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Riot Games released its social impact report today to detail the efforts it undertook in 2021 to help charities become more resilient in the midst of the pandemic.

The report said that during 2021, Riot held its largest in-game fundraiser in the League of Legends universe to date, Sentinels of Light, where players raised $5.8 million for the Social Impact Fund, and 30
nonprofits nominated by players from 18 different countries were selected to each receive a $10,000 grant.

Riot’s Valorant game also hosted its first in-game fundraiser, raising $5.5 million through players’ purchases of the Give Back Bundle.

“With Valorant, we had an opportunity for a whole new community of players to participate,” Jeffrey Burrell, head of social impact at Riot Games, in an interview with GamesBeat.

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Last year, the company had a big year with the launch of its Wild Rift mobile game, the airing of its award-winning Netflix television show Arcane, and its biggest in-game charity fundraiser to date. But the company takes the time each year to also celebrate its social impact efforts, which started with the establishment of a fund for social impact in 2019.

Burrell said that the company exposed all of its 180 million players to efforts to give back and make a lasting impact in their own communities with just a click of a button.

Jeffrey Burrell is head of social impact at Riot Games.

Riot drew attention for its charitable efforts. In 2021, Engage for Good awarded Riot its second Golden Halo Award for last year’s Dawnbringer Karma in-game fundraiser and last month Riot was named to the 2022 Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas List for the 2021 Sentinels of Light in-game fundraiser.

With the Sentinels Initiative, Riot invited players for the first time to directly submit nonprofits that were really resonant with them — either they volunteered with them or they gave back to those they were helped by.

“We had 19,000 submissions from multiple countries, and we were able to support small regional nonprofits that the company would never have found out about if its focus was only in the U.S.,” Burrell said.

Riot focused on the charities that stood out and vetted them for their financials and legal compliance.

Building resiliency

Riot Games’ social impact report for 2021.

If 2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges and global crises, 2021 was about building
resiliency amid the ongoing pandemic.

Businesses, governments, nonprofits and community groups worked together to lift those who have been most impacted by the global pandemic, economic downturns, food insecurity, racial injustice and more.

The aspiration was to be the world’s most player-focused game company beyond its products. Its goal was to make all 180 million players help make a real and lasting difference in their communities.

Burrell likes the effort to let gamers choose what charities they want to give to. While he sees the value of the company’s employees choosing how they want to make an impact, via an inside out efforts, Burrell also said the company believes in outside-in efforts, where the community tells Riot what it cares about.

Part of the social impact effort is understanding what the players care about. Riot achieves this through player-voting campaigns where players can vote for regional nonprofits that matter to them.

“We base that a lot on, you know, the research and the conversations we have with players around the world,” Burrell said.

The company starts with the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a framework, and then it narrows it down to figure out what players in places like the U.S. care about compared to Brazil or Turkey.

Big efforts

Riot Games’ bake sale is one of its big fundraisers.

The company raised more than $2 million in the past for a COVID-19 relief effort, and this year it raised $5.4 million this year to address victims of the war in Ukraine.

Riot focuses on areas of education, with topics like STEAM and social and emotional learning. It also focuses on opportunity, which means initiatives around mental health and leading a healthy and productive life, and citizenship, or nudging people to be their best selves, Burrell said. Riot also focuses on sustainability, which is another new part of its social impact efforts.

“A large part of the job is focusing on the areas where we think we can add outsized value,” Burrell said. “It’s not to say that other issues aren’t important or necessary. But if we’re giving $1 to every cause, that’s not too impactful.”

The company partnered with the White House to do its part in spreading awareness about COVID-19 vaccines during the ongoing pandemic. That effort reached 1.5 million unique viewers through public service announcements during esports broadcasts.

Riot donated $500,000 to stop the spread of Covid-19 around the U.S. and helped establish over 30 vaccination sites in areas that lacked adequate access.

All of the company’s efforts participated in the social impact efforts, partly through the company’s global service month that takes place during the summer, Burrell said.

“Every year, we have each of our offices do an activation in their local community to get back in some way. So we’ve had great turnout from all of our Rioters,” Burrell said.

Sustainability and data privacy

Riot Games’ service day

Riot added a new category of security and privacy to its social impact report. It noted that it launched education around two-factor authentication that resulted in 1.3 million players adopting better data safety practices.

“We’ve shared a lot about data privacy and our principles and our guidelines and safeguards in the past,” Burrell said. “This will just be another way of us to kind of annually report on it and continue to have that conversation with players and anyone else who might be interested.”

Riot is focusing on sustainability as well this year, in addition to data privacy.

“It’s not just impact that we have with giving money back, for instance, but also how are we showing up within our own operations,” Burrell said. “How are we showing up within our communities and for our players and for Rioters? And so over time, I would love to see this evolve into a more traditional ESG report. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.”

The company moved from one major game to five games, and that impacted its carbon output. Now the company is working on understanding what its true impact is. Riot still reports its diversity and inclusion efforts in a separate report.

Theory of change

Riot Games makes donations from its social impact fund.

Burrell looks at one idea dubbed a “theory of change.” If a nonprofit has a theory of change about what it can do uniquely to improve a situation in the world or the community, then its purpose is clear.

“I really like those organizations that have a theory of change that’s based in evidence and research, and is using that in a new and innovative way,” Burrell said.

One group focused on tech companies pooling their money together to double the number of women of color who graduate with computer science degrees in the U.S.. That’s a way to help marginalized communities because the theory is that if you help that community grow and expand, you create career pathways that an expanded effect across other communities.

“That is a great way to collectively leverage all of our funding more than any one or company could do on our own, but also provides a community” with something really impactful, he said.

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