League Of Legends: What It’s Like Working With Toxic Players

I post a lot about companies working to manage or reduce toxicity in online multiplayer games because I think it’s a really important thing and I really do love seeing people actively trying to improve the quality of our online interactions instead of throwing up their hands and saying “it’s the responsibility of the individuals/the law/anyone who isn’t me”.

With that in mind I wanted to post a snippet from the latest League of Legends “Ask Riot” column where people from player support were asked what it’s like dealing with toxic players on a daily basis. Mostly I want to post it because right now there’s not a good or positive atmosphere here in the UK and I liked reading this for something positive – people involved with building communities/creating a nicer atmosphere on the internet.

The answer reminds me a lot of when I worked on the customer service desk of an art store. The majority of the time I was helping people find what they were looking for or finding practical solutions for projects people were working on, but the bits that resonated were the bits where I was dealing with complaints, or telling people something they didn’t want to hear. Sometimes people just wanted to vent. It wasn’t fair and it was rarely ever anything I had any control over but as the messenger and as the company representative part of my job was to listen and sort of absorb their frustrations (up to a point), to try and find a way to reach them and create a positive outcome.

Obviously the two situations aren’t the same – I wasn’t tasked with telling anyone that their behaviour was racist or homophobic or anything (although I was accused of trying to ruin someone’s wedding because people get curiously impassioned about paper dye lots). I’m also not saying that the Riot system is perfect or that I have entirely positive experiences when it comes to playing LoL. But it was nice to read the response and to hear that it still feels like a worthwhile endeavour to the people manning it:

It’s most difficult when a player is so furious at you, at the system, at their teammates, that it feels like there’s no getting through to them on why what they did was wrong. The conversation becomes a tricky situation where someone is upset at you, blaming others for every outcome, ignoring what role they played in things. No matter what happened, you and only you are responsible for your reactions to the circumstances, regardless of how unpleasant they can be. Nobody wins a flame war, and if someone can’t accept responsibility for a pattern of negativity, it’s hard to go from there. I try to remember that sometimes, people just need to vent. And it’s very rewarding when you do connect with someone and help them find a plan to succeed.

What’s both fascinating and concerning to me is how relatable the frustration can be. Nobody is immune to tilt from flamers, feeders, or AFKs, and recognizing that truth is important when telling someone not to fight fire with fire. Turning those real, raw emotions into something positive that doesn’t harm the experience for nine others is a strange, and awesome daily perk.

League is a competitive game, which means it can also be stressful. We’re aware of that stress and recognize it’s part of the experience. That’s why we continuously try to improve it. But we also know letting that stress give way to negativity, verbal abuse, flaming… win or lose, it’s never OK. I’ve personally stopped playing games I loved because of their communities, and so have very good friends of mine, and that just sucks. Rioters love gaming, and we all love League. We don’t want to say “Oh, that’s just gaming culture, get a thick skin.” We are part of the community, and we want to see it thrive; we want to log in and have an incredible time with everyone else.

And that’s why we come to work and tackle the sometimes complicated and emotionally draining experience of dealing with negative behavior. Every time we see the “(I’m a reformed player)” achievement unlock, just like you mentioned in your question, I want to yell: F*$# YEAH! Because even though, as I’ve mentioned, we don’t want this to be part of the experience, we know that it happens anyway. And when someone is reformed, it means another player will still be able to enjoy the game they’re passionate about, and we’re building an even more awesome community.


  1. Xipheas says:

    I’d imagine that 52 per cent of the population would disagree with you.

    • Grizzly says:

      I dunno. Regardless of what any of the UK readers voted for, the fallout due to the result (Northern Ireland and Scotland wanting to leave, stock markets crashing, Nigel Farage on the morning of the result saying this isn’t really an athmosphere that is friendly or positive.

      • keefybabe says:

        I overheard morons saying, “I’m voting brexit because I want those p*kis next door kicked out!”. So yeah, not only racist morons, but racist morons with no comprehension of where the boundaries of Europe lie.

