League of Legends maker Riot Games is back to the office beginning this week and not everyone’s happy about it, according to a new report by Waypoint. Following local guidelines, the LA-based company dropped its vaccine and mask mandates even as covid-19 continues to spread, leading one current employee to liken it to Riot playing “Russian roulette” with people’s health.
Like many other companies, Riot Games is marching ahead with its return to office plans a couple months after the largest spike in infections since the pandemic began. Those assigned to Riot’s LA campus have to be in the office three days a week, Waypoint reports. However, chief security officer Christopher Hymes recently informed employees on Slack that the company would be dropping its vaccine and mask requirements for staff in that office. Unvaccinated employees would also no longer need to undergo regular covid testing.
“I’m angry over it,” a current Riot employee told Waypoint. “It’s a foolish and pointless policy being done at a poor time, and being handled without real guarantee of our safety.”
Waypoint also reports the new return to office procedures were announced only after a “Riot Unplugged” Slack channel for venting and asking questions was shut down, and after the window had already closed for resigning with extended benefits and severance.
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Riot Games did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson told Waypoint that masking is still strongly encouraged and that special work-from-home accomodations are made for employees with certain medical needs. Social distancing is also still encouraged, and Riot is apparently using RFID technology to do contact tracing and send instant alerts to anyone who may have come into contact with a colleague who later tested positive for covid.
The video game industry underwent a massive shift during the pandemic, setting up remote work for the legions of developers required to make its blockbusters. Studios big and small have blamed covid in part for major game delays, but the challenges have also come alongside new freedoms and flexibilities for workers in a field where competition for talent has become fierce and pricey in recent months.
Kotaku has privately heard conflicting opinions from developers about whether remote work is sustainable in perpetuity. Some say it offers a number of advantages with few drawbacks, while others say the lack of casual in-person contact has made some aspects of game development, especially on big projects, even messier than before.
Ultimately, it will be up to employees at individual studios and publishers to decide for themselves. The news at Riot comes just a week after management at Activision Blizzard announced it was dropping its own vaccine mandate. In response, a group of employees with the ABK Workers Alliance announced a walkout unless the company reversed course on its current return-to-office plans.
Activision Blizzard immediately backpedaled on part of the plan, announcing that its individual studios could decide for themselves whether to institute a vaccine mandate, but currently not all of them have. The ABK Workers Alliance went ahead with its fourth work stoppage earlier this week and is still calling for the vaccine mandate and full work from home options to be restored across the rest of the company.