At PAX Prime 2011, dedicated players of League of Legends descended upon Seattle, Washington dressed in full champion costume, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to show support for their beloved game. Riot Games staff were on hand to take pictures and post them on their Facebook page to promote their game and show off the dedication of their fans. What happened next was an example of poor community management at its worst. Cosplayer photos were responded to with deeply personal insults, hateful abuse, and a variety of sexual comments that would make a sailor blush. Riot did little or nothing to stem the tide of this abuse, and while thousands upon thousands of comments piled up, commenting was left enabled and few (if any) comments were removed.
What is League of Legends?
League of Legends, a multi-player online battle arena (MOBA), has gained immense popularity over the last year and has recently boasted more players online and active than World of Warcraft. Because of its popularity, Riot Games was bought by Tencent, a Chinese internet service portal (ISP) for approximately $400 million.
LoL, as it is commonly known as to its players, consists of intense player vs. player scenarios that can last between 15 minutes to over an hour. Players constantly battle each other in groups of three or five, but they can also play against bots or in practice games.
Women Joining the LoL Community
Not surprisingly, most of the population of League of Legends is male, but it has been slowly gaining more female players. I started LoL while it was in beta, and I have been playing off and on since then. I usually play in a 5-man premade, but since I often take time off, I will play several bot and co-op games to get back in practice. I'm pretty lucky that my team is happy to carry me until I re-learn the game most times.
When I first started playing LoL, I only knew one other female that played. She just happened to be the person who introduced me to the game. I don't think we ever met another girl who played over thousands of games. In fact, I usually got some strange reactions on Vent channels where I often had people asking me if I was "really a girl". In some ways it’s improved a little since those days, but in a way, it's also gotten worse. With the influx of female gamers on LoL, we get a lot of Grl Gamers who want to put down the men who play the game like in this famous video. (Warning! The person in this video is pretty obnoxious.)
The Riot Community
Riot does some pretty amazing and interesting things for their community. They make videos weekly that are easily found on their YouTube channel, and they allow people to rank posts on the forums. If a post gets down voted enough, it turns gray. They also ask players to participate in the Tribunal, a self-governing, Survivor-style system of policing their players. We basically vote people on or off the League of Legends island, and if we vote correctly, we get rewarded in Influence Points (IP). IPs are used to buy characters and runes, and you can also earn them by simply playing the game.
Many of the videos are incredibly fun to watch, and I actually subscribe to their YouTube channel. I love their artist demonstrations, character spotlights, and patch notes. Doing it by video is creative and fun for players as well.
I mostly avoid their forums even with the post voting system. I cannot imagine that the forum posts would be that different than the [All] chat, which is usually full of people telling others how to play, how to kill themselves with interesting household objects or how to do unspeakable sexual things to each other, animals, their mothers, themselves, or Nazis. The environment of the game is highly acidic, and perhaps that could be somewhat forgiven due to the competitive nature of the game. (And the fact that it's probably 99% men.)
Appreciate the People Who Love Your Game
Even though I avoid the LoL forums, I keep up with their Facebook announcements and video releases. I enjoy the game, and I love most of the art. Thus, when they released cosplay (costume players) photos at PAX where they are debuting their new map, Dominion, I immediately went to look at some of the great costumes of characters that I love. My company hosts a costume competition every year for our players, and I always appreciate the costumes they create. Obviously, Riot feels the same way.
Or so I thought. I gleefully Liked many of the pictures and delighted in the costumes. Then, I finally came across THE picture, the one that was going to make me comment. One of the cosplay people was dressed as Katerina and copying a pose found in one of my favorite Riot Games video – The Season One Reel complete with commentary. Unfortunately, while I was posting, I happened to read some of the comments. The vast majority of them had very little to say about how amazing the costume was or how difficult it was to pull off that pose. Most of the comments talked about the player's crotch, how fat or thin he was, how he was a cross-dresser, his sexual preferences, or his lack of breasts.
