League of Legends’ attempts at mending toxic player base


Alyssa Huang

Like the majority of online games, League of Legends has a “report” feature which allows users to file complaints against users that they feel are toxic.

A hunched over figure basks in the artificial light of a computer screen. Faint background music accompanies the rapid but gentle tapping of computer keys. The room seems nearly at peace until the noise makes a rushed crescendo. Huffs of frustration fill the air and the once gentle typing becomes aggressive.

“God, you suck, just quit the game and die,” flickers onto the player’s screen seconds later with similar messages soon to follow.

This type of player is an undeniable occurrence across all online multiplayer games. According to a survey taken in 2008 by Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of teens who play online games have reported of hearing or witnessing “mean or overly aggressive” behavior from other users.

In general, unfriendly or “toxic” players use inappropriate language and have poor sportsmanship that hinders their peers’ ability to enjoy the game.

League of Legends, a 9-year-old online multiplayer game (also referred to as “League”) is no stranger to this type of player.

League is a MOBA that features three game modes with the same overall goal: to destroy the enemy team’s nexus. In Summoner’s Rift, the game’s most commonly played mode, two teams of five players each compete to conquer a number of objectives while fighting the enemy team. Once the objectives have been cleared, players gain access to the enemy team’s base where the nexus is located and can then attempt to destroy it. This process spans anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes but has no fixed play time.

The game’s premise has piqued the interest of many users, allowing League to gain millions of players to their online community.

The game remains amongst the most well known online games today, although it is no longer the most popular game in the world as it was in 2014.

With its popularity, League has also kept up a reputation for hosting one of the most unfriendly player bases in the industry. This is in spite of a statement released in 2014 by Riot Games, League of Legends’ developer, which stated that only 5 percent of players had received punishment in the game for showing “offensive, negative, (or) disruptive” behavior.

However, some players have their doubts about this statistic.

The statement was released on the official League of Legends forum which allowed users to express their uncertainties directly.

“Players that received punishments is not the same as players that deserved punishments. I can assure you that the number of toxic players in the game exceeds 5 percent by far. You can blame it on some kind of bias, but I know for a fact that there is at least one toxic player in 50 percent of the games I play,” said @Nausicaa, a user who commented on the North American League of Legends community forum.

Other than blaming the game itself or a player’s genuinely unkind attitude, these occurrences happen partially because of a phenomenon called the online disinhibition effect. This phenomenon describes the elevated lack of restraint that internet users feel when online as opposed to real life. This applies to all internet platforms, regardless it’s a neighborhood social network or a competitive FPS team chat.

“People don’t have to worry about how they look or sound when they type a message. They don’t have to worry about how others look or sound in response to what they say. Not having to cope with someone’s immediate reaction disinhibits people,” said John Suler in his article titled Cyberpsychology and Behavior.

With this effect in mind, it seems unreasonable to believe that any online community can be free of all toxic players. However, that has not stopped Riot from trying.

League introduced their very first honor system in 2012. At the end of each game, players were given the opportunity to honor every member on their team for demonstrating a helpful, friendly, or collaborative spirit. They could also honor one player on the enemy team for making an enjoyable experience. The number of honors a player received per category would be visible on their profile but provided no incentives otherwise. This system ultimately proved inconclusive in improving League’s player base.

Despite Riot’s unsuccessful first try at making an honor system, they made a second attempt to mend the game’s toxic community at the beginning of the game’s eighth season in early 2018. Riot rolled out a revamped version of the 2012 honor system which included behavior-based incentives for players. This system is still in place as of December 2018.

At the end of each game, players are prompted, although not required, to honor one other player on their team. The honor categories have since been changed to sportsmanship, friendliness, or shot-calling. The type and amount of honors each player receives dictate the player’s potential of earning a reward in the future. The rewards are usually characters or character skins, which would otherwise cost in-game or real currency.

However, there are mixed reviews on Riot’s performance with the concern of the new system not being exercised in a way that is beneficial to players.

