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Riot experiments with permabans to stamp out toxic behavior
Riot experiments with permabans to stamp out toxic behavior
July 23, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

Toxic online behavior is an insidious problem, one that Riot Games is working to stamp out by testing a new player banning system in League of Legends that -- according to Riot Games' Dr. Jeffrey Lin -- can permanently ban players for "extreme toxicity" like griefing and use of racial or homophobic slurs.

This is worth paying attention to because Riot is one of the most recognizable game companies proactively dealing with toxic players in its community. The company has earned a reputation for systemically reinforcing positive behavior by League of Legends players, but it's also banned professional players for extremely toxic behavior.

Now, Riot is experimenting with this new toxicity-seeking League of Legends ban system that's partially automated (Dr. Lin refers to it as a "machine learning approach") with input from Player Support reviews. It's designed to immediately ban players who are engaging in extremely toxic behavior, and those bans can last for two weeks or forever -- though Dr. Lin claims all permabans will be reviewed by Riot.

If a player complains about a permanent ban issued by this new system, Riot is committed to publicly posting the chat logs which led to the ban.

Issuing permabans and publicly shaming toxic players seems at loggerheads with much of what Dr. Lin has said in the past about Riot's efforts to improve the tenor of its player community through positive reinforcement and social experiments -- efforts that he spoke about at length in this GDC 2013 talk. In his recent reddit post he acknowledges the success of those reform programs, but claims that stronger measures are necessary.

"For most players, reform approaches are quite effective," wrote Dr. Lin. "But, for a number of players, reform attempts have been very unsuccessful which forces us to remove some of these players from League entirely."

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James Yee
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Hmm... so what's to stop someone from just making another account and being a toxic player for free? Over and over again. F2P after all. :(

Piotr Jastrzebski
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While its technically free, to be competitive significant time/money investment is required. If someone wants to just spam theres little anyone can do.

Chris Book
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That's exactly the problem. I'm glad that Lyte is taking a no-nonsense stance on blatant abuse - and posting the chat logs of people that complain about "unfair" bans is hilarious - but until they actually figure out a way to permanently remove these people, all it does is just reintroduce them into the low-level pool where they ruin the experience for new players.

Jorge Ramirez
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While it's true that anyone could just make a new account, I think lost progress is a pretty good discouragement from returning to the game.

Although it is a MOBA, there is plenty of content that a player might have earned or payed for that could be lost with the account. For example: champions bought (with in-game currency or real money), runes bought (only with in-game currency), champion skins bought (only with real money), or even summoner level (in-game experience points).

(For reference: I've played over 2000 matches on Summoner's Rift—which I estimate to be around 1000 hours of gameplay—and spent a few hundred dollars on the game, yet I don't own even half of the champions in the game, nor most of the runes.)

The grand majority of players have one "main" account on which they spent the most hours playing and have unlocked the most content, so I can imagine losing that account to be pretty devastating if you've been playing for a while.

As for new players, I doubt there would be many who would return to a game that banned them when they were just getting started.

Wes Jurica
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Wouldn't it be possible to IP ban them? If so, only the very determined would find a way around that with proxies or whatever.

Kyle Redd
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I would hope they are IP-banning them already, otherwise what is the point? But yeah, VPNs are both cheap and fast now.

Marc Schaerer
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Its free thats true.
But it takes tons of time to rebuild the IP required to even fill 1 reasonable rune page and the required champ pool for ranked.

As such it will either require insane time efforts or money for IP boosters to get back to 'toxic and impacting' again.

Also as a second measure, not mentioned here, Riot has introduced chat bans (see some of the top streamers that got hit too) that block you from spaming the chat and alike. takes 5 game minutes per message to regenerate or alike. That heavily impacts the amount of toxic you can spray.
I'm sure they will also make it clearer and less effort to mute such people and have their ban system look at 'heavily muted' players too as many don't report others but mute them.

Also don't forget that Riot cross bans. So if one accuont is banned, they hunt down your others using IP lookups, so you can not just hop to your next leveled up account and continue for all eternity. They also autoban new accounts before they even can level up to 30 (required to enter ranked) as a few with lifetime bans had to realize.

Michael Joseph
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I know they're saying this is for "extreme" cases, but after all the time/energy spent reinforcing positive behavior, isn't it a tacit admission of failure if ultimately they wind up having to do what everyone else has to do... ban players?

if your game works players up so much that they start behaving abusively towards other players, then mission accomplished because games that do that tend to sell a ton of copies and gain a life of their own spawning all sorts of cottage industries.

Immaturity begets immaturity. If you don't want players acting like total jerks, and if you don't want to change the game (because too much positive reinforcement for good behavior starts doing just that), then create a game like "Journey" that is thematically 1000x more mature than a MOBA.

