Subversion of the meta in League of Legends: innovation or a punishable act?
In his article, Scott Donaldson examines the relationships between player community norms and developer-created rules of play in the competitive team game, League of Legends (Riot Games, 2009), focusing on a case example of an incident where a player had been threatened with a permanent ban after repeatedly engaging in an experimental strategy that fell outside strategic norms established by players. Donaldson then studied the following discussion on a popular League of Legends discussion board, examining top-level posts and whether they justified the validity of the ban threats made by Riot Games.
League of Legends is a popular multiplayer online battle arena game (MOBA), where two teams of five players fight to destroy the opposing team’s base while at the same time working to defend their own. The game offers a combination of tower-defence, real-time-strategy and role-playing gameplay. Each player takes command of a Champion that generally falls into one or two playstyle-based roles.
Since the game’s release, the player community has developed a position and role-based strategic framework called “meta” or “metagame”. It allows teams consisting of random players to quickly form cohesive team compositions, and has been a core tenet of play across all levels of competition and across all major game servers since its inception. The metagame assigns a specific role for each player that dictates how they will aid the rest of the team as well as the type of Champion they will play.
In November 2016, it came to the attention of the League of Legends player community that a player with the username ‘AdellaideSkyhart’ had been threatened with a permanent account ban due to deviant in-game behaviour that falls outside the bounds of the play contract, which combines both the legal documents that players agree to when signing up for the game as well as player-created social protocols. While his behavior was deviant to some degree, it was not clearly definable as a “reportable offense” in terms of Riot Games’ rules. AdellaideSkyhart belongs in a player type referred as “meta-breakers” within the League of Legends community – a player that engages in strategies that fall outside the metagame. While not sticking to the metagame is listed as “acceptable behavior” in the key rules concerning reportable extreme behavior maintained by Riot Games, it usually involves playing Champions ‘out of position’ where they would normally operate according to the meta. For example, playing the jungle position requires the player to roam the areas between teammates ensure that the team has vision across the map. Instead, AdellaideSkyhart employed a strategy that operated outside of the positional framework entirely.
AdellaideSkyhart’s behavior could be categorized as Greed Play, which is defined as a play act that is not specifically intended to disrupt but only the actor benefits from it. In AdellaideSkyhart’s case he might be aligned with the rest of his team in his desire to win the game, but his unique and potentially contentious approach towards this reaching this goal is disruptive to other team members.
The discussion regarding the incident on the official League of Legends was divisive: others argued that AdellaideSkyhart should be exempt from the potential ban, as he did have a desire to win games with the employed strategy, as opposed to griefing: Specifically disrupting other players’ gaming experiences for his enjoyment. In addition, AdellaideSkyhart’s unorthodox strategies were praised as innovative, and it was viewed that he should not be punished for trying out new strategies.
A great number of players were not as sympathetic, instead placing more value on an enjoyable play environment, arguing that when playing with a team of random players, not sticking to the metagame may ruin the game for the rest of the team due to limited communication. If one player decides to not adhere to the meta, the rest of the team must alter their playstyle to be successful in some way. This, in turn, could be interpreted as a violation of Riot Game’s rule of “Enjoy Yourself, but not at Anyone’s Expense”, situating AdellaideSkyhart’s style of play as a punishable offense.
The discussion of the League of Legends subreddit goes beyond AdellaideSkyhart, and instead seeks to address larger issues: fundamentally unclear behavioral rules and the player’s conceptions of how the game should be played based on those rules. Players may not be content to blindly accept the rules maintained by the developer, instead drawing from their own experiences and previous rulings. The vague nature of the rules means that they must stem from the developer’s subjective interpretation. As the ultimate enforcer of the rules, Riot game’s interpretation of these rules along with player-developed norms have a big role in shaping the way that the game should played and understood.
Original Article: I Predict a Riot: Making and Breaking Rules and Norms in League of Legends
Published: Melbourne, Australia: Digital Games Research Association, July, 2017
Original Article Accessible From: http://www.digra.org/digital-library/publications/i-predict-a-riot-making-and-breaking-rules-and-norms-in-league-of-legends/