GDC2014: Teaching Sportsmanship in League Of Legends

At GDC 2014 one of the most interesting talks for me was a talk by Jeff Lynn of Riot Games on encouraging sportsmanship in players. This concept isn’t new in engineering online experiences but Riot Games has an interesting twist in that Riot Games focuses on four different ‘behavior inflection points’ rather than just in-game behaviour.


Choosing a game mode, pre-game, in-game and post-game are all seen as points to encourage sportsmanship behaviours. If you pave the way towards good experiences before matches or after matches, you greatly increase the odds that a players’ overall experience is seen as positive.


The company starts from the premise that all players are inherently good, but bad contexts give rise to bad behaviours. If a player has a positive day, gets the character and role they want, then obviously they’re entering the game on a high note, coincidentally it all worked out in the players’ favour. On the other hand, if they had a bad day, can’t get the player they want, they’re having a bad experience before they start playing.

Using statistical analysis of millions of matches, 78% of players are shown to be good, meaning they get honours and are rarely reported whereas only 1% are ranked as the ‘worst’ players. The worst players are often reported and rarely get honours. So how much damage do to the 1% do to the overall player experience? As it turns out, that 1% cause 5% of the total negativity in the game, meaning that the vast majority of negativity is caused by otherwise good players having bad experiences. So simply banning negative players does essentially nothing for the overall player experience. Good players may not have a bad occurrence for 100 games, but when they do it impacts the game greatly.


The design philosophy used to deal with the problem is to make sportsmanship the path of least resistance for players through five means.

  • Creating a better match chemistry
  • Reforming negative influences
  • Shielding players from negative behaviours
  • Incentivizing positive behaviours
  • Fostering and celebrating a culture of sportsmanship


Creating better match chemistry is a surprisingly simple problem once you have enough data to work with. Are there particular random groups of players that consistently perform well or consistently perform poorly? As it turns out there are very strong indicators for both groups. A random group of five that has two friends join together with three strangers consistently performs very well. The three strangers tend to attach themselves to the pre-existing group of two friends and a smooth match experience then occurs with high honours and low reports. Conversely if two groups of two friends are matched with one stranger, no group identity can form easily and the matches tend to go poorly. Unsurprisingly the player sorting in League of Legends now tends to match two friends with three random strangers.


Time pressure and its effect on negotiation was also considered but the problem was that speedy entry into the game is considered a good thing. But how good? As it turns out players value speedy entry into games the least, so League of Legends can safely exchange time for a more positive player experience when they do join.

One of the most interesting means to train and encourage negative players was to control their ability to use chat. A new system was tested in which players had their chat ability limited in what they were allowed to say and how much they’re allowed to talk. Initially they are allowed only three lines of communication and earn more lines through positive actions and positive communications. The result actually works better than bans. Bad players are quickly trained to be better players, have 20% fewer reports and 71% of players improve their communication after even one session. The data even shows they even win slightly more games!


The talk clearly showed through data analysis and examples that players are fundamentally good but context create bad behaviours in good people. Well designed systems can act as catalysts for cooperation and good player experience among total strangers. With this level of involvement and study of an already tremendously successful game it’s easy to see why League Of Legends is the online force that it is.

Chris Mitchell teaches Pre-Production Techniques and Game Theory at VFS Game Design