Riot president and co-founder Marc Merrill has moved to clarify the developer's position on League of Legends streaming rules following a high-profile dispute earlier this week - and expressed regret for the way he initially reacted to it.
The "SpectateFaker" streaming case involved Korean pro player Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, whose gameplay was being broadcast on Twitch by streamer "StarLordLucian".
This upset eSports network Azubu, with whom Faker had signed an exclusivity contract. As a result, Azubu and Faker issued a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice against StarLordLucian's Twitch stream.
Complicating matters, StarLordLucian's Twitch stream was enabled using the standard streaming API for League of Legends. StarLordLucian had been watching Faker's matches in League of Legends as a spectator using a third-party client Riot supports called OP.GG.
After the takedown notice had been filed, StarLordLucian insisted he hadn't done anything illegal or against the League of Legends terms of service, and vowed to continue the stream.
Now that the dust has settled somewhat, Merrill revealed Riot had spent the week debating the issue of balancing access to gameplay footage players want to see, with protection for individual players who do not consent to having a third party stream their games.
In a post on the League of Legends website, Merrill said Riot had "no interest" in seeing the in-game spectator experience for ranked games "crippled".
He added the DMCA issued by Azabu "did not have a legal standing" because Riot, not Azabu, owns League of Legends gameplay content.
However, Riot agreed with Faker that the stream was "harmful to him and to his brand". So, Merrill confirmed, it will honour Faker's request and have the stream removed.
Merrill had commented on the issue earlier this week in a controversial post on Reddit that accused StarLordLucian of "harassment and bullying".
You are rationalizing and trying to justify the fact that you have singled out a player against their will and broadcasting their games in a way that he can do nothing about. That reeks of harassment and bullying - Azubu vs Twitch is irrelevant in my view.
If you can't see how this potentially harms Faker and/or anyone else in this situation, then that is more reinforcement that we need to take the appropriate action to protect players from this type of unique situation.
As to the comments about our API, of course we want 3rd party devs to do cool things with spectator. But when people utilize one of its components to harm / harass an individual, then we need to potentially re-evaluate our rules.
Re: comments about "it's only because it's Faker" - that's the only reason it is on my radar, yes. If this wasn't top of Reddit and the OP wasn't flaunting his leveraging of a loop hole, then yes, I probably wouldn't have known about it - but, if I did become aware of a similar situation, we would still act, albeit a lot less publicly.
It's not cool to bully players period - we've always had this stance.
Now that he's had time to think about the post, Merrill expressed regret about its tone, but he stopped short of issuing an apology.
Personally, it's pretty clear that I should have handled communications around this better.
My intent was to jump to the defense of a player (Faker) who was being singled out and streamed against his will. I'm very sensitive to the topic of bullying. It's a sobering lesson to me that in discussing concerns about it, I may have came across as the bully myself.
This individual case has brought up a lot of issues that go beyond Faker - or even beyond pro players. It has the power to affect all of us who create and spectate LoL gameplay through the client. We feel the weight of that responsibility, which is why we took some time to really debate this and doublecheck our assumptions before coming back with a thought out response.
What StarLordLucian did with the SpectateFaker stream provided a service for thousands of players who were able to watch Faker solo queue games on the platform they prefer and using the tools they're accustomed to. It was an innovative use of our API which identified a unique edge case, and we believe that the stream was born out of positive intentions to provide esports content to fans worldwide. I regret insinuations otherwise that I made on Reddit in the heat of the moment.
Now Riot's had a think about the SpectateFaker case, it's come up with a position: it will shut down streams it believes are "causing harm to individual players". This, Merrill said, will usually result from a takedown request, so Riot will make it easier for streamers to get in touch with the developer, and will look into requests on a case by case basis.
The upshot: "With regards to the SpectateFaker stream case, we believe strongly that the potential material harm caused to the player is real," Merrill stated. "As such, we'll be honouring Faker's request and pursuing a takedown of the stream."
And it's clear the entire episode has affected Merrill, whose initial comment on Reddit was widely criticised.
"To be honest, a lot of the comments still sting," he concluded, "but we'll learn from this experience and improve going forward."