A whole lot of ink has been spilt talking about talking about how "toxic" League of Legends is. Little to none of this coverage has actually tried to show what an in-game altercation actually looks, sounds, and feels like to those involved when a game goes to shit. I'm going to walk you through the blow-by-blow of one such game.
The following comes from a match in League that I played last Thursday around 2 or 2:30 in the afternoon. For the sake of everyone's privacy, I've not included any of my teammates or opponents' in-game handles, and only refer to them by the names of the champions they are playing as. Other than that, I've changed nothing from the original chat logs.
The match started out normally, even cheerfully. League matches begin with players (ideally) calling out the position they'd prefer to play as, and then selecting the champion with which to fill that position. One of my four teammates was even gracious enough to offer to choose a different position after noticing I was hovering over a similar character. I happily accepted the offer, and the teammate switched over the the knight-in-shining-armour known as Garen. I would be playing as Graves, a dude with a big mustache and shotgun:
Once we all loaded the game up and been transported to the League map, we bought in-game items like you normally do and then moved off to our respective positions.
The beginning of the match was uneventful. Communication was civil, efficient, and breezy.
Then suddenly Garen wrote, "my badf" into the game's chat. Master Yi, another player on our team, followed up with: "dude. wtf."
I was focused on the game map's bottom lane. My teammate Braum was with me. I didn't see what happened between Master Yi and Garen to trigger this exchange. My best guess, judging by where they were on the map, is that Garen was trying to help Yi kill a jungle monster but accidentally killed the beast himself — and thus gained the valuable early-game experience points that a jungler like Master Yi has to go for. Helping junglers get their first kill is a practice known as "leashing" and accidentally stealing your jungler's first kill is an annoying but very easy mistake to make. It's especially easy to accidentally do if you're playing in a non-ranked game and not paying close attention at the beginning of the match. I stole my jungler's first kill later that same day! Thank god I was playing a group of five friends. We weren't all friends in this game, as far as I could tell, so Garen continued to apologise.
Garen: my cpu tweaking/
im legit sory it wasn't clicking off ]
This kind of overpoliteness is a normal thing to witness in League, particularly when making a common but regrettable mistake that would risk pissing a teammate off.
Garen was trying to pass off the kill steal as an accident caused by his computer. This is totally understandable, but not always trustworthy. It's a running joke that players will blame a crappy play or bone-headed mistake on in-game lag, typing, "LAG" in all caps right after they're killed in an embarrassing-looking way.
Master Yi: its fine…
Ah, the passive aggressive ellipses! A staple of grumpy MOBA players. It's the way someone tells you that they're annoyed but not angry enough to start arguing.
The game got quiet for a moment. Then our teammate Tryndamere was killed by the enemy Zed, giving the opposing team "first blood." Zed died a millisecond later though, so it was a clean trade.
Master Yi: nah u got the kill
Tryndamere: Well true
He's being pretty agressive
When he tried to ambush, used my W lol
Master Yi: use that to ur advantage
Four minutes and twenty-one seconds into the match. So far, so good.
At the four minute thirty-five second mark, Master Yi was killed by the enemy Jax.
Master Yi: tf
I assume he meant to type "wtf." Players say this all the time as a soft acknowledgement of their dying that doesn't necessarily take full responsibility for it. As in: 'wtf how did that hit me?'
Yi respawned and headed back to the jungle in silence. We're now at 05:15.
Master Yi: recall trynd
Tryndamere warped, or recalled, back to base, Master Yi sent a ping saying that he was heading toward the spot from which Tryndamere just teleported.
Things remained quiet and mostly routine. Garen died, and nobody said anything about it. Master Yi came down to the bottom lane of the map and hid in a bush just outside the lane, planning to help me and Braum ambush our two opponents. But the enemy Blitzcrank noticed him and used his "rocket grab" attack to pull Yi towards him and into danger. We managed to save Yi, but the ambush was bungled.
Blitzcrank (typing in /all chat): haha yi
Me: i should b
by my bf
I was saying (or trying to, at least) that I was going to go back to base to by an offensive item known as the "B.F. Sword." Braum and I stepped back toward the safety of our outer turret and started to recall. At the same time, Master Yi, who was heading back to midlane, was confronted by two enemy champions. He turned around and ran back to bot lane, where two more opponents were waiting for him. Yi pinged for assistance. Braum and I canceled our recalls. But it was too late. Yi died.
Master Yi: wtf
bot [referring to bottom lane, AKA me and Braum]
look at the damn map
I started recalling again.
Braum: nah we saw.
Braum: i just choose to let you die
Master Yi: why didnt u help
Bear in mind, everyone was typing here. To send a message in League, you have to press the enter key, type the message you want to send, and then hit enter again. You cannot control your character while you're doing this. People end up speaking over one another because they have to send super-short statements to one another while also making sure they're still actually doing stuff in-game.
Master Yi: fcking arsehole*
I bought my B.F. Sword. W were now nine minutes into the match.
