comScore
  1. Mediaite
  2. Gossip Cop
  3. Geekosystem
  4. Styleite
  5. SportsGrid
  6. The Mary Sue
  7. The Maude
  8. The Braiser

What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Essay

So Far, So Good: League of Legends Takes An Honorable Approach To Improving Player Behavior


If you keep tabs on the world of gaming, you’re probably aware that the League of Legends community has a reputation for being a bit…let’s say caustic. This isn’t terribly surprising, considering that LoL is a MOBA, a genre that is all too often associated with vicious trash talk (not that I mean you, dear reader, I know you’re well behaved). But LoL developer Riot Games has a kinder, gentler future in mind for their players. Since October 1, Riot’s been conducting a fascinating social experiment through LoL’s new Honor system — an attempt to curb toxic behavior not through punishment, but positive reinforcement.

And the awesome thing is, it seems to be working.

Here’s the background: Six months ago, Riot established Team Player Behavior — affectionately called Team PB&J — a group of experts in psychology, neuroscience, and statistics (already, I am impressed). At the helm is Jeffrey Lin, better known as Dr. Lyte, Riot’s lead designer of social systems. As quoted in a recent article at Polygon:

We want to show other companies and other games that it is possible to tackle player behavior, and with certain systems and game design tools, we can shape players to be more positive.

Which brings us to the Honor system. Honor is a way for players to reward each other for good behavior. This is divvied up into four categories: Friendly, Helpful, Teamwork, and Honorable Opponent. At the end of a match, players can hand out points to those they deem worthy. These points are reflected on players’ profiles, but do not result in any in-game bonuses or rewards (though this may change in the future). All Honor does is show that you played nicely.

Now, to be fair, this isn’t the first time something like this has been done. DOTA 2 has had a similar system in place for some time now. However, the anecdotes I’ve heard from DOTA 2 players indicate that it hasn’t been very effective. Commendations are easily traded between friends, and generally speaking, players don’t care much about them one way or the other. An editorial by Christina Gonzalez at RTSguru suggests that LoL has taken a more thorough approach, implementing restrictions and safeguards to help prevent players from gaming the system. To start, players can only earn Honor through matchmade games, thus preventing friends from creating premades to trade points. Honor earned from strangers is worth more than Honor earned from friends, which coaxes players to impress the community, not just their own clique. Honor distribution is tracked and analyzed to prevent trading (some players have already been caught redhanded and stripped of their points). Furthermore, players only have a set amount of Honor points they can hand out, which encourages that Honor only goes to those who truly deserve it (additional distributable Honor is accrued through gameplay). Team PB&J put a lot of thought (and math) into limiting the potential for abuse.

Ten days after Honor went live, an update from Dr. Lyte appeared on the official LoL blog, detailing the global changes they’d noticed in reported bad behavior:

Negative Attitude reports: -29% in normals and -11% in ranked
Offensive Language reports: -35% in normals and -20% in ranked
Verbal Abuse reports: -41% in normals -17% in ranked

Check that out. Ten days of a voluntary system that grants nothing more than a tiny perk for being amiable, and folks were already cleaning up their acts. Of course, these stats only show a decline of reported incidents, which, while encouraging, is could be different than how things look down in the trenches. As LoL is not part of my repertoire, I took to Twitter earlier this week to get the word on the street. Lo and behold, players are indeed noticing a difference.

I first got some feedback from a player named Paige, who cites LoL as her favorite game despite the “negativity and hostility” within the community. In her opinion, Honor is a welcome addition. “Players seem to be making more of an effort to be just generally friendly,” she wrote in an email, noting that she’s seen a slight improvement in cross-team chat. She also pointed out that this hasn’t prevented insults from flying when a match goes badly, but nonetheless, she’s glad for a way to give props for good behavior.

I like that now when I play a game and 3 of the other 4 players are total jerks I can do something nice for that one other player. We can reward each other for not being jerks. I don’t know if it will really help, but at least it is something more positive for those of us who are trying to make the community better.

A summoner by the name of habibti chimed in by saying that “it’s kind of sad that in order to be a decent human being people feel like they need cookies,” but spoke about Honor with nothing but praise.

