Anyone who has ever played any MOBA for an extended amount of time will realize the amount of toxic behaviour its community suffers from. Whether it be DotA 2 , League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth, there is something about the MOBA gameplay dynamic that seems to bring out the worst in many people.

According to the latest report by Valve regarding the issue, most players who quit playing DotA 2 do so not because of losing a match but more due to a negative atmosphere perpetuated by its players. They have since implemented a system that will take away your communication privileges, both text and voice as well as a limited amount of pings per couple of seconds, for a certain amount of time. “To put it another way, we only want people to quit playing if they actually don’t like the game,” said Valve.

Since its implementation, Valve boasts 35% drop in negative interactions and a 30% drop in total reports. They also went on to say that, at the time, only 1% of the total active player base have been muted.

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A day in the life

I would be a complete hypocrite and a liar if I said that I’ve never been muted in DotA 2. Last week, I was muted for a full 24-hours and it was just the worst (and first) punishment I’ve ever experienced in any video game. As mentioned above, text and voice chat are both blocked. In DotA 2  where team play is absolutely everything, having just the bare minimum of communication options can come as a detriment to the game play. A winning team in DotA2 is a team that communicates – strip the communication away and you’ll have a bunch of strangers running around shouting at walls.

The only way to “communicate” while muted is via the chat wheel which only gives the most basic of options like “We need wards” or “Push.” Though all commands fit well in every game, the limitations led my team mates to get killed. During one of my muted games, I wanted to say that Pudge was missing from the middle lane, currently has the Haste rune and is on his way to the top lane to gank. Obviously, there was no chat wheel option for such a specific warning and all I could convey was a simple “Missing mid!” This resulted in top lane getting killed because they didn’t realize how imminent the warning was and didn’t back fast enough. I had to watch my allies fall in battle just because I acted like a complete asshole last game. It’s one thing losing a match because of the odd incompetent team mate but it’s another thing losing a match because of your own incompetence and inability to suppress nerd rage.

Aside from the limitations of the chat wheel, getting muted will also restrict the amount of pings to three per about 10-15 seconds. Many will agree that the most basic form of communication in DotA 2  is the ping despite its openness to interpretation. A ping could mean a lot of things – attack position, retreat to position, there is an enemy there, hide in these trees, take a sip from my bottle, let me heal you, stop stealing my farm, that’s an illusion. Regardless of its many explanations, it is the most useful form of communication due to its rapid availability and could mean the difference between life and -death- respawn. For example, rapidly pinging on an allied hero followed by three or four rapid pings on an enemy means you should probably go an kill that guy. This can be done, fair enough, with a mere three pings but what if something else imminent happens right after you’ve already spent your three pings per 10 seconds and you are unable to warn your team mates?

While the whole point of the muting system is to discourage bad behaviour, I feel that its detriment to teamplay reminds players about the value of working as a team. When your ability communicate is taken away, you realize how much you’ve taken it for granted. Gameplay aside, playing a game with a bunch of pubs you don’t approve of feels absolutely fine while muted. On the other hand, what really struck me while playing muted were the few skilled and polite pubs I never had the chance to say GG and well played to.

Oh, but it’s not enough to keep angry pubs at bay

Valve has yet to release an official explanation as to how exactly the mute system works. I have only been muted once but based on other players’ experiences, even though you have a clean record, you may still get muted if you get reported three times in a row in three games. The problem with this stems from the fact that it is an automated system and that anyone can report anyone for the most shallowest of reasons.  Valve says that: “the perspective one has over what is or isn’t warranted or abusive varies by player, and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve tried to build a system where the community gets to own the definition of abuse, and the community’s overall decision finds its way back to the people who cross over the line.”

Basically, the effectiveness of the communication report system will depend on how reasonable its community is but sadly, the reasonable to not reasonable ratio of players in DotA 2 doesn’t look very good. For example, some players might view teaching as a form of patronisation and will report you (this is actually the reason why I got muted in the first place). Reports are dished out unsparingly and without sound judgment. In the end, both the innocent and the guilty are punished.

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Despite the noticeable decline in negative attitudes, the only surefire way for Valve to combat the issue of toxic behaviour through the game is to lay down their own definition of negative communication and actually go over each report incident. Obviously, they won’t do that because there are thousands of games every day and thousands of groundless reports which leads us to the next viable solution: be nice.

Valve’s mute system is probably the best they can do to minimize toxic behaviour in DotA 2. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it solves the problem completely. There will always be trash-talkers in any video game and complaining as a community about negative behaviour within the same community is increasingly redundant and hypocritical – it blurs the line between the solution and the problem. This can be fixed by actively trying to make the DotA 2 community a better place. It’s quite simple, really: If you don’t want to play with assholes, don’t be one.