Master Yi: why cant i ever play with good people instead of such noobs
Twenty-two seconds later…
Braum: bc youre also trash
Garen: true asf
Master Yi: lol
if we don't surrender first
Garen: you a yi u cant do bad unless ur literally the worst player in the world
At this point, I had three choices:
- Tell them to calm down and stop fighting, which could work, but could just as easily rile them up further or turn everyone's attention toward me.
- Take one person's side, like Garen just did, in the hopes of cowing the other into submission.
- Continue playing in silence and hope that it washes over and everyone refocuses on the game at hand.
There's also a fourth option, technically. I could have muted all three of my cantankerous teammates, or the entire team, and played the rest of the match in silence. I've done that plenty of times when one of my teammates has started insulting me or trying to argue with me. The problem with using muting as a solution to in-game arguments is while they will grant you some valuable peace of mind if you just want to be done with an irascible player or several, they don't solve anything in a situation like the one I was stuck in last Thursday. I knew that my teammates were going to continue expending more and more of their emotional energy arguing with each other rather than focusing on the match at hand.
I only take one person's side in an argument, meanwhile, if a) they're clearly in the right and they aren't instigating unnecessary conflict, which wasn't the case here, or b) if one (or more) of my teammates is relentlessly bullying another teammate and I want them to stop, which also wasn't the case here. In my best moments, I try to be the player who takes the high road and asks (hopefully politely) that everyone stop squabbling to calm down the situation. But doing so takes a lot of emotional energy. You're sticking your neck out in front of a bunch of people you already know are on edge.
I was playing this game on a Thursday afternoon during a very busy week at work. I was tired. I chose option three — the non-engagement strategy. And then I walked headfirst into the enemy tower and died.
Me: that was dumb my b
Braum (responding to Garen's last snipe at Yi): true asf
Master Yi (also responding to Garen): yi is squishy [read: easy to kill]
clearly u nevr played him b4
Blitzcrank (typing in /all chat): gotacha graves
Me (typing in /all chat): rekt
We passed the eleven-minute mark.
Three opponents pushed aggressively towards me and Braum. Braum used his ultimate ability to stun all three of them, and I followed up with my ult — shooting a large cannonball at the cluster. Braum died in the fray, but I managed to take out the enemy Jax.
you know when to ult
next time put your smokescreen in
Braum: ty love
Master Yi was killed by Zed again. I was focused on bottom lane with Braum, so I didn't see how exactly it happened.
Master Yi: omfg
garen u r trash
Braum: if you cant even 1 v1 a zed. youre trash
Garen: true asf
Master Yi: wtf
zed is 3-0 [referring to his kill-death ratio]
Braum: that aint fed yetr
Master Yi: u dont kno anything about this game
braum a nooblet
Garen: ur 0-3 -_-
I decided to step in this time.
Me: guys why are u even fightting
Master Yi: dude stfu
Garen: aweeer someone mad?
Braum: true asf
Master Yi: you sound stupid
Garen: u cant hear me you sound stupid!!!!
Master Yi: not u graves braum
Me: nothings even happened yet were not even 15 mins in just chill
Master Yi: ITS 8V2 [the team-wide kill-death ratio, though the enemy team is the one that's ahead in this case]
Me: not the end of the world
Garen: can u count [it had just gone up to 2-vs-10]
We passed the fifteen minute mark. Braum was killed. Then Master Yi was killed. He was snagged by another one of Blitzcrank's patented rocket grabs.
Blitzcrank (typing in /all chat): got baited
Master Yi: THIS GAME IS OVER
I was killed by Jax right after Yi typed this, bringing us to a total of 12 deaths and making jax 4-1.
Master Yi: evryone else 1-0
Garen: and we have a yi with no kills
Braum: true asf
Master Yi: garen i cant gank if u cant poke
garen has no poke
he has to get ibntom melee range
I should note that Braum was correct in saying this about Garen — the character, not the player.
Master Yi: and braum u bailed on me when i tried to gank sooo
Garen: are u dumb yi?
A minute or two passed in relative silence. Then another team fight started. We got one kill to the enemy team's four, which ended with an extended combo that killed me, then Braum, then finally Garen.
Master Yi (right after Garen died): nice one garen
Garen: yi stfu where were u ????
Master Yi: not feeding
Garen: u have 3 deaths
Braum: in the back bc u ****
Side-note: League of Legends defaults to having an active profanity filter that automatically turns popular swears and slurs into a series of asterisks. I don't usually have it on but sometimes it can actually make things sound kind of silly.
Garen: correction 4!!
Master Yi: can u count bro
At this point, we were eighteen minutes and thirty seconds into the match. You get an option to start a surrender vote twenty minutes into a League game. We were currently 3-16 in kills and had lost all of our outer turrets, while the enemy team had lost none of theirs.
I'm not into surrendering a match simply because I'm almost certainly going to lose. I believe in the magic of the death-defying MOBA comeback. Pulling one off is one of the most incredible experiences I've had in a video game, which I wrote about for Heroes of the Storm.