Kaze Kai
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How is a game remotely responsible for other people's hate speech apart from it having a chat feature? Because cutting out that would do more harm than good for the social aspect of gaming.

People shouldn't be abusive jagoffs on the internet, period. In real life those people have a chance of getting knifed in an alley or ganged up on at the bus stop (No, it's not legal, that doesn't mean it can't happen especially in places like the one that I live in) but online there's really nothing you can do about it and retaliation on the victim's part is far more easy to trace so the responsibility falls to the admins.

Michael Joseph
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I never said anything about responsibility, fault, or blame. Spewing obscenities, insults and epithets anonymously online is (whether you wish to accept it or not) something immature, chat enabled games breed. Many players _learn_ to adopt an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude over time. They also learn to escalate their behavior. Toxic players online don't start off that way.

Set up shop on a pig farm, don't be surprised when you get covered in muck. I'm not blaming anyone, I'm just making the observation that bad player behavior in these sorts of games just comes with the territory.

Also what I'm saying is, when you build games like this, it's actually a very positive economic indicator to have this as a significant problem. And if you were to devise a way to clean it up completely, have you now fundamentally changed the game in a way that makes it LESS POPULAR?

Nobody is building these games for gentle-folk like Mr. Rogers. I'm actually surprised by some of the hypocrisy on this. These are not "nice" games and that's why they make a ton of money. They fuel the players' competitive spirit, they fuel trash talking, they fuel adrenaline and dopamine, they fuel loss of inhibitions, etc.

Tyler King
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I think they've taken a lot of goo steps in the right direction for promoting and encouraging good behavior. However as they are discovering some people when there are tons of incentives for behaving well still just want to be jerks. I don't think its immature of riot to ban them, I think it is their responsibility to do what is necessary to remove said people. And even if it just comes with the territory that doesn't mean they should just say 'meh' and do nothing. They are not "nice" games because people keep perpetuating that idea, if I were riot I would be doing the same thing in trying to change that image.

Ben Newbon
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I think your understanding of the toxic behaviour they're talking about is absolutely off the mark.

This isn't referring to simple trash talking or a bit of rough and tumble. This is serious crossing the deepest lines abuse. This is not just people getting 'wound up' and being competitive; this is people going out of their way to create misery for other players for no other reason than to ruin other people's experiences and that sort of behaviour should not be tolerated in any game.

Wes Jurica
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@ Michael
How is banning players going to change the game from the developers intent?

While I don't support the death penalty in real life, I do support a game account death penalty. For some of the abusive players the threat of a permanent ban will be enough to straighten them up and for everyone else, they are removed from the gene pool.

The developers have a vision a vision for the game that includes not only how it plays but also the community that springs up around it.

I would say Riot started out as a first time parent that thought they could get away with raising their child by just rewarding good behavior. Now they see that disciplining bad behavior is just as important. Not a failure in my eyes.

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This is really more a marketing theatre endeavor and treating symptoms over causes. What does Riot do to address the potential for their game features actually producing the sort of behavior that is not desirable?

Chris Book
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I'm not seeing how the game makes people act like idiots, beyond giving them the same anonymous way to do so like the Internet at large. Yes, the game is frustrating. But not everyone - not even a large percentage of the community - acts this way. Jerks are just jerks.

Michael Joseph
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hang around people who swear and curse all day long and you'll find yourself acting like them little by little... In real life you might choose not to be around these people (assuming you had much of a choice - if you work in a construction crew your options might be more limited) but in a game your only options may be to never play.

i wonder if Riot's efforts to find an alternative to banning actually allowed time for things to get worse by introducing and then indoctrinating more players to the toxic culture.

Ben Newbon
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Michael, you really think this about people who swear and curse? Because it's not.

The 'toxic behaviour' they mean is not anything at all like what 99% of the playerbase does, so you can not seriously blame the <1%'s beyond the pale behaviour on spending time around the rest of the players in the game doing the same thing.

Kyle Redd
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Well does anyone have links to specific examples of the type of behavior that would result in a permanent ban? People are saying "toxic behavior" a lot, but exactly how bad is it?

Desmond Crowe
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It seems like some people try to imply toxic player behaviour is Riot's fault because their "game features produce behaviour that is not desirable". Which is, of course, utter nonsense. Riot's been trying to limit abusive behaviour for years, introducing reward systems for positive play and punishing players who are generally asshats. Any competitive game with the option to communicate through chat has the potential for toxic behaviour. Short of removing this communication, or this competitiveness, there's nothing Riot can do about that, and you can't remove it since League of Legends is inherently Co-op and competitive in nature. That's like saying Soccer or Football should be inherently changed because they cause hooligans. It's not the sport. It's the people who lack decency that are the problem.

