Improve your laning by considering the Actor-Observer Bias

Introduction If you’ve been playing League for long enough, you’ve probably run into the some of the following laning situations: You commit to an all-in, burn both summoners, only to miss out on the kill by 10hp...

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If you’ve been playing League for long enough, you’ve probably run into the some of the following laning situations:

  • You commit to an all-in, burn both summoners, only to miss out on the kill by 10hp…oh, and then as you’re eating a second tower shot you see the enemy jungler.
  • You’re cs-ing like a pro but now you’re over-extended with your vision trinket on cooldown. You get ganked, burn flash and still die. You teleport back to lane, only to immediately get tower-dove by mid-lane and that swine jungler who just waited in the side-brush instead of backing.
  • Your lane opponent is bullying you pretty hard but has been overextended for like 3 minutes now. You’re trying to cs under tower as best you can but you’re out of health potions and dangerously low on health. You get tower dove, die and lose out on the massive wave that had accumulated.

Afterwards, you’re primary reaction is often probably to think:

  • “If only my jungler was there, that kill was so free.”
  • “Did mid call mia?” as you scroll through chat and look mid; where your mid-laner is still slowly last hitting creeps instead of shoving and you start pinging enemy turret like a maniac.
  • “How many times do I have to ping before my jungler ganks? This guy is so overextended.”

From this point it’s obvious to see how someone might yield to emotion, go on tilt and start to lose control of the match for the whole team. Notice that in every case, the reaction is to blame the environment/situation instead of yourself. So, why do we react this way when a negative game event occurs?   

Actor-Observer Bias

What you’re experiencing is a common attribution bias called the actor-observer bias. You’ll likely encounter this bias outside of LoL too, like at school or work. Therefore, understanding it a little better can help you improve your performance in a number of areas. So, what is this bias all about?

In brief, actors (you) and observers (your teammates, coworkers, etc.) view the cause for the actor’s behavior (rampant feeding) differently. This sounds kind of obvious but give it a chance. In negative situations, actors are more likely to blame their situation/environment while observers are more likely to blame the individual. Sounds familiar right? You’re 0-3 after 5 minutes so you start complaining in chat about the jungler never ganking (they have created a situation where you cannot succeed), he/she calls you a noob for feeding (they think you’re trash). Interestingly, in a positive situation, it’s the opposite. The actor attributes the success to themselves and the observer will likely attribute it to the environment/situation. Kind of sounds familiar too right? You get a couple of successful ganks and you’re thinking to yourself “I’m doing great this game, I won lane”, whereas your jungler is probably thinking that the reason you’re doing well is that they helped create a favorable situation/environment for you, not necessarily that you’re an exceptional player. At this point, maybe your bot lane is also thinking the same thing or maybe they think you’re winning lane just because you were fortunate enough to get a favorable matchup. In any case, the problem is that you stop being objective in the way you observe and interpret your actual situation. This is especially important if your goal is to improve your performance by reducing the probability of encountering negative events.

How can I overcome this bias?

One possible reason this bias occurs is that actors are less aware of their own actions. When laning, you’re actually juggling a lot of different tasks. You’re managing vision, last-hitting, positioning, openings for good trades, your cooldowns, your opponent’s cooldowns, etc. There may be an obvious mistake you’re making but you just don’t see it because in the moment your mind is too preoccupied with all these other tasks. Therefore, to improve, it makes sense to review video of your play, especially if you just had a bad game. You don’t have to re-watch the entire match, just focus on the parts (and leading up to the parts) where you encountered problems. This is also pretty simple and easy to do considering the number of sites with game recording features like op.gg.

Another possible reason for the actor-observer bias is that actors are more aware than observers of the constraints and advantages offered by their situation/environment. Your jungler and other laners are focused on their own tasks, even if they have fantastic map and game awareness, they will never have as much information about your situation as you. This is why it’s important to communicate key information to your team. This includes where your opponent has warded and when, timing summoner spell cooldowns and if you’ve spotted the enemy jungler. It’s not surprising to observe that high Elo players are much better at communicating this type of information relative to low Elo players. Therefore, it’s reasonable to suggest that this is an important behavior to adopt in order to improve.      

In the end, these conclusions and recommendations may seem simple and obvious. However, it’s still valuable to gain insight into what affects your in-game behavior and why. Hopefully, this short examination of the actor-observer bias helps you achieve greater objectivity when evaluating your future in-game performances. If anything it should encourage you to take a calmer, more thoughtful approach. Just remember, the next time things start to go sour in solo queue, don’t immediately attribute blame to the situation created by your “terrible teammates”, it’s likely not their fault (although, as we all know, sometimes it really is). Moreover, this often degenerates into everyone losing control of their emotions, arguments breaking out and all-chat report frenzies. Importantly, this also ties into improving your emotional intelligence, a topic we can explore in a future article. You might be surprised at how important this form of intelligence is to performance.