‘Why Culture is King’ Featuring David Barker of Riot Games

Riot Games are as renowned for their employer brand as they are for their internationally acclaimed Multiplayer Online Battle Arena: League of Legends. Consistently, they’ve featured on ‘Fortune’s Best Companies To Work’ list and have received awards for their flexibility and Millennial values from ‘Best Places To Work’. In this Q&A David Barker, Director of Talent at Riot Games, talks us through what real culture looks like and how Riot Games have built their award winning employer brand.

What constitutes good culture?

Good culture is often confused with having good perks but a strong culture runs much deeper than free coffee or funky office furniture. The value of having a clearly defined mission and vision is better than anything you can offer in terms of office swag. Good culture means people know exactly what they need to do and how to do it to deliver a company’s mission and vision. That’s core. Culture determines behaviour in an organisation even when the managers or leaders aren’t there. It’s like social anthropology – people know what they need to do. Like a colony of bees, everyone is in tune. Even if the queen wasn’t there, they still know what they need to do.

To establish your culture you need to have a clear mission. People align and understand their purpose and what they have to do within that context and framework. Then people can operate with freedom and still deliver what’s expected of them.

So it allows for a flat structure?

Not necessarily. We have a flat structure at Riot but in general good culture leads to a more fluid and non-directive structure. A clear mission allows for freedom of choice and autonomy. It allows for quicker decision making because people know what they need to do. In Riot’s context before we make a decision we need to ask ourselves ‘are we creating player value’ and ‘are we making the player experience better?’ I think if every organisation had that clarity of mission they would benefit from a more cohesive, proactive team.

How do you communicate that culture to the outside world?

We could probably do a bit more about how we communicate our values. I mean we’ve been recognised for some great rewards externally but we could always do more. I think at the moment we promote our culture through the game and our current employees. We focus a lot on making the candidate experience as enjoyable as possible. Our candidate experience and how we look to handle our relationships with future Rioters is something we hold in high regard. We use our current Rioters to promote our culture and attract people of the same ilk.

How do you ensure you’re hiring for a cultural fit?

At the core of our hiring we look for people who are passionate about what they do. People that can go deep into magazines or movies and hopefully games as that’s who we are – a gaming company. At our interview process we’re looking at how passionate a person can be. We could even call it a maniacal passion! We want to see how they articulate that and how they communicate that. We’re looking at ways to learn from our candidates.

We want to learn and absorb what makes people so inspired that they dedicate hundreds of hours of their lives to doing what they’re doing.

We also try to take people through the candidate journey as closely as we can, so if we can’t do in-person interviews, we spend a lot of time on video and online as an interview format. If we find that a candidate has something of unique interest to us, we’ll discuss ways to nurture that potential so that they can bring that value to Riot in the future.

I imagine the passion for gaming is non-negotiable?

Very much so! And gaming in a certain sector of gaming as well. There’s a place for casual games like Candy Crush but our MOBAs (Multi-Player Online Battle Arena) are a different genre in that they require deep technical expertise. Everyone starts on a level playing field and some people playing League Of Legends become world class at what they do.

Our League of Legends world playoffs are as big as any live sports event. They have a massive following with a Gladiator arena style atmosphere. It’s another testament to the passion in the community.

If you’re a gamer and you love going to these events, we want to talk to you. You’ll be part of that environment for a reason. It’s a community, a lifestyle choice, a kind of cultural movement. If we can harness that magic, that power and bring it into Riot then that’s something special.

Do you find it difficult to hire diverse talent that are also a cultural fit? How do you weigh it up?

We don’t necessarily focus on seeking out diversity per se. We look at cultural alignment – whether or not you’re aligned with what we’re doing, our values – that transcends diversity. We would never discriminate on any grounds but we just put the focus first and foremost on cultural alignment. That for us trumps everything.

We have such an international presence that we do have quite a naturally diverse workforce in terms of nationalities. We look for people all around the world. League of Legends is a global product, it interests and excites people all over the world and we are always looking for those people wherever they are based. Trying to harness and cultivate and grow that passion is what drives our team.

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Author Aoife Geary

Aoife Geary is the Content Editor at Jobbio specialising in the areas of Workplace Culture, Diversity, Startups and Digital Trends. She's partial to a burrito, a bad pun and living way beyond her means.

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