Teamwork, Morale, and Trash Talk

I’m not sure how else to start this post, so I’m just going to come straight out and say it- League of Legends has one of the most toxic, hostile, and hateful communities I’ve ever seen- it’s nearly as bad as DotA’s. On some days, I can’t even go one game without being cursed at, or hearing somebody cuss out somebody else. Even The Tribunal isn’t fully addressing the issue. Even though they’re faced with the possibility of losing their accounts, these adult-sized children will throw a temper tantrum if someone so much as moves in what they feel to be the wrong direction.

Of course, this problem isn’t unique to League of Legends- or even the MOBA community. As Extra Credits pointed out in one of their earlier installments, harassment in online games is an ever-present cancer, and I don’t think I’ve met a single person who’s not encountered at least one individual that made them re-evaluate their faith in humanity.

We’re not going to talk about the gaming community at large- Extra Credits already did an excellent job addressing that issue. Instead, we’re going to zero in on games where teamwork is necessary- games such as HoN and LoL.

Toxic Players and Team Morale

Pretty sure we’ve all dealt with one before.

While a large percentage of the people who vomit out venom on games like League  are getting off on making someone else miserable, not every such player necessarily fits that bill.

The thing about a lot of competitive games is that they tend to be very high energy. It’s easy to get frustrated, and find yourself snarling through a microphone or typing out garbage on your keyboard. Before you know it, you’ve started flaming the people you’re supposed to be working with.

Great job- you’ve basically shot yourself in the foot with a grenade launcher. Never mind the fact that you’re raging instead of playing; have you given any thought to what your attitude is doing to the rest of your team?

Probably not.

See, the problem with competitive games is that one’s performance is heavily steeped in morale. If one’s content and calm, if a player likes the people on their team, they’re going to play better. Consequently, if  there’s even one person on the team who seems like they’ve made it their mission to grind everyone else underneath their boot, the team isn’t going to be playing in top form. They might become stressed and distracted; making mistakes they’d never make otherwise. They might start going out of their way to antagonize the other player. They might simply give up and stop playing, sick of dealing with all the rage.

Would you want to co-ordinate and cooperate with someone you’d be perfectly willing to hit with a haymaker, given the opportunity? No? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Competitive Trash Talking

Of course, there’s also the matter of the guys and girls who berate their opponents. While you could certainly make the case that this sort of trash-talking is normal; even tactical (what better way to throw off someone’s game, right?), that doesn’t mean it should be tolerated or encouraged. Say what you will about how I’m just another care bear trying to Bowlderise online gaming; the fact is that if this is the sort of juvenile, playground idiocy one can expect from games, there’s a lot of people who are simply going to stop playing.

Plus, it doesn’t really reflect all that well on the hobby- which, historically, has had a pretty rough go of finding general acceptance in the public sphere.

Now, at this point, some of you might draw a parallel between competitive gaming and professional sports. After all, there’s a fair bit of trash talking in pro sports, right? Getting under your opponent’s skin, throwing them off their game, making them make stupid, emotional mistakes…isn’t it an accepted strategy?

Yeah, see, that argument doesn’t really hold water to me. These guys are professionals- they knew what they were in for when they signed up. Sure, they might deal with the occasional venomous remark, but they can hurl one right back, with the knowledge that, at the end of the day, it’s all just a bit of healthy competition. Plus, there’s the fact that they make more money than most of us will ever see in our lifetime.

This guy gets paid to do it.

The trick, I suppose, lies in knowing when to stop, and understanding when you’ve crossed the line from friendly, competitive banter to verbal abuse- something which is effectively impossible over the Internet. That’s another way in which the whole “but professionals do it hur hur” argument fails.  They’re actually saying it right to the face of the other guy, with the understanding that this other guy will spin it around and send it straight back at them.

Plus they’re doing it in a public environment, where if they take it too far, they’ll experience very real consequences. If they start spewing anti-Semitic, homophobic, or misogynistic poison, what do you suppose the media would do? What about their coach? Their team.