        There’s a good half of your 52% right there.

        • Geebs says:

          Most of the people I’ve heard say truly appalling things about immigrants weren’t actually born in the UK.

        • Distec says:

          With sentiments such as this, it’s truly a mystery as to how the Leave movement got so much traction.

      • keefybabe says:

        Brexit – You made your bed, now unfortunately I have to lie in it.

    • GWOP says:

      52% of the population has caused Britain to lose its status as the 5th largest economy to France in one day.

      How’s diehard nationalism working out for you?

      • pennywyz says:

        Your crystal ball must be well polished to know the long term outcome of this only hours after it happened.

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          bsplines says:

          There’s nothing long term about that, it has already happened in the first day due to the fall of the pound and the London stock exchange.

          • pennywyz says:

            And obviously there is NO CHANCE that it could ever come up again

          • GWOP says:

            I mean, it’s only the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, the Centre for Economic Performance, the British Treasury, the Bank of England, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the International Monetary Fund, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Oxford Economics who have predicted that Brexit will have a negative impact on the British GDP (the beginnings of which are already being felt right now), but of course, what do these eggheads know, eh?

          • brentkc49 says:

            Yep. Because having the currency go lower in 30 years is just one of those fluke things. Saying the currency will just go up again after that kind of a drop is like saying life just goes back to normal after losing both your legs. Sure, it might normalize at some point, but its gonna be really tough in the meantime. It will likely cause some serious damage to the economy.

            Source: Have actually taken an economics class

          • pennywyz says:

            Experts are not always right…especially in the financial sector, and especially with the complexities of economies on a national and global scale.

            Of course they may indeed be right, it is not all that relevant to me as I have no horse in the Brexit race and no pride to be won or lost.

            My one and only point is that nobody knows what will happen, and using short term (VERY short term) market activity as evidence that Brexit was “bad” is as silly as saying that having pain the morning after surgery means the procedure was unsuccessful.

          • pennywyz says:

            p.s. Despite my sarcastic tone, I do genuinely feel bad for people who took a big financial hit with yesterday’s result and don’t wish to start getting toxic in an article about people being too toxic.

          • brentkc49 says:

            Oh definitely. You’re right, it is definitely too soon for a definitive post-mortem on the ramifications of what occurred. It is just going to be a wait-and-see. Currently, all we can do is extrapolate on a very small data set.

            I completely agree, there’s been enough toxicity on this issue as it is. Especially when it comes to people screaming at each others on message boards… Plus, as an American who might someday move to the UK, my dog in the proverbial fight is incredibly small. Like one of those teacup dogs you see on YouTube.

            And as someone who appreciates a good analogy, you gain points in my book.

          • Hobbes says:

            Anyone who thinks a 7-8% correction in the pound equates to an economy going south clearly doesn’t understand that said correction was due to the trading floor betting on Remain and getting that bet horribly wrong. Had the fall -continued- during the London FTSE day cycle, that would have been real reason to panic. It hasn’t. Things have settled down now and it’s moderately safe to say that the currency will likely find a new normal at around 1.40 vs the dollar and around 1.25 against the Euro.

            Provided there’s no other scares in store, that seems about right considering the market made some -really- stupid bets and they bit them in the ass.

            As for the Leave vote, lots of people seem to conflate very simplistic reasons (Xenophobia, regressive nationalism) with a lot of very complex reasons (inequality throughout Europe, the EU’s treatment of the club med countries – Greece in particular, the damage the Euro is doing to economies ill suited to it) and as a result people are throwing lots of toys at each other from both sides of the fence.

            What makes me laugh is there’s a lot of commentators from America who seem to think they’re somehow able to figure out most of the Leave voters for racists when the reality is far more subtle and nuanced. The problem with actually crediting the people who voted Brexit with brains is then you’re forced to have intelligent discussions with them, rather than just insult them (hello above posters!)

