League of Legends is one of the most popular games in the world. It also has the reputation of having one of the ugliest and most toxic communities in online gaming.
League is an unforgiving game. Playing as a team often with strangers to take objectives,while fending off and executing the opposing team, can be highly stressful and often brings out the worst in others. Since the power of a team is most often measured in the amount of gold that they have acquired, and much of a team’s gold income is based on gold acquired for getting kills, teams can be less than kind to their weakest links. The community is unforgiving to “feeders,” those who die often in game and are seen then as feeding the other team gold leading to the opposing team’s victory. Verbal harrassment and other toxic behaviors are the rule of the day in League.
Riot Games, the developers of League of Legends, have battled a six year war with its own player base, attempting to find penalties and rewards that might encourage more sportsmanlike behavior in the game. Like wars on crime, poverty, terror, and drugs, of course, this is a war that ultimately can’t be won. Obliterating online rudeness seems unlikely unless every player is replaced with a bot. Human beings are human beings. Still though, some improvement would be nice.
Player bans, chat restrictions, and the inability to receive certain rewards have been a few ways that Riot has attempted to curb bad behavior. Reportedly there are high rates of reform among players who have received harsh penalties. These measures are pointed at individuals, though, and as such, most of the community doesn’t get to see ban enforcement directly. These individuals are not “made examples of” because banning occurs on a microcosmic level. There is no “public square” in League of Legends to put punishment on display, so it often feels like no “criminal” ever really gets punished.
Of course, for a game that is about team play, much of the player base of League of Legends experience the game in a very private way. Most often players log into the game, choose a game mode to play, and then wait to be queued with four strangers in a small lobby before the game begins. After games are over, generally speaking players who choose to play again are usually placed with four new strangers for their next game. There is generally not much social cohesiveness to League unless you are playing regularly on a premade team with a group of friends. Indeed, the idea of League representing a “community” at all is strange when most players simply play the game out of solo queue.
All of which is why this summer’s week long event, the League of Legends pool party seems like an interesting experiment in community building for the game. This week, June 15th to the 21st, Riot is sponsoring a pool party themed event in which players need to team up in order to earn points for the whole community.
If players play as a premade team of five and win, they earn the community five points. If players buy one another skins, they earn 10 or 20 points for the community. Now while the last option is obviously beneficial monetarily to Riot, still both means of earning points requires not being a lone wolf in an online game.
As the community reaches milestones, five million points, 15 million points, 25 million points, 35 million points, 45 million points, and finally 55 million points, various prizes for all members of the community that participated (besides those who have received recent bans) will gain rewards. (Which by the way, may seem crazy, but I think 11 million premade games will probably easily occur before the June 21st deadline. The game is truly that huge with tens of millions of players globally.).
As an almost exclusively solo queue player, the first day of the pool party was strange to me. I found myself joining chat rooms so that I could play with others, playing on teams that would not break up after a single game, but would hang together for two or three games to continue a winning streak, and even adding players to my friends list (something I haven’t done since the first season that I joined League of Legends).
Also, I’d estimate that normally when I play League that I run into a toxic player in easily one out of every four or one out of every five games. During the pool party, I think that I’ve run into a toxic player maybe in one out of 20 games.
With a common goal, the League of Legends community actually feels vaguely like a community for once. People are playing together, focusing on the goal of winning the game, or moving on to another game to attempt a win. It may be that we are all conscious that even even if we don’t win, that the other team has still earned the community some points, so winning isn’t (for a change) everything. We’re all in this together, for once, and strangely be that as teammates or as opponents.
Certainly, this suggests that sportsmanship must be incentivized in some way to have success on this large a scale, and, of course, I report this as only a single player in a game with millions of players and only after a day of play. However, I do have to say that this pool party seems like a break from the grinding negativity that often plagues what is otherwise a terrifically designed game. I hope that some of the party atmosphere somehow survives past the June 21st end date.