At This Year's GDC, Riot's Going To Teach Us All About Sportsmanship

Earlier today, it was revealed that Riot will be hosting a keynote at this year's Game Developers Conference regarding online sportsmanship. The announcement, which was made on the official GDC website, points to Jeffrey Lin - the lead designer of Riot's social systems - as the one who'll be running the keynote, titled "Enhancing Sportsmanship in Online Games." Over the course of the keynote, Riot will share tips with developers for fostering respect and co-operation among their players. 

To help things along, Lin intends to present the latest findings in group dynamics and social psychology in order to show how different compositions of players affects the level of co-operation within a team. Lin hopes that by combining research from online gaming with more classical theories of psychology, he can help attendees better understand how to develop features to improve player sportsmanship.

If any developer's qualified to give such a talk, it's Riot.  Since its inception, League of Legends has become one of the most popular online games in the world. Unfortunately, it's also gotten something of a reputation for its community.

See, the game's highly competitive nature - combined with the fact that it requires a full team to play - lends itself a little too well to frustration. What I'm saying is that people rage. A lot, at both their teammates and their opponents. 

On top of that, the game tends to attract a great many people who play exclusively to make other people miserable. Such players are toxic to their very core; they're incapable of winning graciously and insult whoever they see fit. It didn't take long for Riot to see that something needed to change. The system traditionally used by online games - where players are reported for poor behavior directly to the developer - clearly wasn't going to work. 

This would eventually lead to the birth of The Tribunal back in May 2011. The way it works is pretty simple: whenever a player is reported a certain number of times over a certain number of games, their case goes into the Tribunal system. There, it's judged by other players, who vote whether to punish or pardon the guilty party. At that point, Riot takes over, assigning whatever punishment it feels fits the crime. These punishments vary, ranging from a warning to a temporary suspension to an immediate, permanent ban.

With the creation of the Tribunal, League of Legends saw a nearly immediate improvement in sportsmanship. Not only could players participate in policing their own community, they could directly observe the connection between poor behavior and punishment. That might not sound all that significant, but apparently making people aware helps. 

The next thing Riot did, about a year later, was to implement an "honor" initiative. Rather than simply punishing players for poor behavior, they decided they might have better luck rewarding them for good behavior; they equipped players with the ability to "honor" their peers, marking their opponents as honorable and their teammates as friendly, co-operative, or helpful. Players who receive enough votes from any of those categories are gifted with a ribbon. 

Pretty cool, right? 

If there's any game developer who understands online sportsmanship, it's Riot Games. The studio's upcoming keynote at this years' GDC promises to be an interesting affair, one which will hopefully see other developers following in Riot's footsteps. After all, although the systems developed by Riot aren't anywhere near perfect, they're still among the best we've got.