If you’ve been following Riot Games at all, you’ll know that a favourite phrase of theirs is “toxic behaviour”. The term is useful. It encapsulates the very real extent to which antisocial language and actions threaten LoL’s culture and growth as an eSport. Perhaps less usefully, it also suggests that “toxic” players are irredeemable – corrupted souls waiting to be extracted with a long pair of ban-tweezers. And that’s not so, say Riot. The developers have said at PAX East that they find that most cases are reformable, and that they “don’t actually have any evidence that the community is overwhelmingly full of jerks”.
In a panel at PAX East this weekend, witnessed by Polygon, Riot game engineer George Skleres claimed that it isn’t anonymity that turns players into “jerks”, but rather a lack of consequences.
“We firmly believe that League of Legends players in general are very sportsmanlike,” he said.
Senior user researcher Devin Pavlas added: “We don’t actually have any evidence that the community is overwhelmingly full of jerks.”
What Riot do have is evidence that toxic behaviour often emerges in players with otherwise cleanish track records. Players who might have had a bad day at work, for instance, and who trigger a reactive chain of bad behaviour in their matches as a result.
Riot believe they can prevent that “ripple effect”. Their efforts are evident in the game’s latest patch, which allows LoL’s Tribunal to restrict chat for “toxic” players until their behaviour improves.
Though producer Carl Kwoh acknowledged that “our small dev team is not going to be able to change the culture of the internet overnight,” the studio do want to promote sportsmanship and change the game’s culture for the better. Riot are looking for ways to reinforce positive behaviour, and to create better chemistry in-match – to “find ways that every match can feel like [a match with friends].”
It’s a sense of consequence that Riot seem to have been trying to instill in its community with its recent round of pro punishments. Those of you who are players on the ground: do you think it’s working?