Danger: Dota 2's Culture of Toxic Communication

 

Doing a quick Google search for “most toxic gaming community” will yield a variety of opinions, accusations and angry rants about video game titles across the board, but it seems the greatest vitriol is reserved for the MOBA genre, and Dota 2 is no exception. I’ve played my share of online games but have never encountered a community where I so regularly see the the amount of profanity-ridden insults, verbal abuse and angry pinging that I see in Dota 2. How does a community devolve into such depths of abysmal communication? We have two perspectives: the first is my own, regarding the US/English-speaking community, and the second opinion is from one of our Russian writers regarding the Russian-speaking community.

 

Game is hard

Competition creates stress, and stress, especially when you’re losing, can easily lead to anger and negative behavior. Dota 2 magnifies that effect - it’s incredibly challenging, highly complex and has a learning curve about as forgiving as the first step in front of a freight train. In short, it’s very stressful, and with adrenaline running high, it’s easy to go from intense to incensed in the blink of an eye, especially if there’s an angry teammate in the mix. Trust me, if it’s 20 minutes into the game, I’ve died 6 times and I have little more than brown boots and a magic wand, I don’t need to be told I’m having a bad game. But when my teammate responds with a classic “This CM…” Few things make me want to vent profanities like that phrase.

 

GG noob team

This brings me to the other crucial aspect of the MOBA genre that creates so much opportunity for toxicity: teammates. While there are plenty of other games out there that are highly cooperative, Dota 2 is integrally dependent on teamwork, which is in turn integrally dependent on communication. The problem is that when a game is going poorly, the temptation is to blame your teammates instead of yourself. Once that happens, the communication that is so critical to winning the game tends to devolve into either yelling and/or insulting each other, or silence, either of which is anti-productive. The dependence on communication also explains some portion of the hatred that the US Dota crowd has for playing with non-English speakers. As an American, I’ll admit it: most of us are lamentably monolingual; we’ve forgotten that bit of Spanish we learned in school, and the Cyrillic alphabet might as well be an alien language. To many in the US East/US West region, players speaking in any other language than English means another barrier to team communication and thus to winning, and many resort to blaming the Peruvians rather than trying to communicate effectively.

 

Just a sampling of some of the sophisticated conversation that happens in Dota 2. (Source)

 

We go unseen

It’s often argued that players are toxic because they are young and, relatively speaking, immature. Don’t get me wrong, I think most people who regularly play games online have encountered that 12 year old who seems to think the sole purpose of a microphone is for flaming others. Still, I think that in the world of pub games, it’s not so much about players being young and failing to recognize how they ought to act, but more the fact that the game offers them anonymity and removes them from real-world consequences. I’ve attended two TI’s, and in person, the community seems pretty awesome: enthusiastic, agreeable and generally nice people. It’s not that players don’t understand how to behave, it’s just that online, they can hide behind the CAPSLOCK key and a passive-aggressive chat wheel. They can get away with being jerks online in a way they can’t in person.

 

Welcome to the trench

With the changes to the low-priority system, Valve has tried to institute stricter rules to punish negative behavior. Many in the community laud the change as a sort of permanent trench for toxic ragers, but is that going to fix the problem? Keeping toxic players all together longer simply means that they become more and more accustomed to the negative behaviors that put them in low priority in the first place and some even prefer playing in that environment. Eventually, though, they’ll get out of the trench (after all, even when no one in the game cares, someone has to win). Then what’s the incentive to change their behavior? Let’s face it: the only positive motivation system is the commendation which has become meaningless in the light of those same toxic players asking for a commend at the end of every match that they have a positive KD ratio. I’d argue that offering a true reward system for being a nice and helpful person in game could have more benefit to the community than punishing players in low priority.

 

Mr. Einstein welcomes you to the trench. (Source)

 

Young role-models

Coming back to the idea of youth, where I DO think age becomes a major factor is in the professional scene, not only in terms of the players, but in terms of the esports industry as a whole. It’s not uncommon to see pro players breaking into the scene when they’re only 15 or 16, and players like Fear, who is currently 27, have been called “old” for years. Regardless of their youth, top players are held in high esteem and carry a celebrity factor within the Dota community. Like it or not, they become role models, not only for their play in-game, but for their behavior beyond the game. Not surprisingly, with a bunch of teens and 20-somethings playing a highly stressful game, sometimes with millions of dollars on the line, the behavior of professional players is not always very professional. Through their behaviors and communications, professional players regularly create drama, which the community (thanks, Reddit) then multiplies exponentially, perpetuating the acceptance of toxic behavior.

 

They’re more like guidelines...

Furthermore, in established traditional sports, the organization often helps create rules and parameters for professional athletes, not only in terms of fairness or cheating, but also the behavioral ethics of the players. Granted, some of these guidelines vary from sport to sport and some are more effective than others, but organizations help establish generally understood codes of conduct for how players ought to behave, including expectations for respectful and professional communication. As a young industry, the esports world still lacks some of the sophistication of established traditional sports in that regard. There are plenty of rules about tournament participation and the new roster locks I believe are an attempt to move toward more professionalism, but aside from the “gg” call at the end of the game, there are very few guidelines establishing communication ethics for the professional community.


Some men just want to watch the world burn

Trolls are a fact of life. No matter what changes are made to improve the Dota 2 community, there will always be that guy who makes it his life's mission to feed 10 couriers into the enemy fountain at the beginning of your game. Whether it’s someone with narcissistic personality disorder, or just someone having a bad day and taking it out on the team, there will always be jerks. Playing Dota can require tough skin and it can be very discouraging.  After getting burned a few times, I find I become reluctant to communicate - I’d rather keep my mic off and be silent rather than inviting negativity. I suspect the same is true of others, given that Steam reports about 68% of players own microphones, but players never use them in the vast majority of my games.

