A look at the relationship between Riot Games and the League of Legends subreddit
If you aren't working at Riot Games, the developer of the most popular online game in the world, there's one position that gives you significant influence over the game's community. Moderators at Reddit's League of Legends subreddit hold sway over a community of more than 650,000.
Both Riot and the subreddit tout their independence from one another. But their relationship has been called into question by one of the section’s moderators, who recently reached out to the Daily Dot with evidence of complications caused by their informal partnership.
It's information that the community deserves to see. While there is no evidence of moderators taking money in exchange for preferential treatment, the evidence does suggest that the relationship between both parties certainly is closer than many suspected. Whether a reader ultimately decides this relationship is concerning or simply benign, it’s important that it be in the public sphere.
The r/leagueoflegends subreddit has always advertised its independence from Riot. And Reddit prohibits moderators from forming quid pro quo relationships with outside entities. "You may not perform moderation actions in return for any form of compensation or favor from third-parties," the site says in its user agreement. But what about working relationships between moderators and companies with vested interests in the subreddit? Even if the rules are adhered to, is outside influence good for the community?
Shortly after joining the moderator team, our source was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to gain access to a chat room shared with Riot staff. He was told it was optional but that most mods signed it, and that Riot staffers in the room provided information that was used to help the community, such as updates on server issues. He didn’t feel comfortable signing the document, however, and handed it over to us, along with his dossier of other concerns.
Did the NDA constitute an overstep? After our report published, it was clear many in the community felt it was harmless.
"On the main thread, almost all of the top comments are equating the signing of an NDA with influence," esports attorney and Daily Dot contributor Bryce Blum wrote about the initial reaction to the report. "This is neither the purpose nor import of an NDA. From my standpoint, the fact that Riot has mods sign NDAs is actually a positive sign about their respect for Reddit’s role in the community and desire to have mods in the loop on certain key issues, where other gaming [subreddits] might be completely left in the dark."
Riot employee and former r/leagueoflegends moderator Jordon Triggs added: “We do have zero influence over this subreddit… The NDA is the same standard that anyone has to sign when they may come across any confidential information. It ensures that player information and sensitive security issues remain confidential.”
And according to Reddit's community manager, Kristine “krispykrackers” Fasnacht, signing the document didn't violate the site's rules: "There is no rule on reddit that prevents moderators to signing an NDA in order to speak with gaming studios. They are also not signing anything on behalf of reddit, rather they're agreeing not to disclose confidential information that they might be given as individuals, which is the purpose of an NDA.”
The Reddit user agreement does prohibit moderators from entering "any form of agreement on behalf of reddit, or the subreddit which you moderate.” As some argued, the NDA violated the spirit of the rule, if not the letter. After all, the moderators would have never been asked to sign an NDA if they were not moderators of the subreddit to begin with, and it was only in their capacity as moderators that they were asked to do so. While Riot emphasized that the Skype room and contracts were never used to exert influence over the community, their very existence at least raises the specter of leverage.
Below we've reproduce much of the information the former moderator provided us, along with annotations and explanations.
Subreddit mods could receive “swag” from Riot
In one email to the moderators' email list, moderator BuckeyeSundae suggests that colleagues could receive Riot swag if they passed along their mailing address. The email says nothing about what, if anything, moderators had to do to secure these gifts.
Riot paid for a subreddit redesign in 2012 and dictated when the new design was made public
This might be news to new users of the forum, but moderators revealed this in a public statement. "Goggris,” the head moderator at the time, stated that the “moderation team has a friendly working relationship with Riot” and that the company “provided us support for things such as prizing for tournaments in the past (and potential future events).” He added that “because of our working relationship, when we wanted to update the visuals for the subreddit they said they would be willing to provide resources to help” and that Riot and the moderators cooperated in making decisions about design.
Riot apparently paid a contractor for the work. “Riot has stated they are ready to go live and have us incorporate it,” Goggris says in one post. “We still have the brief opportunity to use their professional contractor that they are paying.”
In another private post, the same moderator announced that the subreddit had “partnered with Riot Games to provide an overhaul to the design.” It also included “A special thank you to Riot for their work in driving this effort.”
