What is Smurfing in Gaming? | Explained

Updated: Jun 4, 2024
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What is Smurfing In Gaming?

In competitive online gaming, “smurfing” is playing on a new account to be matched against lower-ranked players who can easily be beaten. A player doing this is called a “smurf” and the account they do it on is referred to as a “smurf account”.

As creating alternate accounts for competitive games has become more popular, many people have started referring to all alternate accounts as a “smurf”.

Whether it’s allowed or not, smurfing exists in all popular online competitive games, including Valorant, CS2, Overwatch 2, Starcraft II, and League of Legends.

Why is it Called Smurfing?

The origin of the term “smurfing” dates back to the early days of Warcraft II, which was released in 1995. Geoff “Shlonglor” Frazier and Greg “Warp!” Boyko were two of the best Warcraft II players and struggled to find players willing to face them. To combat this, they created alternate accounts named “PapaSmurf” and “Smurfette”, a reference to the 1980s cartoon “The Smurfs”.

Geoff had this to say as to why they created these accounts:

First let me explain the Smurf thing. Warp and I enjoy making up names and playing people at war2. We make them think we really suck and then beat them up.

By mid-1996, Warcraft II players had already begun using the term “smurfing” to describe high-ranking players disguising themselves on alternate accounts.

The Negatives Of Smurfing

While it might be fun to crush lower-ranked players, it’s not fun to be on the receiving end of such a beating. If players experience too many games where they feel they’re getting dominated by a smurf, they’ll no longer want to play that game.

For these reasons, some games will ban smurf accounts or try to make smurfing less appealing. Valorant attempts to detect smurf accounts to raise the account’s rank closer to the player’s true rank more quickly. Blizzard requires Overwatch 2 players to win 50 Unranked games to unlock Competitive, which is a substantial amount of time to spend to be able to smurf in Competitive.

Legitimate Reason for Alternate/Multiple Accounts In Competitive Games

Beyond the smurf’s enjoyment, there’s really no way to justify having multiple accounts for the sake of stomping lower-ranked players. In that scenario, one player enjoys the game (and maybe their teammates do) while the rest suffer. However, there are some legitimate reasons to want to have alternate accounts.

It takes a lot of time and effort to rise through the ranks in competitive games. You may not always want to risk the rank on your main account. Video games are supposed to be fun, after all. People will argue that you should then play unranked, but the experience of unranked and ranked games usually differs significantly.

I think having an alternate account you care a bit less about is super reasonable. After a few games to rank up, this account should be near the same rank as your main account. I’m not saying you should throw on this account, but you can play on it when you’re tired, returning after some time off, or maybe not feeling like being a 100% “tryhard”.

Alternate accounts are also great ways to experiment with new characters and roles. As far as competitive shooters go, Overwatch is an excellent example of why you may want an alternate account.

In Overwatch 2, 40 heroes comprise the Support, Damage, and Tank roles. Each hero has their own set of abilities to learn, and every role requires different skills. Even within the same role, you may need drastically different skills.

For instance, within the Support role, Mercy and Moira are two heroes who require very little aiming skill to be effective. If you’re a master player who only plays Mercy or Moira, you could easily not possess the aim required to be an effective Zenyatta at your rank. Zenyatta requires high-level aim and clever positioning that’s unique to him.

Overwatch 2 Moira Aim

Overwatch 2 Moira Damaging Tracer With the Crosshair Far Off Tracer

In the example above, any time you want to play Zenyatta, you’d likely get crushed and hurt the experience of your teammates. For a player like this, I think it’s totally reasonable to use an alternate account to play with heroes that require different skill sets.

Before Overwatch’s Role queue with separate ranks for each role, it was an even more straightforward example of why you’d want an alternate account. You might have been a top 500 tank, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you were anywhere near that level in the Damage role.

With all this said, we recommend avoiding completely destroying your enemies when ranking up a new account. At the start of ranking up an alternate that you plan to use legitimately, consider taking it a bit easy on the competition. Perhaps try to think and play like the players in the rank you are playing to make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone until you rank up to a reasonable level.

Is Smurfing Allowed in Competitive Games?

In many competitive online games, you’re allowed to use multiple accounts. Whether or not you’re allowed to smurf is more of a gray area and can depend on the game’s rules.

Blizzard, the creator of Warcraft II, StarCraft II, Overwatch 2, and many other popular competitive games, allows players to have multiple accounts. However, intentionally throwing games to maintain a low competitive rank will likely result in a ban.

Riot Games, the creator of League of Legends, Valorant, and others, has taken a harder stance on smurfing. In Valorant, for example, they’ve implemented smurf detection that corrects MMR (Matchmaking Rating) faster. This means that smurfs will spend less time at lower ranks before ranking up.

As the chart from Riot Games shows below, their smurf detection has been a success.

Valorant Smurf Stomp Chart

Beyond this, Riot bans players intentionally tanking MMR, sharing accounts, or purchasing accounts.

If you’re considering smurfing, we recommend reading the terms of service for each particular game and refraining from doing anything that seems obviously bannable.

Conclusion

Now you know what smurfing is, why smurfing is usually frowned upon, and why there are some legitimate reasons to have alternate accounts in competitive online video games.

While many game developers have clamped down on smurfing, it will probably always be a part of competitive online gaming.