When Natalie Parker, who most Rioters know by her maiden name Natalie Swanson, started as employee #125 at Riot Games in 2010, the company looked a lot different than it does right now. Fresh out of law school and in the shadow of the 2008 financial recession, Natalie was ready to start her career. But there was one problem, legal jobs were few and far between.
“Law firms were rescinding offers, not making offers,” Natalie explained. “My path wasn’t super traditional, I always wanted to do entertainment. I externed with Fox Sports and the Screen Actors Guild during school, knowing that wouldn’t result in long-term or full-time offers. When school finished, I focused on studying for the bar and then had to get to work looking for work.”
Not many places were hiring and Natalie wasn’t particularly picky. She just needed a stopgap paycheck to cover her rent until she could find work as a lawyer.
“I had a friend who was working at Riot, she was one of the first people doing finance at the company,” Natalie remembers. “She posted on Facebook looking for a receptionist, just short-term temp work. So I called her and told her that I’d be happy to do it, I just needed some flexibility in case I got an interview for an actual legal job.”
So Natalie showed up to her first day at Riot thinking it would be a two-week stint to cover some bills. She’s now been at Riot for nearly 13 years. She spent her first several weeks sitting at the cubicle closest to the front door in Riot’s old Culver City headquarters, spending her time answering the phone when parents would call looking for player support or helping candidates find their way when entering the office to interview for the rapidly growing company.
Two weeks quickly passed, and in classic start-up fashion, Natalie began wearing more and more hats to help out.
“I was doing a fair amount of facilities-type work, I was helping with recruiting,” Natalie said. “I was really a jack of all trades. If someone asked about something and they didn’t know where to go, a lot of times that would end up in my hands. I was part office assistant, part recruiter, and part receptionist. But I still wasn’t doing legal work.”
Then she had her opportunity. She received an interview for a clerkship position with a judge in Los Angeles.
“I remember coming into Riot that day wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers,” Natalie recounts. “Then I had to go change into a suit and heels to drive an hour in traffic to downtown LA to interview with these judge clerks in the basement of the courthouse. After that, I went back to Riot, put my jeans back on, and went back to work. That day we did ‘show and tell’ which was an all-hands meeting where all 100+ Rioters would share with each other all of the exciting work in progress. I was struck by the passion everyone had for creating a great game for players and the creativity of the work going into it. I knew it was a place I wanted to be.”
The feeling was mutual. At the time, Riot had one lawyer on staff and still relied a lot on outside counsel for legal matters. With the in-house team expanding, eyes quickly turned to the receptionist/facilities manager who fortuitously happened to have a law degree.
“They gave me a bit of a test and had me redraft a legal form,” Natalie remembers. “I guess they were happy with my work because I had a formal legal offer on my desk a few weeks later. For me, working for Riot was a perfect opportunity because it aligned with what I wanted to work on in entertainment law. I was able to put my IP skills to work, and eventually, I was able to work in music, esports, merch, and all these other unique aspects of the law. But what really drew me to Riot, and has kept me here over the years, is the people I get to work with and their commitment to Riot’s mission of delivering great experiences to players.”
A Deal With Imagine Dragons
Natalie’s title now is Senior Director, Associate General Counsel at Riot Games. Over the years, she’s touched on a wide range of various aspects of the law including intellectual property, licensing, privacy, employment, and vendor negotiations.
“Early on, I wore so many hats so I was involved in a ton of different things, but what really stands out when I think back are some of the music deals,” Natalie said. “We had this really interesting deal with Imagine Dragons for Worlds 2014. It was a new space for Riot, it was a new space for our legal team. Personally, I’d always pictured myself working in entertainment and in music specifically so when our team was able to get that deal done, and we were watching one of the world’s biggest bands perform in front of a sold-out stadium in Korea at Worlds, that was a ‘how did I end up here’ moment for me.”
Imagine Dragons' performance of Warriors in front of a massive crowd at Seoul’s World Cup stadium is a landmark moment in League of Legends history. It almost didn’t happen.
“This was one of Riot’s first forays into the traditional entertainment world,” Natalie said. “But of course, the music industry has been around for years. At first we tried to work with a standard blueprint that provided us with standard publishing and licensing language. The problem is that didn’t really work for what we wanted to do. Riot likes to think outside the box and push the limits.”
