League of Legends pros get lengthy suspensions for ‘verbal abuse’ and ‘racial slurs’

Above: A crowd watching League of Legends live at a major tournament.

Image Credit: Riot Games

In online games, it’s common to meet players who verbally abuse others and use racial slurs. In professional sports, that behavior is very rare. In professional League of Legends, however, it happens enough that developer Riot Games has to step in and occasionally lay down harsh penalties.

The studio announced today that it is suspending two professional players from official League of Legends competition for their “toxicity.” Alfonso “Mithy” Rodriguez and Erlend “Nukeduck” Holm are both barred from participating in the League Championship Series until the end of 2014. This comes after Riot conducted an investigation into the behavior of each pro, and the company determined that both were continually responsible for harassing other players. Riot punished the players mostly for behavior they exhibited in the public game that is unrelated to official competitions. This isn’t the first time Riot has banned a player for violating the player code. In 2012, the company suspended Christian “IWillDominate” Rivera for a year for “persistent toxic behavior.” Other e-sports leagues have also punished players, but League of Legends (with its huge number of active players) has seen more suspensions than other games.

The investigation found that Rodriguez and Holm each earned a negative report in more than 30 percent of the games they participated in. The majority of those reports were for offensive language, negative attitude, and verbal abuse. Those include racial slurs, which Riot punished both players for previously. Rodriguez is from Spain and Holm is from Norway, and both had a harassment score in the top 1 percent of League of Legends’ European West server.

We’ve reached out to Riot for more about what it is doing to eliminate this behavior from the pros in its games. We’ll update with more.

Riot is in a unique position. While it is a game developer first, it also owns and operates an e-sports league. Like the National Basketball Association or any other league, it has an interest in eliminating the kind of behavior that Mithy and Nukeduck were found guilty of. The NBA is still dealing with L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks regarding black people, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver is working to have him removed as an owner while also banning him for life from owning a team or even attending games. The Sterling issue made international news partially because pro leagues have done such a good job at stamping out offensive language from their players and coaches. This is something e-sports is still struggling with.

While Riot can look to traditional sports for pointers on how to get rid of toxicity, the developer is potentially at a disadvantage. Basketball, soccer, and football pros all have a lot of money on the line — and not just from their team contracts. Players could lose a chance at lucrative endorsement deals if they behave poorly.

E-sports players typically don’t have as much on the line. Most players have a few very minor deals with companies, but it’s possibly not the kind of money that makes you change your behavior.

It’s also important to note that both Rodriguez and Holm are Western European players, which is a region that has a lot of issues with racism in sports. The continent’s most popular game, football (aka soccer here in the States), is notorious for race-related outbursts from fans. That includes people in the stands yelling “monkey” and throwing bananas at black players.

Riot owns a global league with a lot of potential, and the steps it’s taking to punish players who behave poorly show that it knows it needs to get this sort of behavior under control before it damages the e-sport as a whole.

More information:

Riot Games is a direct-to-consumer video game developer and publisher of premium, competitive online games. The company was established in 2006 and has quickly become a leading global developer and publisher of premium free-to-play onl... read more »

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Mikkel Ingwar Karlsen
Mikkel Ingwar Karlsen

It is concerning that the eSports-managements are so passive in these scenarios. Only after the ban-hammer has struck do they address the issue, and even then, they distance themselves for what are essentially their own assets and responsibilities (the players). In a professional environment dominated by youngsters, it would be nice to have more transparent organizations.

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