When Honor went live, there was an immediate difference in tone. I had allchat [cross-team chat] disabled in the game because I was tired of hearing incredibly sexist, racist, and homophobic comments being tossed both ways, and if I was playing with randoms, I would often mute them as well. After Honor went up, EVERYONE became nicer – I went from seeing problematic behaviour in almost every game to seeing it something like twice over the span of 20 games (and even then, it got shut down pretty quickly). I’ve turned allchat back on, and I love the dynamic both in game and after game. People compliment each other’s play-style, and on top of giving people on the other team credit for being honorable opponents, you can also give your own team points for being friendly, helpful, and being team-oriented. It’s nice to be able to give the good ones credit for what they do, and it’s also nice to be able to see such a drastic shift in mentality, even if it is sort of constructed.

Nick (aka summoner BuddyBoombox) commended Riot’s active role in improving their community, mentioning LoL’s well-established Tribunal system and reform cards as steps in the right direction. He was skeptical that Honor would do any good, but noticed the effects right away.

I initially thought it would be a disaster. No rewards? Ha! Like that’s going to work! But I was astonished. The day the patch dropped, that night, there was more positive communication and less angry opponents. I thought it had to be a fluke, but it has continued to be true. Occasionally you will get snarky people saying things like, “I’m so glad you’re nice, I guess I have to honor you now.” But for the most part it has had a massively positive impact on the community.

Twitter user @piratedustin was less enthused, and echoed Paige’s comment that things go south when competition gets heated.

I haven’t seen a change in bad behavior. I have seen people be more vocal on occasion about positive behavior…[The problem tends to be] competitive gamers, they immediately shit talk someone for any action they do not understand. That has not stopped or slowed.

Interestingly, those less encouraging observations fall right in line with Team PB&J’s expectations. According to Dr. Lyte, the Honor system isn’t aimed at incurable jerks, but rather players on the fence. From the Polygon article:

“The average player in the game is not toxic or positive, they’re neutral,” Lin says. Because the Honor system allows players to praise other players for their actions “we’re able to nudge them a little toward the positive.”

That, right there, is why I think this system, though imperfect, is a fantastic idea. Good players and bad players are going to stick to their alignments no matter what, but those in between tend to follow by example. Since I’m not a LoL player, I can’t comment on Honor directly, but in concept, this approach addresses a trend I’ve seen throughout public multiplayer games. I have often had the impression that a lot of bad behavior online — both in-game and otherwise — is based in social mimicry (not universally, of course, and it’s not the only factor). This is especially true for younger players and people who are new to a particular community. If the loudest, most dominant players are acting like jackasses without consequence, it sets the tone for everybody else. More importantly, it tells newbies how they’re expected to act if they want to fit in. Monkey see, monkey do. Players who like the game but not the climate tend to play in closed groups, shunning public chat and opting for private Ventrilo servers. Punitive measures do help to curb the worst of the worst, especially when real-world threats come into play, but in my experience, many players are more likely to mute or ignore unpleasant behavior than report it. If you have the sense that you’re the only one in the whole game who has a problem with how people are talking, it can be intimidating to speak up.

But by putting the focus on reward, rather than punishment, Riot is placing themselves firmly in the corner of players who just want to have fun. If you think of a multiplayer game as a big party, the developer is the host. Their guests may determine the mood, but it’s ultimately their house. If they make it clear what kind of behavior they want to see — not through scolding, but rather support — most people will take that into account. Reporting is a wrist slap. Honor is a fist bump. I know which one I’d prefer to get.

Though it’s too early to say whether Honor will be a lasting success, I would love to see systems like this in more multiplayer games. Much as I want to win, my primary objective is to have a good time. If I were selecting players for my team, I’d be far more likely to choose someone with the Friendly or Teamwork badge over the person with the best gear. A fun match with helpful folks who can play hard and still shake hands at the end? That sounds like a win to me.

Becky Chambers is a freelance writer and a full-time geek. She blogs over at Other Scribbles and can always be found on Twitter.

TAGS: |


  • Anonymous

    This is pretty awesome that they did this and it’s nice to see (some) positive results, no matter how substantial or not substantial they may be. it’s just nice to see that people take nice a bit more seriously if they receive a reward, even if it’s for pretty selfish reasons (but honestly, most people are nice for baseline selfish reasons anyway).

