Toxicity in Heroes of the Storm

May 19, 2016

The bane of gaming: toxicity of players who suck all of the fun out of the game. From the trolls and 420ers to obsessive control freaks and (seemingly) psychotic mental patients, there’s always going to be someone out there who is going to ruin the game for you.

The Puzzling Subculture of Toxic Players

More than any other genre, MOBAs tend to get the brunt of these personalities. It’s hard to say why exactly, but it might have something to do with the frustration that goes along with trying to work as a team. There is no “solo mode”, nothing like a free-for-all that you can go and play and ignore other people; MOBAs are won—and lost—as a team.

League of Legends set itself up as the poster child for a “toxic community” many years ago, and people love to compare community problems to it. If you google “toxic players”, the first couple of pages will be completely riddled with troll montages and forum posts from people complaining about their environment in League. Celebrity trolls like DoTot and Tyler1 have inexplicably emerged in a subculture entertained by the irritation of others. In some ways, it’s become almost a mainstream habit to spend an afternoon trolling and ruining the game for other players.

It’s a fascinating trend, and it seems nearly exclusively attached to LoL, at least according to the Internet. You’ll find a little on Dota 2, and there is almost no mention of it in Heroes of the Storm. In fact, it’s difficult to find any evidence of toxicity in Heroes of the Storm within the past year, but yet I’ve actually experienced more toxicity there than I’ve ever experienced in League. Why is that?

Problems with Player Relegation

I know that there are people out there who have experienced extreme toxicity in their Heroes games. Every week, Dustin Browder gets another tweet about people who are fed up with the toxicity of players and bad attitudes on their team. I know I’m not the only one.

Drafting in Hero League is a 50/50 win or loss based on what your allies pick. Unlike LoL, where certain Champions are best suited for different lanes, Heroes of the Storm requires certain roles or the game is basically over from the beginning. Whenever you have a teammate who refuses to fill those roles and your team is left without a healer or a tank, you have basically lost the game from Level 1. It’s incredibly frustrating to have a troll or a dumb player who does this to your team, and that frustration naturally leads to more toxicity and name-calling throughout the game.

Unlike League, where I can just mute chat and farm quietly in my jungle, Heroes of the Storm is all about teamwork. One mistake in team coordination can spell the end of the game for your team; with someone intentionally sabotaging your team, it’s extraordinarily easy to reach that threshold. Communication is a vital part of playing the game, and continually muting or silencing players does not increase my chances of winning games or even having fun.

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Reporting players will eventually get them “muted”, meaning they can’t talk to their allies during the game—which, for reasons stated above, still isn’t healthy. On top of that, it just turns them into ping spambots. Instead of speaking, they just make your life miserable with constant pings. Blizzard fixed this to some degree by limiting pings, but with proper timing, players can continually ping all game without stopping.

Leaver queues—queues where people who have left a game are relegated to in order to improve their behavior—were designed by Blizzard as a way to sort out the players without banning or timing them out, but have turned out to be a huge failure. They are cesspools of toxicity, even though they are supposed to be redeemer games. Teammates are continually arguing or just treating the game as a means to waste time so that they can go back to playing normal games. The worst part is that disconnecting due to Internet problems or, more obnoxiously, due to the client crashing, will toss you headfirst to that nightmare.

Sometimes people can get really out of hand with their comments. Via
Sometimes people can get really out of hand with their comments. Via

All in all, it’s very frustrating to have trolls in Heroes of the Storm, and it feels like the tools are inefficient for dealing with the problem. Muting the players does little to help your team and the leaver queues don’t reform players with bad attitudes but instead exacerbate them. Something’s gotta change.

Are There Feasible Solutions?

Perhaps I jumped onboard LoL too late, after all the features had been adjusted properly. I didn’t start playing until summer of 2015, and by that time the Tribunal system had been continually tweaked and improved over five years to effectively weed out people ruining games. The introduction of dynamic queue also likely helped solve role problems that were previously impossible to sort out and, in turn, sated some of the ragers before any problems even occurred. Maybe I just got lucky, and the punishment system in Heroes needs more work to catch up.

In any case, now is as good as any to think about the solutions for making Heroes of the Storm great again. The introduction of the league system in the near future promised to ban all muted players from playing Ranked mode, which is a step in the right direction. Nonetheless, it does not promote cooperation and communication on teams. It also separates healthy games from toxic games even more, meaning that leaver queues and Quick Match are likely to get worse at the expense of Ranked play being better.

Right now, there are no perks to being nice. One of the things that League can be credited for is the introduction of the honor system in which players can specifically call out their teammates for being nice or playing well or sharing knowledge, etc. It may sound stupid, but I believe that sort of system helps immensely to create an environment where (normal) people enjoy being nice. You may have played a terrible game, but a teammate gave you props for admitting to it and trying to play better; your day got better and you’re likely to be in a more positive mood for next game.

The LoL Honor system congratulates outstandingly positive players and even offers occasional rewards to promote positive behavior. Enlarged picture.
The LoL Honor system congratulates outstandingly positive players and even offers occasional rewards to promote positive behavior. Enlarged picture.

On the flip side, I also don’t think Blizzard’s punishments are harsh enough. It’s understandable that Blizzard wants to keep players playing and enjoying the game, but failing to ban or at least time out excessively bad behavior simply does not prevent those players from wasting others’ time. Sometimes people have a bad game or even a bad day, but repeat offenders need to be punished in a more meaningful way than just being muted.

Managing the community is a difficult task, especially when it’s tied into the competitive aspect of winning versus losing, but Blizzard is improving. The toxicity is annoying to deal with, but hopefully there are more tools and ideas out there still undiscovered that will improve the experience of playing Heroes of the Storm immensely.

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Christopher Meek
Chris is an esports aficionado who has followed and written about several different games, including StarCraft II, League of Legends, and Heroes of the Storm. He has served notable time at Team Liquid, among others, in the pursuit of becoming a freelance writer and editor. He’s sometimes been known in the MOBA community as “that feeder” but continues to improve and remains optimistic for the future.
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