          • batraz says:

            Don’t be sad british pals, we (Paris here) love you guys as much as we always did (well, speaking for myself at least) and don’t think it’s got anything to do with being racist or selfish or dumb. No country needs a belgian commission to be a civilized and welcoming one, and I’m sure you will do alright, even take the 4th place back. We don’t want it anyway ;)

          • GWOP says:

            Brexit was a platform run on xenophobia, not sound economic concerns.

      • RobT says:

        Just two minor points about your claim France overtook UK economy in one day.

        Firstly the size of the economy is based on GDP and not the value of the FTSE and secondly the France CAC 40 Index decreased 359.3 points or 8.05% to 4106.70 on Friday June 24 from 4466 in the previous trading session. In contrast the FTSE 100 was down less than 2% at the end of the days trading.

  2. Kefren says:

    [Pip – The FT link seems to go to a subscription page.]

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      Philippa Warr says:

      The FT sometimes kicks in the subscription reminder, although iirc it should let you see a certain number of articles before that happens so I figured most people would be fine. To give you an idea, here is the first part of the article:

      “Britain plunges into constitutional crisis after vote to leave EU

      “Pound falls to 30-year low, FTSE 100 down 4.3 per cent, BoE is monitoring developments

      “The UK was plunged into a full-scale constitutional crisis after it voted to leave the EU, David Cameron stood down as prime minister and Scotland’s first minister said a second referendum on independence was now “highly likely”.

      “Mr Cameron said he would remain in office for the next few months to “steady the ship” while the Conservative party chose a new leader but that Britain needed “fresh leadership” to take it in the new direction chosen by voters.

      “Britons voted by 51.9 per cent to sever the UK’s 43-year membership of the EU, sending shockwaves across Europe and triggered financial market turmoil across the globe.

      “The scale of the problems facing the British government were immediately laid bare when Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, which voted to stay in the EU, said a second vote on independence “is on the table” two years after the last plebiscite.”

      • Kefren says:

        Ah, I must just be unlucky then.
        I’ve been trying to cheer my friends in any way I can. Usually cat pics.
        I’m hoping it was so close that it would be legitimate to not act on it; fix some EU issues; hold another ref in a year or so. 51.9% vs 48.1% would not be enough of a majority to convict in a court of law, so it shouldn’t be enough to enact such a huge change. The ballot papers didn’t say what the results of the vote would be, how big the majority needed to be before change would be enacted etc.

  3. aircool says:

    I’ve never enjoyed that atmosphere. I like to think that my gaming attitude is that of a good sport. Things can get emotional at times, especially if you’re really pushing a game or getting a hammering, but at the end of the game, it’s over and people can chat about what happened.

    However, it only takes one person to kick out the stool from under everyone’s good mood. There’s generally two types of people.

    The bad winner/loser, we’ve met plenty of those people online and in RL.

    The rude, trolling, whining bastard. This person keeps quiet until everything goes wrong, or at least everything to them goes wrong. Then it’s everyone else’s fault for being noobs or picking the wrong character etc…

    I try and point out that there’s at least a minute before each game for anyone to chip in with ideas or plans. Some people won’t listen, but many players are quite happy when someone takes charge of a situation.

  4. The Great Wayne says:

    Problem isn’t the community, it’s the game.

    The community is what it is, people of different age, character, environment, culture, etc. and it’s the same community stretched over all online games.

    Yet, players of games such as LoL are more toxic than average. Does the game catter to those people ? Hardly, being angry isn’t a viable state to sustain, especially while gaming.
    What these games do is retain people with a set tolerance level for being angry and frustrated actually higher than average (because if you really have no patience with others, you don’t play those games. In fact, you don’t play random multiplayer at all) for the gameplay is pushing to this kind of behavior.

    Failure is always doubly so (lose exp/time – even lose gold in certain game – and map presence, while giving these resources to the opposing team), matches are long and punish you for leaving, there’s a carot for winning even in non competitive matches in the form of currency, etc.

