The growing toxic underbelly of professional League of Legends and its far-reaching consequences

Realizing the dark side of League of Legends' professional scene (Image via Riot Games)
Realizing the dark side of League of Legends' professional scene (Image via Riot Games)

Toxicity is nothing new within League of Legends.

Every League of Legends player has faced this problem at some point or the other. The extreme competitive nature of the game and drive to register a win on the scoreboard often leads several players to cross their limits. There have been instances where even major League of Legends streamers like tyler1 have been banned by Riot Games for indefinite periods on account of ranked toxicity.

However, the issue is that toxicity inside a ranked game of League of Legends can be controlled by a machine. They can be addressed based on the kind of words being typed on all-chat. However, when it comes to the professional scene, the toxicity seldom remains inside the game. In fact, using abusive language while playing a game in the LEC, LCS or the LCK is worthless as it will result in immediate disqualification and shame in front of several thousand viewers.

In the professional scene of League of Legends, the toxicity spreads to the real life of players, leading to mental health problems and even everlasting depression.

The dark side of League of Legends’ professional scene

League of Legends is one of the biggest names in the world when it comes to an expansive professional scene. The League of Legends World Championship title is one of the most prestigious trophies in all of esports and also the biggest within the game. This means that professional teams and players often have to put in hours of hard work in order to hone their skills to reach the level of a world champion in League of Legends.

Even a small slip within a game of League of Legends can often lead to disaster as it does not take much time for these organizations to replace the player who might have cost them a spot on the World’s stage. However, the issue does not stop here, as viewers play a significant part in the professional scene as well. The misplays by the players are often evaluated quite strongly by viewers and the biggest outplays can become a Reddit thread for several years to come. One of the biggest victims of such an outplay is probably Ryu “Ryu” Sang-Wook.

Toxicity and mockery tragically ended Ryu's career

Ryu was one of the biggest players within the LCK scene and is also an old God when it comes to mid lane dominance within League of Legends. He was part of the KT Rolster Bullets, one of the top League of Legends teams in the LCK division back in 2012. However, in 2013, Ryu faced one of the greatest players ever to grace the game. SK Telecom’s Faker was a child prodigy who outplayed Ryu with his insane Zed skills, which led to KT Rolster being eliminated from the tournament.

That outplay is talked about even today in 2021 and Ryu is often referred to as the player who was “clowned” by Faker in a major tournament. Faker went on to become the greatest League of Legends player as he won several accolades, including three League of Legends World titles. Ryu, on the other hand, never managed to recover from that humiliation.


Everywhere he went, Ryu was tagged as the player who got outplayed and that became his identity. No matter how much he tried, it never worked and ultimately forced him to leave Korea and join 100 Thieves in North America’s LCS. He was not able to perform there as well and eventually ended up becoming a League of Legends coach instead. While the toxicity and mockery that Ryu had to face was the only thing that resulted from that incident, there are several talking points that have never been discussed.

One such point is that Shen did not cast his ultimate in that game. If Shen did cast his ultimate on Ryu, the player would have lived even though the outcome of the match might not have changed. However, alongside Ryu being obliterated at that moment, the fact that Shen never used his ultimate is another thing that is often criticized in several Reddit posts.

The pressure of perfection

This leads to the next big aspect of professional toxicity. Most League of Legends professionals are 17 to 18 years of age, except a few who might be in their late 20s. Every move, every click and every spell that they cast is judged by the viewers. It is therefore expected that every move needs to have a reason and they need to be perfect. Consequently, these young players are under an insane amount of mental pressure to perform.

However, these viewers often forget that not every game needs to be perfect. It is not necessary that a particular dive or chase needs to have a proper reason within a game of League of Legends. Players might just want to have fun and if that results in a loss, then so be it. Another similar incident happened very recently when, in a recent LEC game, Fnatic’s “Nisqy” teleported to the top lane with his Twisted Fate and jumped into five players of SK Gaming. He died and Fnatic ended up losing the game. However, it is highly possible that the players were having a pure adrenaline rush and they were just having fun in a game that was filled with action.


The problem is that Legends of Legends professional players are always viewed from a very different perspective. They are the masters of the game and are supposed to act in a similar manner. A professional player making a childish mistake is considered a crime, which, in reality, is not. Even in other sports like football, top players make mistakes, which are taught at elementary levels. However, they do make mistakes and that is what is called being human.

Viewers and casters often tend to criticize these movements quite a lot and some of the major ones like the incident with Ryu might lead to losing tournaments. It is important to remember these players live with teams and that means the touch of family and loved ones does not exist amongst them. Traveling across the world to play tournaments and then getting back to practice even more leads to a massive burden on the shoulders of these young players.

Toxicity and drama surrounding LEC and LCS

However, the problem is even more deeply rooted as organizations often play a part in fuelling such issues within the League of Legends professional scene. One such incident happened with “Nemesis”, who was part of Fnatic’s League of Legends roster in 2020. Fnatic was unable to perform to their ability even during the LEC split and, therefore, internal issues started to develop within the team.

After Fnatic lost to G2 Esports, several players left, including their star ADC “Rekkles”, who went on to join G2. However, it seems an issue started when the team was looking to replace Nemesis even before League of Legends’ World Championship and this was a shock for everyone. In a very recent stream, Nemesis mentioned that he had been blacklisted by several teams within the LEC and this means that he cannot go back to their tournament anymore. It seems Nemesis does not want to anyway, especially since he is currently happy to be part of Gen.G’s content creator program.

The amount of negativity around his name has led to some serious issues. He has not received a single offer from any European team since leaving Fnatic. This is the kind of toxicity that viewers are often unaware of due to the glamor that is showcased on the outer ends of the professional scene in League of Legends.

This is not just related to LEC, as even in the LCS, toxicity has been growing due to a recent drama relating to import rules. There is a new rule where teams from LCS cannot import foreign players so as to focus more on upcoming League of Legends professionals born in America. It often happens that LCS teams recruit young players from other countries and this closes doors for several locals. However, this change has led to a major controversy within TSM’s Andy “Reginald” Dinh and Cloud9’s Phillipe “Vulcan” Laflamme. While Andy agrees that this should happen, Vulcan thinks it is against the freedom that teams have.

This led to some heated tweets where Andy insulted Vulcan by saying LCS players would go jobless if imports were kept any longer. Several players, however, stood in support of Vulcan, and Andy ended up receiving major backlash from the community.

Changes needed in the future

Toxicity is something that is always going to remain and even the best of players face such problems within League of Legends. One such player who had to face it was Faker himself when he failed to lead T1 to victory in the 2020 Summer playoffs. He ended up receiving death threats and T1 had to take action regarding this. The legendary coach of SK Telecom, “kkOma”, had to face massive toxicity when he felt that Faker needed to be dropped from the team.

While it worked out in the end, and Faker made a glorious return to the team, professional players have continued to face such problems for a long time. The competitive nature and massive player base of League of Legends only fuel the growth of toxicity, and it is no surprise that the professional scene has been infected by it as well. This is because the same individual who would flame another player for performing badly in a game of League of Legends would end up in other kinds of disputes if they become a professional.

While there are no proper steps currently in existence, it is important that Riot Games as a company starts to intervene in such matters. Professional teams and players arguing against one another, or players facing death threats, is something that ultimately harms the image of League of Legends. Players like Ryu are facing mockery and depression, leading to careers getting destroyed, which puts a negative stamp on the brand image of the game and the company. Therefore, it is time that professional players are treated in the way they deserve and a sense of respect is made mandatory within the scene itself.

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Edited by Sabine Algur