It says a lot about the current state of Riot Games when the CEO fining himself for account boosting can be considered the best piece of PR the company has implemented in months. Nearly four years ago, in October of 2012, evidence was collated that proved Riot’s CEO, Marc “Tryndamere” Merrill, to have not only boosted accounts, but having also shared confidential account details (account sharing) – offences which are now considered substantial enough for even professional players to receive permanent bans from the game.
Firstly, it is important to credit the source of this information. EsportsHeaven editor and reputable eSports journalist, Michale “DreXxiN” Lalor revealed that he had been sitting on the information for some time, opting to release the information into the public domain now in order to highlight Riot’s chronic issue with transparent communication.
As DreXxiN explains, Riot’s approach to communicating with their fanbase has been an unremitting struggle – a ceaseless balancing act that attempts to uphold a relatable, down-to-earth image whilst maintaining an air of authority. Too often of late, any sense of authority disappears at the mercy of the PR disaster that is Marc Merrill, for a while it looked like his boosting fiasco would be the final nail in the coffin.
Back in the Season 2 era of League of Legends, ‘elo boosting’ and ‘account sharing’ plagued the competitive integrity of the game – almost every high ranking player was actively boosting accounts for cash, or at least considering the prospect.
Riot Games has since clamped down hard on any guilty parties found to have shared account details, making it all the more unfathomable to consider that Riot’s own CEO would have ever engaged in the illicit activity himself… particularly given that he could simply set his rank at a whim if he wished.
There is literally no justifiable reason for Merrill to have boosted his account. Indeed, Jeffrey ‘Lyte’ Lin, Riot’s very own judge, jury and executioner, struggled to comprehend why Tryndamere would ever have engaged in boosting:
Marc Merrill went to the effort of getting his account boosted by his friend, Phillip “Only Jaximus” Carter, former sub for Team Curse, when he could have unlocked any ranking he wanted by taking a stroll across the office. #RiotLogic.
For clarity, Riot’s rules and regulations regarding boosting were/are as follows:
As it transpired, Merrill was deemed guilty of account sharing for the purpose of boosting his ranking, but keen to save face back in League of Legends’ early days of 2012, no further action was taken. Merrill simply ceased his activity and that was the end of the matter.
In contrast, less than a year later (by which point Riot had started to take a far firmer stance on the issue) the members of Counter Logic Gaming were fined over $1000 each for the same offence – the team had needed to boot-camp in Korea and used natives’ Korean accounts, they were subsequently banned from all Korean eSports events.
The news that Riot’s own CEO was guilty of the exact same offence certainly raised a few eyebrows, with members of the former roster understandably aggrieved:
Why did I get fined $1250 and a 2 year ban from OGN when account sharing is perfectly legal?
— Marcel Feldkamp (@MarcelFeldkamp) 16 September 2016
@KoreanEdelweiss I don’t think anyone could make up what Riot has been doing this year
— MonteCristo (@MonteCristo) 16 September 2016
In response to the revelations, Marc Merrill stated that he would fine himself by donating $10,000 to charity – perhaps a small amount by Riot’s current standards, but probably fitting at the time of the crime:
Appropriately called out for account sharing in 2012 – we do think it’s not cool, so donating (fining myself) $10k to City Year LA.
— Marc Merrill (@MarcMerrill) 16 September 2016
It’s important to remember that Season 2 was an unrecognisable landscape compared to the present day, the treasured LCS that we all know and love was still just a scrawl on a whiteboard. Boosting – whilst frowned upon – was not the same outlawed practice we have today.
Every high elo player and his dog was boosting accounts for money, there just weren’t as many avenues to explore for revenue at the time. In fact, every major streamer has later admitted to it, most of the Counter Logic Gaming roster did it, so did members of Cloud9… hell, even League of Legends’ very own President of the BDC, Michael “Imaqtpie” Santana boosted accounts back in the day:
The frequency of its occurrence does not absolve Merrill, rather it serves to highlight the general leniency shown towards boosting at the time. As easy as it would be to pan Merrill for this latest episode, his response to the situation on this occasion is a testament to Riot’s progression.
From a communications standpoint, the handling of this potentially brand-damaging situation is a breath of fresh air compared to the manner in which Merrill dealt with the recent team owners dispute. Mark didn’t ignore the post, nor did he try to justify his action with a heated, poorly-worded retort. For the first time, he took immediate responsibility and made appropriate reparations.
Riot’s aura of faux transparency faded away and Merrill took at least a single step towards rebuilding the communities trust in the organisation.