat, who is the equivalent of League content creation royalty. But it wasn’t really for them, and it wasn’t really for me. On the surface, it seemed like it was, especially when every Rioter in sight was practically throwing free RP at players all the while. The event might have even been planned for them. But when I looked a little bit deeper, the celebration was something else. Instead, it seemed like a love letter to Riot itself. And I don’t mean the executives, Tencent, or Scott Gelb. I mean the people who really make up Riot. The people who have put in the years to making it better where they can, listening to players, bearing the weight of expectations and, of course, baggage.
It was a love letter to Ben. To Chesney. To Justin. To Paul. To Wiktor. To Jenny. To Kaitlin. To Jacqui. To Ed. To Brian. To Joe. To former Rioters. To all of them.
Black “#League10” shirts were passed out to all the Riot staffers to signify who they were. And although some people were there as guests, it was an almost entirely black-clad sea of humans in attendance, and they seemed overwhelmingly proud to wear it. There was beer for them to drink, great food for them to eat, cool parts of the office on display to show off to outsiders. And, most importantly, a beautiful hour-long announcement video made to show off what they had been working toward for the past who-knows-how-many years—a bunch of new games They laughed, cheered, gasped, and on many occasions, cried.
It was euphoric to even be there in the midst of so many people, in what I can only assume was one of the highlights of their careers based solely on the emotion I saw alone. And to know that I’ve had some, even teeny tiny, part in that? It made me a little emotional too. Just a little.
And to me, that’s better than anything else the League10 event could have been. Why? Because shame and baggage weighs a lot. It digs into your soul. It makes you feel regret, doubt, and it complicates otherwise very straightforward situations. And to push on and say, “I’m going to make this thing and this place better in spite of the wrong it’s done, because the fans, players, and creators deserve it,” well, if that’s not worth celebrating, I’m not sure what is.
Happy Birthday to League and to the people who make it. Here’s to another 10 years.