As any seasoned internet user knows, the internet is not all sunshine and rainbows. Part of the internet being a platform for free speech is the inclusion of corners where there is acceptance of sexism, racism, and other general toxicity. This is especially true within multiple gaming communities. As tensions between opponents and even allies in an online game increase, it is not uncommon for some level of trash-talk to be thrown back and forth. One of the largest online games where such behavior is still notorious and widespread is Riot Games’ League of Legends. Throughout its now over 10-year history, there have been alterations in the banning system, account bans on well-known players and streamers, and multiple community outcries for reform. This has reached the point where it has even spawned a well-known YouTube series by the channel League Recap that creates short video-essays documenting the history behind infamous players’ bans. Yet almost all the most popular cases of banning are contained within the North American and European servers. It is very rare to hear about a high-tier Korean or Chinese streamer who has sustained an account ban, especially one due to toxicity. How can this be when the player report system and ban system are basically unchanged globally? It appears the answer lies right at the first step of account creation.
On the North American server, a new user looking to create a fresh account goes to the Riot Games or League of Legends site and simply follows the steps. The most personal information that you get asked for is a date of birth and an email address, both of which are used to verify that you are at least 13 years old. However, it does not take a teenager to figure out that you can simply lie about your age on both your email and the account creation step to create an account and start playing sooner. Basically, any who desires to play the game can play it on the North America server.
The ease with which one can create an account may cause issues for younger players, especially those not mentally prepared to handle a heated game environment where emotions turn into harsh words. The most prevalent issue tied to new-account creation, though, is the creation of secondary, or alternate, accounts. With the report system already struggling to keep up with the burden put on it by normal account use and play, alternate account creation is backbreaking. Say a player gets cited and banned for excessive verbal toxicity or even hate speech. If the player’s account has received enough warnings and citations, it will be permanently banned. The player then no longer has access or the ability to log into that account, but the story usually does not end there. Toxic players can easily just create a new account and begin again. The largest slap on the wrist is the loss of anything unlocked on the initial account, but when you are constantly getting accounts banned and creating new ones this is hardly even a punishment. One might also say that there is the requirement of leveling a new account to level 30, at which point you can play ranked, that acts as a deterrent for repeated account switching. Although this would normally take an appreciable investment of time for every new account, players willing to cough up a little bit of money can buy an account from among the thousands created and leveled to 30 for the purposes of selling later. All in all, even a permanent ban would only stop a determined player for a day or two. Even this is a generous estimate, as some toxic players have numerous alternate accounts already purchased and prepped in expectation of their next ban.
One solution to this rampant problem is tying bans to individuals rather than their account, such as an IP ban. This, however, raises many other concerns about privacy, something that is invaluable to almost any western internet user. With Riot Games also being an American company, the current western League of Legends servers see IP bans as only a last possible resort. Until a single IP address has racked up numerous account suspensions or permanent bans, they are unlikely to be fully stopped. This is a much different take from Korean and Chinese server operations.
Due to their intense crackdown on cyber defamation laws, both South Korea and China have much more personal information tied to account creation and internet usage in general. While China obviously has a much stricter control over its citizens, these measures have been controversial and are still under debate in South Korea. Nevertheless, they are having an impact in online gaming. In both countries, your Riot Games account is tied to an individual PIN, basically an SSN. This ensures that everyone is capable of creating only one account ever under normal circumstances. If your account is permanently banned under these circumstances, there is no recourse other than pursuing options that are also ban-worthy and possibly illegal. As would be expected, these consequences weigh heavily on Eastern players’ minds. Of course, there is still toxicity and there will continue to be toxicity even within these servers; but the looming threat of never being able to play again seems to have created a more competitive, less emotional environment on the whole. It also begs the question of whether the small amount of privacy which we cherish in Europe and North America is worth the online threats, bullying, and discrimination that occurs in online gaming communities, or whether we would also be better off by adopting a similar model?
Feature image taken from https://signup.na.leagueoflegends.com/en/signup/index#/