They’re not just playing mind games from behind a keyboard. That’s one problem with this whole mess that Extra Credits brought up- there are literally no tangible consequences for this sort of unacceptable behavior.

Preventative Efforts

It’s here that we sort of hit a snag. Extra Credits offered a lot of great ideas and top-notch solutions for dealing with online harassment. The problem we run into is that none of them actually work for games where in-game communication is vital to a team’s success. Show me a MOBA team where the players never speak to one another, and I’ll show you a team that never wins a game.

To their credit, Riot has set an example for other businesses in the industry with the Tribunal- a system where a player that’s reported often enough is submitted for ‘judgement’ and punished if enough people find their behavior unacceptable. They’re putting the punishment of problem players back into the hands of the community. They offer incentives to people for participating, and give a complete record of a player’s transgressions when a case is brought into the system.  It’s a lovely idea…but in practice, it only works to a point.

See, these people can simply make a new account and hop back online. Aside from losing their unlocked champions, skins, and runes, they’re not punished in any way. As a matter of fact, they might actually be even more bitter because the community dared to deem their behavior unacceptable. They might act out in an even more extreme fashion in the future, with the knowledge that, hey, if they’re banned, they can always just start again. Most of them don’t even realize what it is they did wrong. I talked to one guy who’d gotten eight of his accounts permanently banned. When I asked him how he managed that, here’s what he said:

“I’m just willing to be honest with people about the fact that they suck. They don’t like that.”

I played two games with him, and watched with a combination of fascination and horror as he flung racism, hatred, and fury at every other player in the game almost from the start. Suddenly, I knew why he’d been banned so consistently- and it had nothing to do with honesty.

He was level thirty- the highest level in the game. I knew full well that if this account was banned, he’d move on to a tenth account, and start the process all over again. He honestly thought he was helping people improve- that this sort of attitude was doing them a favor, and that they were simply unwilling to accept that.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is where systems like the Tribunal truly fail.

So…what can we do, then?

The Solution

Wil Wheaton sums it up nicely.

See, bans work perfectly fine in games where a paid account is required to play. But in the growing free to play market? They don’t.

Again, I’ll come right out and say it. Short of instituting address bans (which are easily circumvented) or email bans (which, again, aren’t really much of a solution) Riot is never going to be able to fix this problem on their own. No developer is. Perhaps they could begin slamming players with penalties to IP or ELO due to bad behavior- but what of those players who don’t play ranked or don’t care about IP?  Ultimately, the solution to this problem lies with the community. Yeah, I know- it’s cliched. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Here’s where Extra Credits’ advice rings the most true. My, I’ve cited them a lot in this piece, haven’t I?

Anyway, as difficult as it may be to do, we’ve got to start ignoring the trash talkers. Attention is what they want. Deny them that, and you deny them their entertainment. They’re trying to throw your game off- they’re trying to make you miserable. Throw that back in their face, and disregard everything they say and do.  It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the only one that comes to mind, at this point.

As for toxic teammates…well, if there are any of you who’ve ever trashed your teammates or verbally harassed someone for playing in what you feel to be a less than optimal fashion, I’ve got one thing to say to you: Smarten the hell up. You’re not going to make anyone play better by making them miserable, and you’re not going to do anyone- least of all your team- any favors by hurling morale into the toilet.

Calm down, step back, and keep your cool. You’re doing no one any favors by screaming like an out of control toddler.

If you really need to call someone on their poor play, do it in a constructive fashion. A few examples:


“wtf u noob ur items are horrible l2p or uninstall faggot.”


“You might be a bit more effective if you bought [item X] instead of [item Y].”


“ur horrible where the fck were you?”


“You need to pay a bit more attention to team-fights. We really could have used you there.”

See how easy that was? So long as your teammates are open to a bit of criticism, and willing to improve their game (and if they’re decent players, they probably should be), you may well have just helped them get better.

And you did it without ruining their game- or yours.

Image Credits: [Active Respawn] [The Guardian] [NBA Online] [Bc Injury Law] [Know your Meme]


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