What is smurfing in video games and why do gamers hate it?

Kenneth Williams • January 16, 2022 11:37 am

If someone on your video game team is calling an enemy a smurf, there’s a good chance you’re losing pretty hard.

Smurfing in video games is the act of intentionally playing in a skill bracket below a player’s actual rank. People who do this are called smurfs. The idea is that playing against lower-skilled players can be a good source of training or way to boost a wounded ego.

It’s also one of the biggest problems in modern gaming across all genres. The battle against smurfing is a four-way arms race between smurfs, developers, account sellers, and the average player.

Smurfs ruin the game for several reasons. They create unfair situations for normal players who want to play against those of a similar skill level. Smurfs also tend to be more toxic. The consequences don’t affect their main account, so they don’t care as much. 

It’s up to video game developers to find methods of detecting and dealing with smurfs. Dota 2, for example, pits suspected smurfs against each other until the algorithm either bans them or verifies their authenticity. Devs often ask their player base for help with these issues by reporting suspected smurfs in their matches.

On the other side of the equation, there is a booming economy of smurf accounts being bought and sold. Ranked-ready accounts for free games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends can be purchased for less than the price of a sandwich. 

Why do people smurf in video games?

While smurfing seems like an obviously terrible thing to do, almost everyone who does it has justified it in their minds.

For some, smurfing is a way to practice new things without affecting their main account. Others believe their opponents should feel grateful for playing against high-skill players. Almost everyone has experienced playing against a smurf, so why shouldn’t they get in on the fun? Why people smurf in video games is a hotly contested topic, but it usually comes down to one of three reasons.

The first is to boost their ego. They might lose a few games on their real account and use their smurf to beat up on lower-ranked players. These video game smurfs use it as a confidence booster. Sometimes they excuse their behavior by playing with lower-skilled friends. Games like Valorant and CSGO restrict party matchmaking if ranks are too far apart.

Another common reason for smurfing is to practice. These players purchase or create accounts to learn new roles or strategies without affecting their main account. Some players treat their lifetime win rate or records very seriously, and learning new things could affect those stats. It also puts them in a lower skill bracket, which the smurf views as fair because they aren’t playing their usual way.

Finally, there are even some “ethical smurfs” who try to do it as a challenge. For example, there are some players who try to reach a high rank in CSGO using only bad weapons like the P250 pistol or MP-9 submachine gun. League of Legends players might normally play jungle but purchase a second account to learn a different role.

Some big names even try to smurf for educational videos or content creation. Even if these smurfs are less damaging than stomping new players, it’s still a violation of the spirit of video games. Ethical smurfs still ruins matches for the nine other players in the lobby.

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