Using science to reform toxic player behavior in League of Legends

Riot Games founders and League of Legends creators Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill have

encountered bad behavior in massively multiplayer online games since the days of

Ultima Online and EverQuest. In all that time, the typical moderator response to the

all-too-common racial epithets, homophobic remarks, and bullying that borders on

psychological abuse in MMOs has been to simply ban the players and move on. League of

Legends definitely could have afforded to go the same route, bleeding off a few bad

apples from its 12 million daily players and 32 million active monthly players (as of

late 2012) without really affecting the bottom line.

But Beck and Merrill decided that simply banning toxic players wasn’t an acceptable

solution for their game. Riot Games began experimenting with more constructive modes

of player management through a formal player behavior initiative that actually

conducts controlled experiments on its player base to see what helps reduce bad

behavior. The results of that initiative have been shared at a lecture at the

Massachusetts Institute of Technology and on panels at the Penny Arcade Expo East and

the Game Developers Conference.

Prior to the launch of the formal initiative, Riot introduced “the Tribunal” to

League of Legends in May of 2011. The Tribunal is basically a community-based court

system where the defendants are players who have a large number of reports filed

against them by other players. League players can log in to the Tribunal and see the

cases that have been created against those players, viewing evidence in the form of

sample chat logs and commentary from the players who filed the reports.