Sportsmanship in League of Legends and Other Gaming Communities

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.”

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11 Responses to Sportsmanship in League of Legends and Other Gaming Communities

  1. Nhan-Fiction says:

    All about the “GG.” 🙂

  2. Joel Labrie says:

    In LoL, loosing players often find harm in usage of ‘gg’ by the enemy team when they feel let down by their own. Winning teams that snowballed a game to victory because of a player disconnecting or a complete troll often call ‘gg’ because they are excited about how well they did in exterminating the enemy team, who hardly had a chance in the first place. This is caused by the amount of players on each team.

    In many other games ‘gg’ represents that you have won over or lost from your opponent in a fair way. In that sense ‘gg’ does not relate to the quality of the game. Saying ‘gg’ will mean ‘I beat you fair and square’ or ‘I lost to you fair and square’.

    In LoL, players can take harm when players on the opposing team call ‘gg’ after they were not given a fair chance to show their skills. Apart from taking a potentially unearned victory, sometimes including elo-rating and bonus IP, the enemy team also calls the game fair and claims that they have won over you because they outplayed you or used their skills in a more efficient way! I can see why players have issues with this.

    This issue involves communication solely by chat and it can be hard to determine someone’s intention when he typed ‘gg’ in chat. It only makes sense for players reading the ‘gg’ message to relate it to their own definition of the words.

    Everyone has personal feeling as to what the words ‘gg’ mean to them. I think it is only logical to give ‘gg’ more meaning than a handshake. Saying ‘gg’ should mean that the game was a good game, of considerable quality. One could argue that quality of games is a subjective matter but this causes no obstruction for one to call it.

    Right now, ‘gg’ is called by players that had fun (often solely the winning players of an unfair match, and all player in fair matches). I think players should try to imagine if the enemy team had fun as well before calling out that it was a good game.

    ‘gg’ should mean that a game was a good. Players should be more communicative and imaginative in their closing statement after a game. Think of phrases like: ‘Thanks for the game’, ‘Sorry for the d/c on your team, thanks for playing’ or ‘I’m sorry we did not get to play a fair match, thanks anyway’. Try to feel with the four players that just lost a game because one was to immature, angry, or disconnected because of other issues. It might just soften up the experience for those four players and motivate them to get back into another game.

    PS. This was poorly written but I hope I got my points across.

  3. Matthew says:

    Fantastic post! I enjoyed reading about your competitive gaming career, from magic to SSB, and ultimately to league.

    One thing I want to point out though. Players of online games are going to have much worse manners (in a general sense) then games played in person like SSB or magic. When people have that shield of anonymity, they tend to behave in a less civilized and sportsman like manner.

  4. Morgan says:

    Personally, my friends and I say ‘wp’ or ‘well played’ if we don’t feel that the game was actually good, because of crappy teammates or disconnects. If we felt we were bested by being actually outplayed and we had a good time, then we will say ‘gg’. This goes for both losing and winning. If we completely dominate a team that had a feeder and a disconnect, then we will just ‘wp’ it. Though sometimes we will say ‘wp’, and then say ‘gg’ to a specific person or grouping because they did especially well.

  5. Dillon says:

    I used to play Counter Strike: Source competitively and I can agree with a lot of the things said in this article. I have honestly never come across a match of CS:S that didn’t end with a “GG”. Sometimes you could kind of fudge it a little, and maybe it was a little disrespectful in the way you said it (“GG fags/GGGGGGGGGGG/GUD GAIM”), but in the end you got a GG because both teams tried their best to win on even ground. So I agree, that it is a closure thing, but at the same time it’s something more. It’s hard to explain with rules like “Only team captains can participate in All Chat with the other team” and “You can expect a punishment if you are disrespectful to the other team over All Chat”, but the GG really did seem like that handshake at the end.

    That said, I also understand that playing a game of LoL, you could have a team member that never really plays (Afk, whatever), or intentionally feeds, but you run into these problems in all sorts of team based games online. And accepting that this happens sometimes, no one should post “bg” or something along those lines. It’s ridiculous. It’s a little sad when a player can’t grow up enough to accept the hand that’s been dealt to them. Bitch about it, sure, the more power to you, but keep it on your end. No one needs someone spamming the chat with “BG, YI WAS THE WORST EVER. IT IS ALL HIS FAULT.” I have seriously won a game of 4v5 because a friends computer crashed. A game cannot be decided entirely by one player; Just like if one person was fed really hard, then it’s not like it improves the rest of his team substantially. Any reasonably thinking human would know how to handle that situation given the elements you have. The team can have one fed player, doesn’t make them good. So a “BG” based off one player’s actions is just refusal to accept your own fucking responsibility.

    Sorry it’s a little long and preach-y hahah, but my friends and I have had this conversation a few different times. I personally believe it shouldn’t matter who says GG first, as long as it’s not at an inappropriate time (ie: before the game ends [GAME’S NOT OVER TILL IT’S OVER MOTHERFUCKER {SO MANY PARENTHESIS}]) as long as it is said. It’s honestly a good habit to get into.

  6. Bobby says:

    @Joel I agree w Mogwai on this one, gg at game’s end has a long-standing meaning, one of mutual respect (which we can forget in a competitive setting). I think it’s counterproductive to try to change the meaning of something that’s been established, but if you feel strongly about it why not work to have a new term introduced, or an amendment like “gg bad luck sucks”

  7. Joel Labrie says:

    @Bobby From my experience, ‘gg’ is not something with an established meaning in LoL. People that came in to LoL from other scenes will have the courtesy to use ‘gg’ as a handshake but there are a lot of newer players coming into the scene constantly and I think it’s odd to teach them something else than the literal meaning of a phrase.

    • SmashGizmo says:

      @Joel To me, the meaning of ‘gg’ isn’t tied to the specific game being played. It’s something people say across all sorts of sports and games and I don’t understand why the meaning behind it should be lost on the LoL community. Are kids really getting to the age where they can play LoL without having first played some sports that teach them proper manners?

      • |Are kids really getting to the age where they can play LoL without having first played some sports that teach them proper manners?
        I think you might have hit the nail squarely on the head, sadly

  8. yetipirate says:

    When I read your analysis on nunu yesterday. I was like, man Smash actually knows how to theory craft. He wrote that like he plays competitive magic or something. The more you know.

    PS Always enjoyed bumping into you in solo queue.

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