Why Are You Doing It Wrong?
I want to waste money on putting out a suboptimal product.
That statement doesn't seem to make sense, does it? Yet why do teams do that?
Eighty years ago you had baseball coaches, football coaches, hockey coaches, you name it.. coaches who were players. They played the sport for awhile, usually at the highest level, then they would go on and become a coach. Or you'd have a coach bounce around from team to team because he had coaching experience in that sport. He wasn't necessarily great, but he had coaching experience in the sport.
Well, traditional sports got out of that habit as things grew bigger. While there is value placed on a former player who wants to be a coach, it's no longer a requisite. Furthermore, as things have grown, so has the specialization of coaches, such as for a specific position, or value. There are movement coaches, ones who will break down a player's movements on the field and look at where they are leaking energy, power, potential, so as to get them to be better than what they are currently. There are strength coaches whose goals are to make sure the athletes are getting stronger, faster, to ultimately lead to results on the field. Nutritionists, mental health, physical health, you name it... things have grown.
League of Legends, specifically in North America, have an opportunity to blow the scene wide open. The Korean teams are great, they have amazing infrastructure and have had that for many years since the rise of Brood War. But they have areas where NA could not only catch up on, but surpass them on.
First we need to identify one of the big areas that just about every region and every team faces. The struggle with a lot of teams in esports is you have a young group of adults who are now being thrust into the lime light. They're getting thousands upon thousands of fans, they're receiving adoration, hate, money. It's a lot to handle. Especially if they haven't worked in a team environment or been involved in team sports beyond a rec league, and it can be a lot to ask of someone to rise to their potential and execute. This is where regions like Korea have excelled at, whereas places like North America have lagged behind.
The first area in which I believe NA could catch up on is a no-brainer, or so I think, however since it still isn't the norm in North America... perhaps it's not. That would be having a coach that is actually a coach, a leader, who will get the job done.
Yes you can get lucky and find a former player who turns out to be an absolute fantastic coach, however, with the game being as big as it is, it's not improbable to find a coach who has traditional coaching experience who also knows the game. Now I'm not talking about a strategic "Okay we're going to look to force them into this comp and take advantage of..." type of coach, but that would be nice if they had that base understanding. What I'm talking about is a guy who can set a schedule, get the players to abide by it and take practice time seriously.
You need someone who isn't going to back down, someone who understands the team dynamics and the psyche of his players. It is the job of the coaching staff to get them ready to play up to their full potential come game time.
The second area in which I believe NA could not just catch up, but blow the other areas out of the water, is having the players undergo a basic, structured strength and conditioning program.
Number one it gets them out of the house. Doing something that you love is great, but you can't do it 24/7. There has to be some downtime, some bonding outside of the gaming house.
Number two, this helps players stay mentally alert and more focused in game. It leads to better in game communication, decision making, and increases the chance for victory - which is the ultimate goal.
How many professional players - or aspiring pros - knew that increasing aerobic fitness leads to increasing mental alertness, helps you to make better decisions, so that you're not thinking, "Hey, I can go ward this bush with no surrounding vision/teammates."? If you're a pro and you didn't know that, ask the higher ups, "Why don't we do something like this?"
Is it going to make every com perfect and everything will be sunshine and roses? No, but if you can increase your chance of victory even by half a percentage point, why would you not do that?
How many professional players know that practice without fatigue is more beneficial than with fatigue, as with fatigue your reactions slow, mental processes are slower, decision making becomes poor, finger accuracy/mouse accuracy can decrease. Being dehydrated can lead to negative affects on performance as well.
And yet how many professional players practice with fatigue? "Oh man I can't believe I'm missing every CS," and you start to tilt, you know why? Because you're fatigued, which is leading you to be sloppy and become more frustrated, and it compounds. You think you're getting in the best practice you can at that point in time? You think your 4 other teammates are?
Number three, it breaks the monotony of, "Wake up, eat, play, eat, play etc..." and it doesn't always have to be the gym where you workout. On some days you can even surprise the players and say, "I've arranged a day at the beach, no practice." Because you don't have to live and breathe the game 24/7, no other traditional sport does that to that extreme and they have many more millions of dollars invested in what they're doing.
