Last week, a player who goes by "Take the Draw" in League of Legends was handed a 14-day ban. The punishment wasn't because of the champion they played, but the way they were playing it -- and now, Riot risks setting a precedent for how you have to play the game.
At the start of a normal match of League of Legends, each of the five players on both teams choose a champion to play, working together to choose a team that can win. Some characters are only effective in a single defined role, while others are more flexible. The difference is often denoted by putting a role-prefix on the champion's name; for example, saying "support Trundle" indicates that the player is going to play Trundle as a support role, rather than to the solo lane in top or into the jungle.
Playing support Nunu isn't unique in League of Legends, though he's been much more frequently played as a strong counter-jungler. His ability to consume jungle creeps -- the neutral monsters that spawn in the woods between the lanes that divide the map -- makes him quite effective at stealing monsters from the enemy's side of the map, denying them precious gold, experience, and additional bonuses for killing camps.
Riot has banned 16 Oceanic League of Legends players for infractions ranging from toxicity to account sharing. That's 40 per cent of the Oceanic Challenger Series' eight-team league.
"Draw" plays this kind of Nunu, but in the support role. In matches of League, the goal of the support is simple: bide time and protect your team's marksman, who will eventually be powerful enough to destroy the opponent's entire team, but needs resources to get there. "Draw" does not sit bottom lane with their carry like most supports, but instead abandons them to steal enemy jungle camps, often leaving the weak marksman in a two-versus-one situation.
It is generally considered poor teamwork to leave your weak marksman alone, especially since many common marksmen champions struggle in two-versus-one situations, but "Draw's" results speak for themselves. They frequently secures high numbers of objectives for the team and keep the enemy jungle from interfering in lanes, putting "Draw's" team behind in one lane to surge ahead in another.
When "Draw" confronted Riot support about the ban, Riot told them it was for "stealing other people's roles" and "failing to communicate." In the days since, the community has petitioned for more answers, and Riot's player support lead WookieeCookie went into detail in a follow-up post.
Q: Can I get banned for choosing a champion or strategy that is outside the current meta?
A: 100% no. Choosing a champion or strategy outside of the current meta is not a factor we take into account when reviewing accounts. On any given day tens of thousands of players are making unusual picks in the game and they will never receive penalties in any form.
Q: So why does this issue keep coming up? What makes it different?
A: Riot Gromp said it best in the previous post when they stated: "...common sense and good sportsmanship say that experimenting players need to clearly communicate intent and win conditions to their teammates." League of Legends is a team game and sometimes the biggest challenge can be coordinating with 4 other strangers who share a common goal; victory. If a player is going to rewrite the rules for the rest of their team then there is more pressure to properly communicate to everyone what they want the plan to be, and what they think everyone should do to achieve it.
The previous post referenced was about a player who was banned for playing support Singed. In a similar manner to "Draw," a high-ranking player was taking Smite on Singed and counter-jungling, often leaving their lane alone for a good period of time.
League of Legends is a team game, and while all players want to win, they also want to have fun, too. Unlike a fighting game, where you can pick a low-tier character, lose, and the only person it affects is yourself, in League a bad pick or bad play can ruin the game for four others. Yet "Draw" executed their pick and strategy with the intention of winning, not to screw over their teammates, and to push a unique strategy that garners results.
Snipers have a bad reputation. The class is infamous for standing back and picking off kills, all without contributing to the match objective. In Overwatch, that sniper stigma means that players consider heroes like Widowmaker and Hanzo to be nonviable competitively. For some players, straying from that norm often turns ugly.
According to WookieeCookie, while "Draw" had a respectable win rate of 53 per cent on support Nunu, they were also reported in nearly 50 per cent of their games for being frustrating and "unfun," including reports that came from teammates after winning a game. WookieeCookie goes on to explain Riot's issue further:
But wait! Communication doesn't stop after you press the Enter button on your keyboard; and that's where we saw a problem in this particular case. All of us need to be aware of the difference of communicating "with" someone vs. communicating "at" someone. Telling your team what you're going to do and then ignoring them isn't really working with them it's holding them hostage. Telling your team what you want to do and actually working towards a common plan is a central part to playing any team based game.
"It's probably not a surprise, but the details are hotly debated here at Riot too, and we think the discussion around gameplay agency and teammate pain is important," wrote Wookiee. "It's not great to be penalising people when the rules (hi ancient knowledge base article) aren't all that clear, so Monday night, Player Support lifted the remaining portion of the ban. A bunch of us are meeting early next week to get our shit together, and we'll be talking to you about it sooner rather than later."
Certain conventions, heuristics, and ideas of optimal play have sprung up around League of Legends, like they do in all games. How "Draw" is playing is antithetical to what the vast majority of League players think of as proper, and they don't like it, despite its limited success. But new players with new ideas is also how competition evolves in any game. Communication is important for both a good and fun match, but prioritising everybody having a good time also means stifling those poking around at the game's edge.