Home Gaming Riot talk about their experience in managing the “impossible problem” of online abuse

Riot talk about their experience in managing the “impossible problem” of online abuse

3 min read

Angry gamer

Online harassment is a very real problem. Granted, different games have varying levels of toxicity, but the fact of the matter is that it always exists in some form. Always. What is the best way to solve this issue? Is it truly impossible to rid a game of abuse? Riot don’t seem to think so.

With a League of Legends having a player base of 67 million, it’s no wonder they’ve taken this topic so seriously. Riot have spent the last three years trying to solve this “impossible problem”, and they’ve come to realise that it is something that can be improved drastically, if not abolished entirely.

Jeffrey Lin, Lead Game Designer of Riot, shared the company’s experience in an article over on Recode (via VG247).

Our team found that if you classified online citizens from negative to positive, the vast majority of negative behavior (which ranges from trash talk to non-extreme but still generally offensive language) did not originate from the persistently negative online citizens; in fact, 87 percent of online toxicity came from the neutral and positive citizens just having a bad day here or there.

Given this finding, the team realized that pairing negative players against each other only creates a downward spiral of escalated negative behaviors. The answer had to be community-wide reform of cultural norms. We had to change how people thought about online society and change their expectations of what was acceptable.

Getting people to change their thinking? That’s a pretty damn tall order indeed. Still, it didn’t dissuade Riot from trying to do something:

How do you introduce structure and governance into a society that didn’t have one before? The answer wasn’t as simple as abolishing anonymity. Privacy has become increasingly important online as data becomes more widely available, and numerous studies have shown that anonymity is not the strongest cause of online toxicity. While anonymity can be a catalyst for online toxicity, we focused on the more powerful factor of whether or not there are consequences (both negative and positive) for behaviors.

To deliver meaningful consequences, we had to focus on the speed and clarity of feedback. At Riot, we built a system called the “Tribunal,” which automatically created “case files” of behaviors that players reported as unacceptable in the community. The system allowed players to review game data and chat logs and vote on whether the behaviors were okay or not. (Later this year, the system will also create positive “case files” so players can vote on the full spectrum of behaviors). These cases were public, so players could see and discuss the behaviors, and the results were inspiring. The vast majority of online citizens were against hate speech of all kinds; in fact, in North America, homophobic slurs were the most rejected phrases in the English language.

It turns out that people just need a voice, a way to enact change.

Really? Who would’ve thought that the cure to online abuse was giving players the platform to discuss the problems at hand? I certainly wouldn’t have. I thought it would’ve opened up room for more harassment.

While League of Legends isn’t now magically abuse-free, it has seen some pretty damn solid improvements since the ‘Tribunal’ was introduced…

As a result of these governance systems changing online cultural norms, incidences of homophobia, sexism and racism in League of Legends have fallen to a combined 2 percent of all games. Verbal abuse has dropped by more than 40 percent, and 91.6 percent of negative players change their act and never commit another offense after just one reported penalty.

2% is miniscule, but still quite a large number in the bigger scheme of things. That’s around 1,340,000 million players who still partake in online harassment. I’m sure it’s a number that will be pushed down even more as Riot figure out how to further improve their system and approach.

Here’s hoping they figure out how to solve toxicity entirely – though let’s face it, that dream does remain pretty impossible. There will always be that one idiot who goes out of their way to ruin the experience for everybody else.


Last Updated: July 9, 2015


  1. Aw shame.. some player called me a fat loser.. well man the fuck up.. People are getting weak, and too PC for live..


  2. Ottokie

    July 9, 2015 at 15:08

    This pic pretty much classes every player and toxic players. The brand of gamers is pretty diverse xD


    • Lollies the Laughing Lollipop

      July 9, 2015 at 15:10

      All gamers are Toxic .. Show me one gamer that not going to be upset because he is loosing i’ll show u a liar. My Console received more verbal abuse than a Umpire during a McEnroe tennis match.


