This is a response to two videos: Athene’s from a few days ago which asked a few serious questions about the toxicity League of Legends (LoL) community and Gbay99, Youtuber who puts out some really good and thoughtful strategy videos for LoL.

Athene asked (among other things) how many players turn off LoL less happy than when they began playing. And really, how many? It’d be interesting if Riot surveyed this and publicized the results. Athene’s commentary was on how toxic the community seems, how it feeds on itself, how players have a tendency to act really horribly towards each other despite knowing it decreases their odds of winning. I think lots of players have wondered at one point or another “wtf? why is this person raging?” while sitting in a LoL match. I’ve been in winning games where people literally afk’d out as we were taking down the enemy base while raging like a child about something that they didn’t like. I’ve also been in matches where a few kind or constructive words totally turned a losing situation into a winning one.

Gbay99 usually has some well thought out, well rationalized responses to why players behave so poorly in the game. He’s done videos about how it decreases their chances of winning, how their emotional reactions are a hinderance to their performance, and just generally trying to create videos which advise the community on how to be better players. I love his videos and he’s one of the voices for good and of reason in the community. He’s an example of one of the better personalities in the game. I think he’s very sympathetic to his own community.

However, I think Gbay99 rationalizes a bit too much and I found his response sort of meandered around the question, but toward the end he finally concludes that it’s just a damn hard problem and the best we can do is work on ourselves. In between though, he states we must tolerate the bad behavior, that they are malfunctions of biology. I don’t think this was what he set out to do, but that comes across very strongly in his response, that players are reacting in various circumstances, often under stress and some times under duress (dire life situations) and so the behavior in the end is something we must tolerate.  Even though I know, as a fan of his, that he doesn’t believe this toxic behavior is acceptable, he failed to say so unequivocally. That’s key to the question Athene and he were responding to.

There’s two things I see as sort of dangerous about this response. First is the assumption that because we all make mistakes we must accept toxic trollery. Athene was referring explicitly to the awful trolling and behavior he sees regularly on the LoL forums, so he wasn’t at all questioning why people make mistakes or why they might get bothered during a match. Gbay99′s response went large around this portion of the question and focused instead on simple human mistakes which are 100 miles west of the behavior in question.

There’s no reason in the world to accept this kind of behavior. It’s not about being an almighty good example “come to save us”; it’s about sheer humanity and just being a decent human being. No one gets extra points for being a decent human being. That’s called the bare minimum.

I respect both Athene and Gbay99. I don’t believe there’s any *good* reason for a lot of the toxic behavior in the LoL community and I don’t think either of them believe any differently than I do on that. Both of them would say bad behavior is bad and we should stop it. But it’s so very disturbing at times that it deserves to be pointed out as often as possible, if only to air out the community. Keeping this kind of stuff in the dark just allows it to fester and become worse.

There are reasons players behave the way they do in games like LoL, but that doesn’t explain why MOBA’s seem to attract and even foster toxic communities. Gbay99 attributes it to the competitive environment, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem everywhere else. There are many competitive games and sports in which contenders do not act like players in the LoL community. So now we might blame anonymity, which is closer to the mark but still doesn’t explain the vitriol gushing out of these communities. I’d say the number of mature, non-toxic players is equal or greater to the number of immature toxic players. There are players who are extremely friendly and helpful …and they are also anonymous. So that doesn’t explain it all either. In fact, nothing explains it all. It’s a combination of many factors that feed into making a community like LoL. The fact that it’s a virtual/fantasy environment likely plays it’s part as people have trouble reconciling their virtual behavior from their “real” behavior. But the game seems to have a concentration of immature belligerents. I’m sure there are other factors, but my general experience as a member of the LoL community makes these four more obvious to me.

What’s unique is that MOBA’s *attract* this kind of behavior. What is it about the combination of anonymity, competition, fantasy, and immaturity in a gaming community that results in an overtly undesirable place to game? I don’t mean LoL as a game is undesirable, but where it takes place is undesirable, the community. What is it about those things?

Well I don’t believe biology is to blame. This kind of reasoning fails to distinguish humans from cows or bees, which we know there is a frontal lobe of difference and is quite a huge advantage. Having our brains emotionally malfunction isn’t supposed to be as great a problem for us as it is for deer or monkeys. It’s our ability to think twice which is to credit for our very existence on this planet thousands of years later. It’s not sufficient to say that players are being “normal” by acting out the way they do in LoL. I appreciate the sympathetic tones and the human sensitivity Gbay99 gives on the matter, but I’m afraid by leaving the explanation focused solely on competition and emotional behavior, he’s somewhat made it acceptable to behave this way. The line is extraordinarily thin between someone having a bad reaction and having that reaction accepted as “normal” and somehow to be expected. And as important as forgiveness is in reform, it’s a double edged sword; once statements are made to the community by a prominent voice that players act out because of XYZ and it’s to be expected, and many of those players are the immature belligerents, you’ve effectively validated their behavior even if that was not what was intended. We have to always strongly, unambigously condemn the toxicity even as we explain why some of us behave poorly. There’s a balance to strike between saying “well we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and sometimes we rage” and saying in the same sentence “but it’s not ok act like an asshole or berate other players or be unpleasant”. We have to always be sure to say that this is positively unacceptable in all it’s forms and while the community is open to forgiveness we’re going to make it known we don’t tolerate this.

