A peek inside League of Legends creator Riot Games’ Los Angeles HQ, and why it’s not like your average workplace
- League of Legends is a popular online game, played by millions, and was created and developed by Riot Games, based in Los Angeles
- Riot Games has just expanded its headquarters, which now boasts two cinemas, a themed cafe, a huge games library, and free food and drinks
An arresting aroma of coffee and bourbon envelops visitors long before they walk into Bilgewater Brew.
The coffeehouse has cheery baristas and a pastry chef who prepares snacks such as vegan, keto and gluten-free muffins.
The theme is pirate/nautical, with dripping water sound effects.
Customers settle into tall booths made from old bourbon barrels still wafting their tangy caramel scent, adding smell to the sensory recreation of Bilgewater, a dangerous port city in the mythical universe of video game League of Legends.
The game is an online juggernaut, played around the clock and around the globe by millions of fans since 2009 while spinning off popular related properties including esports tournaments and a television show for its creator, Riot Games.
But, like Bilgewater’s murky streets, the coffee shop isn’t a place you can drop by in real life because it exists inside the newly expanded Riot Games headquarters as a no-money-required perk for employees and guests.
The Los Angeles company has quietly grown into one of the region’s largest office tenants at nearly 1 million sq ft, with more on the way as the video game industry evolves into a major economic player in Southern California.
At the same time, Riot Games and the rest of the industry have been roiled by competition, a nascent labour movement and allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Landlords eager to rent blocks of office space are courting nearly 150 gaming companies in the region including giants Riot Games and Activision Blizzard, maker of Call of Duty and World of Warcraft.
Riot Games headquarters on Olympic Boulevard in West Los Angeles is nearly invisible to passers-by, much of it a discreetly walled-off campus where security is tight to safeguard work that can mushroom far beyond gaming into the riches promised by TV and film.
Its interior gives off distinct film studio vibes; among its showbiz elements are three cinemas, two of which were previously used by directors James Cameron and George Lucas.
There’s also a canteen called Noms that includes one of the biggest commercial kitchens on the Westside, serving a wide range of fare that changes daily and is provided free to the company’s 3,100 employees, as are the drinks and snacks at Bilgewater and a smoothie bar.
Also there for the taking are cereals, coffee, packaged snacks and other prepared fare at small food stations scattered throughout the sprawling campus.
A spacious auditorium is built for esports competitions, where audiences watch teams of professional gamers clash on the virtual fields of League of Legends. Championship banners for such winners as Evil Geniuses and powerhouse Team SoloMid adorn the walls.
Their competitions are broadcast internationally. More than 10 million players in China compete in League of Legends daily, and the game is so popular in South Korea that it produces many of the world’s best professional players.
In tribute, the Riot Games campus includes a recreation of a Korean gaming hall called PC Bang, where employees can play multiplayer computer games such as League of Legends for an hourly fee.
Rioters, as company employees are known, can get a feel of how their games are experienced by many Asian fans. Sit-down Mario Cart games are there to hop on just for the heck of it, and there’s an old-fashioned arcade around the corner.
Rioters can also play video games going back to the dawn of the industry in a library with decades of famous and obscure titles that may hold useful inspirations for elements of new games.
The game library includes fat, old-technology televisions to play them on. Rooms have been set aside for meditation and yoga.
“The campus is sort of a balance between fun and productivity,” Riot Games president Dylan Jadeja says. “You’re trying to make sure people are able to get the most out of their time while they are here” without feeling like the company is trying to squeeze the most work out of them that it can.
“We need it to be organic. That’s the nature of our product,” he said. “It has to happen from the people.”
Although the campus might strike workers who toil in conventional offices as unconscionably cool, Jadeja insists the features are appropriate for a successful tech company that wants to attract good talent.
It’s important that the office environment is a source of pride for Rioters, he says. “The flipside is, you also don’t want it to be a place that goes over the top, where there’s slides and swimming pools.
“We never went ‘massage parlour in every corner’ and all that stuff because we felt like that wasn’t authentic to who we are.”
“We’re sort of still a well-funded start-up,” he says of Riot Games, which is owned by Chinese technology and entertainment conglomerate Tencent. “Our aspirations are still sort of impossible,” he says. The engaging campus “helps us collaborate.”
Riot Games has laboured in recent years to address allegations of a sexist “bro culture” at its headquarters that included women being passed over for promotions, unwanted sexual advances and men questioning women about the legitimacy of their video game fandom.
The company agreed in December to pay US$100 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in 2018 alleging pay disparity, gender discrimination and sexual harassment.
In a statement at the time, Riot said the company “was at the heart of what became a reckoning in our industry” and it “hadn’t always lived up to our values.”
According to 2020 statistics in the company’s last diversity and inclusion report, 24 per cent of employees are women and 29 per cent of the executive team are women after new hiring practices were put in place.
Diversity and inclusion “is not meant to be a crisis function, but rather a business strategy, and we have to constantly be present and active in bringing it to the forefront of everything we do,” chief diversity officer Angela Roseboro said in a statement.
Video game companies have needs beyond those of typical office tenants, according to Greg Lovett of real estate brokerage Cresa, who represents gaming industry tenants. Fantasy worlds created for games have enormous fanbases that film and television producers have grown eager to capitalise on, he says.
Netflix streams the animated series Arcane, a League of Legends spin-off with a 100 per cent rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a second season in the works. Another recent Netflix hit was The Witcher, a fantasy series based on a role-playing video game.
Halo, a military science fiction television series streaming on Paramount+, is based on the popular Halo video game franchise created by Bungie. “The big hit is when you take your original intellectual property and do multiple things with it,” Lovett says.