Results Oriented Thinking
The single biggest obstacle to becoming a better gamer
Down to the final two in a big poker tournament the dealer dishes out your cards for the hand. Your opponent looks nervous, his stack of chips is dwindling down with each round of blinds. All you need to do is close out this hand. Here come the cards, Ace-Ace, the best possible starting hand. You bet enough to put him all-in, which he reluctantly does to avoid being worn down to nothing. The flop comes out, Ace-Two-Three. Sweet I've got Trips! The turn comes, another Three. I have the best possible hand still. The river? Another Three. Since he's all in you flip your cards to reveal your Aces full of Threes Full House. He flips to reveal Four of a Kind Threes... STOP
What happens in your mind immediately as this occurs is incredibly important. The average person will say one of two things:
1) "He Got Lucky!": This is, mathematically, accurate. Pocket Aces provides you with more than an 80% chance to win before any other cards are dealt in Texas Hold-em Poker. Hitting the set on the flop makes it even more so.
2) "I shouldn't have put him all in. I should have slow played them.": In most situations where you have the opportunity to put an opponent away you take it. He likely is going to have to continue doubling up from all-ins to make a comeback to beat you so this is your best chance to put the nail in the coffin.
What the majority of people don't realize is that there is another way to look at this scenario...
3) "I made the right play and had the right thought process behind that decision. That's all I can do. Let's look forward to the next hand."
What is Results Oriented Thinking?
Results oriented thinking is a psychology term which describes the human condition whereas we closely link the outcome of a task to how well we did the task. In other words, when a person "wins" with a certain strategy they will more than likely go back to that strategy again when provided a similar scenario even if it wasn't correct. Conversely this also applies to losing. In the example above, that player may never put an opponent all-in with pocket aces ever again, even if it is the correct play simply because they have lost with pocket aces a handful of times when they, statistically, shouldn't have and FEAR the same result.
What causes us to be results oriented thinkers?
It's much easier to remember the extreme situations in our lives whether it's a really tough paper you had to write for school or when you earned a scholarship but these scenarios are few and far between. Statistically the majority of our lives occur somewhere in the middle of these extremes. We've all seen a Bell curve. You don't exactly remember your typical Wednesday where you woke up, went to work, came home, ate dinner, and went to bed when you're reminiscing with friends because your mind has no reason to label that day as memorable. Now if you had gotten a raise at work that day you would probably remember that day much more fondly. In competitive activities you tend to remember the extremes just as you do in your life. It could be a really tough loss that eliminates your team from the tournament or that time you scored three goals to get the win but you rarely remember a "typical" game. Often we recall the actual result and not the process of getting to that result. However it isn't just this approach that causes us to have results oriented thinking.
One of the most difficult things in both life and in competitive games is to accept variance. What is variance? Variance is running into traffic because there was an accident on the way to work. Maybe you get sick the day you have your final exam, or the power goes out or any other myriad of unfortunate events that hinder you from accomplishing what you came to do. Most good, competitive games have a lot of variables that make them interesting from game to game. In poker, each hand at an eight person table has, literally, millions of possible layouts.
How does all of this apply to League of Legends?
In League of Legends there are currently 119 champions, 5 players on each team, 6 bans (in ranked games). If you crunch some numbers you'll be baffled at the amount of possible combinations. If you compound other variables like DC's or server lag or "feeders" the possibilities are nearly endless. The point I'm making is that there is only one thing that every single solo queue game you play has in common other than the actual game itself (League of Legends in our case)...
The only constant from game to game is YOU
There is an outstanding post from a League forum that I read that compared League of Legends solo queue to poker and other skill based gambling games like poker (I'll put the link at the bottom of this article). The author describes your rating as the sum of three variables:
1) Your input: This is everything from your mechanics to your decisions and other techniques. Whether it be runes, masteries, item build, deciding to stay for the extra wave, to roam for a gank, etc. Most importantly however, this is ALL CONTROLLED BY YOU.
