Episode 37 | How Riot Games Built an Unlikely Empire through Customer Obsession

with Riot Games President Marc Merrill

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From day one, Riot Games has been about one thing – becoming the most gamer-focused studio in the world.  

Co-founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck are both hardcore gamers, and from the outset, they’ve consciously built a culture that emphasizes player experience above all else – even revenue.

To preserve this ethos, the company only hires gamers, a practice they’ve continued even as they’ve scaled. Today, the company has more than 2,000 employees (or “Rioters” as they’re known internally), all of whom have firsthand knowledge of gaming and gaming culture.

The end result is an organization that is always in touch with its audience. And while Riot’s core consumer is sophisticated and at times demanding, Marc says these high customer expectations motivate Rioters to deliver superior gameplay. 

By all accounts, this approach has paid off.

If you’ve never heard of Riot Games, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of their marquee title, League of Legends – aka, the most popular online game… ever.

What, exactly, does that mean? We’ll let the stats tell the tale.

  • 67 million people play League of Legends each month
  • This translates to 3.5 billion monthly hours of game play
  • 36 million people watched the League of Legend world finals in 2015 – that’s twice the viewership of last year’s NBA finals

We visited the stunning Riot Games HQ in West Los Angeles to speak to Riot president Marc Merrill, and to learn exactly how they’ve managed to build their unlikely empire.

The campus itself was a sight to behold. The sleek-yet-whimsical Riot offices feature a world-class cafeteria, an outdoor basketball court, a Korean style PC-cafe, a gorgeous onsite coffee bar called Bilgewater Brew, and surprises around every corner. 

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Sean and Producer Jeff in the Riot HQ Lobby

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Riot HQ at night.

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A PC Cafe at Riot HQ

Bilgewater Brew

Bilgewater Brew at Riot HQ

Marc and his team were generous hosts, and we can’t thank them enough for sharing their perspective on what makes Riot such a powerhouse in the gaming world.

Key Takeaways

  • Marc explains why Riot only hires gamers, and spells out the advantages (and challenges) that come with this policy.
  • Marc tells us why he considers talent to be Riot’s greatest asset.
  • Marc relays an incredible story about their search for a new head of talent, and why it ultimately took two years.
  • Marc describes why managers who are both misaligned and credible can be so dangerous to your business.
  • Marc talks about why it was important for Brandon and him to create the most gamer-focused company in the world.
  • Marc explains why high customer expectations and an “infinite backlog of opportunities to improve” is actually a good thing, as well as why the main motivator for Rioters isn’t compensation.
  • Marc reveals the most important KPI at Riot (and it’s not what you think).
  • Marc breaks down what de-noobification means, and how it’s helped scale Riot’s amazing culture.
  • Marc takes us through the two scariest moments in Riot’s history, and how the company persevered.
  • Marc tells us why “not my job” doesn’t exist in the Riot lexicon.
  • Marc explains why they’d rather have empty seats in the org than the wrong person in a role.

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