It’s hard to mention league of legends without bringing up the constant toxicity problems that haunt the game. It’s no secret really, that anywhere on the internet that people exist, there are people who are there to play for fun and others to troll. The most common example is Tyler1, the infamous world-renown streamer once dubbed ‘the Most Toxic Player in North America. However, it’s not like Riot Games have been quiet about the issue, either. In fact, there is a whole department and a whole team of psychologists meant to study the behavioral patterns of trolls and how to deal with rampant toxicity in LoL.
To take the issue even further, one of the senior technical designers at Riot Games help found the Fair Play Alliance. If you’ve never heard of them, they are a collaborative internet company that is dedicated to sharing information on different player behaviour online. However, it will be a while before they are able to make any significant strides in the fight against the kind of everyday noxiousness we encounter online.
In the wake of the recently released chat system in the League of Legends franchise, we feel it’s important to visit why toxicity is such a fun-killer.
The real problem with toxicity
As most people may already realize, as long as there’s a large group of people somewhere, there have to be some bad eggs. The League of Legends franchise has well over a hundred million players, a lot more than a great chunk of countries in the world.
Some people want to have fun while others’ idea of fun is getting other people off. If Call of Duty is any indicator, we’ll never really be able to rid ourselves of such people. At the same time, we can’t just rest on our laurels, ignore them and hope they’ll never go away. It’s a philosophy that rarely applies to any real-life situation, after all. In any case, philosophers and psychologists alike have been preaching about the negative side-effects of punishment (or rather, negative-reinforcement) over discipline. In even more pragmatic light, years and years of banning players off the platform haven’t made much of a difference.
Think of the punishment-discipline debacle as the classical tale of Pavlov’s dogs. A person is more likely to remain behaved as a result of being rewarded for good behavior. Ignoring bad behavior doesn’t make it go away and punishing it often (not always) makes it worse. It could be classically referenced to the infamous ‘backfire effect.’
At the same time, Riot Games doesn’t want to ban players permanently. They’re caught up in quite a predicament.
The Honor System
Riot Games’ approach to the same has been the Honor system to fight rampant toxicity in LoL.
Honor was intended to be a way of encouraging players to think about the people they are playing with as a team first. Most times, even if they’re having a rough time, people will more likely act in a way that benefits both them and others, especially when incentivised to do so.
One idea that was thrown a lot around in 2015 was shadowbotting. Much like a shadowban, where the person has no idea their content can be viewed, shadowbotting entails secretly pairing toxic players with bots. Eventually, though, the idea was thrown out of the room. Instead, Riot decided to revamp the Honor system.
The old Honor system had two major differences from the system used in the game today. First, there were titles like ‘helpful’, ‘friendly’ and ‘teamwork’ as titles that could be used to reward our allies. For our opponents, we could use the ‘honorable opponent’ title if their performance was acceptable. Perhaps most importantly, this system consisted of cosmetic rewards – they were only a show of pride. If a player received a specific combination of honors, they could earn additional Honors like ‘Great Teammate’ and ‘Great Leader.’
Admittedly, the main effect this system had was to make a player feel good about themselves. They were a constant reminder that you were considered worth playing with. With time, though, they started to grow old, and turned into nothing more than another in-game mechanic. It’s not a feature that was hated, per se. Most of the discontent for this feature was focused around the mundanity of gifting the same honors over and over. It was something that was neither overly loved not hated, really.
As of this year, there is really no solid evidence that suggests the new changes are an improvement on the old. Neither is there any data that shows improved player cooperation as a direct cause of the change. There is however, reason to hope. If you still remember the EA-lootbox controversy and the various discussions that amounted from it, the new Honor incentives work in somewhat the same way. They operate on an addictive psychology medium. In other words, the capsules, in giving unpredictable rewards, motivate the player psychologically. These randomized rewards have been proven to have more long-lasting and efficient effects than standard rewards.
There’s still the feeling of pride, of course, but now it runs deeper. It takes advantage of a basal human desire for reward. This way, players are more likely to interact with the Honor System and come out of it better.
In addition hardly any games out there have any such method of rewarding good behavior. If anything, most games try to discourage bad behavior with permanent bans. The only reward mechanism such games contain is gifting players who they feel have had a great game-day. For instance, before the new Honor system was set in stone, the most common way of congratulating a skilled opponent or teammate was gifting them the skin of their favorite champion.
At the end of the day though, the developers alone can’t curb the problem that is rampant toxicity in lol. It takes a lot of team effort, and even the community has to play a part. Some communities, for instance, have been able to do this pretty well by developing methods of rewarding each other to foster a player-friendly community.