I’ve never been that good at League of Legends. Botched skill-shots, overcommitment, tower dives…you name it, I’ve committed pretty much every cardinal sin that n00b players can. Still, I come back for more punishment on a regular basis just because it’s so damn fun to play. Since its creation in 2008, League has seen many game modes come and go, champions introduced, discontinued, nerfed, buffed and revamped. I’ve followed the game and the company behind it, Riot Games, pretty closely over the last 8 years. So you can imagine that when I was asked if I’d like to tour the headquarters of Riot Games, I nodded so hard I gave myself whiplash.
The opportunity presented itself after a chance encounter with Erika Olsen, executive assistant, at the Psycho Pass premiere about a month ago. I had just reached out to Riot asking about media access barely a week before, so when Erika handed me her Riot Games business card I just about fell over. I certainly wasn’t going to hog this experience all to myself, so I invited the Mithical team to join me. Joining me on the trip were: Scarlette, Archmage, Zelyhon, The Jewphin and ZeloOmega.
We were slotted for a solid 2 hour tour that started at 11 AM. Scarlette and I were about 20-30 minutes early, because that’s just how we are. The other guys, however, decided to stroll in at 10:59 because they forgot that it’s always rush hour in LA traffic. We signed an NDA (sorry, no leaks here folks!) and received our temporary badges as Erika greeted us.
Before we get started, I would strongly recommend if you’re in the area, or even if you’re not in the area and have a serious interest in Riot Games and/or League of Legends, to arrange to go on a tour of the HQ if you’re in town. There is so much that we couldn’t show you here for privacy reasons, and you owe it to yourself to check the campus out. That being said, if you can’t make it out, we hope you enjoy our trip through the new HQ of Riot Games.
Walking through the front doors is a large white lobby flanked with gorgeous fan-art and numerous monitors streaming live games. The first thing we noticed, it would take a lot NOT to, was the gigantic and extremely detailed statue of Annie and her trusty “teddy bear” – Tibbers.
Commissioned by Riot and created by legendary “Creature Creator” Steve Wang, this statue features a tremendous level of detail. Each character is constructed from the inside out – starting with a solid skeleton, then layering on muscle, skin and fur until the final product is ready.
Just beyond the statue, we saw a great art development feature wall, which included a handful of very impressive pieces ranging from character shots to landscapes. What stood out the most was a progressive three-panel display of Morgana and Kayle through concept, line art, and finally finished product. Erika explained that much like their art process, Riot always considers itself as a work in progress; always finding ways to improve and constantly refining their product and their company for customers both externally and internally.
Opposite this wall was a shrine dedicated to particularly unique stories of player support. Each year, Riot hosts an event known as “The Thunderdome”. During this three day special event, Riot employees can work on any project they’d like. Some of these projects end up providing some Legendary Support: it could be in response to a silly email or going above and beyond for a player going through a difficult time – whatever the developers and engineers feel like working on.
There were some awesome anecdotes from the Thunderdome project, including a player who wrote in to let the team know they named their daughter Caitlyn, after the champion from League of Legends. While the player wasn’t asking for anything, the team took on a project of constructing some perler bead models of Caitlyn in her different costumes and put them into a cute mobile for the baby.
This culture of player support at Riot was hard to miss – throughout the building and various offices there were collections of fan-art and photos of cosplayers…reminders of who they come to work for every day.
Exiting the lobby, we were limited with our audio and video recording. As Erika explained, everyone is very happy to be a part of Riot, but not necessarily prepared or willing to be the face of Riot. As a gesture of respecting their privacy and also any confidential information we may have come across, we were limited to photographs, and even then only in specific “photo-safe” zones. Again, this is why I would strongly recommend taking a tour of the campus yourself – there’s just so much awesome stuff that we can’t show you guys.
Venturing through some offices, we noticed that it is all inspired by the lore of League of Legends. Meeting rooms are named after champions, segments of buildings are named after countries or regions such as the Freljord, Demacia, Noxus, etc. The pride in their product shone through wherever we went, and this commitment no doubt fuels the passionate and creative minds that come to work at Riot every day.
As we navigated through these offices, we made our way to our first “photo safe” zone within the building: the company coffee shop known as “The Bilgewater Brew”.
Inspired by the world of Bilgewater, this coffee shop looks like it was lifted straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Authentic woodwork throughout the building lends to the look and feel, as attention to detail can be found throughout.
