"Consistently act like a dick; get banned. Makes sense to me." So says Reddit user Erekai, commenting on the banning of professional eSports player IWillDominate, from League of Legends.
IWD received a one-year competitive ban from the game, and he was ejected from top eSports team Dignitas - essentially suspending his career as a professional LoL player. For most, a ban from a game or forum is an inconvenience, but for IWillDominate it represented a loss of job, income and valuable credibility.
The overwhelming feeling on Reddit and other forums, including the official Riot games site, was that IWillDominate got what he deserved. He'd been formally warned eight times prior to the ban, for what the Senior eSports Manager at Riot describes as "in-game harassment, verbal abuse, offensive language and negative attitude," adding that "there also have been repeated incidents of similar behaviour outside the game".
Few blame League of Legends developer Riot for being too harsh; in fact some might even accuse them of leniency. After all this was the 9th time action was taken against IWD. Most would be lucky to still be in a job after three warnings, and many employers stick to a 'three strikes and you're out' rule.
Forums and subscription-based games have no universal laws or rules that govern how or why users should be ejected or penalised. Individual owners enforce their own rules, making the digital world incredibly subjective: it's a case of 'my house, my rules'. Every reputable site has its own acceptable behaviour policy - or similar - but the decision to punish individuals often comes down to a case-by-case decision made by committee or a single person.
And as noble as most intentions are, it seems unlikely that the decision to exclude players from games or forums is dealt with from a cold, detached perspective. In other words, violating the terms and conditions might not necessarily lead to a ban (especially if it was a genuine mistake), but repeated bad behaviour that isn't strictly prohibited might see you ejected.
Why? Bans and warnings are often used to safeguard reputation - to try and remove what many describe as the 'toxic elements' of a community - or to stamp out cheating. Actually breaking the rules of a game by illegally modifying it, or continually taking advantage of an exploit (via Bots etc), give community managers easy decisions when it comes to punishment. No-one likes a cheat, no-one objects when one is removed from a game. It's 'bad' behaviour that causes more of a problem.
While large brands like Apple and Google can afford to shrug off negative publicity, smaller sites and online games - especially Free-to-Play titles, which rely on players for the majority of their income - need to tread a very fine line when dealing with their detractors.
"The goal is a positive community so people want to be there"
Give players carte blanche to criticise your game and trash talk other users, and you'll end up with a toxic, insular community that intimidates and drives away everyone outside the central clique. However, excessive banning and censorship can also intimidate users, preventing the community from expressing itself and flourishing. And even if a user is banned, there's nothing to stop them bad-mouthing your site/game elsewhere on the Internet.
"For online games community is everything," says Todd Harris, CEO of Hi-Rez Studios, the people responsible for top Free-to-Play titles Tribes: Ascend and SMITE. "In real life, when people gather in a neighbourhood bar, a loud, belligerent blowhard makes you want to leave the bar. So you expect the bouncer to throw him out. He can go to a public park for freedom of expression. On the Internet it's harder to monitor but the goal is the same - a positive community so people want to be there."