It's not Riot's fault that a portion of their playerbase consists of racist and/or homophobic idiots. At least they are now taking a stand.

This is not some "admission of failure" like Michael stated. They will keep supporting positive gameplay. However, they will now also permanently remove toxic people for who mild punishments or positive reinforcements don't seem to work. This is not failure, this is taking a stand against a force they've tried to squash for years. They are doing this to make the game more enjoyable for players who act like regular, decent human beings. I don't quite understand why you must turn this around and make this about "marketing theatre" or "failure". This is bloody wonderful.

Honestly, I applaud them. I've been waiting for this for at least three years.

Yannis Patras
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I wouldn't have a problem seeing permabans going into effect for accounts that have repeatedly shown unrepentant toxic behavior both in-game and during champion selection and stats.

But there are a couple of things I've noticed lately. One is, people getting reported for verbal abuse only because they asked for help that was never given to them (I read the chat and couldn't find one word that could be called abusive), and the other is that people getting follow-up chat restrictions when they have not used chat AT ALL in months after the first time they got penalized.

Both tell me that there is certainly NO proper infrastructure for Riot to justly pass something as heavy as a permaban.

I really want to see permabans in the game, don't get me wrong. Personally, I wouldn't even want them to be lenient, but that's another discussion. What they should do before they start though, is take a good look at how they find who's who when it comes to toxic behavior.

Sebastien Vakerics
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"Today, players that show extreme toxicity (intentional feeding or racism, etc) will be instantly 14-day or permabanned"

If both intentional feeding and racism are bannable behavior, I hope that doesn't mean the two offenses are viewed as equal in any way.

That aside, is there really a reliable way, outside of obvious and extreme cases, to prove that someone is allowing the enemy team to kill them? Couldn't someone report you for being bad at the game?

Chris Book
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I'm assuming they're looking at chatlogs for people saying that they plan on feeding, or if someone is 0/28 with nothing but wards or some other item. I haven't gotten banned yet so they definitely aren't targeting people that are just bad at the game. :P

Patrick Miller
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There is actually a separate report option for "Unskilled Player"; it's not tied to bans/penalties and just exists to give Riot feedback on matchmaking.

Russell Watson
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Too little too late.

Riot only became concerned about it once they got a reputation for having a toxic community and it started affecting retention.

*Now* they care.

The problem is that they didnt discourage negative behaviour from the beginning.

Justin Kovac
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The MOBA genre of games already had a reputation of toxic communities. Riot is one of the few who is constantly experimenting beyond bans and suspensions to improve the community.

John Paduch
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Except it's not just Riot/LoL, so you can't put that kind of blame on them. I don't think any of these developers honestly expected their playerbases would be infected with this level of toxicity.

Dota, LoL, Smite, Han all have the same problem - ESPECIALLY Han, jesus h. christ ><

Glenn Sturgeon
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This is an issue in most all popular online games.
If you loose you're a "Fn' noob", if you win too much you're a "fn' cheater", if your in a general public team based game, its inevitable you end up playing with someone who thinks they are doing all the good for the team and they lash out "the rest of the team are f'n shite." And thats just the start of it.
Thats one of the biggest reasons i just don't bother with OLMP games very often.
Perm IP bans is realy the only semi effective way to deal with it.

"Dr. Lin claims all permabans will be reviewed by Riot."
Ouch thats going to cost ya.

Anton Temba
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"The company has earned a reputation for systemically reinforcing positive behavior by League of Legends players"


The irony is that they're systematically reinforcing negative behavior with their game design. Given the money the game is earning them, its pretty obvious that they're going to ignore the real source of the problem, given they'll even realize what it is.

This "positive reinforcement" isn't going to fix anything. Its just going to make people pretend more to each other.

Chris Book
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People keep mentioning how League forces people act like sociopaths, but nobody is providing any examples here. It sounds like you're just shifting blame, IMO.

Ian Morrison
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In my eyes, the game structure is very well suited to create player frustration and hostility. It`s a 30-45 minute time commitment that can snowball early from players making honest mistakes, and the game can`t be abandoned without screwing over your teammates (and getting sanctioned by the game for leaving early). Given how a large time investment can be damaged by poor play, and how dependent the game is upon EVERY player holding up their end, and how small mistakes rapidly snowball into massive, lasting, frustrating disadvantages, that`s a lot of reasons for people to get frustrated at each other. Frustration breeds toxic behaviour.

At the same time, those same qualities that breed toxic behaviour are core to the game, and also count as a strength of the formula as a whole. When a league game comes together, it`s glorious. It`s just a shame that it`s got so many possible points of failure in the experience.

Carter Gabriel
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The model could certainly be improved upon.

