Riot Games says it has 'work to do' regarding claims of sexism and harassment

Fans watch the 2016 League of Legends World Championship semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York. Game manufacturer Riot Games has responded to reports of sexism in the development arm of the company. Robert Paul for ESPN

As the League of Legends World Championship continues in South Korea, developer Riot Games and its esports group are grappling with ongoing difficulty promoting diversity and inclusion after a report this summer of alleged sexism and harassment within the company.

A Los Angeles Times report on Sunday showed the broader company's reaction since an August report by Kotaku, a gaming website, that detailed the "bro culture" surrounding the creator of one of esports' biggest titles. Members of Riot's esports group, too, are trying to figure out how to approach diversity and inclusion and make its workplace more welcoming.

Over the past two weeks, members of Riot's esports arm spoke to ESPN about the company's evolution from Season 1 of the world championship to 2018. Those discussions included questions about the company's evolving policies regarding diversity and inclusion this year too.

"Riot Esports is a part of Riot," said Jarred Kennedy, the co-head of esports at Riot Games. "The past few months have been a time for reflection where we've acknowledged that we have some work to do to be better. We've taken a bunch of steps from the leadership level on down."

Riot spokesperson Joe Hixson noted to ESPN that the company has made changes, including hosting multiple all-staff group feedback sessions, the creation of a "culture transformation team" which reports to top leadership, and hiring Frances Frei as a senior advisor, who has helped Uber in the midst of its own sexism scandal.

"Over the past few months, our work has included a combination of immediate actions and laying the foundations for longer-term changes. The largest changes will take time pending the results of culture, process and systems audits, but we are making steady progress," Riot spokesperson Joe Hixson told ESPN.

Hixson noted several other efforts such as a non-Riot committee to evaluate the executive team, engagement with two external consulting firms, and the addition of anonymous reporting methods for Rioters. He added that there has been departures "at all levels of the company" and would not go into specifics.

"We're a part of this community," Kennedy told ESPN.com. "We want to do right by this community and by our colleagues. As leaders, we are doing everything that we can to sort of make that change a reality."

Kennedy and Whalen Rozelle head up Riot's esports initiatives, and in the wake of this broader inward look by the company, they are attempting to both usher in a new culture and put on the world championship, which runs through early November in South Korea. No allegations cited by the Times or Kotaku directly reference employees in the esports department, but tensions at Riot, according to the Times, "have not entirely cooled."

"I feel a lot of people are silently giving up," one current employee told the Times. "There's a lot of sadness and resignation to the fact that nothing permanent or meaningful is going to happen."

However, that feeling, Kennedy told ESPN last week, has not encroached on the esports group.

"We've never throughout this process taken our eye off the ball on delivering the best world championship we possibly can for our fans," Kennedy said. "That continues, and the team, despite the challenges that we face as a company, has never wavered -- all the way up and down the organization."

Outside the throes of worlds, though, conversations continue. Rozelle said he hopes to see his team and Riot overall improve as a company and, in the years to come, become a test case for other organizations that have similar problems with creating a welcoming workplace for all.

"We know that change takes a long time, and we're deeply committed to doing the work, putting in the effort, learning and listening to make that change happen, but we don't aspire just to get better," Rozelle said. "We hope too that the Riot story is one that's a great example of a company that saw its flaws, understood that it needed to change and has actually become a leader in the industry in promoting diversity and inclusion."