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How Riot Games upped its enterprise data governance game

Data governance product manager at Riot Games details how the game vendor dealt with data ownership challenges by embracing new processes and technologies for data management.

League of Legends is among the most popular online games in the world. The game generates a lot of data that its developer, Riot Games, needs to manage and govern.

That data includes game and player data, as well as enterprise and corporate data. As a result, Riot Games must deal with a myriad of enterprise data governance challenges, including data ownership.

Managing data at the video game vendor, based in Los Angeles, is the task of Chris Kudelka, technical product manager of data governance.

"As we started to grow, we had data ownership problems," Kudelka said. "A lot of really well-meaning people in the company were producing data so they could measure, understand and do the right thing for the player."

As Riot Games has grown, the biggest challenge has become a certain lack of clarity about who owns the data in the enterprise and what it was originally intended for. Another challenge is that Riot Games has grown its portfolio beyond League of Legends to include games such as Legends of Runeterra, Valorant and more in the works.

So the company has begun to deal with data management across multiple game titles, as well as understanding the different data needs for each specific game.

Riot Games enterprise data governance effort relies on Alation Data Catalog
Riot Games uses the Alation Data Catalog to ingest and categorize data from different repositories.

Using a data catalog for enterprise data governance

As a data engineer, Kudelka noted that a common recurring concern is being able to identify what data an organization has and how it can all be categorized consistently. Riot Games started out using an informal data dictionary, relying on a listing of various data types in a repository. But that approach wasn't scaling and the game developer needed to find a better model.

As we started to grow, we had data ownership problems. A lot of really well-meaning people in the company were producing data so they could ... do the right thing for the player.
Chris KudelkaTechnical product manager of data governance, Riot Games

Kudelka said Riot Games began looking at different technologies, including open source approaches, to try to tackle the problem of keeping an up-to-date repository of metadata. The company needed a central repository of data to serve as a "source of truth" for data within the enterprise, providing the authoritative best version of data.

That process led to Riot Games initially deploying the Alation Data Catalog, while it continued to work with other platforms, such as data warehouse vendor Vertica and analytics visualization vendor Tableau.

Riot Games first introduced the data catalog into the organization in 2017 and started building an enterprise data governance initiative on top of that in 2019.

Setting up an enterprise data catalog

Getting the Alation Data Catalog running was a straightforward process of setting up the service accounts to ingest and profile data. For Riot Games, however, developing an enterprise data governance program involved more than just a data catalog.

"You know, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows just because we got a data catalog," Kudelka quipped.

Kudelka recalled that when he and his team first offered the data catalog to Riot Games employees, it didn't gain much traction. What was still missing was the human element and process for data curation. He noted that once Riot Games had a means to identify all the data, it still needed to identify the right people within the organization to add ownership and more definition to the data.

Defining enterprise data governance

At first, it was hard for Riot Games staff members to put their names on data assets, because they thought it would add more work to their jobs. Kudelka's team had to alleviate that concern by defining data stewardship and how it could help employees.

"For us data governance, is about formalizing and recognizing the relationships to data that already exists," Kudelka said.

For Riot Games employees, Kudelka said he wanted them to understand that they are already producing and using data. The goal of the data governance process was recognizing and formalizing the process and bringing best practices to light.

So, for organizations looking to enable enterprise data governance, Kudelka advised that users be at the center.

"It's important to have a very people-focused approach and make sure that stewardship is really well defined when you introduce a data catalog, because that will help really make the engagement accelerate," he said.

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