      • Ottokie

        July 9, 2015 at 15:12

        The Toxic gamers usually just scream louder than others, so we interpret them to be the majority.


        • UltimateNinjaPandaDudeGuy

          July 9, 2015 at 16:24



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  3. Alien Emperor Trevor

    July 9, 2015 at 15:10

    Well that certainly inspires me. I’m going to turn over a new cabbage leaf.

    Oh, and they’re exactly right about the consequences thing.


  4. WitWolfy

    July 9, 2015 at 15:16

    That pic totaly reminds of when I played Ninja Gaiden 2 last gen.


  5. Sageville

    July 9, 2015 at 15:26

    My first MOBA game playing as Hero X:

    Some guy: “WTF X!”
    Me: What?
    Some guy: “X you suck, omg!”
    Some guy: “X!!!!!! Why aren’t you (insert some unwritten rule here)”
    Me: “Gimme a break I’m still learning the game”
    Some Guy: “You should play bots then!”
    Me: “I have, I’m awesome against bots”
    Me: “WTF is feeding?”
    Some Guy: “F**k you X! REPORTED!!!”
    (Some Guy – Surrender Vote)
    (Surrender Vote failed)

    Eventually I discover playing with 250 ms pings equates to feeding…


    • Hammersteyn

      July 9, 2015 at 15:27



    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      July 9, 2015 at 15:29

      If only you’d been born hardcore, like real gamers! Or something.


      • Sageville

        July 9, 2015 at 15:31

        …but I was really hardcore against those bots….


        • Hammersteyn

          July 9, 2015 at 15:32

          Serious business Mobas, Matty will cut you.


        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          July 9, 2015 at 15:36

          The other day I was playing Warframe and a hardcore gamer rage quit after bitching about us noobs not reviving him. Of course, the fact that he ran off by himself & died at the hands of a low level mob didn’t count.

          It doesn’t happen often, but it’s quite funny when it does.


          • Deceased

            July 10, 2015 at 11:13

            I really really love when the “pro’s” blames the team 😀

            ( And then you point it out to them, and somehow it’s still your fault XD – even after giving a detailed description of what they did wrong :’D )

    • Mossel

      July 10, 2015 at 08:11

      Same happened to me. At the end the guy was like: Oh yeah mossel please do everyone a solid and never play Dota again, like seriously you are making it worse for everyone.
      A real loving community that place.


      • Deceased

        July 10, 2015 at 11:14

        It’s really not that bad dude 🙁

        Just team up with someone and mute the rest of the players 😀


  6. UltimateNinjaPandaDudeGuy

    July 9, 2015 at 16:29

    I stopped playing DOTA a few years ago and played LoL, left LoL because of just the bad experience with abuse for no reason. I did pretty well and people would still curse and freak out when I won… So LoL wasn’t for me. Mechanics were too basic and boring. So with those two reasons I went to HoN hoping it would be a better DOTA (since I didn’t have a DOTA2 beta key yet.) and then ended up going back to DOTA1 because of how crap both LoL and HoN players were when it came to verbal abuse…

    Out of all othe online games where you actively interact with people DOTA2 has been the one with the chillest in game people IMO and experience.


    • Mossel

      July 10, 2015 at 08:21

      Go play HotS! I like it actually. Very basic according to hardcore Dota2 players, but I don’t care. It’s fun.


      • UltimateNinjaPandaDudeGuy

        July 10, 2015 at 11:18

        Unfortunately I am one of those who DOTA players 😛

        HOTS is just too simple for me. I get bored. I was hoping it would be more, but no items already did it for me. It definitely has a target market and will do well though. The game goes relatively quick and doesn’t put much pressure on you. Might go back at times, but MOBA I am pretty sold on DOTA2


    • Deceased

      July 10, 2015 at 11:15



  7. Lardus-Resident Perve

    July 10, 2015 at 02:15

    Online abuse…one of the reasons I dislike most online games.


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