Thinking Like A Great Player

There are so many guides to "how to play League of Legends" or "how to get elo" or"how to get challenger." Pretty much all of these guides say the same drivel over and over again; don't flame! be positive!

NRG Esports’ young-gun AD carry has returned to the team this week and will compete this weekend in the LCS

There are so many guides to “how to play League of Legends” or “how to get elo” or “how to get challenger.” Pretty much all of these guides say the same drivel over and over again; don’t flame! be positive! if you’re good, you will win more than you lose! don’t play like an idiot! and etc. All of that is good advice. But, in many cases, that advice won’t actually help you become a better player. They lay the groundwork for the mindset to becoming a great player, but none of that actually gets deep into how a great player thinks. And that’s what I will be tackling here. 

#1: Check Yourself. And Wreck Yourself

A lot of you reading have probably heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where one must be relatively competent to understand how incompetent they are. A lot of LoL players do indeed suffer from this. But simply knowing that you or someone else suffers from this effect does not tell you how to fix it. That’s why I’m going to examine confirmation bias instead, because not only is this present in pretty much 99.99% of the world’s population (educated guess :>), but also knowing what it is will actually help you fix your mindset.

So what is confirmation bias? In short, it’s the tendency to look for or see information in a way that confirms one’s own beliefs. Here’s an example. Bronze player Bob thinks he’s hot stuff and deserves Chellenjour. He just died to a mid lane roam because he overextended without wards. Because his paradigm/belief is that he is a good player, he looks for evidence that supports that, despite just making an obvious mistake. Thus, he blames it on mid for no MIA. 

Now, a lot of you are probably thinking, “yeah, we know, we’ve heard this so many times.” Yes. However, none of those times were you told WHY you think like that. You were simply told, “don’t blame, don’t flame, correct your own mistakes.” So what if you understand why you think like that? Well, now we can generalize this by applying this to ALL aspects of your play. When you reflect on a game you lost (or won, don’t tell me you don’t screw up in won games because you do), always try to counter any assessment you make.

If you don’t look for arguments that refute your own, then you will eventually develop a very binary mindset about how to play the game. It’s not just “I should ward more,” because then you will get caught. When you get caught, it’s “I shouldn’t overextend.” But then you stop warding! See how circular this can get? So argue with yourself. “I should ward more. But then I will overextend. But if you ward at the right timings, I won’t get caught. But when is a good timing? Time X, then this happens. That doesn’t matter because then you can do Y. Etc.” Instead of just a dozen games of trial and error, your quest to be a great player becomes your shower thoughts. 

Remember, you aren’t a great player yet. You’re perception of how to optimally play is most likely flawed in some way. So try to refute your perception. As said by Sherlock Holmes, “when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” This applies to mechanics, game sense, and even pick/ban. You think comp A is really good? What are the counterpoints to that argument? Why would someone else say comp B is actually better?

So check yourself. Question yourself. Argue with yourself. And wreck yourself. 

#2: Always Be on Your Toes, and Think on Them Too

Information, information, information. Why do professional coaches and players alike always talk about how much or little a player talks? Because the more they talk, the more information that is being conveyed and processed. That’s summoner cooldowns, spell cooldowns, where the jungler was last seen, where your jungler is, where your laners are, etc. It’s not enough just to think about this stuff once. If you are to properly use this information, you have to always be thinking about this stuff. 

Every action has a consequence. Even the smallest detail, like missing a CS, must be accounted for. What does that event do to the lane match-up? How does it affect the flow of the game? If it’s bad for you, what can you do to fix it? If it’s good, how can you abuse that? This is stuff that all of you have heard before. But to actually utilize this advice, you have to be thinking every millisecond of the game. Hell, every nanosecond. The more you are thinking, the more information you are acquiring and the more information you are processing. 

A lot of you play the game thoughtless. You go with the flow. You adapt to the situation at hand. Great. Step 1 is a no-no, step 2 is eh, step 3 is fine. You should never be thoughtless. Have a plan when you go into the game, and execute on it. When you get to lane or the jungle, have a plan on what you are going to do. After you get a CS, evaluate your situation, and adjust that plan. You should be thinking, “I’m going to do X, Y, then Z. If A happens, then I’m switching to T, U, V.” It doesn’t matter if it’s the order you take minions or what. Everything is important

If you aren’t thinking, then look of something to think about. There’s always something to think about. A person thinking throughout the entire game will formulate hundreds of more ways to win the game than the person thinking only half the time. The first person will also be making twice the number of good moves than the second person, or moves twice the quality than the other person. 

You know why you shouldn’t rage? or be negative? or think you’ll lose? It’s not just the toxicity; you stop thinking. That precious time you are using to mope or blame someone else could be used to formulate a strategy that could get you back into the game. It doesn’t matter if it’s almost a guaranteed loss, because you need the mental exercise and you need to build up the habit.  

#3: Be a Good Terminator

“I want to kill this guy. I can definitely do it.” But wait. Remember our friend confirmation bias? Yeah, he’s back. Because have you considered reasons why you shouldn’t go for the kill, or reasons why you can’t kill the enemy in the first place? Sure, you have to be decisive. But what makes a great player is the fact that the great player always keeps the information he’s receiving in mind and he programs it into his mind.

For all those computer programmers out there; you must become a program. Input X. Input Y. While Z, if X>0 and Y>0, then kill. X and Y are the cooldowns and other stuff. If those cooldowns are up, and you see the opportunity Z, then go for the kill. It’s like setting up a TV or building a PC. Once all the right pieces and wires are in the right places, then you can press the on button. Then you can flip the switch. 

Indecisiveness stems from a person not understanding the conditions of the situation. Either they don’t understand how to execute the play, or they forgot the information that they need to make sure the play is optimal. So don’t forget. For the former, observe the pros. Try to understand why they did a certain combo. And then check your observations and try to refute them. Confirmation bias always comes back to bite you if you ever let it loose. 

#4: Predict the Future. Or at Least Plan It

Probably one of the hardest skills to master in the game. If you look at the truly great players, the great shotcallers in professional play, you see how they are able to maestro their way to victory. You have supports like GorillA putting down the vision, and almost 60-100 seconds later he makes a play. You have Fnatic sneaking Barons left and right, because they made the right predictions as to how fast they could do it and where the enemy would be. 

A lot of professional players may just say, “oh, we kind of just YOLOed it.” But that’s exactly what makes them great players. They instinctively understand what the enemy would do, because they understand how the enemy thinks. They instinctively know how likely the play will actually succeed, because in their heads, thinking about the game has become second nature. This is how you ascend to becoming a great player. Once you fully master thinking about the present, the planning out the future becomes your primary task, while everything else takes a backseat. 

“Event X will lead to event Y, though Z could happen, so let’s prepare for A just in case.” This is the type of predictive mindset you want to have. And you should be making these predictions constantly. This is especially the case for good junglers, because they know where and when the enemy jungler will gank, and when the waves will be in a good spot for you to gank the enemy laner. All great players have a basic understanding of how the enemy will path when in fog of war, and they will adjust their information accordingly. 

You use #1 to adjust #4. You think you understand how the enemy thinks? Think again. Know your enemy. And know your own teammates. How will they manipulate the waves? How can you use this information to your own advantage? Once you have gathered all this, adjust #3. Adjust your conditions and your knowns and your unknowns. Adjust your procedure. 


There’s a lot more that I had to say. Or maybe not, who knows. I forgot. Whatever. But I hope this guide will help you better understand yourself and thus what steps exactly you need to take to become a great player. 

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