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The Congressman Who Hates SOPA, and Loves League of Legends

The last thing you expect to find on a video game message board is a member of Congress, but that's exactly where you'd find Jared Polis of Colorado.

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Jared Polis was voted into office in 2008, and re-elected in 2010. He'll be up again this year.
Jared Polis was voted into office in 2008, and re-elected in 2010. He'll be up again this year.

A majority of Americans would vote out every member of Congress, according to a poll conducted by The Wall Street Journal and NBC that was released yesterday. Confidence is at historic lows.

There’s not much love for today’s politicians, but the League of Legends community embraced Democratic congressman Jared Polis (CO-2) when he posted in a message board thread voicing opposition to the recently deflated SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) legislation.

His comment was upvoted 4,457 times.

“As a member of the League of Legends community (partial to Anivia and Maokai),” wrote Polis on January 11, “and as someone who made his living as an Internet entrepreneur before being elected to Congress, I’m greatly concerned about the future of the Internet and gaming if Congress doesn't wake up.”

The post caught plenty of people by surprise. Where does a congressman find time to play games?

SOPA and PIPA are, for now, dead. Both pieces of legislation were Hollywood-driven pitches to expand federal regulation of Internet piracy, with technology powerhouses taking issue with unintended consequences that could impact their companies. Even as parts of the bills were defanged, such as the removal of DNS redirection from SOPA, blackouts on sites like Wikipedia convinced enough legislators to pull support, prompting votes to be delayed.

Polis, a former businessman whose sold several early Internet companies for tens of millions, also happens to play a bunch of games. He recently answered some of my questions over email before boarding a plane back to Colorado.

No surprise, the congressman quickly applauded the decision to push back votes on SOPA and PIPA.

“This is welcome news for those of who care about job creation, gaming, and preserving free speech on the Internet,” he said. “I am hopeful that Republicans and Democrats can work together to coalesce around a practical solution to foreign piracy that doesn’t hurt the internet or gaming It is possible to combat the theft of intellectual property while also protecting Internet freedom.”

He’s been playing games “as long as [he] can remember,” noting the Intellivision as his first console (he was born in 1975), and when he has a few minutes, he often looks for places to play his old favorites emulated on the Internet.

“I grew up with PC games mostly and still prefer PCs,” he said, “but we do have an Xbox. I even played the text based legendary game Dungeon back on my Apple ][ when I was a little kid. I grew up with the Civilization series and have been playing RTS since its inception with Warcraft. I also like RPG style games like Neverwinter Nights and [I'm] very much looking forward to Diablo III.”

Maybe Polis has the power and influence to ask Blizzard Entertainment to finally disclose a release date?

Jumping onto the League of Legends message board wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, as he’s been playing the popular multiplayer game for two years running, and praised the amount of content Riot Games has been adding.

I’ve tried blind jumping into a League of Legends game before, and it’s no joke.

In-between League of Legends matches, however, Polis has been an outspoken opponent of both SOPA and PIPA, and credited the blackouts as a “key turning point” in turning the tide on each.

You may be onto something when the Internet starts turning your stances into memes.
You may be onto something when the Internet starts turning your stances into memes.

“Nothing motivates members of Congress like hearing their constituents call them unanimously opposing a bill,” he said. “It was incredible to watch the grassroots movement take a life of its own. The proponents of these bills were hoping to quickly and quietly pass these bills.”

The recent victory over SOPA and PIPA is important, but Polis made it clear the fight isn’t over yet, and fans will have to remain attentive.

“The sponsors of these bills will now have to go back to the drawing board,” he said. “I want to warn everyone that these bills aren’t completely dead and there is still a lot of will in Congress to pass something that addresses digital piracy.”

It should take “a few months” before the ashes of both bills are dumped into something else, noted Polis, at which point everyone will have to take up arms again. Polis expressed hope the response to SOPA and PIPA will force those writing the bill to make note of everyone potentially affected, but it’s unclear what will ultimately happen.

“Just as the blackouts and protests were the key factor with SOPA and PIPA,” he said, “public interest and oversight will make the difference next time about whether we pass a good or bad bill.”

Want to know this guy means business? Watch this.

Patrick Klepek on Google+