The third area in which I believe NA could blow the other areas of the water is practicing proficiently, and this starts at the grass roots level but pros should adhere to this as it allows them to get in better practice, they don't have to spend as much time practicing, and they will see growth much quicker.
Now here's the deal, it is much easier to go from low gold to high gold than it is to go from low diamond to high diamond, even though the absolute differences are equal. Improvements of a specified magnitude are more difficult to attain for more advanced players. What does this mean? It means the higher the skill level, the greater the amount of time required to produce demonstrable improvements in League of Legends.
For those of you who may be in the bronze range, or silver, or wherever you find yourself, even if your goal is to one day go pro, try to take enjoyment in what you're doing right now. Not only will it help save you from potential burn out, but skill acquisition happens more rapidly when you enjoy it, rather than have a negative view towards it, such as, "I wish I wasn't playing this game."
So the fun part! How should you practice? Again we've touched on some things before, but what is the best method, and is it all the same?
You should have a general idea of what I'm about to say. If not, I'd ask you to please check out the other articles I've written again for a quick refresher.
The best method to improve your game is to play with feedback. Do some coaching lessons, have someone watch your game, but you have to identify your faults so that you can focus on fixing them. You can't just blindly play ranked and hope to improve (although for a select few this will work, it's not typical, there are faster, better ways to do it).
Think about it this way: playing ranked is like taking a test. Just like you can't stop a test and open a book to re-read something you should know, you can't stop a ranked fight and say, "Wait, can you back off for a sec? I want to see if I can take this battle if I wouldn't have been positioned right here."
It also helps to get another pair of eyes on what you're doing. How many times have you heard this scenario?
"Jeez! If only I would have done 'x' I would've won that 1 on 1 fight." And then you look and you know that your friend had already blown heal or barrier or flash and that the person he was fighting had everything up and was up 2 items on him. Chances are he wasn't winning that fight (all things being equal in terms of skill). This is the mentality I've seen time and again, whether it be in athletics or in esports.
Just think about it for a minute. Picture your favorite sport. I'll pick baseball. Imagine someone who is not very good, go up against a pro pitcher, get struck out in 3 pitches, then walk away and quip, "Man, I was so close to hitting a 400 foot home run against him!"
Compare that to, "Wow, he really outclassed me. I sort of need to humble myself a bit and focus my training a bit more serious so that this doesn't happen next time."
It's fine to sit and think, "I'm going to beat this player." You have to have that mentality if you want to go up against the best. You have to, no question. But you can't be so blind to think that you can beat them so easily when you're not quite at their skill level. This inability to realize your shortcomings will really hamper your training, and it will set you back in terms of improvement.
The 4th area ties into having a solid coaching staff, and that's helping the players set goals. However, to be effective, they need to involve features that the players can control. Notice the difference between, "I want to win 20 games in four days with Yasuo top." and, "I will be able reach 200 cs within 22 minutes in half of the games that I play." The former is something you can't control, while the latter is.
Your goals must be difficult, but reachable, while erring on the side of being too difficult rather than too easy.
List them in priority.
They should be measurable.
As said before, they should be something you can control.
Also to keep in mind your goals should be stated positively. For instance, the above example, positive. The same same example, only stated negatively, "Try not to screw up bad and get out cs'd every game." Your goals must also have maximum believability so that you, as a player, can sit anyone down and explain how your goals can be reached. If you can't do that, then re-think what your goals are.
Now in order to accomplish all this, you're going to need a coaching staff that can not only communicate with the players, but with each other as well, so that they're on the same page when it comes to each individual on the team. It needs to be a combined effort. Your goals should be developed for different stages in the game, enveloping a defined task or a set of related tasks. Each stage of the game should have a mini-strategy with your primary strategy and secondary strategies, outcomes and goals. Breaking it up this way serves to give you manageable chunks that assist attentional control. These can help produce enhanced sustained performances.
This gives you a road map to victory, instead of looking like a chicken with your head cut off when you perhaps fall behind.