Employees are welcome to free coffee and snacks throughout the day and it serves as a great place to re-energize or have an impromptu meeting when discussing the latest Gangplank changes. We all ordered drinks to keep us caffeinated (though we were still pretty energized from the FFXV Uncovered event the night before) and moved on from the cafe. However, another surprise awaited us as we left the Bilgewater Brew:
Leaving the pirate-inspired coffee shop, we came out onto a large courtyard. Greenery and trees were everywhere, as well as a number of basketball courts. One thing we noticed for a space that open and with food nearby (the cafeteria was across the way) was the fact that there weren’t any crows or pigeons. Erika explained that Riot actually arranges for a falconer to come on campus 2-3 times a week. The hawks (not falcons…tricky) have established dominion over the area, and as a result it isn’t plagued with crows, pigeons or other undesirable critters. This attention to detail was a recurring theme as we made our way through the various buildings.
As we crossed the courtyard Erika talked about the culture of Riot games and how it brings out the best in their employees. “If you’re the type of person who needs supervision, or needs a manager to assign you tasks…you wouldn’t do well here,” she said, explaining that their workers are very passionate and self-starting individuals. They have an open PTO policy: as long as your work is done, or will be done before a deadline, there’s no limit or restriction on time away. This focus on work/life balance is very important to Riot, as we discovered when Erika introduced us to their authentic Korean Internet Cafe:
Featuring 40 top-of-the-line PCs, keyboards and mice, this on-site internet cafe serves as a nexus (pun intended) for casual and professional players within Riot HQ. (The actual “nexus” is the Cafeteria, which shares the name) Not in the mood for League of Legends? No problem:
Erika mentioned as we passed through that employees are given $300/year to purchase other games for the purpose of “research”. I then asked if they need any more “research” assistants.
I know what you’re thinking. “Mithrandiel, with all these video games, who could ever get any work done?!” That’s a great question.
No, seriously. I have no idea how they do it.
As we were walking through another non photo-safe zone Erika made a point to showcase a specific staircase that was photo-safe. At first we were confused as to what the significance of the staircase could be. This confusion was quickly dispelled when Erika explained that that very same staircase was used by the one and only Jack Bauer in the hit TV series “24”. So, we got a picture:
At the top of these stairs is Riot’s Trophy Room. It features all of the numerous and prestigious awards that League of Legends has won over the years. It used to be featured at the front of Riot HQ, but was not a proper representation of Riot as a brand or a company, so now they have it hidden away at the top of these stairs so that people can seek it out and use the space if necessary to relax and soak in the success of their work.
We then moved onto the Nocturne Theater. Sadly, we were not allowed any photos of this space, but suffice it to say it was a decent sized internal theater that was typically used for screenings/meetings. As small retractable desk-tops came up from the side of the chairs, Archmage quipped that these desks put the “fun” in “functional”. The real treat was when Erika hit the lights on the control console – as the lights dim you hear Nocturne’s infamous “ult” sound:
We all got a kick out of it.
Leaving the Nocturne theater (I managed to escape without getting ganked) we made our way to the Riot cafeteria. It’s the largest meeting room on campus and can hold up to 1600 people standing. Large monitors lined the walls and are sometimes used to stream live LCS games for staff. Near the cafeteria was the remains of what was going to be “The best ramen bar in West LA” if Founder and CEO, Brandon Beck, had his way. Sadly, it was not to be. Instead they use the room for catering and other events. Who knows, maybe that will change.
We went through some additional offices and were directed to some additional “attention to detail” points in the work-space. Along the walkways the lighting was pointed downward, but over the actual work-spaces the lights were pointed upward. This helps to reduce glare and make staring at screens all day a little bit easier on the eyes. We also had noticed at this point that the office seemed strangely quiet despite having an open-concept within the offices. No cubicles, just open desks with wheels that could be placed anywhere if the employee wished. So, for such a big open office design, the sound seemed to be well under control. How come? Looking up we noticed vaulted ceilings with wood paneling that did very well in absorbing the sound, and the office was largely lined with carpet as well. The result? A surprisingly quiet and peaceful environment for their employees.
Moving on from these offices we came across the network operations center (NOC) – it pretty much looked like a situation room in your standard anime program. We half expected the monitors to flash ALERT, go all red, and Gendo Ikari to emerge from the floor via elevator-chair.
Seriously, there were monitors from floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall displaying the latest data and information on all of the live servers. How many live games, how many active players…everything a data junkie could want or need.
While Archmage was still geeking out over the NOC, we continued on to the sound engineering offices, where every sound you hear in League is developed and brought to life. Each of these offices were soundproof and they were the only real offices within the building. We stepped into one and as we crossed the threshold it was like walking into a fog of silence. You think you know what quiet is until you step into one of these rooms.
Leaving the sound rooms we made our way back to the main lobby and were afraid that our tour had come to an end. Not so! We were taken across the street to Riot’s on-site arena for eSports activity.
However, that story will be saved for tomorrow. Check back when we conclude our tour of Riot with a look inside their eSports operation!
Many thanks to Erika Olsen for her excellent tour of the campus! Also a big thank you to Scarlette for being our resident photographer and getting some great shots for us!