A story of how a bad rating system increases toxicity 

How does it work 

The League of Legends, by industry terms, is a “hybrid ranking system” as in that is has a front-end, which consists of so called “Leagues” ranging from Bronze to Challenger - the latter being the equivalent of the “Grand Master” Leagues in many other games. Behind this front-end there is an unknown other rating system. This backend is often referred to “match making rating” or MMR.

In simplified terms: In the front-end you gain and loose so called “League Points” (LP) and once you reach a certain amount, you are promoted one League (it’s slightly more complex, but that’s the basic idea). The amount of League Points you are awarded per victory or lose per defeat depends on how high the backend rating system rates you, so your font-end rating and backend rating should always correlate.

Why is it designed like that 

There are no real practical benefits of a hybrid rating system over a normal one. You can use a normal rating system and define certain ratings as Silver, Gold etc. to give people a sense of accomplishment which is often cited as a reason for hybrid systems. The developer of League of Legends, Riot games, has essentially said, that the system is supposed to reduce frustration among players. I will later explain why this is an hilarious statement. Lastly, a (possibly intended) side effect of the League system is to obfuscate the real rating system. Of course the ultimate reason of a any design in League of Legends these days seems to be to make people sink more time into the game.

Riots Mistakes 

Lax attitude towards people undermining the rating system 

There are two related problems here: “smurfing” and “boosting”. “Smurfing” in gaming usually refers to a good player, using a second, low rated account to play against worse people. “Boosting” means that you let somebody increase your rating, for example by letting him play on your account. In the first case somebody is “underrated” and in the second case, at first somebody is “underrated” and once the account owner plays again he is “overrated”. Both of which leads to imbalanced games. Smurfing in League of Legends is not just not outlawed, it is basically celebrated. Many youtubers and live streamers have made series about starting on a very low rated account and bringing it to the highest levels of rating. This is unfair, it’s unsportsmanship, and it hurts rating systems. There is always somebody better than you and somebody worse, I can go to silver and stomp the shit out of people the same way a challenger could do the same to me, it doesn’t matter it’s both equally toxic.

Attempting to use the rating system to increase playtime 

The lack of outlawment of smurfs alone isn’t the biggest problem, it is actually more of a symptom of the actual problem. Let’s look to one of the most untoxic gaming community I know: Supreme Commander Fordged Alliance, more commonly known as the Forged Alliance Forever community. Smurfing is forbidden now and you will get banned and/or excluded from the ranking system, on all your accounts if you get caught. But it wasn’t always that way, on the original lobby, this was not the case. So why was the problem of smurfs never that big there? Supreme Commander had an has a working ranking system. A Elo and later a TrueSkill ranking system, very similar to one I use for my servers. As a smurf you’d be at your normal rank in no time. What people do not understand is:A 20 games winstreak isn’t a testimony to how good a player is - it’s a testimony to how incredibly poorly the rating system performs, since it is for some reason not placing him against better people.

The league rating system is not designed by computer scientist as riot might want you to believe it is designed by suits that want you to play the game more often. And therefore it intentionally increases the time it takes for the matchmaking system to rank your at the correct location.

This is usually done by setting an unreasonable high “tau” value for a TrueSkill-like rating system. With a high tau value you slow down the convergence of rating in a system that employs rating distributions, like TrueSkill does. It then takes way more games for people to have a specific rating and obviously this breaks badly when people are already undermining the rating system. Now Riot Games goes one step further: Increasing the tau value means that once you have reached a certain rating you will basically keep it forever… right? WRONG!. This is the reason Riot Games created “seasons”, at the end of each season Riot does a so called rating “reset” which is likely just an increase in the sigma of the rating curves of all players (an increase in the uncertainty of the rating). So you need to grind your rank again.

And don’t be naive and think this is only an issue if somebody smurfes. If there is a smurf then the problem is obvious, but even I myself went on massive winning streaks after watching some tutorials about gameplay. A slow reacting rating system will worse the average game quality massively and increase frustration among players.

The same problem applies to players that were “boosted”. It takes a long time for the rating system to react to decrease in skill - because obviously you suck if you don’t people to pay on your account. The same way people can go winstreaks, people can go on losing streaks without the rating system reacting fast enough.

It may blow your mind that somebody would pay for someone to play on his account, to bring the account up to a higher rating. While it still alienates me that people would pay money for something like this - now that you know how the rating system in League of Legends works, it should come as no surprise that many people think they should be higher rated and rightfully so.

However, if there 3 in 10 people who think they are underrated and are in fact correct that the only thing that holds them back is the high tau value in the rating system, there will inevitably be 3 more that are exactly where they currently belong. People correctly ranked are the people that play a lot of games and people that play a lot of games are obviously much more likely the people that spend money boosting. You get the idea. I truly believe if Riot had a good, transparent rating system boosting and smurfing would not nearly as big of a problem. But that doesn’t mean either should be acceptable.

Bad understanding of the meaning of the current rating system 

Platinum is not “low rating”. Everybody who says it is, is an idiot. I used to be quite good in Supreme Commander and I still wouldn’t call people that were well below me, but still in the top 50%, “low rating”. Because they aren’t. They are above average. This might be a minor point but I think it feeds into the general lack of understanding of the rating system and is therefore relevant.

standard deviation

I mean are you out of your mind to call platinum low, are you out of your mind to call even gold players bad.

Does the developer have an interest in changing things? 

I am still this naive person who thinks that you can actually make players play a game without trying to manipulate them into it. League of Legends became a huge game without the current rating system and given all the above I cannot understand how everybody would think that this rating system REDUCES frustration among players. That is completely ridiculous. I think toxicity in League of Legends ranked could be reduced massively by repairing the ranking system, leading to more balanced matches and more accurately ranked players.

The currently ranking system makes people want to have “higher rating” instead of improving. So losses are not seen as a valuable lesson, but as a setback. Abstracting and obfuscating rating systems is not the solution, the solution is to explain to people that a rating systems is not an epenis but an attempt to accurately display a persons skill level. You can’t really say that with the current rating system, because it’s not. It’s an attempt to trick people into playing more games.


Response to Comments/Mails 

I need my smurf to warm up!

Play a normal, that’s what they are for.

There are not that many boosted and smurfs players!

There don’t need to be, 1 in 100 is enough. If 100 people play at the same time, 4-5 other people are likely to get annoyed for there next game and worst case that means 20 annoyed people in the next round and all 100 in the third iteration. I guarantee you 1 in 100 is not an unreasonable number.

Like I said, it’s not just that the rating system reacts poorly to deceptions and that the neither the developer Riot games nor the community care enough about those who undermine there rating system, because they don’t identify it as a big problem, but also that the system in my opinion straight out encourages people to think they deserve to be rate higher.

Smurfs will just intentionally lose!

That’s really a distinct problem, but like I said: A curator of a rating system must prevent those who actively seek to undermine it from participating in it. It’s relatively easy to separate intentionally losing a game from just playing badly in my opinion. If you care to do so.

What is your rating?

I will tell if someone demonstrates why it is relevant to my points.

Feel free to send me a mail to share your thoughts or ask a question!