The impact of being toxic in esports

Recently, the General Manager of Unicorns of Love Romain “Khagneur” Bigeard was on an EU LCS post game segment. He took the opportunity to talk directly to aspiring pro players about two points he considered important, ‘Toxicity’ and ‘A wide champion pool’.

A few days later he wrote a Reddit post that went into further detail and added another two points, ‘Joining the community’ and ‘Be smart’, general tips and skills that are good to have. The post proved popular and generated discussion in the LoL community about toxicity. Thorin, Kelsey Moser and LS created their own videos to discuss Romain’s post. There was a particular focus on toxicity which is what I want to discuss.

Romain ‘Khagneur’ Bigeard, Unicorns of Love.
First of all, I want to point out that Romain has significantly more experience in recruiting pro players than Thorin, Kelsey and LS. Romain is a key decision maker for UoL and if he says aspiring pros shouldn’t be toxic, it would be wise to listen. His role and experience mean that his opinions are important. They definitely shouldn’t be dismissed or belittled.
That being said Kelsey and LS did make some good points, particularly about infrastructure, lazy coaches and how recruiting Koreans isn’t the solution to the problems western teams face. But I want to consider toxicity and the impact it can have on teams as well as the comments they made.

What do we mean by toxic?

One of the issues when using the term ‘Toxic’ is that it’s become a catch-all phrase that isn’t well defined. So in the interest of being clear when I use the term toxic I’m not talking about swearing, flaming a player for a poor play or off-meta picks and builds. I’m referring to serious negative behaviour that alienates other players. Particularly as Romain emphasised the importance of the LoL community, interaction with others and sponsors in his post. So the level of toxicity has to impact those groups. Thus when we say toxic we mean racism, homophobia, sexism, encouraging suicide, telling someone to ‘get cancer’ and so on.

Copyright: gilitukha / 123RF Stock Photo

The business impact of toxic behaviour.

It’s easy to understand that this type of behaviour is damaging to brands and alienates sponsors. Sponsors don’t want to be associated with unacceptable behaviour or speech. A toxic player that has to make apologies and forces his team to issue statements about player behaviour is less appealing to sponsors. A negative reputation isn’t attractive to sponsors. And we’ve seen in the past few years how integral sponsors are to esports’ teams and their survival. Anything that can jeopardise or make it harder to secure sponsors is a liability.

Fans also don’t want to support someone who has a habit of making games miserable and unpleasant. Teams and sponsors often use a new player to be a source of excitement and positive press. But we’ve seen how the backlash from fans over a toxic player can result in negative coverage. Caps is a recent example of this and a lot of people were unhappy with Fnatic’s decision to recruit him. In the end Fnatic had to issue a statement about Caps’ past behaviour and the standard they expected. No team wants to be put in this situation. 

Talented but banned.

A perfect example of a great but toxic player who cannot become a pro is Tarzaned, a notorious NA Jungler. LS said that no one cares if you are toxic and that despite Tarzaned’s behaviour, a lot of pros still talk to him. Whilst this might be true, and Tarzaned might be popular and talented, it doesn’t change the fact that he is banned by Riot from playing in the LCS.

In fact, he wasn’t even allowed to participate in the Proving Grounds because of his toxic history. It doesn’t matter how good or popular Tarzaned is if he can’t become a pro because of his behaviour.

A toxic team environment.

Whilst I think Romain’s statement about teammates not wanting to work together due to toxicity is exaggerated, it’s still relevant. First impressions matter. If your teammates think of you as immature, unpleasant and toxic, then the team is starting from a negative place. It makes the job harder for everyone. As they say, it’s better to have no impression than a negative one.

The team environment is particularly important because of team houses. Players live together and as a coach you want the environment to be as positive and healthy as possible. Whilst players need to be professional and set aside their personal opinions, an abrasive and difficult personality can create significant issues that can cause long-term damage to a team. Being good at the game isn’t enough, you also have to be a good teammate.

In the video with LS, Kelsey Moser states that often these players are toxic because they are highly competitive and driven. I agree with this, but I maintain that you can be driven and competitive without crossing the line. A standard is expected from aspiring traditional sports players when in public, even at the college level. So it’s fair to hold aspiring pros to a certain reasonable standard.

Furthermore, the personality of the player is important for a coach to consider. There is a difference between competitive and driven, and negative and toxic. One can be coached, the other will slowly destroy your team. The classic CLG team (SaintVicious, HotshotGG, Doublelift, Chauster and Bigfatlp) is an example of how toxicity can destroy a team. The repercussions of this toxic behaviour impacted CLG for years. There are many other examples of the disproportionate impact a negative player can have on team morale and productivity.

To say that being toxic isn’t a mark against you is foolish and ignorant. Whilst it can be overcome, and you can be good enough that it’s overlooked, the fact is that you are much more valuable if you aren’t toxic.

If you want to become a professional, behaving like one is a good place to start.