Too much toxicity is a commonplace complaint in VG at the moment, in this piece I am going to suggest that a fair bit of that is because of the attitudes that we all hold as a community and because of our perceptions and what we feel warranted to do as a result of those perceptions. This is not to suggest that truly toxic players don’t exist, nor that SEMC couldn’t be doing more to root those players out of the player base and to generally discourage toxic behaviour, but nonetheless I genuinely think that the problem is mainly all of us as players and so the change has to come from us.
What is toxicity?
There are many behaviours in game which are regarded as toxic, such as afking, feeding, writing rude words in mines and ping spamming - broadly what these have in common is a concerted attempt to ruin the fun of the game for other players often (but not always) by trying to lose the game while on their team.
Who is toxic?
Some years ago the League of Legends behavioural science team did some very interesting research on toxic behaviour in LoL which at the time was widely considered to have a very toxic player community. What they found was that the percentage of what we might call hardened trolls in their player base (ie people who will do one or all of the above in most games they played) was actually very very small, far smaller than could account for all the reports of trolling and poor behaviour that LoL routinely received. Instead most people who behaved in troll like fashion in one game were simply normal players who either were having a bad day (perhaps they were on tilt after losing a few matches), or were annoyed because they were forced off their preferred hero/role, or because they felt someone else in their team was behaving like a troll or playing badly so they were responding accordingly.
This is important because it suggests the popular ban all the trolls solution is not the correct one - if the vast majority of the player base can act trollish given the wrong inputs banning them will not help, instead we need to give positive incentives to not troll, help people avoid triggering situations and teach people not to troll - this post aims to do a bit of this.
Perceiving toxicity - why is it so commonplace?
At the very heart of it Vainglory and really any MOBA is an efficiency optimising game - this is why farm is so important if you can out farm your opponent then you are likely to beat them because you are playing more efficiently. And the higher tier you go, the more efficient you need to become and the more ritualised things like rotations, purchasing etc have to become. However what makes it challenging is that unlike a solo game against the computer in Vainglory you have to not only find the most efficient path, you also have to cooperate to do it, and do so with relatively weak communication tools.
Tag onto this a social status aspect (tier) that players become attached to which ups the ante in terms of the stress level of players and quite quickly you get a recipe for misunderstandings and the perception of toxicity - in other words if someone in your team is performing in your perception suboptimally it is tempting to perceive them as intentionally throwing the match rather than trying something different from you and perhaps not executing it well.
Unfortunately this leads to a vicious circle where for example the jungler notices the laner getting ganked frequently so starts to ping them ??? The laner (who is perhaps lagging but trying their best) gets further tilted, over extends and starts to ping the Captain for not keeping them safe - now the Captain gets annoyed and starts running down the lane into to the turrets pinging smiley faces as he dies. That Jungler’s ??? Saying “why are you losing me this match?” Ended up definitely costing him that match. His taking his perception of poor play as a license for behaving toxically gave him the result he was trying to avoid, and it gave it to the laner and the captain as well. If any one of them had broken the cycle and not reacted negatively all three would have had a far better chance of winning.
So a big problem here is that we are all more likely to perceive toxicity than it is likely to be present, and if we react toxically to our perception of it then it becomes like a self fulfilling prophecy.
How to react well to the perception of toxicity
If you have had a bad experience just now in ranked, don’t queue again - you are much more likely to have another bad experience again because you are already feeling annoyed so you are likely to perceive others as playing badly etc. Instead get a few guildmates and do something fun, or play CP Phinn in Blitz or something. Detoxify yourself, calm down then rank again. Remember its only ranky points you are losing and you can always get them back again.
Don’t tilt others and even better help them detilt
When someone does something wrong on your team don’t ping them for it - feel free to caution beforehand if it looks like they may over extend or something but don’t shower them in pings if they do. It is unlikely to make them play better, instead they are likely to play worse due to your pings and they may decide to respond toxically. If your two teammates are engaged in a ping war I have found pinging OK can sometimes be a good way of decreasing toxicity and getting them to settle down.
Ask yourself whether they are really being toxic or are they just playing differently than you expect?
When I started to play VG seriously I watched Shinkaigan’s Solo Queue Road to PoA series of videos on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/shinkaigan
While those were great for improving my general understanding and skills at the game where they were invaluable was in shaping my attitude towards solo queue play. One thing that Shin repeated several times in the face of “odd” decision making from his erstwhile allies was that it was better to do the dumb thing as a team rather than do something clever by yourself. What he meant by this was that by playing as a team you are able to compensate for the mistakes being made whereas if you leave your allies to die because “they deserve it” you are more likely to get that loss you are trying to avoid…
So try and get inside their head and understand where they maybe coming from - if you can anticipate what they are trying to do perhaps you can facilitate it working/compensate for their deficits.
In particular try not to be precious about people having to play in what you think is the exactly right way - a long time ago when I was back in SA I was paired in solo queue with a VG tier jungler while I Captained as Cath. I started with my B ability and was quite surprised to get a shower of pings from my jungler when he discovered this but we went onto win - I added him afterwards and asked him why he pinged me - he explained he thought that this mean’t I wouldn’t max A first (this was when this made sense on Cath) I explained that I did max A first, but I opened with B because at the time it sped up farming if you managed the aggro well. Had I tilted and gone toxic due to his pinging his concern about inefficiency would have cost him the game.
- Don’t give the bastard the satisfaction of upsetting you
Even if you are sure they are behaving like a troll and this time its not just your perception don’t react as a troll, instead continue to do your best to win. Why give the troll what they want the satisfaction of ruining your day. Its only upsetting because you want to win, so give yourself the best chance of doing so.
If you perceive trolling the worst thing you can do is to react in kind. Someone else being a troll does not mean you should become one, why let them take your dignity along with your ranky points. Even if they have rendered the game unwinable, you can simply change the win conditions in your head - can you hold out for twenty minutes against these odds?
It is up to all of us to stop toxicity ruining our experience of Vainglory, and the biggest step we can take towards that is to never allow ourselves to act toxically in game no matter how tempting it is.