There is, however, one situation in which I think you should always surrender. It's when you're stuck with a team full of irascible players who've already given up on the game at hand and chosen instead to devote the majority of their energy to fighting with one another instead of the enemy team. This game was that. The only problem with surrendering is that you need to have three of your fellow players support the decision to do so, so you sometimes have to convince your teammates to vote one way or another.
I thought I would have an easy time doing that, seeing how everyone seemed to already hate each other's guts.
Me: guys seriously whats the point of just bickering
Master Yi: im done
Garen: u have no ffucking kills as a yi
ur the one **** up
Master Yi: report garen
Garen: aweee poor baby is mad
Me: either play or lets just forfeit at 20 because theres no point playing a game just to keep arguing w/ each other
I had begun writing that message right after sending my first one asking 'what's the point of just bickering?' But — and this happens a lot once a team is good and angry with each other — I kept being stopped from finishing it as bad guys popped up on-screen to try and attack me. As I was typing the final part of my message, three opponents closed in on me and killed me. Braum had tried to warn me, but I was too busy writing. The game was now at 19:20.
Me: you know that insulting each other makes everyone play worse, right?
Another enemy double kill.
Garen: yes mum we know that
ff [forfeit] at 20
Me: well than whats the point?
Tryndamere: This is ridiculous
19:55. At 20:17 I opened the options menu and clicked the "surrender" button. A vote tally appeared on the far right: two green lines for "Yes," two red lines for "No." Even without the fifth vote, the surrender option was going to fail.
It was at this moment that I started to feel less like I was playing a video game, and more like I was trapped inside of one. Could I have up and left if I was so unhappy? Yes, I suppose. But League of Legends hands out steep punishments for leaving in the middle of a match — usually putting you in a worse matchmaking queue that forces you to wait longer to get into future matches until you're officially in good standing with the game again.
Master Yi and I were both killed by the enemy Zed, though two of his teammates were there to help. The kill score is now 3-21.
Braum: see that.
couldn't finish zed
bc hes fed lol
hes wasnt my lane either
bc trynd decided to go as mid
when he's not a mid champ
Master Yi seemed like he was trying divert the team's attention away from him and onto Tryndamere, who'd been the quietest person on our team by far. I started playing the song "Blame Game" from Kanye West's 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in my head. "Let's play the blame...GAME!" John Legend sings in his halting, stuttering pace. "Let's call out names, names, I hate you, more." At the moment, I felt pretty sure that Kanye West and John Legend had made a song about playing League of Legends that everyone just assumed was actually about love.
Tryndamere: I was thinking Xin [another League champion]
I caught the enemy Ashe as she was chasing Braum back to our base and killed her.
Braum: thank you
Tryndamere: But changed my mind last minn
Master Yi: hes better for mid
Me (typing in /all chat): I FINALLY GOT ONE
We passed the 22-minute mark. Garen was killed by Zed.
Master Yi: njg garen
Garen: stfu kid
Master Yi: lol
"Could these two really have been the ones who voted "No" to surrendering?" I thought to myself. "Why? Are they actually just friends in real life and they're messing with all of us? Or do they enjoy doing this more than they like playing the game?" Then I thought: "There's nothing to lose, why don't I just ask them?"
Master Yi: u made bro?
Garen: u cant 1 v 1 him eaither
Master Yi: nope.
Me: so you guys voted no
Braum: an youre a yi
Master Yi: that's why i didnt try
Me: do you just...enjoy bickering each other?
Garen: u have more deaths then me a ur a **** yi
I died again. The kill score was now 5-24 at 23:05.
Garen: tell him to stfu he alwasy says sum after i die
Master Yi: garen you realise every champ is all how about how u play them right?
Garen: but he been dieing all gaem
A minute and a half passed quietly as we re-engaged the enemy team right at the entrance to our base. We almost all died, ending with me being chased behind our defences before Zed finished me off.
Master Yi: i h8 blitz so much
Me (typing in /all chat): ouch
Master Yi submitted a new surrender vote. The first four people — including me — all voted yes. The game camera swiveled over to our nexus as it explodes.
Master Yi: gg
The game ended and we were all returned to the League client for the standard post-game chat screen. Master Yi typed: "report garen. toxic." Nobody else said anything and everyone left the end-game chat very quickly.
Before I left the post-game chat screen, I reported the Braum, Master Yi, and Garen players, each for "unsportsmanlike behaviour" and "verbal abuse" — two of the milder categories available. After that, I went back to work, leaving the client open on the PC. A few minutes later, I saw that I'd received a message informing me that a player I'd recently reported had officially been punished for their behaviour. The client didn't tell me who the newly-punished player was, nor did it make clear if it was someone from the match that I'd just left.
And that's how a League of Legends game chat can turn to shit. The rush to insult someone's poor play led to bickering, which led to overly emotional people making more mistakes, which then lead even more fighting. When we could have been making a comeback as a team or bailing to start new, hopefully better games — ideally several hundred (or thousand) miles away from each other. But instead remained stuck there together for too long.
It didn't have to go that way. No League of Legends game ever has to go this way. But once a fight starts, as you can see, it's awfully hard to stop.