Thinking back on my childhood, I most distinctly remember learning sportsmanship through playing soccer. At the end of every game both coaches would line their team up and each player on team A would shake hands (slap hands) and say “good game” (mumble “good game”) to each player on team B. I didn’t really think about the meaning of this gesture as a 1st grader, but in retrospect, I see the exchange of a handshake and “good game” as a sort of emotional cool down following a competition. It’s a display of mutual respect that transcends the game itself and while I may have just gone through the motions as a seven year old, it has carried through to my behavior as an adult and now there is the actual intention of showing respect when I shake my opponent’s hand and say “good game.” Through the years, I’ve belonged to a wide variety of gaming communities, and I’d like to share some of my experiences with them and how they deal with these gestures.
The first real competitive gaming community I belonged to was Magic: The Gathering, which I have played since I was seven or eight years old and would say I played competitively from my junior year in High School until the end of my College career. Magic has all the right ingredients to create bitter losses; it has a luck factor that can make players feel like their loss was out of their hands as well as many little nuances that could lead to disastrous misplays from a small misunderstanding of the rules (especially back when I played). All that being said, as long as your opponent wasn’t being a rules lawyer or overtly disrespectful to you, Magic players are typically pretty good about shaking hands and saying “good game” to one another. They may bring their bad beats back to their friends and bemoan how terrible you are and that they can’t believe they lost to you, but I’d still say that Magic players are pretty decent about showing a reasonable amount of sportsmanship to each other’s faces. Some of the spirit of mutual respect can be lost in these complaining sessions, but at least they still have the decency to shake your hand.
In my freshman year of college, I started to get into competitive Smash Bros. Melee and have been a smasher ever since then. Unlike Magic, Smash Bros. does not have much in the way of randomness or rules nuances. Occasionally there will be contested tactics that can leave players bitter and angry (i.e. wobbling and timing out), but for the most part smashers don’t have the same level of frustration after a loss that Magic players do. As such, handshakes and saying “good game” come very easily in the Smash community and it feels like players genuinely mean it the way I’ve always envisioned the gestures. I think this is one of the reasons I’ve always found it so easy to identify myself as a smasher. There are plenty of problems with the community and things I’d love to change (I’ll touch on this another time), but smashers still generally treat each other with more respect and in a more friendly manner than any other game I’ve played competitively.
When I left college, I found playing Smash Bros. regularly much harder as my job put me a solid half hour away from any particularly active community. Thus, I started turning to online games to satisfy my need for competitive gaming. The first of these that I really put any effort into was Starcraft: Brood War. What makes Starcraft such an interesting case to me is that it’s very similar to Chess in that a game of Starcraft is over before it’s over. That is to say that there are gamestates where there is no hope of victory outside of your opponent having an aneurysm or a heart attack before they can take care of business. In Chess, this typically translates to opponents knocking over their king, extending their hand and optionally saying “good game” to indicate a concession. Likewise, in Starcraft, typing “gg” (“good game”) is an indication of concession. In both of these games, the act of extending your hand and/or saying “good game” carries a precedented meaning in addition to just being a gesture of sportsmanship. To presume the game is over as the winner is conceited, while accepting defeat as the loser is a show of humility, and as such, it is in incredibly poor taste to offer the hand and say “good game” first as the winner. In the rare case where your opponent chooses to be an ungracious loser and storms off without the handshake or “gg”, it can be frustrating for those of us who don’t like hard feelings after a game, but it’s a necessary downside due to the precedented meaning of the gesture and the fact that it’s not required by the rules of the game.
And so we come to League of Legends. The usage of “gg” within the LoL community has been quite the hot topic since I started playing two and a half years ago. Many people take offense to their opponents saying “gg” at the end of a game of LoL. Some argue that Starcraft has set the convention for online games and that the winning team should never say “gg” at the end of a game unless the losing team says “gg” first. This argument feels largely misguided to me because most “ggs” in LoL are said after the winning team has been notified that the losing team has surrendered or as the opposing nexus is being destroyed. As such, there’s no presumption behind the “gg” from the winning team after receiving notice that the opposing team has surrendered. In terms of the Starcraft analogy, this built-in surrender notification is functionally the same as a “gg.” The losing team has acknowledged that they lost, and the winning team knows for a fact that the game is over and are saying “gg” to bring closure to the game. Admittedly, there are usages of “gg” prior to surrender votes or eminent destruction of the opposing nexus, and I agree that these usages are inappropriate, but they are a comparatively small number next to the common and appropriate exchanges of “gg.”
The other issue that some have with “gg” is that they take a literal interpretation of “good game,” meaning that they believe that a “gg” is only in order after a good game. I could talk about how a good game is a subjective concept, but ultimately why this bothers me is that this interpretation of the phrase misses the whole reason that people say “good game.” I’ve gone through four other games here and how they use the phrase, and you’ll note that in none of these games is the usage of “good game” dependent on the game being good. In all other cases throughout my life, the usage of “good game” is about bringing closure to the competition. In Magic, when your opponent topdecks for the win, you still shake their hand. In Melee, when your opponent delivers a one-sided drubbing, you still say “good game.” In Starcraft, when your opponent cheeses you out of the game, you still offer your concession with a “gg.” The point of the gesture isn’t about reflecting on the quality of the individual game, it’s about acknowledging your opponent as a respected equal now that the game is over. We enter competitive games knowing that we might get unlucky, be overmatched, or be simply unprepared for an unorthodox strategy from our opponent. All of these situations can lead to a bad game, but that shouldn’t be stopping us from saying “gg” to our opponents. It seems to me that the simple act of closing out games with “gg” is what keeps gaming communities respectful of one another; stubbornness towards interpretation of the gesture is detrimental to people’s experiences with the LoL community.
Ultimately what I’m trying to say is that a healthy gaming community is built off of mutual respect and that LoL players need to do a better job of displaying this respect if the community is to thrive. The act of both sides politely saying “gg” to close out a game may seem like a minor point to harp on, but I firmly believe that the meaning behind this gesture is a vital aspect to the health and growth competitive gaming. When players end games with “bgs” and taking offense to opposing “ggs,” we end up with latent hostility towards each other that only serves to weaken the community. We LoL players would be much stronger as a community if we could just step up and replace these frequent antagonistic feelings towards one another with the age-old respect behind a handshake and “good game.”