The Evolution of Trolling in Esports

by Garrett Klein
on October 26, 2017

Once upon a time we all lived in a happy world filled with butterflies and daffodils as far as the eyes could see. The skies were filled with smiling clouds and gumdrops rained down upon us.

Then one day that all changed…

The trolls came and nothing would ever be the same.

At this point in our lives, we have all unfortunately heard of the term trolling, whether we like it or not. It is, in one way, another a part of our daily lives in many ways due to the increasingly broad spectrum cast around the world.

A basic description of what trolling truly is would be, messing with people in one way or another with the sole intention of aggravating them or causing some level of harm. The scope and degree that this is done, however, can change on a magnitude of levels, yet everything seems to be considered trolling these days.

That is where issues arise; when a word starts being thrown around to describe so many different things. When you seem to consider every activity that is either annoying or misinformed as trolling, then the word appears to lose its meaning.

With so much power given to such a word, one must wonder, where did this term come from, and why is it so widespread?

Then and Now

Back in my Day…

The actual origin of trolling is one of debate and mysticism. What originated in the modern age was done via chat forums initially, but spread quickly into all reaches of the Internet, where all dark things seem to manifest and grow.

Concepts of trolling were not as malicious back in those times as they are now. Rather, they were a way to poke slight fun at newer individuals who did not quite understand what was going on. Sometimes they were rather clever. It was like putting out a piece of bait waiting for someone to bite.

For example, a user might make a post discussing the proper way to do something that was filled with obvious nonsense (like hammering nails into your tires to get more traction in the winter or warming a metal ice cream scoop in the microwave before scooping ice cream).

These are clearly ridiculous sounding suggestions, yet the world is filled with interesting, very intelligent people who were surprised they never came up with these great ideas themselves. Clearly, they needed to see if they worked for themselves as soon as they could.

When other users would see such situations, they would have one of two choices: they could sit back and let those who are foolish enough to take this advice come and furiously comment about how they were tricked. (Maybe they might even add fire to the situation claiming how great of an idea these tips were and how they tried them out themselves, having great success!) Or, option two, they can call the person out for trolling before those who were foolish enough to fall for this without thinking destroys their tires or blow up the microwave. This would be the kinder, more civilized option.

The ones who chose the good path, however, may not always be successful, because other users may disagree that it is a troll post, stating that the ideas do in fact work. This, in a sense, adds to the confusion for a person debating whether the idea proposed was a real suggestion or not.

Regardless if people were foolish enough to follow some of the troll advice, the posts were meant to be funny. These earlier trolling methods were all in good fun, not to be taken seriously, and in many cases, were a way to get people to be less gullible.

Unfortunately, like all things that involve large amounts of people, things escalated rather quickly.

Not for the better. What was once all in good fun changed quickly to harassment and other forms of vicious activity. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Escalation

Technology and innovation are glorious tools that have taken humanity to greater lengths than ever before. With the spread of knowledge and information at our fingertips, our opportunities were endless, and cruelty would know no bounds.

Forums and chat rooms became the battlegrounds of the Internet where unsuspecting people who possibly said the wrong thing to the wrong person could become targets of wrath. Hacker groups ruled these domains like street toughs controlling their turf.

If you crossed these individuals and became such a target, there were endless risks that people did not quite understand at the time. Information would be gathered about a person and their phone number, social security, credit cards, bank accounts, and so on wound up released upon the Internet.

People would harass you with phone calls, emails, send fake pizza deliveries to your home, impersonate you and so much more. This was a dangerous time if you ended up on the wrong end of the joke in any of these situations.

These actions against people were difficult to address because technology was way ahead of the law, and due to the online element, it was rather difficult. These individuals were far ahead of what law enforcement was even capable of addressing at these times.

This is where education of the masses started to happen. People needed to understand that where they chose to frequent in cyberspace had risks involved. It was just like the going into the wrong neighborhood at night—you had to be aware of your surroundings.

Trolling has gone in many different directions over the years, evolving in different facets wherever it was able to grow. One world that saw its true explosion more than any other was within the virtual world of video games.

Video Game Boom

Once again, the dynamics involving the trolling world changed deeply when online video games began going mainstream with multiplayer functions. No longer were those individuals with malicious intent restricted to their forum and chat room confines.

Services like battle.net which housed the Real Time Strategy games such as Warcraft and Starcraft became targets of chat room trolling.  Simple smack talk to the wrong person could result in them tracking your IP address through the game and using that to find out who you were.

Too much power was given to individuals who were tech-savvy enough to utilize it, and they wielded this power with an iron fist against those who wronged them. This became a permeating problem that people were fearful about.

It got to a point that many individuals made false claims about their own prowess or people they knew who could do such activities against people to put fear into them. This was the wild west of the troll days, but if you provoke the trolls, you were usually safe.

