Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
The Truth Behind Riot CEO's "People Trumps All" Philosophy

Joshua Vanderwall | 24 Feb 2015 16:00
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Going into my third consecutive D.I.C.E. Summit earlier this month, I was expecting the usual number of interesting talks, but a Day One talk really caught me by surprise. There is often some unexpected dialogue at these presentations, but when I sat down to hear Brandon Beck, CEO of Riot Games, talk about fostering talent, it was profound.

Having several years experience managing teams, being liaison for clients, and otherwise learning the many facets of teams and business, it seemed a little strange to me that the most pragmatic view on the topic was also the least common: People are your most valuable commodity.

Sure, it's hard to put a monetary value on an individual's talent, but to completely remove them from your equations seems downright silly. Unfortunately, the prevailing thought seems to be that people are disposable tools to be licensed and leased, rather than renewable commodities to be nurtured and leveraged. Beck decided to take a chance with a likely-to-be controversial sound byte, "...people trumps all."

I can't speak to the authenticity of Beck's statements as they pertain to Riot's actual business practices, but the reality is that it took a lot to get up in front of a room full of decades-tenured executives and tell them they've been doing it wrong their whole lives. If one of the games industry's most widely-known success stories can't do so, though, who possibly could?

The people-over-everything approach to team management and business is how The Escapist was born. He'll never admit to being "of the people" per se, but Alexander Macris, publisher of The Escapist, has always adhered to this philosophy in practice. Since the early days, The Escapist's staff has been comprised of people with a passion and curiosity, rather than decades of experience. It worked for the same reason that some things fail. As Beck explained, if you put an amazing brand in the hands of a mediocre team, they're going to create garbage, even if they started with gold. If you do the reverse, and put together an amazing team, they'll make the next big brand from the ground up, which is pretty much the origin story for League of Legends.

Beck went into detail about the differences between individual talent and a wholly cooperative team. To paraphrase: Talent can win you a game, but it takes a team to win a championship. Both individual talent and teams have been "systemically undervalued" by boardrooms and financiers, and both are integral to any company's success.

Ultimately, according to Beck, talent is the most important predictor of a company's success. It's not about having extensive financial backing or established IP to work with. If you have and leverage talent and teams as resources, you're much more likely to succeed than if you're relying on a franchise or a particular piece of technology.

Personally, I suspect that it's less a matter of "if" and more a matter of "when" other companies take note of Beck's success and his stance on talent as an organic, growing commodity. It will take some time, but if even a small few companies take the talent-focused philosophy to heart, they'll be a huge draw for employees of those companies that fail to do so. Time will tell, but the future looks bright.

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