Two top League of Legends players have been banned from competitive play for six months because of "extremely toxic behaviour". Shortly after the ruling came down from League developer and publisher Riot Games, the players' team also removed them from their roster.
The two players in question were both members of the European team Ninjas in Pyjamas, or NiP. The eSports-focused gaming site onGamers describes the duo as "two of Europe's most controversial League figures" because of their tendency to use aggressive language, including hate speech, when playing the popular online competitive game.
League of Legends developer and publisher Riot Games, which has been experimenting with different methods for discouraging reprehensible behaviour for years now with its community-supported Tribunal System, announced the suspension in a post on the game's forum explaining the nature and full extent of the infractions.
As the Riot eSports coordinator Scott 'aBhorsen' Parkin explained, the two had repeatedly violated a number of rules spelled out by the game's Tribunal System in order to prevent cyber bullying, offensive language, and unfair play. Here's how he describes recent infractions by Mithy, real name Alfonso Aguirre Rodriguez:
In recent months, Rodriguez has exhibited extremely toxic behaviour in solo queue. This behaviour included, but was not limited to, in game harassment, verbal abuse, and continual use of racial slurs. In the past month, Rodriguez has been reported in over 30% of the games he played, with nearly 60% of those reports being for Offensive Language, Negative Attitude, and Verbal Abuse. During this period, his harassment score rose to be within the top 1% of all players on EUW. Additionally, he was reported over 30 times for leaving the game/going AFK.
Despite previous punishments for his toxicity, Rodriguez's behaviour has shown no improvement over the past months, even after his account became Chat Restricted.
The description of Erlend Holm AKA Nukeduck's behaviour is pretty much identical -- though Parkin does specify that Mithy's "harassment score rose to be within the top 1% of all players on EUW", referring to the game's chief Western European server that supports online gameplay in that region.
It's hard to find publicly visible records of League infractions like this since Riot doesn't display them on the forums other than to describe the language as it did in the above statement. As a result, records of the dialogue in the specific League matches that lead up to the suspension aren't immediately available. But to give you an idea of the language being used here, some screenshots of offensive in-game chats that Nukeduck and Mithy participated in surfaced on Reddit back in March that are still available thanks to eSports site ESports Heaven:
Shortly after these screenshots surfaced on Reddit back in March, the two players were fined $US500. At the time, NiP tried to brush off the controversy, saying in a statement given Esports Heaven that the comments seemed worse when taken out of context:
We feel that the screenshots, taken out of a custom game, have been blown out of proportion and were posted with malicious intent towards the players in question. However we in Ninjas in Pyjamas do not condone such behaviour from our players and they have been reprimanded accordingly. We expect our players to behave like the pillars of the professional community that they should strive to be.
Once news of the latest infraction surfaced, however, NiP officially ran out of patience. Shortly after Riot announced Nukeduck and Mithy's suspension, NiP issued a statement on its Facebook page saying the two had been "released" from the team. Here's the statement, reprinted in full:
Erlend "NukeDuck" Holm, and Alfonso "mithy" Rodriguez have been released from Ninjas in Pyjamas
Ninjas in Pyjamas have released Erlend "NukeDuck" Holm and Alfonso "mithy" Rodriguez from our roster with immediate effect. This is as a direct result of the recent suspension they have both received from Riot due to breach of code of conduct which bans them from competition for the rest of 2014. Therefore they are unable to participate in Coke Series in 2014.
NiP will immediately start searching for suitable replacements for the two players, and will try out several options during the upcoming weeks.
Statement from Gustav M. Karto, Managing Director of Ninjas in Pyjamas:
"This is a highly regrettable situation that the players can only blame themselves for. Ninjas in Pyjamas do not condone this kind of behaviour and we hope that the players take the time to learn from this incident and come back to competitive play in the future with a refreshed attitude. But for now, we will unfortunately have to say goodbye to Alfonso and Erlend, who have been exceptional and loyal players of NiP for the last 9 months."
For his part, Mithy took to his relatively popular Twitter account to admit that the ban was a fair response:
I must agree I didn't have the best behaviour so the the ban is deserved.
— Alfonso 'mithy' (@mithyxd) June 2, 2014
Since I'm banned for 6months I'll be looking to join teams as a coach and meanwhile work on my behaviour and try and come back to the scene
— Alfonso 'mithy' (@mithyxd) June 2, 2014
This isn't the first time that Riot has banned professional-grade League players from its game for "toxic behaviour". Back in 2012, the studio banned one player for a full year after he failed to improve his behaviour despite repeated punishments including regular temporary suspensions.
Still, the news is significant for League's many players and fans around the world, one seasoned player explained to me this morning, because it shows that Riot "is trying to prove that no one is immune from the rules" set down and enforced by the game's Tribunal System.
"If it can happen to one of their most public players, it can happen to anyone," he said. "Which is pretty awesome, considering how many gaming communities are like 'yeah, but boys will be boys' when it comes to shit like this."
The punishment is reassuring, therefore, because it shows amateur League of Legends fans that professional players aren't treated with kid gloves by the tribunal because there's more money on the line.
Public figures are hard to come by, but professional eSports athletes usually make a living from a combination of sources including team salaries, brand sponsorships, and revenue pulled from their Twitch streams and YouTube videos. Cutting off a player's access to one or more of these sources doesn't just hurt him or her individually, it also limits the team's ability to remain competitive.
"Teams have five people on them," my League-playing friend continued. "Members count on one another for their livelihood. Imagine if 20 [per cent] of a sports team were banned from playing sports for life for cussing."
When Riot banned that professional League of Legends player back in 2012, the company said in a statement that "the decision to impact someone's career is not one we make lightly." But it's one the company is clearly willing to make all the same.