    What they should do is implement another system to adds even more bonus nice points if you actually call someone out on abusive behavior. Positive re-enforcement is good. Negative reinforcement breeds aggression and further abusive behavior. It can be effective depending on the situation but it is important to realize that most people aren’t actually -bad-, they’re just dicks because it’s easier and people are less likely to call them out on it.

  • Amanda

    I also don’t play LoL, but everyone else in my house does, and while I’ve often thought about trying it out, the thing that always stops me is my previous experience with MMO’s (specifically, WoW). Who wants to deal with the kind of hyper-competitive assholes who frequent games like that? Anything to help encourage the culture to lighten up and remember it’s a game is a step in the right direction, and I love that they’re taking it so seriously. Riot, you are impressing the hell out of me.

  • Anonymous

    More than getting neutral people off the fence its also good to encourage the positive people to be loud. Also prevents jerks from yelling about censorship.

  • http://twitter.com/jobias James Leung

    I’d like to point out a difference between Dota2′s commendation system and LoL’s honor system: Namely that Riot talks a lot about the Honor system. This system works because it provides a deterrant/incentive to players, and in order to be effective players have to know about it and believe that it has results. Even if Valve’s commendation system contains the same mathematical complexity and sophistication as Riot’s, it’s ineffective in comparison simply because Valve doesn’t talk about it.

    If the goal of your system is to influence player behavior, your players need to be under the impression that the system is actually doing *something*. Both systems could be complete placebos but Riot’s would still be better with their level of communication.

  • Anonymous

    As a LOL player, I can say that it doesn’t prevent trash-talking players to insult anyone who make a mistake in a game. That’s hot temper, that’s all. But it can limits reports. Why ? Because the report button is just beside the “reward” button at the end of a game. And anyone can think “I will not give a reward to this guy, that’s enough, the others will have my thumb up”. This system moved the vengeance from inflicting a sanction to not giving a reward. Good thinking.

    Still, since the installation of this system, I have reported some people anyway, for trolling or being goddamn feeders. Those guys will never learn, reward or not.

  • http://twitter.com/giapet gia manry

    I’m a regular Leaguer and I’ve definitely seen less horrific obnoxiousness…overall. :)

  • Anonymous

    I suspect that kind of a system would end up incentivizing false accusations. A player’s already likely to designate someone as “friendly” if they defend them from abuse, so it doesn’t seem like a necessary addition.

  • http://twitter.com/BeholdTheHair Mitch

    I want to see this (or something similar which accomplishes the same objective) become The Thing in gaming. Not A Thing. *The* Thing.

    I don’t actually play LoL, but a few of my friends swear by it, and I’m much more inclined to give it a shot after reading this. My hat, Riot; it is tipped to you.

  • Eika

    Not a LoL player, but here’s a thought: even if it remains a system that has no rewards, it could add to gameplay in the future. Consider a year down the road: you’re trying to get together a good group to do some in-game challenge, and you need a good team player. Honor points can be given to people for teamwork; if you can see how people earned honor (either now or in a patch) then team players will get into groups more often. Likewise, if you’re looking for a good multiplayer match-up, it’s far more fun to play against people you have a grudging respect for (honorable opponents) than swearing campers, and they may actively seek out people with high honor to go against.

  • http://twitter.com/Xander756 Alex Hinkley

    The honor system is equally as broken as the reporting system. I regularly see so-called “honorable opponent’s” trolling and flaming other people. How did they earn these ribbons then?

    Team Player Behavior should not be comprised of people in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and statistics. They have no idea how to properly enforce rules or to change criminal (which they call “toxic” behavior). Can’t blame them, it’s not their field of expertise.

    The team should be comprised of people in the fields of law enforcement and jurisprudence. People with experience n rules enforcement and people with experience judging cases and rehabilitating offenders. These are the people you need to fix the community’s behavior. Not some psychologist. Read any book about prisons (or psychopaths whom are extremely adept at this) and you will constantly see cases of inmates fooling the “clueless psychologists” into believing they are making progress, recommending their release, and then they re-offend.