So the two legal teams went back and forth, exchanging red lines through the contract as Natalie and Yula Chin on the Riot legal team worked to explain the nascent, but rapidly growing, world of esports.
“What helped get us to the finish line was that the band really wanted to do this, they are League of Legends players themselves,” Natalie said. “They were also excited about performing in Korea and getting some exposure to the passionate fans there. At the end of the day, the deal was able to get done and the proof was in place to set the stage for a bunch of music collaborations to come.”
Over the years, Riot has continued to work with major artists, especially around Worlds. 2022 saw Lil Nas X and Jackson Wang provide the soundtrack for the competition. While needs change, and the traditional music industry has certainly got its mind around the whole esports thing, Natalie, Yula, and their team laid the groundwork for what these deals can look like.
A Leader in Cultural Transformation at Riot
With Riot’s continued growth, our legal team morphed from a small but mighty team each covering a range of areas to a larger team with each person focusing on specialized areas. New lawyers are hired with specific skill sets and longtime legal team members settle into particular focus areas as needs arise.
“Part of my role had been central in-house employment counsel for Riot for years,” Natalie said. “I was also part of our first D&I strike team when it was created in 2017. I remember we put together the first town hall and I was on the panel... despite hating public speaking. That was an area I was individually passionate about, which was super rewarding to me. Then, when allegations about Riot’s culture were published in the summer of 2018, employment law took up most of my time. I was advising a bunch of teams including the cultural transformation team working across Riot to address the allegations and figure out what we could do to move forward.”
When the teams went to work, changes came quickly.
“We were working on a bunch of things at once,” Natalie said. “On one side, Riot was communicating around the investigation process and working on updates to the code of conduct. With the transformation team, we were working on Riot’s values and overhauling recruiting, the interview process, and how we train employees. I’ve gone back to reread some of the articles we put out like our first steps forward, and the amount we were able to do in our first 100 days after the report came out was pretty crazy. I think that’s a testament to the company, the leadership team, and all the Rioters for the work they put in to learn, grow, and move forward.”
But what does cultural transformation mean? Because companies are these massive webs of unique people with their own identities and perspectives, cultural transformation looks different for every company. Riot was founded as a player-focused company and that’s still the driving mission every day. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be the only mission. Developing that nuance and how the company could care for Rioters all around the business became one of the critical goals for the cultural transformation team.
“We were on this path before the reporting. Sometimes that gets lost when we talk about this,” Natalie said. “We had held our first D&I town hall with the new D&I strike team in early 2018, well before the report came out in August. We had already overhauled our harassment prevention training. But what the reporting did was provide the kick start to push us into high gear. To invest more, to build out these teams even more, to examine and improve those processes, and really just to put our commitments into action with real momentum across the entire company.”
Over the past five years, Natalie has continued to be an advisor and a personal champion of D&I at Riot. She’s worked closely with the D&I team on important initiatives like transparency reports, diversity scorecards for Riot leaders, and initiatives to expand our talent pool to encompass more diverse candidates.
What started as momentum has now become ingrained in Riot as a company. Potential candidates go through a comprehensive interview process that includes a variety of checks and balances to build confidence in the fairness of the process, and to encourage diverse applicants to apply. Once hired, new employees enter a week-long onboarding process called Denewb which ensures every new employee receives the full introduction to Riot at the onset of the job, even if they didn’t previously have a strong relationship to Riot’s games.
Over the last five years, Riot has grown quickly. There are so many new Rioters, that, in 2023, over 80% of current Rioters started after August 2018 when the report was published and so the vast majority of Rioters went through the new processes that the D&I team and the cultural transformation team helped create.
“I think the transformation was the awareness, the thoughtfulness, and that resulted in the intentionality to create the culture that we wanted Riot to be,” Natalie explained. “Now I think Rioters can speak to the values, have more understanding of what they mean, and feel more connected to them as a whole.”
Natalie has seen a lot of different iterations of Riot over the years. Riot is the company it is today because of the work she’s put in, the legal expertise she’s offered, and the impact she’s brought by being a Rioter for the last 13 years. Not bad for a two-week receptionist position.