After allegations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment surfaced about Riot Games CEO, Nicolo Laurent, Alienware is terminating its global esports partnership. This is 10 months before the scheduled end of the partnership, and it means that one of their biggest advertisers for League of Legends esports is no longer affiliated with Riot Games.
Alienware dropping Riot Games
Alienware cited their concerns about the public image of Riot Games after a slew of similar controversies in the past few years and the current allegations about their CEO. In a statement to Dot Esports, Riot Games wrote:
“Alienware has been a valuable partner to Riot since January 2019. We can’t comment on our agreement with them at this time due to confidentiality obligations. As we continue discussions with them, we have removed their branding from our broadcasts.”
Despite not commenting on the state of their agreement with Alienware, Riot has already removed all of their branding from League of Legends competitive broadcasts.
The harassment allegations
Lauren O’Donnell filed suit against Riot and Laurent in January in California. In the complaint against the company and the CEO, she alleged that Laurent made sexist comments and that he invited her to non-work-related trips with him. After she refused his advances and sexual overture, Laurent is alleged to have become hostile, limited her work responsibilities, and eventually had her fired when she reported him to the HR department at Riot Games.
The response from Riot Games to the allegations
In a statement about the investigations into the CEO provided to media outlets, a Riot Games spokesperson Joe Hixson wrote:
“Core to giving Rioters confidence in our commitment to culture transformation is taking all allegations of harassment or discrimination very seriously, thoroughly investigating claims, and taking action against anyone who is found to have violated our policies. In this case, because some of the claims relate to an executive leader, a special committee of our Board of Directors is overseeing the investigation, which is being conducted by an outside law firm.”
“Our CEO has pledged his full cooperation and support during this process, and we’re committed to ensuring that all claims are thoroughly explored and appropriately resolved.”
The company then went on to claim that O’Donnell was dismissed from the company not for her refusal of the CEO’s advances but instead for complaints from other employees. In response, her legal counsel wrote:
“She alleges that she was never made aware of any such complaints. Nor was there any ‘coaching’. Instead, there were sexist comments made about her ‘tone’. She alleges that she was wrongfully terminated because she refused to give in to Nicholas Laurent’s sexual overtures. She also alleges that was also wrongfully terminated because she was a strong woman in a male dominated sexist company where women are devalued. She looks forward to proving her case.”
The future of Riot Games and the harassment suit
League of Legends is Riot Games’ most profitable brand, and it could see a decline if more and more companies follow the same path as Alienware. These are not the first allegations to come from employees at Riot Games and if the claims about the working culture at Riot Games are true, it almost certainly won’t be the last. They are currently trying to force plaintiffs in a long-running gender discrimination lawsuit through individual arbitration in an attempt to avoid paying compensation of up to $400 million. Unless something serious is done about the culture at Riot Games, it could become a more and more toxic company to work with.