Word came down yesterday that Riot Games had banned several pro League of Legends players right at the last minute before the LCS Europe qualifiers this weekend in Poland. The banned players in question, two of whom received permanent bans and one banned for a year, were accused of multiple incidences of harassment, threats, rude language, and just generally acting like asses toward others. In addition, previous accounts from the two permabanned players also contained reports from the Tribunal for such incidents as threatening Riot employees and Anti-Semitism. What Riot did was the right decision, and it’s a strong statement against bad sportsmanship and rude behavior. But while these high-profile cases rid the community of a handful of excessive offenders, it’s still quite common to see racist and sexist comments, homophobic slurs, and all sorts of terrible words aimed at others at all levels of the game.
The community is infamous for trolling, raging, and often colorful and distasteful chat content. In fact, all chat was turned off by default in one of the first deliberate positive reinforcement moves the game has made. There’s trash talk and then there’s what goes over the line. If you can’t say it to your mom, you probably shouldn’t call a fellow player that.
But these high profile bans are something else altogether. Riot is sending the message that no matter who you are, you’ll be subject to the rules. That’s what the team should be doing (and has been doing), but the pervasive harassment, trolling, and outright abuse that can happen to anyone in the game is a catalyst for more direct (and earlier) action. Banning someone like DarkwinJax after multiple accounts and a ton of infractions from the Tribunal could’ve been done much sooner. Only acting in a significant way after someone has racked up lots and lots of reports can seem somewhat ineffective.
Of course, these are high profile cases. And don’t get me wrong, players get temporarily banned and punished all the time, and Riot’s more recent efforts on the positive reinforcement side (like Honor) are commendable for being more well-rounded. I’ve been involved in online communities for some time, and you can’t always attack this problem punitively. But the question remains as to why we can’t get some of the more toxic players out sooner, before racking up so many infractions, switching accounts, starting anew, and continuing to harass people.
One idea is the restriction of multiple accounts (“smurfing”). If we limit people to one account per server that they must behave on or risk losing, then there might be some improvements in the community. Some of the unranked and even low-elo ranked matches sometimes feature newbies that aren’t newbies, and sometimes those people pretend to be clueless for the sake of trolling and to abuse others. In general, because making a new account is so easy, there’s no bite in a ban on that one account because player X will return with a new one soon.
I don’t think restricting accounts is necessarily the answer. Alternate accounts are a revenue stream for Riot, so that’s probably not something they’d want to do. And because League of Legends (and any MOBA) is a progressive, cumulative process for your entire account, it’s very hard to play with friends once you’re significantly past their level. You’ll generate higher-level (and probably higher-skill) enemies and everything will likely be lopsided. Smurfing allows people to play together more comfortably.
So how about one allowed account per server with an MMO-style global handle, with up to say, three character slots? This way you are always recognizable as LoLPlayer45 but you can have some flexibility within. You can delete or create summoner names under your global handle at any time. Once you buy a champion or skin in a certain slot, you can still keep it in that slot, even if you delete and then recreate in there. Deleted characters’ names would be visible on your profile. Taking away some of the anonymity and making players more integrated into the community under a consistent identity could help with the community without being overly harsh or punitive.
Ultimately, I want to cheer Riot on for actively trying to improve what can be an intimidating and toxic community at times. Things have improved and can continue to do so, but it remains to be seen if improvements in just how quickly problem players can be removed, as well as tackling anonymity.