I recently wrote a piece about the vision and mission of Worldwide Publishing at Riot. A major cornerstone of that philosophy is our approach to regional offices: we meet players where they are by going local with publishing. These locally empowered teams work to maximize the resonance of our player experiences, building relationships that are deep and enduring.
One of our most successful regional offices has been our Korea office, based in Seoul. That team launched League of Legends in 2011, which has arguably been Korea’s #1 PC game of the past decade. In Korean PC cafes, the defining PC gaming ecosystem in Korea, League of Legends has enjoyed 380+ weeks at the top spot, including an incredible four-year consecutive stretch. Our Seoul office has also built an esports ecosystem that has established unparalleled global dominance and appeal. Korean teams have won six out of ten World Championships, and its biggest stars are cultural icons in their home country and around the world.
It was my great privilege to lead Riot’s Korea team from its inception in 2011 through an incredible three years of growth. We did so much in those formative years to lay the foundation for the region’s success, and I’m proud of it all. But as a Korean citizen, I’ve found our work on our country’s cultural heritage to be the most personally rewarding.
Riot’s Work for Korean Cultural Heritage
For us, it was important that Korean players knew and felt that we were there for the long haul. As we got ready to launch League, we didn’t want players to get the impression that Riot was just coming to the country to make a quick buck. More importantly, as citizens ourselves, we felt strongly that it was important for us to give back to the society we lived in. This was not only a duty but a privilege. So we decided to invest heavily in our corporate social responsibility (CSR) program.
Now, many companies have CSR programs, so this wasn’t necessarily a novel idea by itself. But we really cared about doing work for the benefit of our society, so we decided to invest in CSR activities without tying them back to our product. Rather, we chose to support the heritage of our country directly, without any reference to League of Legends itself.
Ever since, we have partnered with the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) on a range of activities, including:
Education. A lot of Korean youth play video games. That’s good in a lot of ways, and it certainly turned out well for League of Legends and Riot. But we also wanted to foster a passion for their own history in them, and we realized that we could make ourselves a vehicle for getting young people interested in these topics. So in partnership with the Cultural Heritage Administration, we sponsored a number of educational programs to teach young players about the rich legacy that they are heirs to.
Since 2012, we have sponsored over a hundred history classes for a total of over 4,000 students, including everything from tours of palaces to conversations with scholars. Recently, we’ve begun a two-day, overnight camping experience as well. We even set up some classes in the Seoul office itself for our own Rioters.
It’s been wonderful to see so many young people get involved in their heritage like this, and I hope it continues for many years to come.
Repatriation and Restoration. In partnership with the Cultural Heritage Administration, we have helped to repatriate cultural artifacts from abroad, such as a classic painting, ancient bamboo and woodblock books, and even a royal seal. Riot provides funding for recovery, which is more difficult for the government to do since a company can make quick decisions with high budgets. As a private company, we can move money quickly so that the CHA or the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation can purchase these items from their current owners.
We’ve also provided funding to restore cultural sites and other relics from a state of disrepair. This had included everything from recreating the interiors of individual rooms to 3D surveys of ancient traditional shrines. Our funding has also helped in the restoration of more modern sites, such as the residence of 20th-century poet Lee Sang.
In fact, some of the simpler restoration work is done by Rioters! The Seoul office will often organize volunteer days so that we can help clean historical sites. I think it’s incredibly important that we don’t just give money, but our own time and labor to our nation’s history. Our culture isn’t just a donation, it’s an experience.
Together, these sites and artifacts represent our living history, pieces of the past that are still with us today. It is critical that these pieces be preserved and preserved in their home country. There’s a lot of work left to do, and Riot will be involved in it in every way it can. That was not a decision that could have been made an ocean away; only an empowered team who lived in Korea could have thought of such a thing. I am very grateful we’ve gotten the opportunity to do so.
A Lasting Impact
To meet players where they are globally, we empower our local teams. In Korea, we chose to invest in the cultural history of its people. Over the past nine years, the office has contributed millions of dollars and thousands of Rioter hours into heritage efforts. My heartfelt thanks to the CHA, whose constant partnership in all these endeavors has made this all possible.
Player sentiment towards these efforts has been incredibly positive, with many citing this as a key driver of their trust in Riot and even of their engagement with League. Every time they pay for a skin in the game, they know they’re helping bring an artifact back from abroad. What’s more, many top-tier candidates for jobs at the Seoul office reference our CSR work as a reason they want to join. And in 2018, I was proud to learn that our Seoul office had been honored with the President’s Award for its sustained cultural work.
We’ve shown Korean players that we care about more than just their gaming preferences. We care about them as a people, as a history, as a legacy. Without the Korean office’s cultural heritage work, Riot would not have a relationship with Korean players that is as deep and enduring.
It’s rare to find a job that can make you feel proud as a citizen. Riot’s willingness to empower local teams to drive their own initiative gave me the opportunity to do so.