"It's almost like an inverse of the Harry Potter world, where the Muggles are in charge and the magic-using people are kind of kept as lower on the caste system," Street said. "So we're not trying to make Demacia into a terrible place or ruin what people may love about it, but we also want to show a little more nuance there, because I think that has some fun storytelling potential."
Comics are a low-impact way for Riot to test out new ideas, Street said, though they aren't the studio's end game. It's partnered with Marvel, after all, a company that has transformed a graphic novel business into one of the defining multimedia empires of this generation with the Avengers series and all of its spin-offs.
"We'll see what resonates, and maybe that'll give us ideas for future games," Street said. "Maybe we'll be able to get into more single-player narrative games someday. We'd like to dabble in things like books or maybe someday TV or film. ... We're kind of years away from that. But we're trying to follow in their footsteps."
Fans will certainly let Riot know what they think of any new endeavors. The official League of Legends Twitter account shared the announcement of the Lux comic series on April 24th, complete with an animated preview, and after a day of teasers, and fans immediately responded. As usual on Twitter, most of the comments were memes and jokes, though a lot of folks were disappointed that the big reveal was a comic series rather than a new champion. One user replied, "Give us a novel already," and the tweet received about 50 likes.
Dealing with needy fans is par for the course in AAA game development. Riot, however, has faced an even harsher, more consequential line of criticism over the past year. A 2018 investigation by Kotaku revealed an entrenched culture of sexism at Riot Games, based on conversations with 28 current and former employees. The report found that women were routinely overlooked for promotions and were unfairly criticized for behavior lauded by their male colleagues, while the mostly male leadership team set a frat-house tone across the studio.
Early this year, five current and former employees filed lawsuits against Riot alleging it violated California's Equal Pay Act and fostered gender-based discrimination. In April, Riot filed a motion that forced two of these women into private arbitration, meaning the matter would be settled outside the legal system. Riot said the women had signed arbitration agreements when they were hired.
This move sparked renewed action within Riot. Some employees argued private arbitration was a way for Riot to avoid actual punishment or change, and yesterday, more than 150 employees at Riot's Los Angeles office walked out for two hours in protest. The walkout ended with employees promising to pursue further action if Riot doesn't make a clear commitment on forced arbitration by May 16th.
Riot updated its stance last week, saying, "We will give all new Rioters the choice to opt-out of mandatory arbitration for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. At that time, we will also commit to have a firm answer around expanding the scope and extending this opt-out to all Rioters." Those at the protest wanted to ensure all employees will be able to opt out of arbitration.
I spoke with Street on Monday, 30 minutes before the walkout was set to begin.
"Riot is a place with -- it was born of passion," Street said. "Initially the company was founded by people who were kind of frustrated at the state of the game industry and almost had this calling to make a game. So you end up with this company of really passionate, outspoken people who want to make the world a better place and blow players' minds. So I think it's not surprising that you would see people here be so driven and so passionate about trying to fix what they view as things that need to be improved."
League of Legends and all of its associated creative efforts are still chugging along. Street is optimistic about the future of the franchise, even if he doesn't know what form it will eventually take or how fraught the path to that goal will be.
"You need conflict to tell good stories," Street said. "And there's plenty of conflict around, like, nation versus nation or good versus evil. But I think the more interesting, maybe even relatable, conflicts are kind of within."