Travis George talks about sportsmanship, community and behavioural psychology.
League of Legends developer Riot games has stood by its community's decision to ban a professional player, Hosan from Team Elohell, from the upcoming EU Regional Finals due to unsporting conduct.
"During our scheduled review of the final rosters of European teams, it came to our attention that Hosan of team elohell recently had his main account permanently banned from League of Legends by our Tribunal system" read a statement by Riot Games eSports manager Matt Marcou posted last week.
League of Legends' Tribunal system is a peer review system designed to iron out in-game disputes; players are entrusted to watch impartially over in-game incidents and the overall consensus of whether each complaint is valid or not gets sent back to the staff at Riot. But is it right for a community of everyday players to pass such judgment when it can affect the chance at a $3 million prize pool?
"We take that pretty seriously," said Riot Games producer Travis 'Volibar' George in an interview with VideoGamer.com. "It's unfortunate, and the timing is very poor, but that's something that we look to, especially with pro players."
George says the need for the League of Legends community to foster positive behaviour is the same as with any professional sport. "You can have personalities - you can have the Mario Balotelli of your professional sports league, but there's a difference between doing something that's a little unsportsmanlike, maybe trash talking a little bit too much, versus your peers voting that you should be permanently banned from League of Legends. That's kind of a big deal."
While it is currently unclear as to what Hosan actually did to warrant his permaban, is his situation unique? George doesn't think so at all. "We would do that with anybody, right? It's sportmanship. No one person is above the rules."
What about if an incredibly popular player found himself on the receiving end of a Tribunal judgement, like Hotshot GG? Would Riot also ban them? "We probably would. And that would really suck, and we know that that would suck."
But with eSports personalities becoming more and more recognised in the burgeoning League of Legends community, is a wide peer review system really the right way to watch over the community?
"The peer review system is a little bit unique," admits George. "People hand review that, so the eSports guys review that stuff. But the Tribunal sent the recommendation. Because he plays in a game with so many different players, even in his ELO bracket there's so many players, that having it relegated to just his immediate peers of competitive players would be difficult, or having a specific council because there's so many teams and so many players. We want to make it so that it's globally scalable."
George also admits that these kind of decisions put a certain strain on the team at Riot, and obviously impacts their desires to put on a balanced and entertaining tournament. "It seems like it's an easy decision, but it's very hard," says George. "There's a lot of things at stake; you want a high-level competition, and you don't want anybody to be able to say 'well, it wasn't fair because'. Well, no, you did that to yourselves - that wasn't something that we did."
Looking to the future, George says that Riot is thinking more and more about the behavioural psychology of the game. "I think about player behaviour in general, and we don't have anything specific to show you today about it, but there's a lot of stuff that we're spending time trying to figure out how this works. And you're going to see a lot more - even just talking about it. And it has to do with all kinds of different aspects of the game that you wouldn't traditionally think."
Riot Games takes player behaviour seriously it employs two PhD-toting boffins to think about these things; a user researcher, and a cognitive neuroscientist and behavioural psychologist.
Ultimately, George thinks proper conduct isn't just about banning those who misbehave. "It's not just about punishment, it's about incentivising good behaviour and highlighting awesome stuff in the community."
The League of Legends EU Regional Finals take place between August 16 and August 19 at gamescom 2012. Teams are competing for a spot in the World Championships, which takes place in Los Angeles in October, and entrance to League of Legends' highly-anticipated Season Three.
Team elohell will be using a substitute player to participate in the tournament.