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How Riot may have made it impossible to keep ‘the most toxic League of Legends player’ banned

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People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw down the midlane

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Notorious League of Legends streamer Tyler1 returned to authorized play on Monday, Jan 8, 2018, after Riot Games lifted the extraordinary ID ban it imposed on him in April, 2016. He showed up for his inaugural stream dressed in homemade cosplay of his favorite champion, Draven, and also a Wonder Woman tiara.

And he immediately broke the Twitch record for the most simultaneous viewers.

Who is this guy, and what happened?

You can read my long-form piece from last year explaining the Tyler1 phenomenon in detail, but here’s a quick summary: Tyler1 was a top player on the North American League of Legends ranked ladder. He also had a very bad temper, and was prone to attacking people in chat and intentionally losing games to spite his teammates.

He rose from relative obscurity after a professional player called him out on a widely-viewed stream for his toxicity. Tyler leaned into his infamy, branding himself “the most toxic player in North America.” He started throwing games and raging on stream to entertain his fans.

Riot responded with the ID ban, which meant any account Riot discovered Tyler using would be banned on sight. This kind of sanction is extremely rare; only five people in the game’s history have been hit with ID bans.

Tyler has since become an outlaw in League of Legends; he makes new accounts, and climbs through League’s ranked ladder. Riot notices him when he emerges near the top, bans the account, and then he gets a new account and starts over at the bottom. His Sisyphean plight has made him a legend among trolls, although he has been proclaiming himself “reformed” and has campaigned to get his ban lifted.

While the ban prevented Tyler from streaming League live (since that would immediately alert Riot to the account he was using and get it banned) there was never any pretense that the ID level ban was actually preventing him from playing. Riot conducted a review of his behavior on accounts he had been using in Oct. 2017 in order to determine if he had reformed enough to have the sanction lifted. He would be able to return if his accounts were found to be clean enough.

How Riot shot itself in the foot

Action to remove Tyler’s ban happened very soon after fairly major drama in the League community, which involved, but was not caused directly by, Tyler. Riot employee Aaron Rutledge, known to players as Riot Sanjuro, sounded off about Tyler in a Discord chat affiliated with the League of Legends subreddit on Oct. 1 of last year.

He said that Tyler1 “looks like a damn homunculus,” and that “he’ll die from a coke overdose or testicular cancer from all the steroids. Then we’ll be gucci.” He also claimed that Tyler’s behavior had caused Sanjuro a great deal of personal “bullshit.”

These comments were screencapped and posted on Reddit. Riot’s communications lead Ryan “Riot Cactopus” Rigney apologized to Tyler1 and to the community, and promised swift internal action. Sanjuro was fired over his comments. Sanjuro told Glixel that he’d been posting while drunk, and that he had checked into rehab following his termination. In a response on Twitter, the most toxic player in North America took the high road, insisting he had reformed and saying he had “no hard feelings” toward Sanjuro.

Sanjuro wasn’t the first Rioter to criticize Tyler in harsh terms, but Sanjuro’s statements crossed many lines. Wishing Tyler’s death from overdose or cancer came pretty close to one of the most severe acts of toxicity in League, which is telling someone to kill themselves. Most toxicity infractions incur a series of escalating punishments, starting with a 10-game chat restriction, progressing to a 25-game restriction, then a 14-day temporary ban, and finally a permanent ban.

Some infractions, like using racial epithets, can cause players to skip a punishment tier, but telling someone to kill themselves, or even typing the acronym “kys” in game chat leads to an instant permanent account ban.

It’s not entirely clear whether there’s a causal connection between Sanjuro’s comments and Riot’s decision to consider lifting Tyler’s ID ban, but if there isn’t one, it’s quite a coincidence that Riot told Tyler his ban was under review only two weeks after they fired Sanjuro. The move to lift the ban seemed like something of a reversal of Riot’s position; on Aug. 25, only a few weeks before Sanjuro’s comments, Riot community coordinator David “Riot Phreak” Turley told his stream viewers that Tyler had not been behaving in a way that justified lifting the ban, and noted that some of Tyler’s accounts had been hit with chat restrictions and other sanctions.

But even if they were skeptical that he was fully reformed, it wasn’t a great look for Riot to be keeping Tyler on a special double-secret punishment for toxicity while its staffers were sounding off in public about how they wished the guy would get cancer.

What was the stream like?

Tyler streamed for nearly 11 hours, gained thousands of subscribers, and maintained six-figure concurrent viewer stats late into the night.

At the beginning of the stream, Tyler claimed that Riot had begged him to come back, and that he had insisted that he would only return to the game if he was allowed to play Draven every single game. But though he treated it as a joke, it is pretty clear Tyler cared about this a lot; since the ban review began in October, he has apparently stayed off stream completely other than an appearance for the finals of his Tyler1 Championship Series tournament in November, perhaps to avoid getting in any trouble that might derail his unbanning.

Twitch

He played through a round of ranked placement matches and ended up in high Silver tier, which is far below where he usually plays. But these matches were going on while he was the top streamer on Twitch, which meant a lot of people who were playing ranked matches were checking his stream and banning his main champion, Draven, if he was queueing at the same time.

His opponents could also check his stream during games to see where his jungler was, which put him at a disadvantage in every match he played. He had a target on his back, and a lot of people seemed to be trying to tilt him or get him to do something toxic.

Tyler, for his part, stayed pretty upbeat, his spirits perhaps buoyed by the huge amounts of money he was making during his record-breaking stream. He used to tilt when his champ was banned, and he would rage or intentionally feed and lose games, but on Monday, he just took his backup pick, Tristana, and, in one game, he played ADC Teemo and won in fairly spectacular fashion with a KDA of 12/4/7.

In general, Tyler kept the drama to a minimum and didn’t take the bait when other players tried to provoke him. The stream was just 11 hours of a guy doing a thing he hadn’t been able to do under his real name for nearly two years.

So, what’s next for #REFORMED Tyler1?

Tyler1 rose to fame as a toxic clown; his early fans watched his stream to see him misbehave in high-tier ranked matches and disrespect pro players and Rioters. He hasn’t done stuff like that for a long time, however, and more recently, his brand has been about his attempt at a comeback, as he climbed the ranked ladder over and over, and was swatted down repeatedly by the powers-that-be.

Now that he’s back in Riot’s good graces, he’s going to need to figure out a new story to tell about himself. At the start of his stream, he said his New Year’s resolution was not to get banned, and if he can hold to that, he’ll disappoint a lot of people who enjoy him as a source of online drama.

Drama was a big reason people have tuned into Tyler in the past, so it will be interesting to see how many of his fans stick around to just watch him play drama-free League. When I wrote about him a year ago, the general consensus in most discussions about him was that his audience would quickly grow bored with his shtick. He defied expectations in 2017 by continuing to build his viewership even though he wasn’t able to livestream League.

Over the last two years of being a professional streamer, he’s become a more polished and engaging performer, so he’s less reliant on his gimmick of being “the most toxic player” to maintain attention. His hyper-aggressive style of play is also a lot of fun to watch, and that alone might be enough to keep him in the top tier of streamers.

At this point, he’s been successfully streaming for much too long for anyone to seriously claim he is a flash in the pan. While he probably won’t be getting hundreds of thousands of viewers every time he logs on, it seems he’s parlayed his initial notoriety into a durable platform.

Tyler1 is probably going to be around for a while ... unless he gets banned again.