Blaming Lag Is The ‘My Dog Ate My Homework’ Of Video Games

Blaming Lag Is The ‘My Dog Ate My Homework’ Of Video Games

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.


  • I’ve had huge lag spikes in the middle of game deciding battles of Dota before. It sucks but it happens. I tend not to get mad about it though because one time it happened when I was playing as an incredibly fat Drow Ranger. We were so far ahead that even though I had no idea what was going on for a good 10 seconds of the game, my attack command uphill got me a triple kill.

    Take the good with the bad.

  • Lag only happens to non-Americans because many developers still haven’t figured out that internet takes time to travel.

    • its fun doing a raid on our servers and hearing americans complain about have to put up with 200-300ms when we use to have to put up with 200-1000ms depending on the isp and whether or not they were having a fight with an american isp

  • Typical to hear that from the US side where latency above 100ms is considered a high ping because they’re in the same physical country as the data center.

    Lag can be a real actual excuse in some games when you’re playing from somewhere like Australia on foreign servers and 200-300ms is typical. Final Fantasy XIV had some really bad issues with lag for example. It doesn’t poll your game often enough to check your position, so on higher latency connections (Australia) there’s times when you will see an AoE cast begin, run out of the area and still be ‘inside’ the area on everyone else’s screens despite being miles outside it on yours and take a hit. A few of the later dungeons were impossible with lag because of it – instant-kill AoEs with fast casts that you’d move away from as soon as you saw them but still be hit by, and then ranted at as a terrible player etc by everyone else because as far as they could see, you were just standing there. Can be quite a problem.

    • Feel your pain on FF XIV.

      I was so happy when I finally met a nice group to get me through Titan Hard Mode to get my relic weapon.

      When you are living in Australia, lag is real and not many games have local servers, nor do we have the population mass, even including the surrounding regions, to justify it.

    • Yeah, it can be a real pain when the game is built with the idea that only people who don’t care about their connection will have more than 250ms of latency. It gets really frustrating when it’s a situation where there is no downside to trusting the player’s client just a little more. In your FFXIV scenario what’s worse, some players not being able to progress at all due to connection issues, or a handful of players using third party tools that will probably be detected anyway getting a slightly easier pass through an AoE heavy phase in a PvE raid? That’s not going to disrupt other players experiences.

    • TBH 200-300ms is ok; I remember when I had to use an SSL tunneling service for Aion just to reduce the lag to somewhere around the 400ms…

      • It really depends on the game. WoW is very playable at 400ms, FFXIV was unplayable at higherend above around 350ms because of the aforementioned positioning issues.

    • FF was unplayable for me. The second I stepped outside the city my ping shot up to 4200. Only happens with FF.

      • You’re not running a Plex server on Telstra cable are you? There’s a weird firmware bug in Telstra’s netgear modems that interacts with Plex’s UPnP server (which is on by default) in such a way that it will drop packets and cause massive lag spikes inside your network. Before I found out about that issue I used to find that FFXIV was the worst affected of them.

        A lot of the time in the city areas you’re under high lag but don’t notice it as much because your response times aren’t critical and the game has a lot of solo instances which don’t have much lag.

        • Nah, I don’t use Plex at all; but I do have Telstra Cable/Netgear modem – though don’t experience this with literally anything else. Only other time I did was a Telstra outage at the beginning of Mists of Pandaria, causing lag spikes up to 12k MS haha.

          When within the city my ping was a respectable Australian 150-250ms. As soon as I stepped outside in FF, bam, completely unplayable, on either JPN or US.

          And because I like tanking, it was a deal breaker. You can’t effectively tank with a ping above 300-400. It was really disappointing, because I was otherwise really, really enjoying it. It really upset me actually.

    • Good to know the FFXIV issues just aren’t on my end! (well occasional issues with the lag in raids).

  • A heap of the top streamers do this sarcastically. Lagggg or packet loss is mentioned by pretty much all of them at different times. Not saying that is an excuse but people copy what they see from the big names like any other hobby.

  • I remember the good old days playing WoW with a 900ms or higher connection. It became an in-built habit to account for lag by starting spells/attacks while the previous spell was still casting. You just get a feel for how much lag there is and know how much earlier you have to press the button to avoid down time between attacks and keep the dps going.

    • i remember playing on dial up… i could do normal questing and instance running, but i couldnt do Alterac Valley or 40 man raiding until i got ISDN

      • That’s insane, I couldn’t manage playing it on dial up. I was lucky enough to have ADSL from the start and was onto cable by the time I quit.