But Gbay99 isn’t to blame for this and I think if he’d just gave 60 seconds longer a response he might have said this. But he didn’t. He didn’t even condemn the toxicity in question. I flinch whenever biology is given as a rationale for bad behavior. In the real world, when we lived in fields and caves surrounded by lions and tarpits that kind of bad behavior carried much more obvious and painful consequences. It was less necessary to explain to someone that doing certain things or acting certain ways was bad for not just them, but everyone. The same message just doesn’t carry the weight of consequences as it once did, but it must still be said. Part of the problem in cleaning up the toxic waste in the LoL community is realizing bad consequences in the moment in which bad behavior is committed. In other words, it’s a much more complex problem to solve than any of us would like. Yet LoL is a teenager in the game community; not quite young and not nearly old enough to have solutions to the problem …and yet again DOTA is over a decade old. Where are the solutions? We’ve seen this before, we know how players act …and where are the solutions?

To Riot’s great credit they have certainly tried to solve the problem in some ways, but in others they have fallen woefully short. For example, I don’t know any other MOBA or competitive game with a Tribunal System. The new Honor System is also a very good step forward for competitive gaming communities. Here’s a company that’s clearly thinking about the problem and expending resources to try to address it. Yet various forum posts from the developers show that they are wishy-washy, ambiguous at times. Sometimes even as they’re agreeing with the community, they’re not quite being open about their own thoughts on it. It shows that what many of us find problematic about their game, they potentially think it’s fine …just not at that moment. Part of their response exhibits a fear of losing certain kinds of personalities in the community, and that much seems clear to me. They don’t want to lose players who they believe give relevance to the game.  Part of it is they just don’t see the damage it does yet. Part of it is cultural across all of gamerdom. There are problematic behaviors which developers find perfectly acceptable. I think Riot can be convinced to speak more boldly against toxic behavior and even convinced that some of their players aren’t worth keeping. I think we’ve actually seen this growth in attitude and maturity from them so I hold out some faith that they will yet come up with more solutions. Hell, they’re the only company in the MOBA community even trying right now.

Still, the genre itself is very old. That the problem persists shows that not enough development resources are spent on community policing. Ticket systems are seriously the least productive of the tools and should in no way be seen as “effort” in solving the problem. No one has the manpower to even comb through all tickets and give them the attention they might deserve. Instead, our games must become much, much smarter.  Analyzing patterns is something computers already do better than humans. Now we have to channel our efforts into creating an engine smart enough to analyze player behavior and output results/consequences. I’m not suggesting this is simple, as stated earlier; this is a complex problem to solve and we might be looking at it wrong altogether. But it’s hard to believe anyone since Riot has been trying to solve it for MOBAs. I’m just not cynical enough to believe that our smartest, brightest programmers haven’t been able to come up with some solutions for a decade. I’m more inclined to think they haven’t been trying.

But I’ll gladly be wrong. Link any programs/engines/schemes which have been designed in the MOBA genre to help combat toxic player behavior!


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One Response to Toxicity: League of Legends Community

  1. Stubborn says:

    Having been a teacher for many years, I can assure you that the cause of the problem is both quite simple and impossibly complex. It has largely to do with upbringing.

    You don’t find kids who are badly behaved with parents who aren’t. Those kids are grown up now – my (likely, our) generation – and they’re having kids of their own. For the first time, we’re seeing some really anarchistic behavior across multiple generations, the very generations who spend the most time playing online games.

    It may seem like a cop-out to “blame the parents,” and it also creates an impossible-to-correct situation, so it’s somewhat defeatist to do so. However, them’s the bones. There’re good people out there who default to polite behavior in stressful situations, and there’re people out there who default to rude behavior in stressful situations, and it largely has to do with the psychological model under which they lived for 18+ years. Old habits die hard.

    The little that can be done includes trying to be tolerant but redirect; some people, when indirectly challenged about their rude behavior, can bring themselves under control because intellectually they know their emotional response is inappropriate. Others can be made to be afraid of the consequences (hence the tribunal). Others can be bribed with points (the honor system). Some, however, are simply always going to be jerks whenever they feel any stress, and nothing can be done.

    I really liked this article; it’s talking about something I’ve yet to really experience in LoL, but it’s prepared me to deal with it when it eventually does. Great post!