The evolution did not stop here, unfortunately, and it continued to get worse before it got better within the gaming world. Multiplayer RPG style games such as Diablo1/2 as well as Mass Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games like Everquest and Ultima Online added new motivation to trolls: profit.

These games were based around leveling up characters and acquiring items from monsters in order to defeat stronger monsters and acquire further items. There was no technical end to these games, even if the storyline was completed. The overall goal was to make your character as powerful as possible.

Chat channels became widespread where different areas within the game gave access to channels for multitudes of people to talk within rather than completely open forums. You had to be in those specific areas to see them.

In the case of Diablo and those games, you would make individual games that hold up to 8 players. So, the amount of trolling that could be done was restricted to chat channels and individual private games.

In the world of MMO’s, however, no one was safe. There was a huge limit on how many individuals could be on a game server at a time. The chat options would be based on your location in the virtual world.

These areas were referred to as zones, and would require you to go through a loading screen each time you went between them. You would only be able to see the chat channels of that zone unless in a guild or party which enabled group style chat.

This lead to a massive influx in the type of trolls that invaded these virtual worlds. Those that chose to spread annoyance by wasting people’s time and others that chose to pilfer from you in some way or another more deliberately.

Time wasting troll methods were usually based around asking rather stupid questions or just finding ways to annoy other players. However, not all trolling methods were just about luring someone into wasting time; they would result in a character’s death.

One way that this was done was by making what were called “trains” and then pulling them to the entrance or onto a person. Why were they called trains you wonder? Because they will plow over you like a train, murdering you just the same.

Most of the time trains were not done out of malicious intent, but rather due to players needing to run away from a situation. The beginning of a train occurred, hopefully, on accident, when you or your group were overwhelmed by the monsters you were fighting and you made a break for the entrance zone to escape imminent death.

Death resulted in experience loss and a potential, very difficult retrieval of your corpse, in which you were naked and could die again, and lose more experience. If you could avoid death, you did.

As you were running away, if other monsters were present in the area, they would latch onto you and pursue you until you either zoned out or they tasted your digital flesh. Once you either died or zoned out, they slowly returned to where they came from.

Unfortunately, if any other players were in the way of their return, they would murder them, and that player (or players) would make a mad dash for the exit, causing yet another train. Many people would die as a result of this because when players were looking for a group in difficult areas, they would stand at the entrance so they could use the chat.

These individuals were the most vulnerable, and typically your character could not kill anything without a group in many of these places. Trolls would use these trains to cause havoc constantly, going unpunished.

The games had their own communities and reputations could be developed, however, that was typically all the punishment they would receive.

What further developed and spurred on these people was a digital black market in which these items within these fantasy worlds were sold for actual money outside of the game. Items and characters would go for hundreds upon thousands of dollars through third party websites not officially affiliated with the game themselves.

The methods in which to acquire these items through backhanded means became rather troublesome.  

Different motivations guided these individuals from just causing havoc to making profit at others expense.

This level of trolling was pretty much in itself, theft. People were, in one way or another, stealing from others. There were multitudes of scams and tricks that were developed to either acquire items or money from other players.

One such example took place in Diablo 2. The legend of “duping” floated around in which you could duplicate items of value you already possessed. Players would lure others into the wilds to perform this action, having them fill their inventory slots and then would kill the player.

This would sometimes be done in groups to make people think it was more legitimate. When the person came back and clicked on their corpse to loot it, it instead launched their items out onto the ground allowing the other player or players to steal their items.

Think of it as if you were walking and counting a huge stack of money while in a crowded area and someone tripped you. Your money goes flying everywhere! Same concept.

Many players within the community did not necessarily feel sympathy for the victims in this scenario due to the fact they were attempting to cheat in the first place by duplicating items.

People who were targets were not always to blame though. In games like Everquest, when you died, getting back to your corpse might be extremely difficult. If you died in a weird area, for example, say on the side of a cliff, you could type a command to pull your corpse closer to you.

After you got it close enough to you, you could then loot your own body, recovering your stuff. Certain circumstances might make you unable to get to your corpse or be able to loot it, and the option to give consent over your corpse to another player was used.

If you died next to say, a dragon, you could give consent to a player with invisibility to pull your corpse near the entrance, and you would typically pay them for the assistance. This was standard practice within this game due to the fact that it was very hard to get around and death from corpse retrieval resulted in further experience loss.

After all, after you died and came back to life, you were naked with no gear to protect you, making you quite vulnerable. There was ample reasoning.

The issue with giving consent was that not everyone was good-natured, and when people were given access to someone’s corpse, they grabbed whatever they could for themselves. People would find ways to lure people into giving them consent as well.

Just like in our daily lives, bad people are everywhere, and you don’t want to give anyone the ability to blatantly hurt you or trick you. Even if you didn’t fall for a trick, you could still be a troll victim.

Players went to other extremes to target mass groups of people at once, yet played the proper role until it was time to strike. They were a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This was by far the largest troll theft method out there.