        • yeah lag only really came into effect when you had a crap load of characters in one area casting a shitload of spells such as Molten Core and when either alliance or horde were pushed back into their starting bases (or in the field strife trying to kill korak), out side of that id normaly be questing with a steady 600ms thus learnt to adjust for the lag

  • I’ve been struck with the dreaded game-changing screen freeze maybe twice or three times in that span of time.

    ??? thats not lag…

  • I mean if homework was made of pizza sure. Some people just have the pizza-crazed dog that is a bad connection or network congestion. As an Australian in a non-nbn location that dog visits often… This metaphor may have fallen off somewhere.

  • Watching my 9 year old son playing Hunger Games on Minecraft… He does seem to blame lag for the majority of his deaths… Must be the in thing with the young uns…

  • Uh yeah, the article topic is shit or author hasn’t left America yet. With our government unable to make up its mind as to whether Australia wants to join the last century, lag in a game so critical on latency is a big issue. Whether its the lag itself or just the distraction for a fraction of a second like a blinking light in the corner of the room when you’re trying to watch a movie, the issue is the same. When lag hits, whether its a fraction of a second or 10 seconds, you won’t know until its over.

    Here’s some more thoughts regarding the sport aspect – lag is the equivalent of making background noise during a shot in a golf tournament.

    • There’s not much our government can do about latency though. Even if NBNco rolled out fibre to every house in Australia tomorrow, you’d probably still see similar latency to before when connecting to international servers.

      You’re fighting against physics here: light can only travel so fast down an optic fibre, and electrons down copper.

        • That might be a bit difficult. Some easier solutions include:

          1. towing Australia across the Pacific Ocean so it is a bit closer to the US

          2. digging a hole so we can run fibre in a straight line between the two continents rather than having the cables follow the surface of the Earth.

      • Yep I know, but they can certainly reduce latency. The 3+km of dodgy copper wire from my house to the shipping container Telstra call an Exchange could certainly be improved.

        • The amount of latency due to that portion of the journey is minuscule though.

          The round trip time to ping a server at my ISP (so that’s the ADSL link to the exchange plus backhall to their data centre) is around 15 ms. Round trip time to a server in the US is around 230 ms.

          So even if the local infrastructure was improved so I had zero latency to talk to my ISP (which won’t happen, even with fibre), this is only going to reduce the round trip time to 215 ms.

  • This seems like a good spot to reference my absolute hatred of game matching. Why can’t we have a plain old server browser anymore? Where we can see who is online, map and the relative ping BEFORE we connect? Why can’t we host our own server for games like SWBF? I had a slower connection in 2003 and rarely lagged when playing local servers. Now I have no idea where in the world I am playing and experience lag quite a bit more.

    And don’t get me started on bandwidth issues in apartments…..

  • There are a couple of different types of lag, and all of them can occur independently of each other in addition to because of each other, but the ones most out of control of players are internet lag and server lag.

    In the case of internet lag and server lag, both of them can actually occur more often in those “definitive moments” because usually there’s a lot more going in that moment than average.

    To explain: The network might be experiencing some packet loss, or other disruption, which limits how much bandwidth is available. With an average number of game packets travelling around, it might be enough and so no issue exists.. then you run into the middle of 3+ more players all spamming game actions and triggering the server to send more data out and such and bam..LAAAAG because there isn’t enough bandwidth to carry that data etc.. right at that crucial moment!

    The other one I encounter frequently is server overload. Servers really struggle with a large number of things happening at the same time, and it’s even worse at peak hour. I’m sure we’ve all had those moments in raids etc where the action has “stopped”, your character is running on the spot or whatever, but for some reason you can still chat fine in the chat channels, you can still talk to people on TS and whatever.. network is fine, but server isn’t.

    I’m not trying to say that it always happens or anything like that, just that sometimes it’s the truth =D

  • Lag monster bites me hard

    Shoot someone and see blood splatters in BF4 on ps4 (Aus server as well) duck behind cover, get killed and kill cam shows my death dealer was on full health.

    I blame the government

  • Lag happens every time sometimes it is cause by bad weather sometimes due to slow travelling speed of internet in the cable. And it is also kind of frustrating to me when I saw the words Attempting connection in the middle of clash.

  • As someone who has experienced (and won, amazingly) games where my teammates gained the incredible powers of teleportation, “OMFG LAGG” is about as believable as “MY CAT JUMPED ON TEH KEYBORD”.

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