Multiple moderators have become Riot employees and some remain in daily contact with the moderation team
The subreddit has always had a rule that Riot employees are not allowed on the moderation team. However, the company has recruited moderators in the past. At least one of those former moderators is still in regular contact with the current moderation team. Former moderator Jordon “Triggs” Triggs is responsible for distributing the NDAs to moderators and administering the private Skype chat room for discussion of server issues.
Another moderator turned Riot staffer is Zoey “Velocity” Melfa, who currently works as a Q&A analyst for the company. After the publication of the NDA story, he posted in the corresponding Reddit thread saying that while it was mostly used to discuss server issues “on rare occasions we would use the NDA to communicate and coordinate surprises to you, the community.” This included the teaser marketing campaign for new champion Vel’Koz in February 2014.
Another former moderator, Andrew “glyceroll” Whitmore, has been a writer for LoLEsports, the Riot-owned LCS focused website, for almost 18 months. On Feb. 2, he posted that he'd be spending the summer working as an intern at the company.
Former moderator “ImSidroc” has also taken a position within Riot according to the current moderation team. His account, inactive for some period of time, has the Riot employee flair, although it wasn’t clear what role it is he has transitioned into.
One active moderator is seeking a job with Riot
Triggs, Melfa, and Whitmore may not be the last moderators to make the jump from r/leagueoflegends moderator to paid position with Riot. Current moderator TheEnigmaBlade has openly talked about his desire to work for the company and has applied for a job on at least one occasion. He spoke about this openly in the moderators' IRC chat channel and said that despite not having any experience, he was granted an on-site interview. "As far as I know," one current moderator told the Daily Dot. "Enigma is the only current member of the team that was even thinking about applying for a position with Riot." He added that otherwise there was some "distrust" between the moderators and Reddit, but didn't elaborate.
Moderators held private conversations with Riot staff about moderation issues
In a long letter to Jeffrey “Lyte” Lin, Riot's lead designer of social system, the head moderator for r/leagueoflegends wrote: “I believe there is common ground between the communities we are trying to manage and I was hoping to leverage some of your methods/knowledge/input to see if we can make any inroads in improving user behaviour on the subreddit.”
The moderator proposes some initiatives for improving the subreddit, including an honor system similar to what's used in the game. This would distinguish “positive” contributors from others and, it was proposed, provide them with Riot Points—in game currency for unlocking champions and skins—or skin codes for people’s accounts. Only one moderator raised an objection to this proposal, saying that they felt it was a “bit iffy”
Riot staff have an open channel of communication with mods and have made numerous requests to change the layout or add features
The moderator email group was always open for Riot staff members to make requests to alter the subreddit. This could be to include information about upcoming games. Or it could be something more permanent, such as including headers on Challenger matches to make them appear the same as LCS matches. Our source said he couldn’t find one example of moderators declining a request from Riot.
The group also contained examples of Riot staff making direct suggestion on helping coordinate a response to ongoing issues—in this case, the rollout of the game's Team Builder feature.
Finally, in another example from the mod email, a moderator decided to remove "account related threads" on the subreddit, which included complaining about “stuff related to poor or no help from Riot support.”
Mods removed content that violated Riot’s terms and conditions for playing League of Legends
Though the subreddit is independent from Riot, it does enforces the company's terms and conditions for playing League of Legends. This is laid out in a section on the subreddit rules entitled “Keep Your Contracts.”
“Nothing that violates your user agreement with Riot is permitted on this subreddit," the rule reads.
In the private moderator forum, our source found examples of the moderation team pulling down content from the subreddit under this rule. In one specific example, they noted that it was to do with a content creator’s sponsor. The person posting the content was told to remove all mention of the offending sponsor from the video by moderators in order for the video to be deemed acceptable for submission.
After sharing this information, the moderator was stripped of his position. In the aftermath, the subreddit was renamed to “League of Traitor Joes,” a play on words relating to the Trader Joe's supermarket chain. Our source has no regrets however.
“What I saw made me question how independent the sub is and I believe it has a problem that needs to be addressed," he said. "I care about that more than any site privileges.”
Correction Oct. 1, 2015 10am CT: An earlier version of this article did not indicate that the decision to delete "account related threads" was made by a moderator alone.
Disclaimer: The author of this story was banned from the League of Legends subreddit shortly before this article's publication.
Illustration by Jason Reed