This would occur where there would be a monster, such as a dragon, that was killed by a huge group of people. Dragons horde treasure after all, so it makes sense.

Once the monster was vanquished and everyone was celebrating, it was time for the point of the kill, profit. There would typically only be around 5-10 items that came from the monster, if that, and maybe 40-100 people who were involved.

Those that organized the whole monster killing endeavor would see who was interested in the items out of the large group. They would then have those players roll number generated dice between for a number between 1 and 100, or do whatever process they had in place to determine who would receive the items.

A malicious player, while this was all happening before anyone realizes it, would run over to the monster and take absolutely everything, causing extreme anger. This was pretty much one of the biggest jerk moves a person could do.

This was called ninja looting.

There were many ways people tried to fight against individuals who ninja looted from holding corpses to only having people you knew with you. Ninja looters were patient trolls, and when they struck they did some damage.

People had reputations that spread rapidly when this would occur, naming them as ninjas and causing issues with their gameplay. Yet trolls did not care; they thrived off the tears of their victims. There was little to no actions taken against them by the game developers themselves.

Then trolls received their greatest weapon to date: YouTube.

Social Media

YouTube was like a troll nuke given to people who had the sole desire to watch the world burn. Even people who were not typically a part of the trolling culture could find themselves becoming provokers thanks to the ease of sharing links.

Now if you clicked links or went to where people advised you to go for either game information or literally anything of value, you might get trolled. Videos and social media in general spawned new levels of ridiculousness, especially when it came to Rick Rolling people.

Rick Rolling was the act of using the 1987 song by Rick Astley “Never Gonna Give You Up” as a bait and switch for whatever you were intending to watch. If you intended to watch a sneak preview of an upcoming movie, right as it was about to show you it, the song would bust in informing you that you have just wasted your time.

This method of trolling spread like wildfire and has yet to truly go away, but has at least died down considerably compared to the earlier 2000s. Facebook and other social media platforms caused just as many issues.

These social media sites gave trolls the opportunity to now stalk and find out personal information about people on a whole new level. One of the big concepts around gaming was the fact you could be another person and hide behind your character. This was not the case anymore.

People went out of their way to locate personal information about other players using whatever they could find as a method to hurt or mock others. It had become rather hurtful and mean-spirited.

Trolling countermeasures, surprisingly enough, have been implemented in the gaming universe better than actual laws pertaining to social media platforms. Malicious people still find ways to get around these countermeasures, but the gaming companies are more helpful than ever before.

Current Trends

Trolling has clearly changed in terms of the methods that are applied and the exact scope that they are impacting society, yet the main goals remain the same. The intentions behind trolling range from person to person with varying degrees of motivation.

It can range from just trying to upset groups of people for amusement or to going after a business with false allegations in an attempt to damage their reputation. These are real problems that continue to surface and do not have any end in sight.

Fake news and cyber bullying are rampant within all social media platforms, yet the actual gaming community only suffers from people being annoying. Laws and the media are constantly tricked by trolls on an almost daily basis.

Mobs of people are manipulated by groups of 10-20 people using bot computer programs to compile fake social media accounts to stir up public opinion. Businesses, people, everything under the sun seems to become targets.

Maybe those in charge should take a page out of these game developer’s book and start applying their methods to the rest of the world in to get things under control. Whatever they choose to do, they should do something different than whatever this current path is.

Or the trolls may come after you next.

Wagering Impacts

Player Targets

Within the esports world, professional players rely heavily upon the public and the gaming community to get to that level and maintain an income. They must utilize social media platforms and sponsorships in addition to developing their skills.

Professionals within the esports community perform live streams, post videos and perform a myriad of other activities to promote themselves. This is where they face risks from trolls who decide to target them.

They can have false allegations claimed about them or get egged on by the live chats during their streams. They can get tracked down in the games themselves and harassed in a manner that will get them to say or do something live that will not be favorable.

Not only can they face damage to their reputation by becoming a target, but there can be a mental impact as well by having people target them. This can have a detrimental impact on their gaming performance.

These are some of the reasons why it is important for bettors to keep up to date with what is going on with the players or teams they intend to bet on for upcoming events. Remember that esports are just as much about the mental aspect as they are skill.

If a player is being targeted by groups of trolls and they are falling for their ploys, it can have an important effect on their performance. Knowing where the player’s head is at before a potential tournament can dictate if you want to wager on them or their opponents.

This may be very intentional by individuals or groups looking to sabotage a team or player for the purpose to bet against them. As a bettor, you will not be able to protect the player or team from being trolled, so stay informed and know what is occurring to adjust bets accordingly.

Bettors must also watch out for professional players trolling their own teams by picking blatantly bad heroes in MOBA style games like LoL or Dota 2. This could identify a lot about a specific player and the type of relationship they may have with their team going forward.

Like anything else in the wagering world, do your research and keep an eye on what is going on with your favorite teams and players.

Strategies such as these will keep you on your continuing path to victory.

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