    Add the fact that gameplay-wise those titles are very poor and lacking diversity, which creates a phenomenon of skill/success through repetition and grind instead of having to actually outsmart your opponent.

    It is an environment made to be anxyogenic, frustrating and a source of potential anger, which you cannot vent since you’re hostage of each match. It’s also made to catter to the mass, which will give way to the vocal minority of the mediocre trolls and the hormonal teens to set the tone.

    • Nauallis says:

      Wow. Way to completely remove any shred of personal responsibility for one’s behavior from your argument.

      You’re right that the “global community of gamers” is made up of all of us, but that’s not who we’re talking about here, not quite sure how you’re missing that. The League of Legends playerbase is notoriously toxic, both in general and especially to new players. That’s the community in question.

      Raging and getting behaviorally abusive in reaction to the situation presented isn’t a problem induced by the game. People have a choice to play. They have a choice to care. If you can’t walk away from your computer or at least find an outlet for your frustration that isn’t harmful to other people, that’s a very personal behavioral problem.

      • Sound says:

        Agreed. And even if there is aggregate personality template that people may tend toward, there also exists the ability for developers and community leaders to steer the climate against this aggregate personality. This is called Culture, and it is not outside of peoples’ control, even in the most wild-west of communities. I’ve seen communities turn around despite their toxic momentum. It’s a difficult to puzzle to tackle, and it’s difficult to arrest downward momentum, but it’s quite possible.
        The lowest common denominator is not LoL’s destiny, not at all.

      • Distec says:

        While players are ultimately responsible for their own behavior (toxic or otherwise), it is worth investigating whether the games themselves are effectively fostering negative behaviors simply with their mechanics.

        I’ve played a variety of online games since Diablo 1 in my formative years, and while jerkasses have existed in every gaming community I’ve come into contact with since, the communities surrounding LOL or DOTA2 were the fist in a long while that even I couldn’t stomach. And I’d like to think I’m somebody who’s developed a thick skin against tryhard assholes in everything else I’ve played.

        The fact is that MOBAs like these games lock competitive players into high-stake matches for 20-30 minutes (if not longer) that often require an encyclopedic knowledge of abilities, characters, and general metagame to be effective. When you’re then shackled to a team that may be perceived as incompetent (which I say without any kind of judgment) and is effectively wasting your time, it’s easy to see how even generally “normal” players can be swayed into being assholes. It’s my hunch that the lynchpin for most toxic behavior is the time commitment required, especially when a match is clearly going south without any hope for a comeback. For instance, Counter-Strike can have a lot of these same tensions, but:

        A) At least the rounds are typically only a few minutes long.
        B) Each round is essentially a reset, and it’s pretty difficult for previous mistakes to have a large impact in the current round; no “fail cascading”.
        C) If you’re pissed off enough, you can leave a pithy remark and then bounce to another server without penalty.

        None of these observations need to be in service of excusing poor player behavior, but they do need to be recognized if you’re looking for a solution to the problem outside of playing whack-a-mole with your players. Fortunately, Riot seems to recognize this given their statements.

      • wengart says:

        It is an interesting question though.

        I freely admit that I can be a giant ass on occasion when playing Dota 2.

        Now I don’t do that when I play Red Orchestra, or Squad, or Overwatch, etc… In those games I am friendly and I try to help new players as best I can. I may get “strict” if someone is insisting on being in a position that is out of their depth but I am always trying to be helpful. If I get really frustrated with someone I’ll just move on to a different server or a different group.

        In Dota I tend to be nice because that is generally what is best for your team to work together. However, I will get aggressive with people if things align correctly. Sometimes it is the correct decision to make, oddly enough. I’ve reamed people out for a minute or more and afterwards I calm down and we’ve won. You have these guys who are just playing badly and not working together, and you go in there and hammer them. They come out the otherside as a good teamplayer. Sometimes your entire team just gets better. I think this is generally a result of having players who are technically proficient (they can move their hero/hit their casts) but are unproficient at reading the game. So you get aggressive and your team starts to listen to calls and comes together. The calls that are made might not be the best, but it is better to have a stubbornly pulled together team than a team that is just wandering around lost in the woods.

