Riot Games, the developer behind the immensely popular free-to-play game League of Legends, is a juggernaut in the gaming industry. It's also one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" according to Fortune (#39, down from #13 the year before, to be precise). One of the ways it reportedly maintains this pleasant work environment is by keeping an eye on what its employees say when they are playing League of Legends.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the people who are involved with making League of Legends also play the game. A case study published on re:Work, a Google site dedicated to sharing better workplace practices, lays out why and how Riot observed employees:
The Riot team hypothesized there’d be a correlation between highly toxic in-game play and workplace toxicity; if a Rioter received lots of in-game complaints, the team assumed they'd have more friction with workplace teammates too.
Working from there, they took a look at employees' in-game behavior:
Riot looked at the preceding 12 months of gameplay of every employee and discovered there was a correlation between in-game and in-Riot toxicity. They determined that 25% of employees who had been let go in the previous year were players with unusually high in-game toxicity. The most common bad behaviors they found were passive aggression (snarky comments) and the use of authoritative language, sometimes using their authority as a Riot employee to intimidate or threaten others.
Riot then put the 30 "most toxic" employees two groups, those whose in-game chats merited a reprimand and another whose behavior meant they had to be fired.
The re:Work report says that the results were "overwhelmingly positive."
"Pretty much everyone we spoke with was appalled at their own behavior," said Riot's Head of Talent Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar in the case study write-up. "We actually received some essays from employees vowing to change their ways and become not just more considerate gamers but better people.”
First off: it's good that Riot is trying to be a pleasant place within an industry that can be awful to both consumers and workers, and especially workers who are women. That said, this sort of evaluation makes me pretty uneasy. What goes unmentioned in the report is whether employees were aware their behavior was being monitored, especially since the 30 employees Riot singled out were all "more junior Rioters, new to the working world." Also, how many people were let go as a part of the 25% statistic? I've reached out to Riot to ask for clarification on how aware employees are, and will update this post if they get back to me.
This is not a small company. Riot has had made a stratospheric amount of money since League of Legends was released in 2009. Chinese investment group Tencent spent $400 million for a majority stake in Riot in 2011, and the company made $1.6 billion dollars off League of Legends in 2015. In 2013 over 1000 people were working for Riot at several offices around the world. This is an organization with a lot of money and a lot of clout within the gaming industry.
It's true that there may not be a reasonable expectation of privacy in League of Legends chats, and that in-game behavior is relevant to an employee's work at the company. Nonetheless, quiet, long-term surveillance of employees during their leisure feels like a pretty alarming behavior, even in the service of a greater good.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org