Esports has become entangled in the politics of China and Hong Kong in the last week, and now Riot is trying to get ahead of it with Worlds around the corner. Where public sentiment has mostly run against the idea of limiting players’ free speech, the League of Legends developer has chosen to forbid politics on air from players and staff.
Riot made their stance clear in a statement via the lolesports Twitter handle on October 11, 2019. In the statement, Global Head of League of Legends Esports John Needham expressed Riot’s desire to “keep the broadcasts focused on the game, the sport, and the players.”
“We serve fans from many countries and cultures,” wrote Needham. “We believe this opportunity comes with a responsibility to keep personal views on sensitive issues (political, religious, or otherwise) separate. 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 these topics on air.”
You can see Needham’s full statement below.
A message from John Needham, Global Head of League of Legends Esports pic.twitter.com/5Au9rE7T86— lolesports (@lolesports) October 11, 2019
Riot’s statement is in response to the recent uproar in Hearthstone esports in which Blizzard made the decision to ban Hong Kong player Ng "blitzchung" Wai Chung from Hearthstone after his political statement against the Chinese government in a post-match interview. In the wake of the ban, players and other members of the gaming industry showed revulsion at Activision Blizzard’s actions, including American University players sharing their own statement of protest before withdrawing from competition, and Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeny defending players’ rights to free speech among others.
It is also worth noting that Riot is now owned by Chinese gaming giant Tencent, though with just a 40% share of Epic owned by Tencent as well, it’s hard to know exactly how much effect they have on the situation. Either way, in the wake of blitzchung’s banning, it would seem that global competitive gaming is fast having to decide whether or not free speech or the interest of the Chinese government and markets are more worth protecting. It certainly didn’t end at blitzchung and will likely not end with Riot’s firm statement either.
Stay tuned for more on League of Legends here at Twin Galaxies.