Toxic Behavior Sets Fire to League of Legends Chatrooms, Underscoring the Need for Strong Moderation Tools

Toxic elements have caused Riot Games to completely shut down the public League of Legends chats so that they can be overhauled. The one and only moderation option available to users (a simple "ignore" button) led to chats that, "In their current shape ... just don’t work and can actively create negative experiences for many players (especially new players)."

Have the folks at Riot never been on the internet? Have they never read the comment section? I understand that League of Legends has outgrown its original scope by leaps and bounds, but some kind of strong  chat moderation seems like a necessity for any group of people that aren’t your bosom buddies. To have to completely shut down your public chat looks like lack of forethought to me.

Don’t get me wrong, props to Riot for recognizing the issue and taking steps to, it sure sounds like, completely overhaul their chat system. There are lessons to be learned here though. They will be at Riot’s expense and they are lessons I honestly thought we didn’t have to learn anymore.

I’ve read through a few interviews and forum threads from Riot dealing with these kind of issues and their PR positivity about their game and players seems to cross the line into naivety. I understand that they want to focus on the positive when questions come up, but that doesn’t mean you don’t give your community tools to handle the bad apples. No game is going to attract virtuous players exclusively. There will always be assholes.

That I feel like I have to illustrate that there are assholes on the internet is just insane. Think of all the assholes in the world. Now give them an anonymous forum connected to a competetive game where they can hide there evil in the guise of competitiveness for at least a little while. They will thrive, flourish and abuse. This is basically internet law.

The only real moderation feature given to users of the League of Legends chat was an “ignore” button. Though helpful for personal antagonism and other smaller, generally more personal, issues, an ignore button requires every user in a room to ignore someone to be 100% effective. Serial abusers can’t be blocked or reported effectively and people who have taken leadership of guilds and communities have no power to police them.

This also leaves individuals who are being harassed little recourse. Dedicated harassers are most often on the tech savvy side of things and pressing the ignore button next to a single username is unlikely to be effective. Nobody is saying it right now, but there's little doubt that many victims of criminal harassment have gone without real tools to protect themselves. Statistics say that these victims will likely be women, and likely be new players. Since these problems exist everywhere it seems odd that Riot would essentially ignore them.

Certainly part of this is a problem of scale, as admitted by Riot themselves.

The official public chat rooms have grown rife with RP sellers, scammers and Elo-boost spam. The default four rooms we established can be used by a tiny fraction of our players at a time. Given the number of League players, most conversation spills into private, community-created rooms.

There are simply too many players to be contained in four rooms, but it’s been years since there were. It’s been two years since League of Legends became the most played video game on theplanet. Wikipedia claims that 7.5 million people are logged in concurrently at peak hours. 7.5 million divided by four rooms equals 1.875 million people per room. Imagine trying to have a conversation while 1.875 million people try to talk over you. Of course those public rooms don’t hold that many people, so those who want to use them are unlikely to get into them in the first place.

And so most of the chat activity goes on in private rooms and communities. And now we get to the second part of the issue, keeping a private room the appropriate level of private.

Unfortunately, private chat rooms and even the awesome community hubs like Dominate Dominion and Summoner School lack moderation tools beyond the ignore button. While the experience in private chat rooms is better than the public versions, we still want to provide tools to address unwelcome drop-ins and toxic behavior.

With no tools at their disposal “moderators” are at the mercy of whoever decides to drop in. Even if everyone in a room ignores a spammer, someone just joining the room will have to spend time identifying and ignoring spammers and trolls before they can participate meaningfully in chat. That’s the kind of distance between wanted and actual experience that makes players abandon games, or at least chat.

I just don’t understand what Riot games was thinking. They have a vision for their restructuring of the chat system:

We’d like to create a persistent hangout for the friends you play with. Those friends should bring in their like-minded friends as well, and the badass players you meet playing great games. While you're at it, why not invite some players from the community as well?

At the end of the day, when you log in you should feel like you're surrounded by active players that like to play League the way you do. You should be to able jump easily into games with those friends - - without having to send game invites one by one.

Whether we call them chat rooms, hangouts or communities, they could grow to serve many purposes. Players could build a community for junglers, a mentoring group, a champion theory-crafting channel, or casual ARAM or Team Ranked LFGs. Some great communities like these already exist in League but it's not easy to manage them well.

But why in the world were there no tools in place before? There’s only so much you can do so fast when the issue is scale, but if the internet has proved anything it’s that people need to be able to control their semi-private spaces. They will be invaded, exploited and attacked at every opportunity. Spurned guild members will return to pester ex-guildmates. Spammers will flood channels with useless noise and trolls will mislead the new and spew hatred on the established.

Every single system for the public dissemination of information needs some level of moderation. People who are willing to invest in your game enough to start and support communities should be given the tools to maintain those communities in a useful and reasonable way.

This isn’t just common sense, it’s a proven principle of internet life. Judging by the almost unanimously helpful comments on LoL’s announcement there are a huge number of people who use the chat system and would benefit from its improvement. Hopefully what Riot comes up with allow those players who want to support the community to do so while maintaining some control over the negative elements. An "ignore" button is a prima facie weak solution. Any serious game company should know better. I applaud Riot for taking transparent action and reaching out to the community for ideas, but I seriously question their judgement to begin with.

Header image via Reddit.

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