Walking The Line, Or Reserved Right?
The Gaming Internet is filled with examples of players behaving badly, whether it’s gamers shouting at others, hurling insults, slurs, misogynistic comments, or excessive trash talking, or giving into temper tantrums resulting in team abandonment or even team sabotage as a way express a player’s displeasure at how the game is progressing. The game doesn’t even need to be competitive for this to happen, as anyone who’s run an excessive number of dungeons or raids with random folk can attest to.
Naturally, the more competitive the game or scenario, the higher the probability for bad behavior, which is why League of Legends operator Riot Games has instigated a unique “tribunal” system which allows the players to receive anonymous incident reports, and to suggest action. Should a player receive in excessive number of complaints, however, Riot reserves the right to ban the player for a period of time of their choosing. Surprisingly, this ban-hammer has been used not only against house-bound Summoners, but also against “pro” gamers.
Banning a player is strictly in the wheelhouse of the operator, but some people don’t agree that the operator should be allowed to “censor” their player base to the point of banning them from accessing the product that they have probably spent money on. In the case of pro-gamers, their high-profile participation has certainly done good things for the game itself in providing free advertising to those who watch the many live streams of eSports games. In essence, banning any loyal and paying customer is like biting the hand that feeds the game.
The end user license agreement is something we all know about, but which few people read. Whether or not it’s legally binding is a question for more specialized minds than mine, but I do believe that it’s been used in a few court cases that have favored the service operator. League of Legends EULA has an entire section devoted to “Code of Conduct” (Section 5), which specifically spells out the legal jargon on what Riot will not tolerate. This includes harassing, stalking, or threatening other players, and also and specifically:
Transmitting or communicating any content which, in the sole and exclusive discretion of Riot Games, is deemed offensive, including, but not limited to, language that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, sexually explicit, or racially, ethnically, or otherwise objectionable; (Emphasis mine)
There is also a separate ”Summoner’s Code” which is a plain-language version of how to be a “good player” or, if you prefer, how not to get on Riot’s bad side.
Opponents of Riot’s “free-wheeling ban-hammer” claim that this is the Internet. People behave badly all over the place, and LoL is one of the few venues that takes such an extreme stance on player behavior, to the point where they’re an anomaly and not a rule. They’re not going to change people’s behavior, and they shouldn’t be the arbiters of how people behave when people behave like this all the time in other corners of the net. If they’re feeling particularly combatitive, they’ll throw in complaints of “censorship” for good measure. But you know what? Riot is correct in their stance and in their actions.
Regardless of whether or not the EULA is legally defensible, it spells out, up front, what Riot expects of the players, and what will happen if the players violate the terms of the EULA. You didn’t read the EULA when you installed the game? Irrelevant, from the operator’s point of view. Although these license agreements may be underhanded by some (companies know we don’t read them, and try and sneak stuff in there all the time), ignorance is no excuse for violating them. Much has been made of LoLs Summoner Code, their tribunal, and now, high profile consequences of violating the rules that the game operator has laid down. Just as we cannot exploit bugs in a game without the possibility of being banned (which is covered in their EULAs, by the way), outright anti-social behavior that exceeds the allowable threshold for what the operator reserves as their right to define, is an acceptable reason for a ban.
The thing is, this is really not about what’s in the EULA. This is as much a business decision as it is a punishment for those who break the rules. Taking away the toys of those who behave badly is an ancient parental practice for kids who misbehave. In this case, kids who misbehave cost Riot potential customers. I’ve played LoL, but always with friends, and against the AI because I decided that I would not willfully put myself in the potential situation where I’d be on the receiving end of someone else’s blackened version of “sportsmanship”. It’s not a guarantee that’d I’d run into someone who makes me regret my decision, but so long as the chance is there, I wouldn’t want to willfully ruin my own enjoyment, and so I have only dabbled in the game. Riot won’t get any money out of me because of the potential toxic environment, so it’s in their interest as a company that needs to earn money to pay the bills that keep the game up and running and their employees fed and clothed to ensure that their game is as accessible as possible for the widest audience possible.
And there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. Competition is not carte blanche to be a douchebag, and it’s not in Riot’s interest to allow a few players to drive a potential client base away. It doesn’t belong to those with “thick skins”, except in their own point of view that only those who can “take it” are entitled to play. The game belongs to Riot, and it’s not a gift to people who don’t know how to behave. I wish more companies took the approach that Riot has taken with their tribunal system, but I wish even more that people would stop using bad behavior to mark territory that clearly isn’t theirs to claim.