Or why everyone hates you and you hate them.
Team sports should bring us together. It’s one of those things we hear from a young age and is reinforced from then on. Working with others towards a common goal helps us understand the importance of relying on each other and the potential of the group. At least, that’s the theory. In practice, there are some important caveats to that idea. Teams need to have a common goal and a common understanding of their interdependence. They need time to establish enforcement mechanisms and an understanding of the capabilities of each member. When you don’t have these things, then the team is just a random collection of loosely affiliated individuals. Or, in other words, you have a MOBA.
Let’s start with the problem. MOBA’s (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena’s) are multiplayer games where two teams (usually of five players) fight on a map with monsters and treasures with the ultimate goal of destroying the other team’s base. Like all team based video games, MOBA’s also have a means to allow individuals to join by cobbling together random interested players. Players often won’t know who they’re playing with or who they’ll play with next. This creates an unfortunate scenario that is at the heart of the poisonous atmosphere that haunts the genre. Players must play with team members who they didn’t select and have no control over, but are totally reliant on for their individual success. When everything goes well, this isn’t a problem. Victory papers over any differences as everyone is getting what they want. When a team is losing a game, players lack the levers to get their team back on track and so their frustration erupts in the form of harsh comments and rage quits. This behavior is even more common when the player believes they could win with a team of comparable skill.
While the frustration of having little control over the success of a round plays a big role in MOBA meltdowns, there are other key factors in play. One of the biggest is the lack of long term relationship between the players. MOBA teams are born and die all within the space of a single round. Players are given less than two hours to figure out their team dynamic and sync up. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t happen. The resulting clumsy play frustrates players, even though they all may be skilled. A team of skilled individuals that wishes to pursue separate and reasonable strategies will lose to a less capable, but more cohesive, opponent. This expands the frustration over “poor play” from individuals with low skill to individuals with skill, but no coordination. The short life span of a team also prevents the establishment of enforcement mechanisms. Teams create mechanisms to improve poor play and prevent bad behavior. These might take the form of mentoring, private criticism, and shared experiences. Unfortunately, short term teams lack the time to implement these practices. Instead, the only two options available are helpful direction (hard when you’re losing and playing) and insulting.
To alleviate this problem, I suggest that MOBA developers work to ensure that teams play with each other long term. Give players the option of selecting teammates they liked playing with at the end of each round. Assuming the other player agrees, place players on teams with people they have selected as players they like. This will give the player the opportunity to understand their teammates better and establish the mechanisms that help enforce positive play.