How Riot Games And The League Of Legends Community Are Gaming For Good

A video game character

Riot Games Dawnbringer Karma Skin

Riot Games

In October 2019, Riot Games kicked off a series of global celebrations for the League of Legends 10th anniversary and announced the creation of the Riot Games Social Impact Fund, in partnership with ImpactAssets.

So far, the Riot Games Social Impact Fund has raised over $10 million, and they’ve already allocated over $8 million in donations, including over $4 million for global COVID-19 support.

In December they released their 1000th skin, Dawnbringer Karma, as their latest in-game charity fundraiser. Now they’re calling upon players to vote for their preferred regional nonprofit from April 10 through April 23 in the League of Legends client.

I caught up with Jeffrey Burrell, Head of Social Impact at Riot Games to find out more about this innovative initiative.

Afdhel Aziz: Jeffrey, welcome. Please tell us about the Riot Games Social Impact Fund and where the idea originated?

Jeffrey Burrell: The Riot Games Social Impact Fund is a philanthropic venture fund that allows us to make direct investments into a variety of global organizations aimed at solving some of the world’s most pressing issues.

With the fund, we’re able to support more organizations and navigate the complex legal and tax issues that come with executing at a global scale. For the Dawnbringer Karma fundraiser, we worked with our local offices and partner, GlobalGiving, to select 46 regional nonprofit partners around the world, which wouldn’t have been possible without first establishing the Social Impact Fund. 

Aziz: How can the League of Legends community participate? How much has it raised so far?

Burrell: The League of Legends community can participate in our charity fundraisers by logging into the game and purchasing different in-game cosmetic items, which offer a range of donation values. For the next two weeks, players can log into the game and vote for the charity they think is most deserving of their donations. 

We’re incredibly grateful for our players who make it possible and are excited by all the opportunities on the horizon as we launch new games.

A man with glasses smiling

Jeffrey Burrell, Head of Social Impact at Riot Games

Riot Games

Aziz: How did you decide what causes to focus on? How did this change globally?

Burrell: At Riot Games, we aim to be the most player focused company in the world, so when we look at our corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, we want it to reflect that goal. We survey our players in different regions to find out what causes are meaningful to them, then go to work to identify, vet and form partnerships with organizations that support those causes.

Looking at the data from our surveys, it’s really interesting to see the causes that matter to players around the world. While we do see some variance, we also see a lot of similarities, which are reflected in our three main pillars of focus: Education, Opportunity and Citizenship.

Aziz: What do you think is unique about this approach that other organizations can learn from?

Burrell: When we look at our CSR strategy, I think it’s incredibly aligned with our larger company goal of being the most player focused game company in the world. It’s reflected in nearly every part of our CSR strategy, and something we think about on a daily basis as we develop campaigns on behalf of players around the world. It’s one thing to be able to raise money for a good cause from an engaged community, but long-lasting impact comes from being able to help mobilize that community to engage in issues that matter in their local community.

Something that we know is important to our players is to provide agency in the decision-making process. We run surveys, chat with our local Riot offices, and dig to find out what is really important to them. We see an incredible amount of player engagement when we run these charity campaigns and think a lot of it has to do with giving them agency over where the funds will go.

Aziz: Thanks for sharing! Finally, can you tell us why you think the CSR landscape is sometimes ‘inside-out’? 

Burrell: I think that many times when companies create their CSR impact areas, they look from an “inside-out” perspective. Meaning, they look at their capabilities, unique value proposition, and universally appealing issues to determine their areas of focus. They take an “inside” perspective and use that to determine what impact to have on the outside. While I think these are all good questions to ponder and create table stakes for what a company should consider, it doesn’t take into full account of the “outside-in” perspective. 

My background is a bit of an odd mashup, but in marketing, practitioners are taught to understand everything about the user / customer / player. What are their demographics, how do they use the product, what colors do they prefer, what about serving size, what features should we prioritize, etc. We’re taught to perform ethnographic research to understand how people buy toothpaste at the supermarket. 

In the public policy and social impact world, we’re taught that those who are often closest to the problem are some of the best equipped to help with the solution. People who live with the pain and problems day in and day out have insights that major institutions don’t understand unless they talk to those “on the ground”. Trying to mobilize a group of people without understanding the nuances of their community won’t work.

Adding these dimensions to a CSR strategy helps change the conversation from “here’s what our company is doing for the community” to “here’s what we’re doing with our community, together.” 

We’re still very much figuring out what works and doesn’t ourselves, but I’ve found that using this “outside-in” approach helps to identify new areas of opportunity, deeper community engagement, and creative solutions to areas where we think we can add unique value. 

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