How Blizzard Is Taking Aim At Toxic Players In Heroes Of The Storm

How Blizzard Is Taking Aim At Toxic Players In Heroes Of The Storm

Heroes of the Storm might be the new kid on the block, but Blizzard's still-in-beta-but-already-popular MOBA has grown enough that it's now forced to reckon with an ever-present problem in these sorts of games: toxicity. One developer broached the subject in a recent interview with Red Bull in an interesting way.

Kaéo Milker, a senior producer on HotS, started by talking about the importance of fostering a positive community and realising over the course of development that limiting players' ability to communicate with one another was effective in some ways (i.e., shutting out jerks), but detrimental in others — like making friends in the the game (emphasis added):

Early on, we made the decision to remove cross-team chat in Heroes of the Storm in order to eliminate one side of the equation, preventing enemy teams from being toxic to each other. That was a decent start, but we all know that your own team-mates are often the most toxic offenders in these games, so we've considered a lot of options for combatting things on that end. Along the way, we had to come to terms with the reality that the kind of player who wants to be toxic to their team-mates is going to do so unless we limit their communications options, incentivise them to eliminate toxicity from their behaviour, or make the consequences for their actions severe enough that they either stop being toxic or simply find a different game to be toxic in.

Sounds like Heroes has to juggle the same things as older MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2 do. Combatting toxicity, then, requires a combination of punishments and rewards in Milker's view. Balancing those is where things start to get interesting. Milker goes on to talk about ways the developers are going to allow Heroes players to cut out inter- and cross-team communication entirely:

Our first leaning was to disable team chat between players that aren't partied by default, but we weren't thrilled about introducing something to combat toxicity that would simultaneously eliminate players' abilities to make friends and find like-minded team-mates in our game. Instead, we're going to introduce a Mute All button in an upcoming patch to allow players a quick, easy way to opt out of allied chat at the beginning of the game. This setting will be saved game-to-game and can be easily changed on the fly should you change your mind on your preferred setting, and like everything in our game we're going to test it out and determine our next course of action based on our experiences with it and player feedback.

Both Dota 2 and League can have the same sort of "mute-all" feature, but only a de facto one. You'd have to manually mute each teammate at the start of the game in League of Legends to get the same effect that Milker's describing with his game's setting. Turning this on could make the game far more palatable than it might otherwise be — especially for newcomers. But I'm not sure that's necessarily a good thing. One big thing I've learned in League is that proper communication with your team is essential to playing serious games in the hopes of winning. Ironically, being a jerk actually undermines your effectiveness as a team as well, because ranting at your teammates takes time and energy away from working productively with them and actually, ya know, playing the damn game. Even when players seem like they're starting to lose their temper, I've found that coaxing them back to a more...stable position can be as simple as reminding them that we're still in the game and have a solid chance of winning.

(At least, that's been my experience so far as a fairly low-level player. I've heard things are far worse at higher levels, particularly in ranked mode — something I'll be digging into further in the coming weeks and months.)

By Milker's description, it sounds like Heroes of the Storm is trying to tamp down on toxicity with stronger, across-the-board type penalties and mute options than the ones in Dota 2 or League. In addition to the mute all feature, he mentioned a few ways they're planning to shut off trolls from the rest of the community — even literally at times:

As far as incentivising good behaviour, we've seen some really cool honour-based systems across different kinds of games that encourage players to be good to each other while rewarding them for their positive actions. We'll be introducing our own spin on these systems in a future update and hope to give positive players a pat on the back while dangling some carrots for those on the verge of being negative. On the punishment end of the spectrum, things on the table currently include auto-silencing toxic players from communicating with anyone that they aren't friends with, as well as removing toxic players from the regular matchmaking queue and only placing them on teams made up of other toxic players.

Auto-silencing sounds like a great way to deal with consistently toxic players that would please both parties: the trolls gets to keep playing the game they enjoy, and nobody else has to listen to their shit. But segregating toxic players into their own teams? Do you think they'd just end up devouring one another? Maybe if these all-troll teams start to notice they keep losing matches because they're too busy fighting with one another to actually play, they'd start to shut up more often. Or maybe seeing a bunch of mirror-images of themselves would make them realise how awful they're being.

As with other MOBAs, I imagine Heroes of the Storm will continue to experiment with a number of different methods for dealing with toxic players. More important than the value or effectiveness of any given tactic, though, the biggest problem Blizzard will likely face with its community is in its size. League of Legends' meteoric rise to the top of gaming culture left developer Riot ill-equipped to respond to issues that upwards of 60 million people were facing in any given month. Milker didn't say anything about how Blizzard plans to scaled Heroes of the Storm's anti-toxicity tools with the game's population in his Red Bull interview. Hopefully, it's an aspect of League they have examined while developing their rival game.


    I prefer the DotA model. I've been playing it for around 10 years, and can definitely agree that good communication is one of the most fundamental skills to being an effective player - having everyone on mute by default means you thoroughly handicap both yourself and your team.

    In any MOBA, indeed in any game, my advice is this: Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Don't start with anyone muted. If it turns out someone is an asshat, THEN mute them, but give them the chance to communicate positively before you deny them that opportunity. At the end of the day, if by muting your team you avoid that one toxic player, you also deny yourself the chance to communicate with the 3 non-toxic ones.

      I'm going to purposely take this out of context and speak to this at the high level of persistent harassment. Telling victims of persistent harassment to still give everyone the benefit of the doubt before writing them off is pretty much unacceptable - at this point you should opt out for your sanity. The point of the policies against toxic players is to prevent harassment; the mute all feature is a fallback.

