I was playing some League of Legends today with an old friend of mine. It was a typical League game, full of passive players until someone starts to perform poorly. Then at once, other teammates get so irate and abuse chat. As per usual the game devolves into toxic banter. My friend also chimed into the angst. I asked him, “man why do you have to feed into that stuff?” He told me “what do you mean? It’s just part of the game.” Of course to me this made no sense. Riot Games, the creators of League, didn’t intentionally make an environment that promotes such behavior. In fact, Riot has tried various efforts to prohibit negative behavior. However due to the way League has been morphed from the ground up, and well as changes made throughout its lifespan, League’s shell is just a hub of bad behavior. This article looks to identify what points League accentuates the internet’s already bad mannered ways, and perhaps some hope there could be for the future of this popular game.
Problem #1.) You’re Stuck
League of Legends games on average take 30 minutes. If you’re on a team that is losing on all cannons badly, that’s a long one. Teams can surrender at 20 minutes in, and still for players this can be excruciating. Riot has taken note of that and offers an “early” surrender at 15 minutes, but must require a full team agreement. For those hoping video games can provide a fun escape, perhaps the biggest punishment of all is wasting time on a very rough game. Sure some games are salvageable, but the most aren’t. The mindset that a player is stuck not having fun and can’t simply peel away from the game is a problem MOBAs as a genre will struggle with. In Heroes of the Storm, players that disconnect are replaced with bots. This way the team won’t be completely hopeless, and also the damage dealt when the disconnected player reconnects in honest situations is more recoverable. If League redesigned the game to be less snowbally and with more comeback mechanics, this could help with the feeling of being stuck in a bad situation.
Problem #2.) Meta or Feed
A lot of players will int (intentionally feed) at the sight of any team that looks remotely unusual. Combine this behavior with perhaps a poor start, and a doom and gloom experience is typically followed afterward. In League, there are 5 “roles.” Two solo laners, a duo lane, and a jungler typically. There is a meta of sort that changes from patch to patch depending on whoever Riot decides is viable this week. If players don’t magically become aware of the status of the meta, they are subject to a lot of anger. One thing Heroes of the Storm quick play mode does which I very much so enjoy is they let the player cue up their character first and then match a team around your pick. This allows for a starting situation where everyone is at least picking a character they wanted to play. In League blind pick, players are thrust into a who-can-call-what first contest. The concept of locking in your champion is another way to show your seriousness in calling the position. This leads to people locking in off the gate the same position. Draft pick is a lot more civil, especially where players can pick their roles.
Problem #3.) There is more infrastructure to Punish the Bad, not Reward the Good
I think there is a rather direct correlation with the American justice system vs. say Denmark, along with League of Legends vs. Heroes of the Storm when it comes to toxic behavior. Sure, League’s community ain’t Heroes’ but there are lessons to learn. For years the tribunal was a exploitable failure at keeping the toxic members at bay. However as of late, Riot is absolutely moving in the right direction here. The new honor system rolling out sometime later this year looks to incentivize players to not be dicks in game by rolling out rewards to good behavior. This is absolutely the right move and I’m excited to see how the community shapes after.
The feeling of locking yourself into a bad situation cannot be remediated, but the punishment system certainly seems like a great way to go. I think a great way to make that element better is potentially get the ability to quit games with no penalty (or post game reward) at quick play normal games. This feature could replace your character in the meantime with a solid AI that scales potentially with your rank. This also helps when more natural problems like lag or sudden responsibilities. Of course ranked is ranked and punishment should be localized to ranked play. Additionally the counterargument could be that nobody wants to play with a load of bots since teamwork is part of the game. To that I say that a well designed AI could be better than no teammate at all. Heroes of the Storm’s implementation of this feature in my experience in positive.
Having a diverse meta solves the meta or feed woes. Certainly flavors of the month will pop in and out, but why the hell is Urgot so damn awful? Bringing up the bottom end seems to be the way to go.
All in all, League does not need to be a toxic game. Riot has shown signs of life to make the community better with the promise of better features in this department. I look forward to new ways games and in particular MOBAs learn from Riot’s struggles and continue to innovate.