  • http://wrongsirwrong.blogspot.com/ Magic Xylophone

    When your company is called “Riot” and your game is called “LOL,” you’ve got to expect some troublemakers.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WCO5JCXARWUTWBQMXPS7NYZI7I Unicorn

    I’m a Dota 2 player, and I actually don’t mind the trash talk because it’s really not to be taken too seriously. Besides, everyone has the option to mute offensive players. Because it is a competitive team game, there will always be conflict. I don’t think any merit system actually improves behavior. It probably just silences it and people learn to give up easier and ride out the loss.

  • brandon

    Now, i would care about this…if it were not focused around some rinky dinky little WOW ripoff aimed at 12-year-olds with fragile attention spans.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kitfoxtrot Christopher LaHaise

    My I suggest Guild Wars 2? :)

  • http://profiles.google.com/kitfoxtrot Christopher LaHaise

    It isn’t anything like WoW. o.O

  • http://profiles.google.com/kitfoxtrot Christopher LaHaise

    Of course there will always be conflict, but you can have conflict without being rude. Compliment good play, grit your teeth in frustration when you lose, but acknowledge your opponent’s skills. “Damn it, okay, I got wiped. Good job.” It shows you’re a decent person.

  • brandon

    And how would you know that! I saw a video of it and there is NOTHING there to distinguish it from WOW in anyway! If there is something you see new about that game, call me. Heck, aren’t ALL MMO games nowadays WOW ripoffs (yes, I’m looking at you, Guild wars 2). Thank god for Skyrim, I guess.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kitfoxtrot Christopher LaHaise

    Because I’ve looked at LoL, and it plays nothing like WoW. It’s a unit-driven tactical game, closer to a RTS than an MMO. And no, Guild Wars 2 is not a WoW rip-off, I’m playing GW2, and I’ve played WoW, and they’re nothing alike (thank the kami).

    But hell, if you want to go that route, WoW is a ripoff of Everquest. :p

  • http://twitter.com/mattrmcl Matthew McLaughlin

    This comment is the best example of internet stupidity ever.

  • dema1013

    As a fellow LoL player, with over 1000 matches played, i have to say the new honor system is nice and seems to have taken the majority of the player community in a better direction. before the honor system it was common to see player that would stand back and not help their lane only going for last hits on champions, being rude, insulting, trolling ect. ,but now its become something more uncommon in just a short time.

    i think riot is on the right track to improving player communication, team work and overall friendliness among player. lets face it dealing with trollers and players who dont even try to put any team effort can make a game unpleasant and more than likely want to play the game less. the tribunal system was already nice,allowing the player community to judge case of complaints against each other, kind of like a trial in court with a jury of one own peers deciding their fate. looking at “Alex Hinkley’s post its obvious he has not even looked into the game at all cause he would know the game is set up more like a legal court system than any other games punishment system.

    no matter what some people may say about LoL’s honor system, it has made a difference in the way players treat, play and act in game. in combination with the tribunal system they already use its one of the most effective systems i’ve seen yet in a game, and trust me, i have played a very large variety of games out there from the original E.Q., unreal tournament , too WoW, all the way to LoL GW2 and more. take it from a real gamer, Riot games is on the right track to making there system improve players moral and enjoyment of the game.

    there will always be trolls, bad players, and what some may call douche bags, but that is what these systems are trying to slowly weed out and bring to a minimal, and have made a real impact so far. all i’m saying is don’t discredit riot games for trying and actually making a difference in their player community, where the majority of other games have failed.

  • dema1013

    some people are just bad players who mistreat, insult or just make the game unpleasant, but like you said you can’t neutralize that 100%, but they have made a great start at bringing it to a minimal. since the honor system was added i have seen about a 80% drop in players with negative actions and negative chats. it used to be 4 out of 5 games id see problematic players an now is maby 1 out of 10 to 1 out of 20 games.

  • Nancy Lebovitz

    It’s not as though the police and the justice system do a complete job of preventing crime, and they don’t specialize in low-level harassment.

    Still, your idea would also make for an interesting experiment.

  • brandon

    You want to see internet stupidity? Hop on over to ONTD! and Io9. You. Will. Get. Your. Money’s. Worth. Of. IT.