        I've had days (weeks, even), of constant games with shitty, toxic players. The thing is, you can pick them out fairly quickly - they are the ones that start abusing the first person to make a mistake. Muting them takes 1 mouse click. The benefits of communicating with the friendly players far outweigh the 2 seconds of abuse you are going to get while you click on the mute button from the toxic ones.

        If always ask players who are obviously struggling if they are new to that particular hero, or to the game in general. If they are, I always offer advice... and more often than not, these players are grateful for the help. These games have insanely steep learning curves, and any help new players can get is great. I would hate to see new players getting flamed a few times and choosing to mute everyone, and not being able to receive that advice from the more understanding players because they assume everyone is toxic.

        Sure, in 1v1 games where communication isn't existent, you lose nothing by not communicating... but teamwork is such an essential part of MOBAs (and to a lesser extent team-based FPSs/RPGs/etc.) that they really are losing out by muting everyone by default. Say the average reaction time is, what, 1-2 seconds? In DotA, alot of the skill effects only last a couple of seconds. It's all about chaining those skills together effectively. Letting your team know you are coming in to throw out a stun, or organizing who is going to use their skills first is an essential part of the game... it pains me the number of times I've seen players who obviously have everyone muted, and 2-3 characters all throw their stuns at the same time (since the stun effects aren't cumulative), because no one communicated that they would be the one initiating first.

        My fear with this would be that players would get used to not communicating, and wouldn't develop effective communication skills... Having played for so long, I can 100% confirm that effectively communicating isn't something that comes naturally to 99% of players - it is something you develop over time, and without it you never truly get good at the game. Sure, flamers are out there, but they are pretty easy to avoid, and the benefits of communication are just too good to pass up.

          Firstly, just wanted to say I greatly appreciate your taking the time for a thought out reply, very rad. :)

          Personally, I basically agree with your approach and through observation you could learn to mute trouble players pretty easily. I also agree that sure, by not giving people the benefit of the doubt you'll obviously miss out on opportunities to talk with non-toxic players. However, I'm hesitant to say its an acceptable policy that people should be expected to just deal with it. You sound like you're pretty level headed and its not really a burden to weed out the bad players, but this doesn't apply to everyone.

          I don't think you really need to worry about people not developing communication skills though - if Blizzard does their policies right it should be rare that people reach the point they feel that mute all is the best option.

            I guess that's the dream! I realize that toxic players are a problem - lord knows I've played with enough of them in my time. Once you get used to just ignoring them, the game becomes 100x less rage-inducing. I think that's something that newer players need to learn - mute the bastards, chat with the friendly players, and just focus on enjoying the game.

          The problem is that in my experience people like yourself are few and far between in games like that...

          I notice in general public matches a great majority of people simply don't say anything beyond the absolutely necessary, and then some don't say anything at all. You'll get a few who talk constantly for the good of the team, and even fewer that are willing to help anyone who might be struggling.

          Then you get the people who absolutely lose their shit the moment anything goes even mildly wrong... And 9 times out of 10 there is no recovering the human from that point on, you're just left with this toxic cretin for the rest of the match. I've seen people on winning teams after the game has ended still bitching about a mistake someone made a minute or so into a match.

          It's absolute insanity and nobody should be told to deal with any of it... Because that implies that even at some miniscule level that sort of behavior is acceptable, and it simply isn't.

            It's so easy to mute those players though. It's always obvious when someone just can't be dealt with - these are the guys that get muted 30 seconds into the game.

            My general rule is that if someone starts acting like a dickhead, I give them a simple 'If you don't stop being a dick, you are getting muted for the rest of the game' warning. Sure, 99% will then continue flaming and get muted, but there's occasionally players who will just recognize they were raging and calm down.

            That bad-tempered player can only ruin your game if you let him (or occasionally her... I usually let the foul-mouthed women stay unmuted for the sheer novelty). If you don't like what they have to say, no one is forcing you to listen.

    Obviously the author hasn't actually looked at the anti-toxicity measures that Riot has implemented (or Valve for that matter). You can get chat bans and restrictions in League, as well being put in low priority queues. I know DOTA2 has queues just for toxic players.

      The low-priority queue is Valve's punishment system. It's not just toxic players - you can get sent there if you abandon too many games, get reported too often (which does include communication abuse, but also intentional ability abuse or trying to screw with your team too much) and some other stuff. I've been sent to low prio once when I was having internet issues and kept dropping out of games - the player quality there tends to be alot lower than in normal games, so it was good for a laugh, but the players are generally not nice people.

    All of this is one of the reasons (of many) why i stopped playing DOTA 2, just got so sick of all the toxic players. Ideally i'd just play with those on my friends list, because as the other posters mentioned MOBA's are rife with toxic players, it ruins the teamwork and the fun of the game but i too like to give them the benefit of the doubt to see if they'll calm down/suck it up for the sake of the match.

    It should be interesting to see what measures Blizzard put in place and how effective they are as a whole =)

      What were the other reasons, if you don't mind me asking? I've been a huge DotA nut for around a decade, always interested to hear conflicting viewpoints

    I find it incredibly ironic that by muting the rest of the team you're also being a toxic player since you're inherently not being a team player

    You don't remove a thousand peoples ability to speak simply because 10 of them said "dicks"
    Just like how you don't automatically jail everyone in a community with a high crime rate

    @cffndncr TBH the main thing that made me stop DOTA is... it was becoming my life. I was playing 10-12 hours a day and pretty much nothing else so the stress was actually making me sick. I put 100% of myself into everything i do, so... the the best i can do is just not play any MOBA's at all, even if i do have some fond memories and met some cool people.

    Plus my Steam/GOG and PS1/2/3 pile of shame is stupidly long so i have no lack of games to finish =P

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