I’ll be honest, I stayed away from League of Legends for a long time because of the things I’d heard about the community.
I was intrigued by the idea of MOBAs. They seemed like the colorful, fantastical equivalent of the sort of team gameplay you get in a first person shooter, but with that old-school strategy game feel. Also, I don’t like being subjected to toxic or abusive language, but I do enjoy competition and a good challenge. It seemed like a good fit, except for some of the things I was hearing about the community’s toxicity (paired with a side helping of misogyny).
With multiple studies indicating that people with feminine gendered voices or usernames in online gaming spaces are more likely to be subjected to abuse, and the fact that many of the insults common in online gaming are gendered or queerphobic slurs, it’s understandable (if disappointing) that women may feel less safe engaging in these spaces than men. Although Riot as a company has done a lot to try and counter this image, and has implemented meaningful anti-harassment functionality, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out how to take advantage of those buttons and chat commands.
Because of great advice I received early on, however, I was able to overcome my initial concern, and I now count League as one of my favorite online multiplayer games.
If you’re concerned about the community but still want to play—or even just try—League of Legends, here are some helpful tricks I’ve picked up for coping with that culture and still having a good time.
1 . Use the Mute/Ignore Function
The number one reason why a lot of women—and nonbinary people—I know stay away from League of Legends is its reputation for toxic, sometimes overtly abusive in-game chat culture.
Everyone is different in terms of how toxic people affect them in online spaces, and what they’re willing to cope with. However, for myself, I know the best thing I can do in that situation is reclaim agency for the interaction-which means Muting or Ignoring people who are trolling in the chat. Muting means you won’t hear them in that particular chat, whereas Ignore blocks them forever. I’m fine making liberal use of the Ignore function, but if you think you might need to exchange vital information with that person later, Muting may be the better option.
I do frequently tell them I’m blocking them by saying something along the lines of, “Hey, you’re being toxic, so I’m muting/ignoring you,” as a way of providing more instantaneous feedback for their behavior, but that’s not a requirement.
One of the great things about League of Legends, especially at a lower level, is that people generally know how to play without communicating. Your game will definitely be better if your team is able to work in tandem, but if someone is trolling, they’re already not adding that much to the game. Again, your mileage and experience may vary, but I find the Mute/Ignore function a good way of breaking even and taking control of the interaction for myself.
- Use the Reward/Report System
One of the things Riot has done to help encourage positive behavior is implement a reward system in addition to their block and report systems. This encourages kindness, teamwork, and just all around being a good sport.
Now, reporting. Even if someone has been toxic to me, I sometimes have a hard time imagining ruining their day or their game-especially if it’s somehow a one-off or they’re just in a bad mood-by reporting them. Fortunately, League management generally only addresses these situations when there are multiple reports. All you’re doing is reclaiming your control over your game and how that person behaved for you. Reports are there for a reason.
The root of the issue is this: your experience matters. That’s the thing I tell people (and myself, when I forget) again and again and again. You are not responsible for the choices someone else makes, and if multiple people find their behavior worthy of reporting, then their behavior needs correcting.
- Learning is Okay
No one is born knowing how to play a video game, especially not a game as complex as League of Legends. There may be some individual traits that make it easier for people to learn one kind of game over another, or are dealing with other extenuating circumstances (there are plenty of people who got good at League while they were job searching), but no one starts as a pro.
If you make a mistake and receive harassment from team members, it’s easy to feel you deserve it, or even internalize it. The added pressure of playing a competitive game as a woman sometimes means you feel like you’re representing your entire gender. I’m here to tell you, old school infomercial style, that you never deserve to endure toxic language for being bad at a video game, and that I guarantee everyone playing the game has probably made exactly the same mistake before.
I won’t lie: this is a game with a fairly steep learning curve. There’s no shame in not knowing everything the second you’re done with the tutorials or even playing against the computer. You will make mistakes, but you will also get better at the game every time you play. There are things you might be able to do to mitigate these early mistakes, if they make you uncomfortable. For instance, I just about always have a couple different character builds open on my iPad to glance at as I’m playing/buying items mid game.
I still make mistakes or occasionally commit a chat faux pas. But remember this, and repeat it to yourself: no matter what mistake you make, you do not deserve to receive abuse. Everyone’s been in your position, and even if they hadn’t, that still doesn’t justify them treating you badly.
- Use Team Builder
When I started to get more comfortable with the game, I ran into an all new kind of trouble. I was surrounded and being matched with team members who were in the same place I was. I knew the ins-and-outs of one kind of role, and I knew what my favorites were and what I was investing my time in. I was suddenly in a space where people were calling roles at the beginning (lane and character type). Even when I would call ADC, a pretty common experience was another player showing up, saying, “Well, we need support” and calling out my username.
My socialization probably has something to do with it, but I’ll pretty much always cave to playing a healer/support in a situation like that. If you love being a healer, that’s awesome! I personally hate playing support. This is also not a universal female experience, but I know it’s a common one. Sona it is, then (begrudgingly).
My advice for this one? Take advantage of the Team Builder.
The Team Builder is a match type that allows you to choose your character and role ahead of time. You’ll probably spend more time in the queue, but in my experience, it’s worth it. Everyone gets to play the character they choose. This isn’t a perfect fix, but it means a lot of potential friction is worked out in advance and people are more likely to focus on the game, or even experiment with different kinds of team builds!
- Play With Friends
I was given this advice by a friend of mine, and I think it’s still the best League of Legends advice I’ve been given yet. Play with friends. Set up a time once a week or on whatever timeline makes the most sense for your lives, and play together. You can play in the same room, or have a Skype conversation running; the idea is to collaborate, game, and learn with someone you are already comfortable with.
Or, if you don’t have friends who are interested in playing (which also totally happens!), or in the right time zone, there may be other ways you can reach out to other lady League players (Subreddits, Tumblrs, or even Facebook groups). The goal is to create a positive internal community, so that when someone starts misbehaving in chat, you have someone to sigh, block, have fun with, and not need to do those things alone.