GLHF is a series that looks to better understand the dynamics of sportsmanship in video games, today we are starting with a brand of manners that falls somewhere in the middle, which offers us a glimpse at both how players have fun for themselves, and how at times that can cost their teammates and / or benefit their opponents. If you like this article please feel free to check out the rest of the series: pt. 1: Sportsmanship in video games, pt. 3: Kindness, pt 4 – pt 8 coming soon.
Selfishness / Noncompetitive play
Trolling & Smurfing:
Trolling typically applies to players who choose a playstyle which is meant to intentionally annoy another player. Sometimes it is targeted at the opponent, choosing an overpowered strategy which punishes the enemy for making mistakes, such as a Blitzcrank and Thresh duo for bottom lane in League of Legends. At face value these two shouldn’t be that strong, but their cc and ability to pull players underneath the turret makes it a deadly and near inescapable trolling team up. This playstyle goes against the meta game in a major way and exploits the mechanical kits of each champion specifically to exasperate the opposing team.
Other times this same tactic can be employed against one’s own team, for example choosing to select a hero that doesn’t benefit the team composition, or more dramatically, playing a hero in such an obtuse manner that they are ineffectual and an impediment to the team’s success. Note that while the player is intentionally playing inefficiently, they are still participating and attempting to win which is different from simply trying to tank the team vindictively. It is more about freedom of expression, and thus I categorize playstyle trolling as a form of selfishness.
Smurfing on the other hand is a headache straight from matchmaking hell, “smurf” accounts are alternate accounts high level players make in order to compete at a lower level, i.e. a platinum level player creates a smurf account to play at the bronze level and completely destroys the enemy due to their mechanical prowess, which cannot be compensated for by the matchmaking system.
Again, here we see selfishness driving the player to seek out an experience that isn’t enjoyable because of challenge but instead because of how disruptive it is. When players are alerted that they have a smurf on their team they either rejoice for the “free game” or shudder in fear that the player simply has a high opinion of themselves and is lying.
A personal favorite of my best friend Nick, dancing is often an emote the players can do by using a text command to cause their player character to dance. It is often used to taunt at the end of a match and serves no other real purpose other than to goof off and gloat. Many players will also dance as a way of being silly with their teammates, but my friend uses it almost exclusively as a manner of goading the enemy.
He laughs while doing it but cathartically I believe it helps him cope, especially when he feels he is getting outplayed by the enemy, in essence it allows him to make a fool of himself, throwing the enemy off because instead of getting upset at his mistakes he makes a joke out of his entire performance.
Hunting Abathur, Teemo Hide & Seek, and other alternative goals:
When playing with friends it’s easy to feel committed to the outcome of a game, but sometimes when playing on your own with a team of seemingly dysfunctional, and at times antagonistic players, it can feel like the only way to enjoy yourself is to make up alternative goals since victory through natural means is dauntingly unlikely. These goals for their own sake, which don’t impact the outcome of the match, I have categorized as “non-competitive play” since they primarily serve the purpose of the player’s singular enjoyment.
I consider these objectives selfish since they may not directly contribute to the team’s success, yet they aren’t inherently negative either, thus I believe they are more of a grey area and sometimes justifiable if your entire team is fighting with each other in chat and you just want to have some fun.
Among these are things like hunting Abathur in Heroes of the Storm. Playing a stealth assassin such as Nova, once you see Abathur’s character card you know it’s your mission in the game to kill him at least once. Abathur, one of my favorite characters in Heroes of the Storm, is an omnipresent character who projects himself across the battlefield, in this way he is capable of supporting any teammate at a moment’s notice. The tradeoff for this ability is that he is very weak and must hide himself behind the safety of his base’s walls for the majority of the game. In comes the assassins excited to find him and kill him. Although the single kill is of little consequence to the rest of the match, it is insanely gratifying to take down an opponent whose character can go most games without being killed once.
Still my personal favorite, which can be somewhat more detrimental to my teammates, is a game I developed when playing against bots for fun in League of Legends, and that is the act of playing Hide and Seek with Teemo. Teemo, an already universally hated character, has the ability to become stealthed after not moving for a moment, and can place stealth mines, lots of them. As soon as I hit level 6 I sneak through the forest, run past the enemy base turret taking near fatal damage, and hide next to my favorite tree / stones within the base and go about placing as many mines as possible, then hiding. Bots will not consider my actions attention grabbing enough to seek me out or my mines, thus I can place mine after mine, avoiding minion waves until there is a minefield within the enemy team’s base.
It’s typically at this time that my team has finally made it to the front gates and is pushing to win, at which point I start baiting the enemy into my mushrooms and watch them stumble through dozens of mines with great satisfaction. Here we see the mechanics of a character being used to play within a space but not necessarily to the advantage of the team. Selfish as it may be, that’s kind of what bot games are for, they are there for players who want to try hard and get tons of kills on easy targets, players who want to try out a meta breaking playstyle, and players like me who just feel like being goofy.
What do you think about playstyle trolling in team games? Have you ever trolled before? If so was it out of frustration? Did you want to try something that broke the meta, and that alone angered people? Have you ever used dancing to taunt the enemy or express goofiness? What do you think of playing team games or competitive games with selfish goals? I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please respond to the thread for this article, or talk to me through my email or any of my social media: email@example.com, Facebook, Twitter.