Allowing Dedicated Players to Be Publicly Humiliated
It only got worse. I went on to read about how fat the women who dressed up were, and if they weren't declared as fat, they were declared to be flat. I might have counted over 200 comments about how "fed" a player was due to her weight. (Anyone who plays LoL for an extended period of time will know that being "fed" means that a player has killed a lot of other players, causing them to have an excess of gold and XP. This means that the player will now be difficult to kill.) I was astounded by the number of people who felt that they were so insanely clever to be discussing how "fed" a character was to refer to cosplayer's weight.
Honestly, players will be players, and PvP games are filled with negative attitudes and elitism. You can barely make it through a game without racial slurs, sexual slurs, "your mother" slurs, and your general Nazi slurs. In fact, any company that runs PvP oriented games should expect some of the in-game animosity to come out of game, but this went way too far.
These cosplay people worked very hard on their costumes to support a game that they loved. It's obvious that they took the time to pose for whoever was taking pictures for Riot Games and League of Legends. They were there at PAX Prime 2011 advertising for the game that they love and play. You really cannot pay for better PR than players who love your game and are basically walking around wearing your game.
Yet Riot allowed these people, some of their very best customers, to get slaughtered on Facebook. They posted the pictures and forgot all about it. I started writing this article late at night and decided to finish it in the morning. Before I finished it, I went to check their PAX 2011 Album again to see if they had done any policing of the comments on their Facebook page, and for a moment, I got excited. I couldn't find one of the worst pages, and I thought that maybe Riot had taken the picture down. That would be a lazier solution than actually policing the comments or turning them off, but it was still better than watching this poor girl get savaged, especially in light of her beautiful costume and the amount of work she obviously put into it.
What Could Riot Do?
Unfortunately, I finally found the picture, and the comments had grown to over 1,500, and yes, most of them were still about her weight and how she was "fed" or "overfed". I liked every single comment I could find defending her and chastising the people who were mocking her.
While I was doing that, it occurred to me that a Riot employee could have easily taken the same amount of time that I took to Like the positive comments to actually just delete the horrible ones. In doing so, they would have additionally sent a message to the community that they will not allow their players to be treated in such a disgusting manner, especially players that went out of their way to support League of Legends and Riot Games so openly and with such dedication. I'd also like to point out that these players paid to go to PAX and then took time out of their day to pose for the Riot Games photographer.
Sure, there are negative ramifications to deleting posts, but a few people crying about freedom of speech is a lot better than the message that they're sending by not doing anything and allowing this behavior to continue on their Facebook page. It tells us that they do not care about the people who support their game. They allow the demeaning slurs, and they don't feel the need to nurture a good community, the kind that tends to attract women.
Now, don't get me wrong. As a woman, I'm perfectly happy to defend myself if I have to do so, but I'm also not going to stick around a place that allows me to be harassed and openly mocked while using my picture as an ad for their company. I'm not even asking for special treatment for women. The men who were being mocked for their crotch-size and their weight should have been protected as well. Don't even get me started on people mocking the girl who dressed up as Teemo and remarking on her "beer belly", which she definitely did not have. Not only did she design a costume for a teeny male character in the game, she also convinced four friends to dress up as Teemo's shrooms. That's a lot dedication for that particular costume.
So, Again, What Do You Want Riot to Do?
I want Riot to take a little bit of responsibility for the people whose pictures they posted. Those people were obviously fans who took time out of their day to support League of Legends, not only by dressing up but also by allowing their pictures to be taken and posted as well as posing for them.
I want Riot to say, "Hey, don't abuse our customers this way. This kind of behavior won't be tolerated." They can make that statement without ever posting a word, but a posted word would be nice as well. One employee could have taken the time to monitor their Facebook page after the pictures were posted. Heck, I'm sure a fan would have volunteered.
Everyone knows that you have to have pretty thick skin to play LoL, but you shouldn't have to six-stack Warmogs to have your picture taken by Riot.
- Screenshots provided by author from League of Legends.
Comments copied from League of Legends‘ Facebook page from their Pax Prime 2011 Cosplay album.