Riot Games, developer/publisher of PC-gaming megahit "League of Legends," made waves in the gaming community Monday when it announced the six-month suspensions of two professional "League of Legends" players. The move emphasized an important fact of life that goes well beyond gaming: Your online behavior could ruin your life.
Alfonso "Mithy" Rodriguez and Erlend ""Nukeduck" Holm learned this the hard way.
Both players were suspended from Riot's League Championship Series, which dishes out nearly $3 million a year in prizes. They were released from their professional team that same day.
These young men lost their dream jobs in a day. Team sponsorships provide free computers, housing, clothing, food and utilities. Some even pay a salary in addition to living expenses. All of that is gone now for Rodriguez and Holm.
The crazy thing about it is that the offenses weren't committed during league matches. The players were suspended for habitually using naughty language and harassing other players while practicing in public matches.
I can't help but flash back to ex-NBA star Allen Iverson's legendary words: "Not a game. We talkin' 'bout practice."
How could Riot do this to two professionals who directly contribute to its budding league?
The answer is simple. Riot is a business, and like all businesses, the behavior of its employees directly reflects on the company.
This type of thing happens all the time. Perhaps the most famous case of someone being fired for online behavior happened in December when Justine Sacco, a public relations executive for a major online company, tweeted "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" before boarding a plane. She was fired before her plane hit the ground in South Africa.
I'll bet she had one of those ridiculous disclaimers on her social media accounts. "This is my personal Twitter. My tweets are not a reflection of my employer."
If you have something like that written on your social media accounts, do yourself a big favor and forget that nonsense. Of course, what you put online is a reflection of your employer.
Anyone can tie something written on your page to your job. Once that connection is made, the damage is done. It isn't fair or reasonable, but that's how the Internet works. We sacrifice levels of privacy and freedom for an amazing tool.
Video games are even more invasive than typical websites. Every online game has extensive usage terms that relay one simple fact: You play by our rules, or you don't play at all. It doesn't matter that you paid for a service and have a receipt. That service can be revoked without a refund at any time for a number of reasons.
I can't really think of a relationship between a consumer and a producer that is like the one between gamers and video game publishers. If I bought a drill and used it incorrectly at home — which is very likely — Black & Decker isn't going to send someone to my house to take the drill back.
My familiarity with this strange relationship led me to worry when I read the suspension news. If a publisher is willing to suspend professional players, then no one is safe. I use a few too many four-letter words when I play "League of Legends." I could be next if I don't follow the rules.
That was the point. By making a public example of players at the very highest level of gaming, millions might change their tune to avoid the same fate. According to Riot's last official player count in January, more than 67 million people play "League of Legends" each month. It is important to firmly regulate such a massive community.
Gaming companies taking an active stance against negative behavior is a good thing. I hope it happens more often. Online gaming — and the Internet as a whole — must continue to strike back against millions of toxic users.
The trolls aren't the only ones who need to change. Everyone needs to monitor his or her digital footprint very carefully.
I always try to remember that the Internet was designed solely for looking at cat videos. Everything else must be dealt with carefully and responsibly.