It is unfathomable to me why multiplayer gaming on various consoles is one of my pastimes, but it surely has to do with marrying innate sensitivity with self-deprecating humour. Some of my favourite games include Portal, Fallout 4, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and more recently League of Legends. What stands out here is that the first three games are comfortably played alone, or in the company of a trustworthy, non-abusive friend. League of Legends is different.
Abbreviated LoL, or League, the game is a multiplayer online battle arena video game for Windows and Mac, developed and published by Riot Games. It can also be played alone or in co-op, but these modes involve non-threatening AI bots that are not exactly up to par yet when it comes to strategizing with each other: I can walk straight into a bush in front of the enemy with no health and they will turn back. The unquestionably epic narrow escape flatters me, but the fun is limited.
Unless you are testing a new avatar or game strategy, you are going to want to play against real human beings, because League is inherently competitive. Whereas all games can be seen as a form of competition, League takes it to the next level and is first on the list of popular e-sports, a term encompassing all structured, multiplayer competitions between (usually) well-paid professional players that either battle it out in teams or one-versus-one. These competitions are not the awkward ‘LAN pizza-parties’ happening in a basement that lay people might imagine them to be, but rather heavily promoted tournaments in huge flashy arenas. They are still awkward, though.
With such a competitive community, it is unsurprising to find that League players have been ranked some of the most toxic in the gaming world by online platforms such as digital media company Ranker. Melissa Brinks, author of “Video Games with Toxic Communities” agrees that League is “the perfect storm of ingredients for an obnoxious and nasty fanbase: it’s free to play, it’s both competitive and team-oriented, and it requires a serious modicum of skills to advance.” Taking a closer look at some ‘twitterature’ on the subject will reveal that responses to the official @LeagueOfLegends promo tweet for the 2019 Ranked Season include comments such as “Community still toxic.” by twitter user @LisaMaylea, who echoes her own response to last year’s @LeagueOfLegends VS 2018 promo tweet.
With a rapidly increasing active player base that surpassed 80 million per month in 2018, it is anticipated that beginners might be paired with some advanced players who take the game very, very, seriously. Of course, the Team Player Behavior division of Riot Games has been combating the issue for a while now by taking steps to improve the toxicity of the community. Such policies included implementing an Honor Roll system in 2012 where players can congratulate each other at the end of each game with a badge of honor. League had even until recently permanently banned controversial players such as Tyler Steinkamp, known as Tyler1, who gained in popularity after his famously hate-infused streams reached 386,000 viewers. Most of the toxicity in League, though, seems to stem from the chat box (which players can now mute) where gamers will verbally abuse each other or spew hate speech: all actions that can now lead to being reported or banned.
The first problem I face is that I do not want to mute the chat box. I want to know exactly what I am being accused of, which is often intentionally losing (feeding), intentionally incorrectly playing the game (trolling), or replying abusively back to verbal abuse (flaming). In League, it seems impossible to attribute mediocre playing to being a beginner, and everything you do is deemed intentional and threatening. The second problem is: I am just really, really, quite bad. So what’s the drill if you’re just a newcomer with no ambitions of being toxic or making it to the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS)?
The first step is creating your profile. At this point in time, my strategy involved having no strategy at all and making no attempts at intimidating the opponent whatsoever. To stay consistent, I decided to pair the name “FloFlo” with a nicely unthreatening rose icon. Then, you will want to play a few games to generate some statistics about yourself. Right now, my win rate is 40%, meaning that less than half of the time, I win – now that’s pretty neat. Once you have reached a more advanced stage, you’ll be allowed to join serious “ranked” games that will give you a label from Iron to Challenger. I’m at a very decent level 37 after more than a year of playing, and I remain “unranked” out of pure fear of participation. To provide a comparison, friends of mine who have been playing for roughly the same amount of time are level 134 Gold, and level 448 Platinum IV. When compared to all other players in the database who have chosen to play my “character”, I am awarded a “C”; the definition of mediocrity.
Once you start really playing, you have to learn a few tricks. The first skill I learned in League of Legends was how to get gold to build items. At the time I was being taught by my teammate, and I think the directive was rather how not to take his gold. In time, he realised that the chances of me stealing from him were very slim, as I am a terrible player.
Playing League is also more rewarding if you have got a good grasp on the character you are playing. There are many avatars, known as “champions” that you can choose from, many types, and many roles. I quickly realised that the only role for me to play was “support” as I was literally incapable of being on the offensive, killing minions for gold, and because supporting your team involves casting spells to shield people (mostly myself), and committing suicide to save literally anyone else if necessary. In my case, the sacrifice is usually unintentional.
The champion I play the most is called Lux: she can shield, stun, and tease the enemy, and is one of the few female champs that isn’t sporting a catastrophically large chest protruding from some tiny garment. Like all other champions, she has her own personalised ultimate attack, also known as an “ulti”: in this case, it’s a huge laser beam, which is nifty if you want to painstakingly avoid any direct conflict and take down your enemies from afar. Other players will often rely on you to cast this attack as a last resort. Needless to say, I have become famous in the inner circle for missing my stuns and firing my laser beam into walls.
Only three months in did I understand that there is a whole glossary of abbreviations dedicated to describing, well, everything that is happening in the game. The first months proved virtually impossible in terms of communicating with other players in-game, because I had no idea what was going on, both strategically and linguistically. I was told to “stop feeding”, followed by many expletives. Feeding on what? I was apparently being politely advised to “stop dying so much”. In good team spirit, I replied “You got it chief!”, some five minutes before dying again. As I grew savvier with the lingo, I decided that I was down to rumble with the kids and spew my own foul in-game responses. To “Lux stop feeding you loozer [sic]”, I poignantly replied “Learn 2 spell doofus.”
Not only are you fighting both verbally and strategically against your fellow toxic League players, but you have to defeat towers, inhibitors, dragons, jungle animals, the ‘Baron Nashor’, the ‘Rift Herald’, and ultimately, the ‘Nexus’. These goals are paired nicely with having to defend your own base and having to place ‘wards’ (small, customisable, flower-like bulbs) in designated areas so that you can light up some of the dark zones of the map. Doing this will allow you to thwart enemy strategy, and keep an eye on the jungle’s mythical beasts. Here is an example of me, back in October 2017, placing all the wards I own in almost the exact same already lit location, ruining most chances of my team locating any hidden enemies in dark zones. I would just like to point out that in this photo, any connoisseur will know that every single item I have purchased here is categorically wrong.
There is so much to attack and defend that it’s no wonder gamers become aggravated with each other, seeing as every individual choice is decisive in the outcome of the match. Luckily, I am very casual about this sport, which is why I have been able to happily use the rest of the year on reaching a, dare I say obnoxiously good level 37, and creating a team called RaptorGate that has as of right now done everything but flourish. So far, I have tricked the system by refusing to play ranked games, because, you see, I’m innocent until proven guilty of being an Iron.
Flo McQuibban is a Masters’ Student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.