        On the other hand sometimes I just get angry at someone and come at them, and it is entirely useless. There is no attempt to salvage the game or anythng of the sort. But it is cathartic for me. If you are going to first pick an AM and drag me through this hell with you for 40 minutes I don’t particular care about how you feel. I’ll be angry and afterwards I feel better. My day has been improved, however marginally. Sure I might have made some random player unhappy but I salvaged some amount of enjoyment out of the otherwise waste of time that was that match. And that person is a perfect stranger. I’ll never see them (hah) again. Its very much a mindset where I am stuck in this game with you and you are in here with me. I can no longer enjoy the match, the game is just a slow death, so why not be angry.

        • Nauallis says:

          I’ll grant you that League’s big barrier-to-entry weakness is that it doesn’t have a tutorial that explains the meta game and overarching team strategy very well (if at all), or how to balance hero abilities with small-team tactics. This is somewhat bizarre in a game with fundamentally only two modes of play. I was hugely turned-off by being told (before I even started playing) that I should read wikis on how characters work to figure out how I want to play. That doesn’t make a hint of sense for somebody with limited or no experience with the gameplay. So granted, there’s a learning curve.

          Still doesn’t excuse you being a prick. Sure, I can appreciate that raging at your team makes you feel better. I empathize. I understand catharsis. But that’s really your problem, as well – you seem to lack empathy for somebody being as stubborn as you, or for not having the skills that you do. That anger is YOURS to deal with, not theirs. They shouldn’t have to put up with it. Based on what you wrote, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if you responded by telling me that when you get banned for abusive communication that it’s a failure on the part of the game designers, not something you actually need to change about yourself.

          • wengart says:

            Oh yea, I agree with you. It doesn’t excuse me being a fucker to these random strangers. Its my problem and if I were to get in trouble for being a prick its on me. But I really just don’t empathize enough to care about my actions.

            Now most of the time I’m genial enough and try to help people through it, and that means I never get punished for my bad behavior when it does happen. I can make it through the vast majority of my games being a friendly person. To the point that any reports I get are just a minor blimp on an otherwise positive report card.

            I have friends that I play with who are constantly negative. They are rarely as mean as I am when it gets down to it, but they are less mean more often, and therefore get more consistent reports. Resulting in them spending time in low priority queue (Dota prison). Whereas I am only mean (arbitarily) one out of every 10 games. Which means that the reports don’t add up and I never get punished.

            So again when it comes down to it. I realize that I am being mean and I really shouldn’t. However, I don’t empathize with internet strangers enough to care. And it happens rarely enough I never get punished so there isn’t any real reason for me to curb my behavior.

            Now if the nature of Dota was different I wouldn’t be mean at all, or just so rarely that it would be essentially zero. Because like I said. I’m not mean in other games. It is very much a Dota phenomenon.

            It also comes to mind that I don’t make internet friends playing video games. I’ll play with friends I know in real life, but I’ve never made friends with someone purely over the internet. Which might have something to do with empathy that you build in online games. Because really the person on the otherside of you is very rarely a voice and occasionally a few typed messages. The only real difference between a bot and a person is your personal knowledge that it is indeed a person.

            I find the discussion about toxicity in games interesting, which is why I am particpating in this. I also accept that being mean is wrong. On the other hand you are just the username “Nauallis” and a green squiggly jpg. So why should it matter to me if I am mean if the system doesn’t punish me and I won’t see you again?

          • hotmaildidntwork says:

            I feel like it would be unjustifiably curt of me to just say “Common decency”. I find the psychological situation you describe fascinating, to say the least.

  5. Doomlord says:

    Brits finally taking control of their country. Bravo!

