I've been in a situation like this a handful of times. I'll provide an example:

In a competative online gaming group, one other person and I were responsible for a particular task (role). Because of reasons outside the scope of the question, my usual partner to do this tactic wasn't there and I had to do this with someone who had never done this before: Bob. Bob made a critical mistake, but he did not realise he made a mistake. I did, and I knew only Alice had the ability to fix it. The mistake being critical, it meant we would lose within seconds if it didn't get fixed. I nicely but firmly asked Alice, having no more than seconds to explain. Alice refused to, because it was not part of her role. A few moments later, we lost the battle.

Alice went all-out on me. In particular, she complained about how I shifted my responsibility onto someone else and questioned my ability to do my role. She even questioned my ability to play this game on a competitive level.

The group leader responded to her accusations and asked me to defend myself (publicly, so GL, Alice, Bob and the rest of the group were part of this).

At that point I saw two possibilities:

  1. Say Bob caused the mistake, not me. I felt uncomfortable doing this. I didn't want to publicly humiliate him.
  2. Apologise.

I went with option 2 and apologised for what happened. It being late and at the end of our scheduled game time, I logged off and went to bed after this (uncomfortable) conversation. I went to work the next day and when I got back, I found I had been removed from the group because I had supposedly failed at a critical task in my role.

I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. How could I have handled this?

This being an online group, everyone was from different locations. Most people were from East-Central and Northern Europe, Britain and Netherlands.

Clarification: We normally discussed how the night went using forum posts. Most people responded the day after. I intended to leave talking about the actual strategy to the next day, when I could think more about my words.

This group was pretty toxic. Being removed was very much a bullet dodged, but that's not the point of the question. I managed to explain what happened to the leader, but he couldn't invite me back or he'd "lose face". I'd like to learn from this particular social situation.

  • You should have told entire truth, then any reasonable leader would have kicked Alice for not being a team player. Because she certainly isn't a team player. In team game, victory is everyone's task, no matter what. She had ability to prevent loss and she refused. Bob might have screwed up, but it was still fixable until Alice's ego trip. At least that's how I have seen it handled (guy doing "Alice" getting banned mid tantrum) and how I would have handled it (never accept "Alice" into my tactical team ever again), though my competitive gaming experience is at "top 5%", not "top 100" level.
    – M i ech
    Nov 20, 2018 at 13:12

5 Answers 5


It does indeed sound like a toxic team, and perhaps nothing you could have said would prevent the resulting mess. But even though it might not have helped with that particular team, I'd like to address part of your question: how to explain what happened without throwing a colleague under the bus. I'd say something like:

Bob was new to this task, and made mistake X. I probably could have given him more guidance. I'll develop a checklist for the task that would help people avoid mistakes in future.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the knowledge necessary to correct the problem, which is why I asked Alice for help. Alice, perhaps you could teach me how to do this in future so I won't have to bother you?

An explanation like this accomplishes several things. You're excusing Bob (he's new), and taking on much of the blame yourself. At the same time, you're proposing a solution to prevent the problem from re-occurring. You're showing Alice that you don't want to impose on her, and again you're proposing a solution.

  • 1
    Alice, perhaps you could teach me how to do this in future OP was playing a game, where (especially in team based efforts) one player cannot accumulate all the skills. It's not a matter of knowledge, but of intentionally designed limitations. It specifically enforces working together instead of being a solitary demigod. Assuming this was an MMO-style raid (inferring from OP's description), OP was likely specced as something else than Alice (e.g. tank, healer, damage dealer) and thus unable to fulfill any other role, by intention of the game designers.
    – Flater
    Nov 6, 2018 at 11:20
  • @Flater Exactly. I accepted the answer anyway, as it seems like it would work for me, except for the last comment.
    – Belle
    Nov 20, 2018 at 14:33

The core mistake you made, as I see things, is hiding information in order to spare Bob's feelings when neither was necessary. You could have explained what had actually happened.

It sounds as if your group had a well-honed strategy, which failed due to a very understandable reason (Bob was new, and made a mistake, which happens). You, recognizing what happened and understanding what remedies were available, relayed the necessary information to someone that was uniquely able to help (though without enough time to explain why her help was needed). When the match was lost, instead of bringing to the team information on what happened so that it could be avoided in the future, you buried that information under a non-specific apology. You also assumed responsibility for what happened, in which case the blame and consequences really would belong to you.

This group sounds like a not-great one, but even a good competitive team is not a self-esteem club. People on the team have tasks in competitions, and they are expected to have the skills needed to deliver. When they don't deliver because don't have those skills, then that's something the team needs to address. After all, if Bob were going to stay on the team he would need to know what he did wrong so that he could become a better team member.

There was no reason that you needed to humiliate Bob (though, with the wrong mix of people, it may not have been possible for him to avoid humiliation whether due to you or not). You could have calmly recounted the critical moment in the game, explained what you saw and its relevance to the strategy, explained that no one could possibly have compensated except for Alice, and then when the mistake went uncorrected the match was lost. That might have produced more discussion and new ideas on how to handle urgent, in-match communication, pointed Bob to what he needed to improve in that role, or fallback strategies, or any number of other things.

