A short story. Last night I was playing a game of League of Legends and losing really, really badly. One opponent was boasting in /all chat about winning. Suddenly we rebounded. He immediately responded "OMFG LAGG."
"OMG WTF LAG" Moments, as I like to call them, happen all the time in League of Legends — and, really, every online multiplayer game I play that has a chat system. What makes this one of my personal favourites is how perfect the timing was. My opponent, playing as the ranged archer champion Varus, was right at the back of our base, stomping all our heads in and preparing to win. He messaged us all a final bit of braggadocio.
Like all of his messages during that game, it wasn't necessarily anything offensive or hurtful at face value — just standard trash talk, the kind that some might consider unsportsmanlike, but prooobably isn't going to get you in trouble with the banhammers at Riot.
Still, bragging like this gets annoying, especially if you're already getting bulldozed in a match. Also I should point out that we were playing a game of ARAM ("all random, all mid"), which has the only one-lane map in League of Legends, and Varus is extremely powerful in it simply because his arrow fire is the perfect range to basically be able to shoot semi-blindly and still manage to tear a chunk off an opponent's health bar since they're stuck in a perpetual bottleneck. A friend once described playing Varus in ARAM as "shooting fish in a barrel", which is just to say that dominating a match with him isn't much to boast about in the first place.
I thought the game was already over. But then in a miraculous few seconds, my surviving teammates beat back the opponents pushing into our nexus, taking two of them out and sending Varus running back down the lane in retreat. We caught up to him, and my teammate landed a powerful stun. He was dead in a split-second.
(I'm the dude with the long, white mustache who's riding a flying manatee. Varus is the corpse to my left.)
Right on cue, Varus chimed in again:
Was Varus suddenly struck by lag at a critical game-changing moment that he was crying out against in righteous indignation by all-caps-ing "OMFG LAGG?" Or was he being a poor loser, just as he'd shown himself to be a poor winner? The world may never know.
Lag is a real thing. It's an infuriating thing, too. There's nothing as demoralising as being trapped in some near-death fight-or-flight situation, pulling some incredible play out of nowhere, thinking and also maybe shouting to yourself HOLY SHIT I'M ACTUALLY GONNA DO IT, and then having your screen freeze.
Players remember these excruciating moments because they're particularly traumatic, but that doesn't mean that most of their experience lag at exactly the worst possible moment in all, or even most of their games. I've spent somewhere between 500 and 1000 hours (I haven't added everything up yet because I'm honestly scared to) playing competitive online multiplayer games this year, and I've experienced as much crummy lag as any League of Legends player or Heroes of the Storm player does - a lot, but not a game-breaking amount. I've been struck with the dreaded game-changing screen freeze maybe twice or three times in that span of time.
Thing is: it doesn't really matter whether or not lag is actually a problem in any "OMG LAG WTF" moment. It's been used as an excuse so many times by players who sound disingenuous or escapist with it — like this Varus did — that it's a meme and an unfortunate but persistent stereotype.
Do people suddenly lose their connection at that definitive moment? Sure, the same way that some college students' grandmothers do actually die right as exams begin, and some kids do lose their homework to their hungry dogs. One time in primary school my family's golden retriever ate half of a handwritten take-home exam I'd left on our dinner table along with an entire pizza we were dumb enough to leave unguarded, vomited it all back up, and then ate his own vomit. I really couldn't salvage that project after it'd been through my dog's digestive system twice. My teacher did actually believe me the next day, if I remember correctly, but that was mostly because I was the kind of bookwormish nerd that always tried really hard in school and considered writing essays "fun".
It just seems so darn convenient that every boastful assassin and other kill-focused player I've played with or against suddenly lost their connection right as they were talking about how they were "too strong for this team". If you are actually suffering from lag in-game, the best way to deal with it is by informing your teammates when it starts happening, not when it looks an awful lot like you just tripped over your shoelaces. That way they will be more inclined to believe you.
I don't think that's what most people are doing when they type "OMG LAG WTF" into chat, though. At least, it's not just being used as an excuse when you say it in /all chat to a team that's about to beat you. Intentionally or not, it's a way to deny your opponent the satisfaction of a clean victory. Or an awesome comeback like the one I just had. It's saying: "You didn't actually win that. The lag did."
At the end of the day, that's just being a poor sport.