I Am A Grumpy (and hopeful) Old Man

When Riot debuted at #13 on Fortune Magazine’s Best Places to Work list, I compared us to an adolescent, a still-gawky kid finding his proverbial feet. I still think that analogy is apt, though Riot just experienced a significant maturity growth-spurt this week. On Monday, we moved into our new campus and headquarters in Los Angeles.

Previously—and for my journey with Riot until now—we rented space out of a perfectly-acceptable office park. Our old spot in Santa Monica was a fine, even pretty, environment in which to work. The best I could say for it was that it reeked of Riot’s edgy weirdness because we had done everything possible to claim the space as our own. The worst I could say about our old offices is that they were like any other office space someone could rent. Our old digs weren’t designed for our specific needs, from unique artist lighting to configurable desks needed to do agile software development. They were quintessentially… adequate.

Now, for the first time since the company started in 2006, we’ve moved into a space specifically created for Riot Games. You can see a whole ton of photos here in an article on riotgames.com. As cool as those photos are, they don’t do the place justice. I knew what to expect on Monday when we all moved in and I was still blown away. The words “overwhelmed” and “holy crap” echoed across Los Angeles on Monday as Rioters experienced the new campus for the first time en masse. It’s like a Nerd Paradise, a shrine to every person who’s loved League of Legends. Every corner of it screams that we take play seriously (there is a basketball court, knee-high chess set, old school arcade, and PC bang, to just name a few features) and that we are craftspeople (the art populating the campus, for example, is stunning). Players are celebrated throughout, from our lobby to our inner recesses.

One leader wrote to the rest of us on Monday:

Just wanted to say I’m speechless.  

I’ve always been a firm believer that the quality of the habitat we surround ourselves with has an important impact on the quality of our lives and of our thinking. This is the kind of place that’ll inspire us to make awesome.

To all the ones responsible for the creation of this place: this is fucking amazing.

Thank you.

So yeah. As headquarters go, our new LA space is pretty special.

And yet, I’m feeling like a grumpy old man.

I’ll be honest… This whole new campus thing makes me uneasy. I’m the guy who worked in Silicon Valley during the height of the tech boom in the 1990s. I remember Celine Dion singing at our town halls and a billion different ways that we spent to excess. It felt unsustainable and full of hubris. Which, of course, it was. You can’t un-pop a bubble, and when the bubble burst in tech it was brutal. My company’s stock fell from 120 to 2 in nine months. I watched friend after friend laid off as we frantically cut costs. We argued over how thin we could make the cups in the break rooms to save money, and eventually stopped supplying the clocks with batteries. Oh, and let’s not forget that I was also working in investment banking during the financial collapse in 2008. That, too, was a case study of hubris, full of ridiculous feast and a long, inevitable famine.

Let’s overlook for a moment that I am a doombringer to industries, and instead pray that these rather extreme moments in history have provided me some wisdom. I’ve seen companies at the height of their empires. I have also seen the collapse of those empires. As I wandered around on Monday, slack-jawed, was I witnessing the birth of Hubris #3? Certainly my stomach fluttered more than once at this question.

But, I admit, I’m also filled with a sense of hope along with my unease. If you read that e-mail above, it’s full of humility and awe, not entitlement. Our founders Brandon and Marc gave a moving speech on Monday that reminded everyone that League players had created this campus, and it was for them we had to earn it every day. Our head of facilities, Joseph, was given a three-minute standing ovation that sent him (and many of us) to tears—we all know how hard he and his team have worked the past few years on this campus, and he had finally seen his labor of love arrive. At one point someone with a mic warned us that we weren’t supposed to work that first day, because the day was about getting oriented to the new space. The crowd booed. They actually booed at the idea of not working. Throughout Monday, amidst the “overwhelmeds” and “holy craps,” I also heard gratitude and a yearning to pull on Riot’s oars twice as hard as before.

And, as an old fogey, I say: GOOD. I hope Rioters understand how fleeting success can be. I hope we stay humble and awe-struck. I hope we stay hungry. I hope that the e-mail author is correct, and that creative space leads to creative minds. I hope this campus helps us attract the best talent in the world, I hope it’s a reason that Rioters love working here, and I hope people believe it’s worth fighting for. Those are all ingredients that will help this new headquarters be a catalyst for an even better and cooler future.

Now please excuse me… I gotta go earn my keep!



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