Also the idea of banning players for leaving a match, regardless of what happened in the match, is just plain wrong IMO. It is anti-player, anti-fun, anti-consumer, pro-troll, pro-immaturity, even anti-marriage and anti-family.

Although I advise everyone who plays to not take the game seriously, and simply leave any match they are not enjoying. If they want to continue playing, use an alternate account for one game before switching back. If they are banned, either boycott the game for its horrible design, or create a new account.

The MOBA genre has a toxic community because of the flaws in its design. People say it is at the core, but it is not. There is nothing "Core" about the game by allowing a single troll or two to ruin the game for everyone. The fun is had through gameplay, not some kind of twisted creation of fun despite (but because of) trolls. Troll games are just not fun, and most users would agree even when they won. Even for the minority rare occurrences where someone successfully 3v5's and wins through victorious recovery, I guarantee you those same people would have gladly played a fair 5v5 match instead of what was inevitably poorly matched teams with trolls. (The 3 had trolls, but if they win anyway then the 5 had trolls as well or were incorrectly matched to superior players far out of their league).

If LoL wants to get rid of the Toxic players, then their first thing can be to allow people to leave, surrender at any moment (rather than only until 20min) or do as every RTS game in the past has done.

Ian Richard
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The problem is that LoL is NOT a game. They've spent alot of advertising money to transcend the title of game to become a "Sport".

People take sports VERY seriously.

Yama Habib
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This seems like a positive step in the wrong direction for Riot. As others have mentioned, League is a f2p game and there is virtually nothing stopping banned players from creating new accounts and continuing to be toxic to the community.

I've heard of other f2p games opting for the "shadowban" approach to great success, whereby a shadowbanned player does not know that he/she is banned, and can only match up with other shadowbanned players. This isolates toxic players from the rest of the community, while continuing to allow them to play without having to create new accounts.

Carter Gabriel
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Having experience in circumventing security on the internet and being literally unbannable, I have to agree with you and share my experience with what shadowbans are like for the user. (Just to note, I circumvent security legally, and do not do so to spam or harm others).

No one can actually be banned from anything online...even closing the community to become private, as effective as it is immediately and effective as it is to slow someone down, even that is not a solution over time as anyone with patience can infiltrate the community with multiple accounts. Like I said, people are unbannable.

With that said, obviously effective methods work better than others. Privatizing a community does more harm than it does good in many cases, so that is not a solution even if it works most of the time and is very effective. Yet this is a horrible (nuclear-option) method and STILL not fullproof.

I say all of that to say this: Shadowbans are the best, most effective, most annoying (for the target) solution. You're dead on.

I have experienced it very, very few times before. Most of the times it happened, it wasn't even on purpose and instead was by bug or unintended result. However, it is something I am not willing to deal with even when I had the time to waste. Even when I've been persistent in other areas far longer or far deeper in.

Why? Shadowbans are annoying as all hell. You end up wasting hours, sometimes even days, depending, before realizing you were shadowbanned. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if times before, I never even realized I was shadowbanned and simply left out of boredom.

If done right, as you suggest, by keeping the match-making (and if there was not much slowdown to queue times in comparison to normal match-making), then a shadowban will be even MORE elusive to even the more experienced users. If unaware of what a shadowban is or how it works, a person may never even realize it for the entire time they play the game (especially if they are still matched quickly).

Effectively, it may even open up more entertainment for toxic players to go at one another, having entertainment while they each stand on soap boxes dishing out insults which they both naively believe "destroyed the opposition". Everyone wins, even the trolls.

I do not know of any games which do shadowban, nor was I aware it was even a known strategy until now. However, it is the worst thing for a user to experience, and certainly the best and most effective method possible.

When people talk about IP bans, I just laugh my butt off. When admins smirk all cocky-like while mentioning a IP range ban, I just facepalm and chuckle. When I discover that for the past 10 posts, or the past 5 matches, I was shadowbanned or muted without notification? @#(*$#@ damnit, lol.

The longer they are shadowbanned without realizing it, the longer they take to create a new account. The longer they are not harming others or being toxic. All while doing no harm to anyone but themselves.

David Paris
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My impression is that the power dynamics make it much more rewarding to be a jerk than to try to play nicely.

Let's say you want to be IMPORTANT in a game.

Now that matchmaking has put you with people of a roughly similar skill level to your own, it is very hard for your positive actions as one player out of 10 to make a significant difference in the game. Congratulations, matchmaking is working. You barely matter.

Instead, turn around and start trying to lose. All of a sudden your actions absolutely dictate the course of play for not just 1 but 10 people. You can easily make sure that your team loses. More importantly, you can hold your team hostage with this, or just make the game suck for all 10 people.

And therein lies the problem. The easiest path to having power within the game, is to behave badly.

Brent Orford
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Can Gamasutra adopt this policy for user posts?