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Tim Masters
Written By: Tim Masters

Watches esports a lot, when he's not writing about esports. Also enjoys video games.

Sep 22, 2019

Toxicity in gaming is a constant theme, and one that pervades esports more than possibly any other niche area of the overall sector. With conversation aplenty about opportunities for under-represented groups to make an impact in the most theoretically egalitarian competitions on earth, the harsh and at times off-putting nature of gaming communities has become a constant theme.

When we say ‘toxicity’, we are also talking about more than just ‘heated gamer moments’, as they are sometimes known. As annoying and worthless as the kids dropping slurs may be, there are also many other ways to negatively impact on a game without committing to offensive language, including griefing, feeding, DDoS attacks and the like.

This isn’t just confined to a single game, but the headlines this week have all been around Valve and their favourite title Dota 2, where a swathe of what look like 20 year bans have been handed down by the powers that be. That may not be the case, but what is certain is that games companies are finally coming to realise that user experience is as important as the quality of the game itself.

First, to clarify, it may be that the bans handed out are not ‘until 2038’, but in fact lifetime bans designed to prevent certain individuals ever accessing the game again, in Dota’s case at least. The 2038 thing is a curiosity of the way that computers deal with measuring time, and the chances are that the angry, banned folk online are going to receive their next email in early January of that year, confirming they are still not welcome, and never will be.

Other titles have gone down a similar road, with Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege another esports title that has faced severe criticism of late, mainly for being a hotbed of cheaters and DDoSers. That the DDoS issue was only addressed when PC influencers started to squawk about it, when it had been ruining the console experience for months, is typical of the way modern companies think, but not the topic of this piece.

The question then becomes whether or not the severity of a ban has anything to say on how effective it is in changing behaviour, or if it’s just about appeasing the angry masses who have gathered on Reddit to celebrate the purge – or complain about it, depending on how they’d been behaving online recently. This subject has many parallels worth examining from the world of penal institutions, even if many of the arguments against life sentences are not relevant here – Valve aren’t risking overcrowding Dota 2 jails and there is no real huge risk of a human having their life ruined if a ban is handed out in error. However, we can look at the effectiveness of “life” bans versus shorter sentences through the prism of the prison system in places where sentences can exceed the average lifespan.

There is evidence to show that longer sentences do not necessarily deter some criminals, but equally other studies have indicated the opposite, and we also have to accept there are ways for the determined troll to get around the bans that probably don’t work when you get life in jail. However, the payoff is potentially huge for a firm like Ubisoft or Valve in the age of social media being such a dominant part of the games industry.

Read more: The Dota 2 Hero Builds Project continues!

So much of the success of a game today depends on the noise around it, rather than the quality of the product. The rise of titles like Apex Legends, Fortnite and others has been around influencers as much as it has been around the inherent qualities of the game itself, and companies are more aware than ever that user experience makes a difference, as a few bad reviews can do more damage to a title now than ever before.

Combine that with the huge success of League of Legends – where Riot pioneered behaviour modification methods in gaming –, and it seems like this is the way of the future. Your inalienable human right to be a dick in Dota lobbies, to DDoS people who beat you in Siege, or to cheat in any other way might end up in the bin as gaming grows. Part of that is because companies are able to identify the problem users, and part is down to how the userbase has changed over time.

Where once the lobby was full of teenagers with nothing but time on their hands, today it is a more diverse, adult place, where users are far less willing to be messed around and expect a better experience, win or lose. This is only going to lead to improvements as time passes, and the loss of those feeders, griefers, DDoSers and the like is a good thing for gaming both in the short and long term.

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