The Rot of Riot Games Culture Starts at the Top The Rot of Riot Games Culture Starts at the Top
In 2014, Riot Games’ then-executive assistant Melanie McCracken began to notice that her supervisor, Jin Oh, didn’t seem to hire women into senior leadership... The Rot of Riot Games Culture Starts at the Top

In 2014, Riot Games’ then-executive assistant Melanie McCracken began to notice that her supervisor, Jin Oh, didn’t seem to hire women into senior leadership vacancies. Women were generally brought on as assistants, she said in a 2018 civil complaint alleging widespread gender discrimination at the League of Legends publisher. Oh, an executive at the company, “claimed that he would ‘feel weird having a male’ in such a role,” according to the complaint. It was part of a pattern, she alleges, of Oh disadvantaging women based on their sex or gender.

McCracken began looking for a new job at Riot in September 2014—ideally one with more upward mobility. As she tried to escape, McCracken began to feel that Oh was creating a hostile work environment. According to the complaint, she went to human resources to report the alleged retaliation and discrimination. Shortly after, McCracken found herself in a meeting with Oh to discuss the HR discussion, which she had believed was confidential.

McCracken transitioned from Riot’s international region to the North America region in March 2015. Oh eventually landed there as well, as the new temporary head. After his arrival, McCracken in 2016 was “given a five-month countdown to find a new position or ‘be fired,’” reads the complaint. She found one, in the Internal Communications division, and Oh left Riot later that year. (The HR rep McCracken spoke with left the company in 2019.)

But in 2018, Riot chief executive officer Nicolo Laurent rehired Oh. The HR rep rejoined the company, too, and now directs human resources for Oh’s department. Oh now has a very long title: Riot’s president of esports, marketing, publishing operations, and international offices. None of his direct reports, except his executive assistant, are women. A Riot Games spokesperson said in a statement that “many senior-level women” work in the publishing organization that Oh leads.

Over the past two years, several women, most recently Riot CEO Nicolo Laurent’s former executive assistant Sharon O’Donnell, have stepped forward with allegations of gender-based discrimination and harassment at the company. Many of those court filings—including one previously unreported complaint by a former Riot employee from December—underscore that under Laurent’s watch, several executives remain employed at Riot despite multiple repeated allegations of impropriety.

McCracken is one of eight women named in a potential class action suit brought against Riot Games alleging widespread gender discrimination. (McCracken took a settlement and is no longer part of that suit. Others, except one, have been moved to arbitration because of clauses signed upon employment.) The suit follows a 2018 Kotaku report in which dozens of current and former employees described a work environment where women faced added scrutiny in the hiring process, received fewer advancement opportunities than men, were routinely talked over at meetings, and were under-compensated compared to men in similar positions with similar qualifications.

The “boys’ club” ethos at Riot extended beyond employment practices. Sources interviewed by Kotaku said they received unsolicited pictures of male genitalia or were on emails or lists describing colleagues’ sexual interest in them. Scott Gelb, chief operating officer of Riot Games—who remains at the company after a brief suspension and sensitivity training—would grab male employees’ genitals, apparently as a joke, and fart in people’s faces, sources said. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement are also investigating alleged widespread gender discrimination at Riot Games.

Riot has made an effort to cleanse its ranks of problem employees, offer sensitivity training, and institute more structured hiring practices. Riot contracted Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei, whom Uber brought on to fix its allegedly sexist culture, and created a chief diversity officer position within the company. While bottom- and mid-level employees are feeling the effects of cultural change, two sources tell WIRED that Riot’s top leadership has closed ranks around some of the company’s most problematic employees, who remain at the helm of the 2,500-person game company. Laurent, they say, has endeavored to retain and protect these employees.

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