The developer behind League of Legends is telling esports players to avoid bringing up sensitive political topics during official tournaments.
“As a general rule, we want to keep our broadcasts focused on the game, the sport, and the players,” John Needham, global head of League of Legends Esports, said in a Friday statement.
The message arrives days after Blizzard Entertainment sparked controversy by suspending an esports player for voicing support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Now the whole gaming industry is facing questions over how it’ll address gamer support for political issues without offending China, one of the biggest markets in the world.
A message from John Needham, Global Head of League of Legends Esports pic.twitter.com/5Au9rE7T86
— lolesports (@lolesports) October 11, 2019
Los Angeles-based Riot Games, which makes League of Legends, is indicating it wants esports competition to be a politics-free zone. “We serve fans from many different countries and cultures, and we believe this opportunity comes with a responsibility to keep personal views on sensitive issues (political, religious, or otherwise) separate,” Needham said in today’s statement.
“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,” he added. “Therefore, we have reminded our casters and pro players to refrain from discussing any of these topics on air.”
League of Legends is quite popular in China; next year’s official esports tournament is slated to be held in the country. But more importantly, Riot Games itself is owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, a company that complies with China’s strict rules on internet censorship. In 2011, Tencent became the company’s majority shareholder before eventually taking full ownership. As a result, gamers have been mocking Needham’s statement, claiming it was paid for by Tencent.
It’s unclear how Riot Games will respond to esports player who defy the policy at time when the League of Legend World Championships are currently being held in Europe. Needham’s remarks make no mention of potential penalties. But the Riot Games executive says his company is also acting out of the need to preserve public safety. “We believe we have a responsibility to do our best to ensure that statements or actions on our official platforms (intended or not) do not escalate potentially sensitive situations,” he said.
The maker of Fortnite, Epic Games, has taken the opposite stance, despite being 40 percent owned by Tencent. “Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights,” CEO Tim Sweeney tweeted on Wednesday.