 

Originally appeared in PC Gamer - July 2013

 

So should we just abandon all hope of ever reversing the toxic effect in the Dota community? I don’t think so. While you will inevitably encounter flaming and negativity along the way, there are plenty of awesome people in the Dota 2 community - like these guys I saw on Reddit the other day who went from strangers to epic bromance. So here’s my humble suggestion: let’s not be jerks. Turn on the microphone, say “hi,” invite your teammates to do the same and focus on having fun. We can’t eliminate toxic players, but we can at least focus on improving our experience, one game at a time.

 
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The Dota 2 Russian-speaking community is famous for their outrageous behavior during the game and neglect of established communication norms. Their aggressive manner of interaction with both rivals and teammates creates discomfort and negative atmosphere, which is why an increasing number of Russian-speaking gamers complain that playing Dota 2 is just unbearable. This perspective is an attempt to prove that such communicational patterns don't signify the immorality and barbarism of the users.
 
Peculiarities of Russian-speaking segment of Dota 2
At the dawn of Dota's establishment as an major eSport, nobody thought about the communication culture: neither players, nor prominent figures limited themselves in harsh words, including obscene language. In this way, they cultivated disdain toward the traditional norms of communication. As eSports has "grown" and approached traditional sports, Dota 2 has become one of the leading disciplines in Russian speaking gaming community, and the situation improved a bit. A professional player wouldn't dare spoil his reputation with "unsportsmanlike" behaviour and thus impede his career growth. However, the period when the game wasn't as popular determined the in-game communication manner for many years ahead and regularized indecent communication patterns. In other words, the Dota 2's lack of discipline in the past predetermined its future in terms of communication during the game.
 
In DotA Allstars, there was no control over the behavior of players, so they always went unpunished.
 
This situation has many aspects. First, teenagers are impressionable and tend to imitate. Second, human nature is predisposed to solve even minor conflict situations in an irrational way. Third, teenagers find it hard to control themselves when the situation goes out of their control. Finally, the Internet enables them to retain anonymity and avoid punishment. These factors shaped the situation.
 
All the abovementioned factors are relevant to any video game to a certain extent, but we can't see a similar overwhelming neglect of communication norms in other games. This means that 1) these factors are collateral; 2) the Dota 2 Russian speaking community has something, which uniquely distinguishes it from other communities. The thing is that at the dawn of DotA, such communication was cultivated in a very special (but not intentional) way. It was created by people who didn't fully comprehended the responsibility which lay upon them, and the community listened and heeded these people eagerly. Furthermore, the behaviour of gamers was never controlled, which is significant. The situation worsened as time passed.
 
Introduced in Dota 2, the reporting system for abusive behavior has not been able to solve the existing problem.
 
In late 2011, when Dota 2 was being beta-tested, a topic was created on dev.dota2.com in which one of the users asked to protect the players of Eastern and Western Europe from Russian speaking players. The topic starter wrote: "They cant speak english, only the useless dasjndasakldsasad like language (no flame, but its true). They leave a lot. They DON'T know how to play the game and since you can't talk to them they not willing to learn. They join EU server while Asia server is nearer to them then a German one." This suggestion was supported by many users. One user claimed he would play his own game if he spotted Russians. He also noted, that a separate server located in Moscow is required. This proves that the problem is deeply rooted in the past of the Russian-speaking Dota 2 community.
 
Yet, we can't be sure that a person who doesn't adhere to communication rules in the game does the same thing in offline life, while communicating with friends. We can also suggest that his behaviour substantially differs in real life. This brings us to an interesting conclusion: that the in-game communication manner is a so-to-say local mainstream, which does not go beyond the game. Such in-game behaviour doesn't signify a lack of morality or total barbarism. The players simply stick to the norms, which were created in the very beginning. This can be compared to the traditions of a particular ethnic group. Only those who don't distinguish the behaviour of a person in-game and in real life, can form an image of barbaric and immoral youngsters from the Russian-speaking community. The gamers who visit local major Dota 2 LAN-events usually behave in a decent manner. The game is a completely different world with its own laws. Once in game, a person lives by the rules of this world.
 
Still, the problem remains. Such communication patterns during the game create discomfort and a negative atmosphere. Increasing number of Russian-speaking gamers complain that playing Dota 2 is just unbearable. For many of them transferring to servers with a low percentage of Russian-speaking players is the only possibility to play comfortly and enjoy Dota 2. Will the situation change in future? 
 
About the future
Natus Vincere's reporter Yana "b2ru" Himchenko expressed her hope that one day "we'll see at least a glimpse of communication ethics" in the industry. However, unfortunately, there's no grounds to suggest that Russian-speaking communication in Dota 2 will ever change. On contrary, along with the growth of Dota 2 audience, the percentage of people who neglect the traditional norms of communication will be increasing, so the communication patterns are unlikely to ever change.
 
Russian article by Eric Tstli.
 
AuthorSkandranon Date12 November 2015, 01:36 Views5029 Comments2
Comments (2)
Darth-
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#1 ph Darth- 14 November 2015, 03:43
I play in the SEA region and yeah, the DotA 2 community is pretty toxic and elitist. However, I love the game and through experience I have learned to just ignore blamers, flamers, and trash talkers. I myself used to blame and flame a lot, but just like what the diagram above shows, those things don't really make anyone play better. It doesn't matter if what you say is correct, people don't like to be told what to do especially by people they don't know. In my experience, I earn more respect from my team by ignoring them if they flame me and just focusing on playing better to win. :)
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brondial
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#2 ph brondial 15 November 2015, 17:46
And if you're lucky, you'll find yourself in a 5 carry team!
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