  6. Monggerel says:

    Apropos of nothing:

  7. virgula says:

    From my personal experience, having only ever directly contacted Riot player support once (received an automated response for that one), I tought all they did was expose player’s chat logs on public forums and reddit in order to discredit their opinions. Perhaps with such a colossal, global community, their effectiveness relies more on the symbolic and example setting efforts.

  8. vahnn says:

    When I was younger (12-18), I was quite a troll. I wouldn’t say toxic… perhaps subtly inflammatory. I would calmly say just the right thing that would send the angered part into a tailspin of rage and frustration. Then I flipped and started taking a more consolatory approach to things. I had a roommate who shared a love of fighting games, and we frequently almost came to blows over the outcomes of our matches (Capcom vs SNK 2, Soul Calibur 2/3, various Guilty Gears), each claiming the other’s tactics were cheap and shit-tier. During those two years, we each gradually began cooling off and taking the more sportsmanlike route after a victory or loss, and I think we both came out of that period with cooler heads and better able to deal with frustrating losses, but more importantly how to express joy at winning without rubbing it in the other’s face and congratulating them on a good fight.

    So for the past 8 or 9 years, I’ve taken a more reserved approach towards interactions with angry players, and I think it’s improved my gaming experience a lot. There have been many times when players go off in a flurry of insults after losing, and simply giving a couple compliments about a sweet play they made at some point in the game, or pointing out how close it was can quickly cool them down and get a GG from both sides instead of it escalating into a flamewar where one or both parties exit the game in a pissed-off mood. I’ve even made friends with some people who were going off in a furious rage, but later apologized. Sometimes people are really nice, but they’ve just been having a rough time, either in game or irl, and the stress of a single match is the tipping point where they freak out. Just let them vent and say something kind and you’d be surprised at how many ragers can calm down and be really civilized people.

    tl;dr: fight fire with water and reduce an inferno to a burning coal which can kindle the beginnings of friendship.

  9. Voqar says:

    I think one of the reasons I like Rocket League more than MOBA (aside from it being way more fun) is that there’s less toxicity.

  10. pennywyz says:

    I don’t think I will ever play LOL or DOTA, largely because of the reputation for toxic behavior. I am even hesitant to jump into Overwatch because of the pretty harsh nature of players I have seen so far. There are just too many other games I can spend my time on where that kind of stuff is nonexistent or rare enough that it can be easily ignored.

    • Thurgret says:

      Overwatch will occasionally have someone playing either an offensive hero or Hanzo and doing nothing whatsoever related to the team’s objectives spamming profanities into the chat, but that’s about the limit of it, from what I’ve seen.

      (It’s always someone playing an offensive hero or Hanzo, for some reason.)

      • pennywyz says:

        The fact that we accept people spamming profanities into chat as “not that bad” is a really sad commentary on us as a gaming community. I would get kicked out of any brick and mortar establishment if I behaved in that manner. Seriously people lose jobs over less than that.

  11. Malkara says:

    The effects of dealing with toxic people day in and out is really interesting, and somewhat under-studied. A lot of big corporations outsource their ‘toxic’ support (i.e. the people who monitor youtube for awful things, the people who respond to child porn complaints) to third world countries. There’s a really great article on Wired about this here: link to wired.com

    Obviously, for the most part Riot’s support doesn’t have to deal with this kind of toxicity, but having worked Trust and Safety for a hosting company for a bit, and also being closely connected to some other people in the Industry, it’s a problem throughout, and responsible companies take steps to do what they can to help their employees get through the horrible crap they have to see on the daily.

  12. Generico says:

    You want a decent community, don’t cater to teenagers. Simple as that.

    • lowwayman says:

      Well, that must have sounded very smart and snappy when you typed it out, but you must realize that teenagers are a major part of the playerbase of virtually any video game out there. And not all of those communities are as toxic as LoL’s, so surely there’s a way to affect that other than arbitrarily age restricting a large number of your potential customers because you think they’re the sole reason for the hostility in the community.