By Alec Moylan
December 20, 2018
Does Dota 2’s Punishment Pool fit the crime? It’s a difficult question to answer because people have differing philosophies. Some believe in strict disciplinary action. Others are much more lenient. Striking the perfect balance between the two is difficult —maybe impossible— but what’s most important is that the system doesn’t abuse its people.
Dota 2’s punitive system, called the punishment pool or low priority queue, is one of the most controversial elements of the game. While many players appreciate the punishment pool, it’s often criticized for being too harsh.
Should Dota 2 keep such a harsh system and risk turning off its player base? First, let’s break down how Dota 2’s punishment pool works.
The punishment pool, or low priority pool, is designed to be like detention. Dota 2 gathers all those who misbehave and puts them in a common matchmaking queue, where they have to win their way out. The amount of games you have to win varies depending on if you’re a repeat offender. The more times the player ends up in the low priority queue, the more they’ll have to win to escape.
There are three ways to get sent to Dota prison: abandoning games, receiving multiple reports, or being flagged for bad behavior in-game. When your behavior score reaches a certain point, Dota 2 sends you to the punishment pool. The game resets these percentages after a specific amount of time, but once you cross the threshold, there’s no avoiding your fate.
The punishment pool is meant to be just that, punishment. Players are limited to Single Draft mode, where they’re forced to pick from three random heroes. Players can’t collect Trophy Points or item drops and can’t even play with friends.
Also, the “low priority” in the low priority queue, means players in the queue must wait must longer for matches. This element alone certainly sucks the fun out of the game.
It’s easy to lack empathy for players trapped in the punishment pool, especially for those who’ve never been. The truth is the punishment pool is an imperfect system that ends up being brutal for some players.
Dota 2’s punishment pool is flawed, and everyone knows it. Despite this, Valve sees the punishment pool as a necessary fixture to protect the community from itself. It’s an effective system, but just because it’s effective doesn’t mean it’s fair.
All too often players are put in the punishment pool and don’t understand why. There’s no warning, no explanation, no chance for a rebuttal —it doesn’t seem fair, but the lack of transparency is by design.
Valve doesn’t want transparency because then players will attempt to game the system. If players knew Valve’s standards, players would do just enough to stay above them. Not knowing keeps players on their toes, which should discourage them from acting out. Unfortunately, keeping players in the dark has its consequences.
Because players don’t know the workings of the system, sometimes it’s hard for them to know what got them in the punishment pool in the first place. It’s difficult to change if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong and sometimes it takes multiple trips to the punishment pool to get the message. Obviously, for many players, this process can be both frustrating and confusing.
Dota 2’s punishment pool system is automated, meaning there aren’t getting sympathy votes. Even if a player left a game to save orphans from a burning building, they’d still be sent to the punishment pool. Personal circumstances don’t matter even if there is absolutely nothing a player could do.
Players are regularly punished as a result of power outages or faulty connections. Most of the time, these are circumstances a player can’t control, but the system can’t detect it. It’s not fair; however, try to imagine the alternative. It’s just not feasible for Valve to punish people on a case-by-case basis, as there can be over 800,000 players online at one time.
One technical error won’t single-handedly send a player to the punishment pool, but it can be the nail in the coffin. The reality is that because of the limits of technology innocent players pay the price.
Winning is the only way out, but winning in Dota is hard, let alone in punishment pool. To win in the punishment pool, there are many obstacles a player faces.
First, you’re already guaranteed a long waiting time in the low priority queue. Depending on where you live, you could wait up to 30 minutes just to get a match. And then you have to win.
A match takes around an hour, and if you don’t win, the match was all for naught. Throw in that Dota 2 is designed so you only win 50% of the time, and suddenly the road to freedom is many times longer than you expected. This, of course, is assuming that you get placed in lobbies that allow you to win.
Dota 2’s punishment pool is a cesspit for anti-winning behavior such as abandoning and feeding. If you have a 5-game count to escape the low priority queue, abandoning doesn’t increase your sentence. Players know this and leave whenever they feel like a loss is imminent. The best you can hope for is to be placed in a lobby with decent players who want to win, but that’s not always the case.
Earning your way out of Dota 2’s punishment pool is painstaking work that can take days depending on your online activity. The hardest part is that players don’t control their own destiny and limitations suck the fun out of the game. It’s a punishment so bad that it pushes many to quit Dota altogether. This brings on the question, is the punishment pool system too harsh?
Have you been to Singapore and seen how clean it is? The bathrooms are tidy; the streets are litter-less; honestly, it makes the U.S look bad, but why is it so clean? Well, it’s because Singapore’s government gives vendors a two-year prison sentence for selling gum and penalizes people $150 for forgetting to flush the toilet. Not everyone loves strict penalties, but they do deter you from breaking the rules.
Dota 2’s punishment pool system is a lesson in deterrence. It’s designed to make you suffer but most importantly, to make sure you never want to go back. It can be harsh, it can no fun, and it can even be unfair, but it isn’t ruining the game. What ruins the game is disruptive behavior that puts you in the punishment pool in the first place.
Toxicity is the biggest problem in Dota, and it’s not a problem that can be solved with a slap on the wrist. Players won’t change if you go easy on them. You have taken away what they want most: to have fun. When you hit them where it hurts, they’ll have plenty of motivation to change their behavior.
For players sent to the punishment pool for technical issues, you have to think about what’s best for the game. When a player abandons a game, it affects nine other individuals. Consistent technical difficulty is a problem player should address at its source. The system must prioritize seamless gameplay over a specific player’s circumstances.
Valve created a system that looks out for the players that play the game the right way. Not everyone in the punishment pool deserves it, but a lot of them do. Nobody likes tough love, but it’s a lot more effective than letting people get away with their behavior.
So what if Dota risks losing some of its players? What matters is keeping the game enjoyable for those who make it enjoyable others.
Tags: Dota 2