Positive thinking is also very important, not only in practice but especially in an important match or series. People who believe they have little chance of reaching a goal or being successful are more likely to perform at low levels. If you think a negative outcome will occur, it has a higher chance of occurring.
So, if you think, "Oh man, I'm really going to fail this test, or, in League... get dumpstered on...." chances are they've got a higher chance of happening.
However the above, with negative thinking, should not be confused with the characteristics of coping skills. Being able to predict and prepare for problems will produce better tolerance to it if it actually occurs than if you were blind-sided. In other words, know the ins and out of your team comp and what you're capable of and more importantly know what they could be throwing at you so you can be better prepared when it happens.
And the 5th area, for you professionals, it boils down to being ready to compete. You should treat it as just another game, that is, don't go in being nervous and tense, but you have to be ready to compete, and it can't be at the same level you'd treat soloq with.
Now for some players who have competed in sports, or have gamed with success - they have a routine that they'll tend to stick to. It's that normalcy that keeps them in the moment, that triggers their brain into, "Okay, now it's time to bear down and focus."
For professional athletes, this happens all the time. The proverbial light switch that gets flicked on.
Now for some - they can get too "amped up", aka their arousal level gets too high. An analogy would be a soccer player whose arousal level is so high that he doesn't see the other team's defender in that path of his pass to his teammate. This can also be known as tunnel vision. With League of Legends you see it all the time, especially when players are streaming, "Oh, I didn't realize their jungler was coming up there," all the while you're watching the minimap on the stream like, "THEY WALKED BY A WARD HOW DID YOU NOT SEE THAT?!"
You might even argue the break down SaintVicious did of Gravity vs. CLG where Aphro saw an opening, yet the others didn't. Perhaps their arousal levels were high and their brain couldn't process all the information at the same speed as Aphro. Or maybe that wasn't the case at all, but it would be worth it to talk to them afterwards, after they cooled down, and say, "Hey, in that scenario, I'm not judging you, but I want to know where your head was at. What was your thought process there?" And it's not to demean them, you're trying to get a better understand of where they're at so you can help them.
One would think that you'd want a very low arousal level when playing League, however that's not exactly beneficial either.
Typically when it's low, it allows the player to take in many different stimuli... however, if it gets too low that can become too much for the player to handle to the point where it's affecting the amount of things he can process in front of him - thus making his reaction time slower. In a game that puts a strong emphasis on decision making and speed, this can be killer.
For the most part this needs to be addressed in practice. I would suggest establishing a set routine before sitting down to play a set of games to get your brain focused. Everyone can have their own thing, but perhaps spend 10 minutes alone or in a quiet place, talk to yourself on what you want to do. "I am going to establish a lead in lane and bully him through x, y, z." or "I'm going to get and maintain my advantage so that when we hit our power spike I'll be able to do ...." This positive self-talk goes a long ways in helping you get to a good mindset. Then go out and play your warmup games. Maybe you go for a quick walk around the house/venue to clear your mind and get ready for your matches after the warmups, or maybe the 10 minute talk before warmups was enough. But now your mind knows that after this happens, it's time to get serious and you "flick the switch."
No matter if you have to wait another two hours or not, you do the same routine so that your brain knows that okay, it's time to get serious now. It's time to focus. It may seem silly, but every professional sports player has some routine that gets them in the zone and they know it's time to execute what they've been working on. If you want to perform at your very best, you better find out what works for you to get you in the zone.
Thank you for reading this.
About myself, I'm a certified athletic trainer, which means I deal with orthopedic injuries (muscles, ligaments, and bones) from acute traumatic to chronic injuries and from STDs to appendicitis.
I advise on nutrition plans for college and high school athletes as well as workouts.
I'm a former pitching coach and instructor for a 19 and under AAA baseball team (think of it as a legion B team), in the six years I helped coached the team they went to the state championship game four times, winning it once.
I also played Starcraft 2 semi-professionally, having the opportunity to live in the compLexity pro house in Texas, as well as taking 2nd place in WCG USA 2013 for League of Legends, winning 800 bucks (yet never receiving it) and was one game away from going to China.