At League of Legends, that is. For all you old squares, League of Legends is a hugely popular online game in which teams of five players control fantastic "champions" in 5 v 5 battles, until the winning team destroys the other team's base. Each game takes about half an hour. This is Samsung White, five young Koreans who romped through the world championships and will now divide the $1 million in prize money. My two older sons are really into this game and they are both fans of this team, because of their super-aggressive, super fast style of play. You can watch some snippets of the online telecast here,
and the announcers are just in awe of how fast the team decides on strategy and puts it into action. Whenever people roll their eyes at taking video games this seriously, my sons fire back, "No, football
is stupid -- League of Legends is all about being smarter and mentally quicker than the other team."
To be fair, it's entirely possible for both football and video games to be stupid.
I actually play and enjoy League of Legends, but I feel there is entirely too much emphasis on obsessive competition and winning, and far too little on good sportsmanship, personal growth and challenge, and plain old fun. There's still enough flexibility in the system that you can play and enjoy the game on your own terms, but it often means taking measures to prevent other people from making the experience worse - chiefly in the form of choosing who you play with (inviting friends and people you know, rather than letting the game randomly matchmake), and manually censoring verbal abuse from enemies and allies alike (via in-game mute functions that could really use a bit more flexibility, but ideally shouldn't be necessary in the first place).
Mass competition just seems to bring the worst out in people. People not only obsess over winning games, they also go to unbelieveable lengths to sour the successes of others when they cannot achieve such themselves. The amount of petty bickering and abuse that thrives in this atmosphere is staggering and depressing. It seems to be compounded in large part by the general problems of internet anonymity, but also by random matchmaking in a pool of many millions of players that ensures you'll almost never be randomly paired with the same person twice - meaning people always have a fresh audience to act out in front of, and have no community-imposed incentives to behave civilly or decently.
The absolute worst offenders do get punished by the automated systems, but these are a very small percentage, and in reality policing a community this large purely through developer tools is woefully inadequate. The only thing that has any chance of truly working with any large scale significance would be community self-policing, but with the current culture that surrounds the game and other like it, this is equally untenable.
There's no good solution - yet people will continue to play anyway, despite the abuse. I certainly do - even if I do get depressingly tired of muting and reporting people for absolutely awful, miserable, indecent behavior.
PS - The "World Tournament" nonsense also certainly doesn't help. It takes all the idiotic baggage of professional sports and throws it into an already less than ideal mass of cultural values. It celebrates the top one percent of the top one percent of players in a gaudy spectacle of pettiness, posturing, machismo, and "celebrity", with overblown commentators and a complete lack of perspective and proportion.
Over 50 million people play the game, and all anyone cares about is which five players are at the very top, and how valuable they are as marketing platforms for corporate interests like Samsung. Over a hundred characters in the game, and all anyone plays are the most powerful or popular ones that get picked for the tournaments. So much mechanical potential for experimentation and crafting unplanned, unexpected experiences with the game system, and the near universal clammor is for conformity and formulaic immitation. The slavish devotion to aping the trendsetters has even been embraced by the game creators themselves, selling players character skins modeled after tournament-winning teams. "Be like Mike, and buy new Air Jordans today!"
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