With the recent incident involving Blizzard Entertainment and the ongoing Hong Kong protests, many were eager to see Riot Games’ stance. After all, one of the biggest esports events is the upcoming 2019 League of Legends World Championships. With teams being featured that had Hong Kong in their names, casters seemed to be replacing these two words with the team’s acronym instead.
Fans were quick to accuse the game developer of telling its casters to flat out avoid saying the region. However, Riot has since released an official statement regarding this controversial topic.
A message from John Needham, Global Head of League of Legends Esports pic.twitter.com/5Au9rE7T86
— lolesports (@lolesports) October 11, 2019
Riot Games’ stance
“As a general rule, we want to keep our broadcasts focused on the game, the sport, and the players,” says John Needham, the Global Head of League of Legends Esports. “These topics are often incredibly nuanced, require deep understanding and a willingness to listen, and cannot be fairly represented in the forum our broadcast provides. Therefore, we have reminded our casters and pro players to refrain from discussing any of these topics on air.”
While many in the community reacted to this post with negative comments, this seems like an understandable response for Riot. Riot Games was majority acquired by Tencent in 2011, and fully acquired by the Chinese multinational conglomerate holding company in 2015. With its parent company as Tencent, fans asking for more than this were likely expecting too much. The statement itself seems neutral enough.
Needham continues in his statement that the decision was also made because Riot Games has employees and fans in places like Hong Kong. If some incident arose, it could end up negatively affecting those who reside in certain regions.
The Houston Rockets were previously the most popular NBA team in China thanks to Yao Ming and now are completely boycotted. Reports show that Chinese retail stores have already wiped Houston Rockets merchandise from their shelves. While fans still turned up for a packed match between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai, Tencent has suspended streaming NBA matches due to the incident.
The same thing could happen to the League of Legends game, where Chinese consumers account for a large portion of League players. There are also many professional organizations that compete in the Tencent League of Legends Pro League (LPL), including 2018 World Championships winner Invictus Gaming.
The NBA is far larger than Riot Games’ League of Legends game in economic impact. League of Legends generated $1.4 billion in revenue in 2018. Tencent canceled its NBA streaming partnership, worth a reported $1.5 billion, just because of the Houston Rockets issue. With Chinese companies willing to sacrifice that much money, League of Legends could very well be wiped from China if any incidents arose.