But instead, the team got none of that information and you took responsibility for the mistake. So now the team is under misapprehensions: that you were a worse player and team member than was in fact the case, and that Bob can handle the role, with no opportunity to improve the actual issues that came up in the match. I probably wouldn't have kicked you from the team, but I would not be pleased by this if I were one of your former teammates.


The team deserved to know what happened so that it could improve, and Bob deserved to know what happened so that he could improve. Bob being a part of the conversation should have been a good thing. If the group was so toxic that they were always going to attack someone then there would be nothing you could do to prevent that after a loss due to an objective mistake.

  • 1
    This is insightful, thank you. I added a clarification to the question, though, because I think I forgot to add something important: we normally discussed how things went on a forum afterwards, and I told Bob in a private message afterwards (which is common in our task, people don't need to know exactly what the individual does, as long as they know what we both do). I got confronted by Alice because I was, as she said "shifting blame".
    – Belle
    Oct 30, 2018 at 8:14

I get what the issue is. How about not be too nice next time and just state the fact. I wonder what happened to our dear friend bob. Is he still part of the group? Did he show any guilt about being the main reason you are out? Anyway that's not the point.

The point is...You are too nice. You don't want to see other people embarrassed and that's all good and dandy but sometimes it puts you in tough situations even when you haven't done anything wrong. I guess for future, hold your ground.

When situation similar to this arises, detach. I repeat emotionally DETACH yourself from the whole thing. Instead of being in the center of it all, think facts, neutral. It helps.

No matter how much we want some events to occur differently, we have to stand afar and see whats obvious. Why take the bullet for people who you are not sure would do the same for you.


EDIT: I don't mean detach yourself in a blank and robotic way. I mean detach your emotions and wishes. How would you assess the situation if you were not a part of it, like a third person. Also nor do i mean that you should be an insensitive a**hoe who is always pointing facts (with all due respect to you.) There,s a huge difference between standing your ground politely and respectfully without hurting other's feelings (while still being firm) and being annoyingly rude and unreliably selfish. Rest i know you ll do the right thing. Take care

  • Welcome to IPS and thank you for your answer. It's good to read something like this, I probably need it. I am looking for that balance, not being selfish, but standing my ground politely. How do you think I could achieve that? Do you have some examples?
    – Belle
    Oct 30, 2018 at 8:36

Having played my fair share of competitive online games I know the feeling of someone throwing all the blame on you.

In your case you feel you were put in a situation where because Bob made a mistake and Alice was unable to cover for the mistake you weren't able to fulfill your role. It's unlikely that you will be able to convince Alice that you weren't at fault in the heat of the moment, even after some time Alice's pride will likely keep her from admitting any mistake on her part.

I think you made the right choice in choosing not to return their aggression or to shift it onto someone else. What you could have tried if you find yourself in a similar situation would be to communicate with your team mates what you think should have been done to give yourself the best chance at performing your role. This should be an open conversation where each person says what they think their role is and how best they can support the team. Example:

As a fragile damage dealer I feel I can do my best work for the team when I am protected from their team's damage dealers, this means being careful when we push forward so I'm not flanked

This conversation cannot happen though if your team mate is convinced that it was purely one person at fault though so chances are you couldn't really have done anything more with Alice.


That "team" was toxic. You said it yourself already. There are two ways to play this: either indulge in the stress, backstabbing and general unpleasantness of a toxic team. Learn how to navigate it and make the best out of it. While I do know a few "special" people who'd enjoy that, it seems it's not for you (and not for the majority of people, there's a reason it's called "toxic" and not "sweet and healthy"). So the other way is seeing whether a team is a good team and if you found one, stay with it. In the meantime, try to be that good team member yourself. That might get you negative points with the toxic teams, but you would not want to be caught not giving your best when you play with a good team.

So what makes a good team, how would a great team have handled this?

Screen flashes red, game over

Alice: Wow sorry I could not help, that was on short notice. My fault.

Bob: Sorry, I missed that critical move, that's my fault, I'll prepare better next try.

You: Sorry, we messed that up. Bob and I will coordinate better, give us a minute to prepare.

What happened? Everybody who missed an opportunity to make the team win owned it. Everybody stepped up and said "sorry, I will do better". There is no reason to call someone out and nobody was blamed. Whoever leads the team has basically no job to do. There is no searching for mistakes or placing blame to do. All there is to do is to wait for Bob and you to coordinate, in private. "Coordinate" might mean you tell him exactly where he screwed up. But it's just you, in a private channel. Nobody needs to know.

A team is a team. A team wins together or loses together. You and Bob are a sub-team inside the team. You win together or lose together. If the task did not get done, it's "we", not him. Or you for that matter, you might mess it up next time. If someone from the team messed it up, it's "we". If you messed it up, it's fine to say "I".

So the next time this exact same thing happens, you say "I'm sorry, we messed that up, we will coordinate better, give us a minute".

If that team is toxic and Bob and Alice sit there in silence, you did not lose anything. You didn't say it was you, you said you'd fix it. That's a difference.

But maybe your next team is great. Then you definitely proved that you belong into a great team.

  • Own your mistakes.
  • Own the mistakes of any team you are a member of.
  • Provide solutions.

If you do that, there is no need for finger-pointing.

If people still do it, try to be an example. If you own your mistakes and nothing bad happens to you, people might be encouraged to do the same.

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