The Riot employee fired last week after making disparaging comments about a player tells Glixel he is checking himself into rehab and that he completely agrees with Riot’s decision to let him go.
“I fully respect the decision to terminate me,” Aaron Rutledge tells Glixel, “and if this was one of my former direct reports I’d probably have done the same.
“Riot has a really strong set of values about how they think about and speak to players and I foolishly threw that out the window that night.”
Rutledge, 40, moved to Los Angeles four years ago to work at Riot on the company’s experience design team.
“My day-to-day work focused on improving the game client and launching new features,” he says. “Some of the biggest efforts I lead, in collaboration with other team members, included the new champion select, the loot system, the client update, match history, and some other social and competitive systems.”
While his chief job wasn’t to deal with player toxicity directly, some of his work did touch on the topic.
“Most of my work on toxicity involved improving the interface to proactively avoid as many issues as possible,” he says. “I helped out with the new honor system and was a big part of the new role-selection based champion select, helping to cut down arguments pre-game.”
Rutledge says he had spent that day last week playing games with his friends online.
“After a long night of some terrible games with friends, I had a couple too many whiskeys and decided to pop in some chat rooms to see who was awake,” he says. “Some discussion started about Tyler1 and I let it rip.”
Tyler1 has, until recently, called himself the most toxic player in League of Legends and was known for his offensive and abusive in-game behavior. He has had more than 20 accounts permanently banned from the game’s servers.
Rutledge took to the Discord channel affiliated with Reddit's League of Legends subreddit to unload on the player.
"He looks like a damn homunculus," Rutledge wrote. "Honestly... it's fine he'll die from a coke overdose or testicular cancer from all the steroids... then we'll be gucci.
"You know how much bullshit he's caused me? Personally," he continued. "I've spent many many hours of my workday dealing with his bullshit. ... If games had terrorists."
The comments quickly grabbed the attention of players and Rutledge wouldn’t let it drop.
“As my comments gained visibility on Reddit, my drunk mind decided that I should try and defend myself, in a spectacularly stupid fashion,” Rutledge says. “Once I woke up in the morning I barely could recall the original things I even said, and that’s when I wrote my apology.”
While he slept that night, snapshots of what Rutledge wrote racked up hundreds of thousands of views and in the morning he wrote this apology on Reddit:
"Reddit, League players, Tyler, I displayed a gross error in judgement last night and wholeheartedly apologize for my comments. They were out of line, and not what any of you deserve to hear, especially from a Rioter. I’ll be taking time away from Reddit, Discord and in-game chat to reflect on how I communicate with players. Sorry again for the insults and the language."
Rutledge says that as the media picked up the story, players started to attack him.
It really sucks that some people still hold a massive grudge vs old T1 and refuse to acknowledge I've changed.— loltyler1 (@lol_tyler1) October 1, 2017
With that being said I have no hard feelings towards the guy. Shit happens.— loltyler1 (@lol_tyler1) October 1, 2017
“The doxxing and threats and insults kept coming for several days,” he says. “Pretty scary stuff - but nothing I didn’t deserve. I was very impressed with Tyler’s reaction to all of this though, I said some nasty stuff and his response was quite generous.”
Tyler1, who says he has turned over a new leaf in recent months, responded to the turmoil by saying he has "no hard feelings towards the guy. Shit happens." Glixel has reached out to Tyler1 for additional comment and will update this story when he responds.
Rutledge says he spoke with his manager at Riot and the comms teams that Sunday and was told the issue was being handled internally.
“Unsurprisingly and deservedly, I was terminated on Monday morning,” he says. “Fueled by alcohol, I realize I was incredibly arrogant and inappropriate. The positive side of that realization is that I’ve decided to get help for my drinking.”
Rutledge says he’s planning to take some time away from everything to “work on myself.”
“I’m checking into a rehab center to try and figure out how my drinking led to this happening,” he says. “Once I’m back home I’ll look for some freelance work for a bit but ultimately I’d like to get back to making games. Riot is a fantastic company - the best I’ve ever worked for - and I’ll continue playing and watching League.”
Toxicity remains a major issue in video games and one that continues to drive a wedge between game makers and game players.
Rutledge echoes what Overwatch’s Jeff Kaplan said last month, when I asked him about the issue.
“Talking to players as a developer is scary and intimidating,” he says. “I know plenty of Rioters that won’t add the tag to their names, sometimes out of intimidation of getting called out or targeted, or sometimes because they just want to play League like a normal player. Still, having a thick skin and good judgment would have made things easier.”
He adds that he’s not sure what solution might exist for the problem.
“I totally agree with Riot’s policy of talking directly to the community when you feel comfortable doing so, and I think it really does help humanize the development team and help players feel heard,” he says. “If League devs had to go talk to a communications team for every comment they wanted to respond to it would end up feeling like total silence out there.
“I think we see developers leaning more and more into holding their players to a standard of behavior. League, Overwatch, PUBG, and plenty of others are actively working to defend the quality of their games for the majority of players. I’d expect the tools to continue to advance as things like AI and neural-networks get more accessible to game devs. Ultimately, I think it's up to the players themselves to continue to make calls on what is and isn’t ok around them in games.”
In terms of what happened last week, Rutledge says he can’t apologize enough to League fans, players, Tyler and his teammates at Riot.
“Drinking was no excuse for my actions, and I deserved to be called out online,” he says. “I violated the trust of Riot, the best employer I’ve ever had, out of sheer stupidity. There’s no excuse for that kind of toxicity from players or devs. I let you all down, and as a huge fan of the game, I hope I can make amends one day.”
Update: Riot co-founder Marc Merrill took to Twitter to comment on the story.
We wish you the best Aaron. https://t.co/mQwAbA1ozS— Tryndamere (@MarcMerrill) October 10, 2017