“I think that League’s honor system isn’t effective at all. I know that the game will give you small rewards, but it’s nothing really substantial,” said Liam Dowling, a Carlmont sophomore and six-year League of Legends player. “In the past, some of my friends have made toxic comments online to other people, and nothing has happened. As long as you don’t say it frequently, companies won’t do anything … and then they still get the rewards from the honor systems.

Dominique Veinstein, a Carlmont sophomore and League player, said, “I think League should be taking a closer look on how their system is affecting players and then making improvements based on that instead of just updating it once in a while and then leaving it alone.”

Aside from Riot’s faults, mistakes have been made by players too. Since player attitudes are up to interpretation by other players when giving honors, there’s a margin of error that can be made in the process.

“I don’t talk in League and I’m the highest honor level. I’m basically getting rewarded for not acting poorly, and that’s not exactly a good thing,” said Armando Sanchez, a junior at Summit Charter School and four-year League player.


Regardless of the new system’s failures, it is still an apparent improvement from League’s incentive-less 2012 system.

While Riot has tried their hand at rewarding players, drastic improvements have yet to be made in the punishing deserving toxic players.

For users on the who favor punishment over rewards when enforcing certain behaviors, this is a prime concern for League’s disciplinary and feedback systems.

When a player encounters a toxic user, reporting is one course of action that may be taken. Depending on the extremity of the reported player’s bad attitude, they could receive a chat ban or even have their account suspended. In odd cases that lie in the heart of this issue, nothing known may happen to the toxic player at all.

After a player is reported there is rarely any notice for the person who filed the report to know if their actions had an effect on the other user at all.

According to the League of Legends Support Service, “(Users will) sometimes but not always be notified when a player you reported is penalized. The lack of a notification does not mean there was no penalty.”

For some users, this is seen as a critical flaw in League’s disciplinary system.

“The rate at which the (Instant Feedback System) sends out the ‘A player you reported has been punished’ message is so, so low that it’s worse than it not existing,” said @Scuffleboard, a user on the official League of Legends forum.

On the same forum, a user going by the username @Minarde said, “I’ve only ever gotten the ‘player punished’ message once. Interestingly, I didn’t get that message after reporting a guy who spent about five minutes telling a teammate that he hopes the guy suffers, dies, and suffers again in the afterlife.”

The feedback notification or lack thereof is a source of doubt for players in the League disciplinary system. This doubt causes players to stop reporting those deserving of it because there is simply no motivation to do so.

“I think a lot more people would have a lot more confidence in the system if we saw more evidence of it working,” said League of Legends user @RhynoD on a separate forum also about League’s disciplinary system. Seeing the ‘player got banned’ report makes me want to keep reporting bad behavior.”


As of December 2018, there have been no major changes to the report notification or similar policies.

On one side of the issue, it can be seen that it is a company’s responsibility to control and manage their community effectively. With the power of a company, this seems like a reasonable expectation.

Conversely, it may also be argued that it is up to users to take effective action when encountering a toxic player. After all, players have the option to ignore or mute players they don’t want to interact with.

“At the beginning of every ‘serious’ game that I play, I just mute everyone on my team so I don’t have to deal with really intense and toxic players,” Sanchez said.

Players can also enforce their own positive attitude in an effort to spread their good influence on others.

The golden rule should play a big role in peoples’ lives.”

— Liam Dowling

“The golden rule should play a big role in people’s’ lives. You don’t want to be told to do all of these terrible things and be called all of these terrible names, then I don’t think that you should be calling other people terrible things either,” Dowling said.

Ultimately, cooperation between companies and their communities is what is essential to the sculpting a peaceful player base.

Riot needs to manage the community with an even balance of rewards and effective punishments, while players must also cooperate with Riot to deal with toxic players productively in order to reach a stable medium.

With League’s ninth season beginning in January 2019, there is potential for changes to be made to this relationship.

These premises don’t just apply to League of Legends, though. The same ideal relationship can be applied to other online games, social media, or even real-life interactions.

Healthy relations between these groupings is what makes interactions with other people special, whether it be in person or online.

While the effort to mend these imbalances is definitely not as easy as they appear on the surface, it’s certainly something worth working towards.

“People just need to understand that the people they’re interacting with are human,” Dowling said.

Do you think the League of Legends community will improve in the near future with their current approach?


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