I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been playing more and more League of Legends, and thus I’ve been exposed more to the utterly terrible community. Until I started burning downtime at work with the LoL Tribunal, I wouldn’t have even believed a community could exist with this amount of hatred. There will always be bigots and racists and assholes, but it still shocks me that the vast majority of my League games include multiple dickwads. Where the hell do these people come from?
My continuing familarity with this genre has helped me find out. This terrible community isn’t a League of Legends specific problem. In general, the larger the community, the worse it is. League has some 30+ million players, so it certainly hits that mark. But there is more to this than size. Other similar games (Defense of the Ancients, Heroes of Newerth, etc) have atrocious communities too, despite being much smaller. A horrid community seems endemic to this genre.
What is it about MOBAs that makes the communities so shit?
First, let’s rename the genre. ‘MOBA’ is terrible, and I can’t bring myself to use it. Multiplayer-online-battle-arena isn’t descriptive, it’s a bunch of Barnum words. I think a much better genre for League of Legends is “multiplayer base defense fighting game”. The base idea of the game has you defending your base, but the actual gameplay interactions are more like a fighting game. I’d have called it tower defense, but that brings to mind a completely different genre. Tactics used in League of Legends are similar to what you might see in fighting games - zoning, area control, counter picks, baiting, mind games, ability combos, etc. The fact that you level up and buy items doesn’t make this game an RPG - nobody plays a role, there’s no story, etc. They’re just implementation details of this fighting game.
This helps highlight exactly why the game gets so competitive. You spend nearly an hour directly fighting someone - each time you hit them is a victory of you over them, each time they kill a minion is a small triumph over you. It’s really quite personal.
But this isn’t terribly different from other games, at least, not yet. The real reason why League’s community is so impossibly bad is because League makes you compete with your own teammates.
Team of Rivals
You compete with your own team in two main ways. First of all, if you screw up, you really harm your team. In Halo, death means a 5-15 second break and respawning with full ammo and a Battle Rifle. Death in League means that the enemy who killed you gets a sizeable gold and experience bonus, and while you aren’t there, he can farm minions and make even more money. Or he can leave his lane and go bully your team. Death really, really sucks, so that’s why the #1 advice I give to new players is to be a huge coward and not die.
In Halo, one stray grenade or sniper bullet can kill someone. Death comes very easily, so being down one team member for a fight isn’t that huge of a deal: a lucky shot or melee attack can turn a fight in your favour. In League, a 1 player difference is devastating. Plus, as you continue die a second and third time, you’re making that same opponent even more powerful. Each death is taking a slippery slope and making it even slipperier. This effect is very strong: I’d rather play 4v5 (being a member of the team with four players), than 5v5 with one truly bad or trolling teammate.
Furthermore, a player on your team who starts bad never gets enough of a bonus to “catch up”, so bullying him becomes smarter and smarter for the enemy team. They get the same cash bonus for killing him, and he gets easier and easier to kill, so a good enemy team will completely bully a weak player. That weak player will bring down his entire team.
League players are trained to hate and distrust their own team because their teammates can games so much more difficult for them. The only person you can trust is yourself.
You also compete with your own team for the limited resources on each map. Again, this is no difficult from Halo, except that these resources are often permanent. If you steal a kill from a member of your team, in his eyes, you just made him weaker, even though the two of you collaborated in the destruction of your mutual enemy. In most games, kill-stealing isn’t a big deal, since comparative kill scores are just for comparison post game - whichever team kills more matters, rather than who gets those kills. In League, some people absolutely fly off the handle when you steal their kill, even if you didn’t intend to steal it. Limited resources include minions to kill (that’s why one player in bottom lane often picks a healer champion and doesn’t farm gold, so another player gets it all), buffs on the map, and even enemy champions. Individual players often feel that they individually can make the best use of each resource, so if you take a buff another player feels entitled to, he feels that you made him weaker. And if the resource you want is missing? It’s clearly because of your own team who let it get stolen. Again, they’re making you weaker!
This game design is seen in the League of Legends, Defense of the Ancients 2, Heroes of Newerth and more. It boils down to the game design making you want to hate your team. In League, interacting with your team is of such high importance that having a few bad teams sours the whole experience. And unfortunately, because of the vast popularity of League of Legends, the average skill spread is a chasm. Any given team is likely to have one average player, two above average players, and two below average players. Those two below average players can literally ruin the game - they have a much stronger impact than the two above average players.
Finally, a poster on the Team Liquid forums found that if a team is 10% ahead in gold earned by the 12 minute mark, they win 95% of games. Think about that for a second. 10% is not much; a bad player in top lane will cause that. And while that’s only one data set, in my experience it holds true. League of Legends is all about momentum, so if one player halts your momentum, you hate them because they’re likely costing you the game.
Sadly, I think that this terrible community is inevitable because of the way League of Legends is designed. There’s really nothing Riot can to improve the community without dramatically modifying the game. Months ago, I suggested that they could implement diminishing returns on killing bad players. This means that a bad player would not impact his team as strongly, but it would represent a massive change to team strategy, which can have unintended side effects on the game.
Riot has a “quit protection” method I absolutely despise. If a player leaves a game, he can’t play any games until the game he left finishes. I like this idea, but it does incentivize the player to end a game quickly rather than just quit if he wants to leave the game (say his friend comes online). As I said above, I’d rather play 4v5 than have a bad player on my team, but this quit protection incentivizes the player to suicide against the enemy team and feed them to end the game quickly, rather than just quitting. If you quit, you should be able to play again, but Riot should simply crush quitters algorithmically. Quit 3 games every 20 games? Temporary ban. (These numbers are just examples, I’d need more data on quitters to know what numbers to pick).
But in the end, I really don’t think there is anything Riot can do. They have an enormous community, far too big to feel tight-knit, and their game is incredibly competitive, both between teams and within them. Short of implementing a co-op campaign mode and removing player vs player, I don’t think they can really do anything about their shitty community other than to survive it.
PS: Riot states that they have systems to prevent players from only punishing those they see in the Tribunal, the 80+ cases I’ve judged have been overwhelmingly “punish” verdicts. I’ve only pardoned three or four times, and in most cases, I see enough foul language in the chat log to be ready to punish before the 20 second timer has finished.
Some folk on Reddit wrote things like “Well, some players aren’t that bad, so I let one racist remark slide”. I don’t think we should lower our standards as judges simply because the community is terrible in general.