This article is brought to you by Gamer Sensei.
Even though League of Legends is a team game, solo queue can be isolating, to put it mildly. Bad habits can form unexpectedly, especially when—like many casual players—I’d been playing this game for years without any semblance of an authoritative voice to point out my stumbling blocks. If I don’t even know what my bad tendencies are, let alone if they exist, I have no shot at doing anything about them.
To fix this, I received two one-hour coaching sessions from former Fnatic head coach Nicholas “NicoThePico” Korsgård. I’m a support main who peaked in low Silver but also never really gave the ranked grind my all as many players do.
In modern esports, coaching a player beyond just their mechanical skill and game knowledge, including their mental and emotional approach to different phases of the game, has become more and more important. I appreciate that a lot as someone who feels like my hands can only do so much after almost 10 years of playing League on and off. Clearly, there was something I was missing. While I had no notions above my station, I felt like I knew too much about the game to be this low on the ladder.
Despite the gaps in my self-awareness (and self-improvement), one thing I did feel strongly about was that something relating to the way I thought about the game needed to change. To start, Nico got a feel for my history with the game as well as who I am as a person and as a player. Those facts are important in their own right, but what I personally appreciated about his coaching was that as much as I learned things that I didn’t know before and was challenged in my understandings of certain things, I also felt validated (even as someone in my low rank) in what I did look at “correctly” about League.
Getting into the weeds pretty quickly into the coaching session, I appreciated the simplicity of the principles that Nico broke the game down into.
For example, he called the grounding principle for assessing game state and centering your goals at said game state the “Holy Trinity” of League of Legends: pressure, vision control, and time management. As a support player who’s much more responsible for the macro than the micro, this became the new framework through which I assessed my games.
In contrast, mechanical execution is purely based on experience and feel. My micro wasn’t fixed in a session and I’m glad it wasn’t focused on because it indeed comes with experience. But without the things I learned on the macro side, the foundation on which to build my mechanics wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.
“I can’t help you hit every Thresh hook, but I can hopefully help you be in a better mindset before you throw the first hook,” Nico said.
While valuable, these were things I knew I would have to implement over the course of many games and likely through a good amount of trial and error. But there were also more immediate “fixes” that Nico recommended to my approach and game.
When I’m faced with indecision or a fork in the road of my decision-making, I can jog my brain by flipping my thinking and looking at the state of the game from the enemy team’s perspective. It’s easy to follow the roadmap of priorities and decisions if everything is going to plan, but what about when it’s not and I’m playing from behind? It’s all about patience and being picky with the fights I choose while avoiding taking poke if the enemy comp can dish that out. No freebies.
Shifting over to advice for outside the game, to avoid “tilting” or making bad decisions out of frustration, if I’m on a losing streak of three or more games, I need to take at least an hour break from not just playing the game but consuming any game-related content. Finally, I need to be sure that my champion pool is broad enough that I can neither be banned out of a comfort pick nor can all of my favorite champions be rendered useless by one set of buffs or nerfs. This last piece of advice emphatically underscored the importance of comfort and, by extension, confidence in solo queue.
Personally, this last point was my biggest takeaway. Confidence trumps all. End the article right here.
All jokes aside, this made so much sense. As a traditional sports fan as well, I could sit here and wax poetic about how important the mental side of the game is and really believe it. But sometimes, all it takes is a slight reframing of something, another set of eyes, or another more experienced perspective to take a concept from something you know to something you understand. If nothing else, my coach gave me that. For that alone, it was worth the time for me.
In hindsight, I can look back on examples of games that have gone drastically differently and draw a correlation (not necessarily a causation) between how I felt going into it and the end result, or at minimum how I felt about the game looking back on it.
To finish off the session, Nico live-coached me through a game. This was where the rubber was to meet the road. And boy, did it ever.
I quickly learned just how much Nico saw and thought of seemingly at once while my brain simply didn’t. That was clearly a difference in experience. Everything he pointed out lasted just long enough for me to process before another aspect of the game had to be balanced out with it.
Live-coaching a League game has its limitations, of course, and is far from the most efficient use of anyone’s time, especially given the skill disparity between myself and my coach. But Nico said the main reason that was included in the session was for me to appreciate just how difficult and complex a video game can be to those at the highest level.
“This is how fast the game can be,” he told me once I slumped down into my chair, breathing a little too hard given the circumstances.
Given how overwhelmed I felt when trying to juggle the seemingly endless checklist of things that someone at the highest level would, the previously distilled principles imparted on me, such as the Holy Trinity, became even more important in my mind. In the panic of indecision, it felt like drowning but having a life raft to mentally reset on. I don’t have to think about 10,000 things. In fact, I likely only ever have to think about three.
In closing, Nico shared the “full scope” of the coaching he gives players if they want to reach Challenger or higher—and it’s truly comprehensive. Diet, exercise, and more are included, and in esports, that’s only becoming more and more common as teams like MAD Lions rise to the top of the esport while championing the importance of coaching the whole player, especially with such young talents.
It was apparent to me that he took his job very seriously and that I had his full attention for the time I was with him. I felt genuinely invested in and also felt I now had a reason to work hard because I didn’t want to let him down. In just two hours, that’s saying something.
Nico closed with this: His hope was that, like with any of his students, he could help them establish enough of a base that they wouldn’t be reliant on him. Instead, they could just message him on Discord if they ever did need anything—an offer he also made me.