2) In-Game Events: These are the things that are out of your control. A player DC's, the other team makes an outstanding outplay, an invade fails miserably, your teammate is a beast and carries you, etc. THESE ARE OUT OF YOUR CONTROL.
3) Volume/Sample Size: This is simply your sample size. Amount of games, amount of times you've played a specific matchup, amount of times you win with first blood. This can be anything but the key point we're focusing on here is the volume of solo queue games you play. YOU CONTROL THIS.
** The main point here is that you control both 1 and 3 but you DO NOT control 2! **
"The exact same attitude that pro/semi-pro online poker players have regarding individual hands is the one that pro/semi-pro LoL players have regarding individual games. They both look ONLY at 1 for analysis/improvement and completely ignore 2." -evmode (reddit)
The moment that you make a conscious decision to ignore 2 and accept it is when you can now choose to focus on both 1 and 3 which are the factors that will truly help you improve as a player. However, it is not an easy mindset to accept and apply.
"The difficulty with implementing this (approach) in LoL is that each game takes so long - it's harder to emotionally isolate yourself from a 35 minute investment than in a 1 minute investment in a game like poker." -evmode
The reality is that it's extraordinarily difficult to completely remove emotion from such a large investment of your time. For the vast majority of people League is their leisure time and it sucks when your leisure time is ruined. Ever gone on vacation and the weather sucked the entire time? It's not fun but you make the best of it and enjoy your time off. You don't go on a psychotic rampage directed at the weather and take it out on all of the people around you because that would childish wouldn't it? Anyway, it's not easy to "emotionally isolate yourself" from the result so how can you start doing so?
STOP focusing on the RESULT and START focusing on the PROCESS
The best advice I give to people I'm coaching or giving tips to for ranked play is to "Try to win but stop caring about winning." It's a little strange I'll admit but the thought process behind the phrase is to get people to focus more on their own play and less on others. Remember our poker example from earlier? Someone that is thinking about the process (instead of the result) will remember that he put his opponent all in because he knows that a pair of aces has an 80%+ win rate in a heads up (1 on 1) situation against any other pair before the flop. He knows why he made that play and that it was the correct play to make so he has no reason to even question it afterwards. Heck, if he won he probably wouldn't have even thought about it.
Hopefully it's becoming a bit easier to see the big picture here but it can still be difficult to get into this mindset consistently so here are some questions that you can ask to start testing yourself:
- Why did I choose this champion, this build, this rune page, etc.?
- What did my opponent do well against me?
- Was I monitoring the game state (buff timers, current builds of the strongest players, etc.)?
- Was I contributing positively in chat (or at least not negatively)?
You can also start doing the following:
- Asking higher rated friends to review a replay with you
- Practicing 1 v 1 against better players
- Tracking advanced statistics (like I do!)
- Consulting better players about pre-game strategy AND in-game adaptation
(#1 + #3) - #2 = ???
Going back to our little math problem I think you can begin to piece together the simple reality here. You need to play well consistently (#1 or 'your input') and play A LOT (#3 or 'volume') to overcome variance (#2 or 'in game events'). Simple right? Wrong!
The Dangers of Flawed Self-Critique within a Mathematical System
"You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else." -Tyler Durden from "Fight Club"
Losing sucks. Having DCs sucks. Trolls suck. But the system doesn't care about your unfortunate (or fortunate) series of events. The system only cares about the one constant from game to game which is you. It doesn't care that you want 25-0 or that you went 0-25. You are just a number. If you fed 10 games in a row and won 9 of them all the system knows is that you won 9 games and lost 1 and it gives out LP based on the "quality" (rating) of your opponents in those games compared to yours. Does that mean you played well or "deserved" those wins? Absolutely not. Once again #2 DOESN'T MATTER but the difference in this situation isn't variance, it's your input (#1). You obviously made a lot of wrong decisions and misplays but you were rewarded anyway.
The point is that the rating system, be it ELO or League Divisions, is just another thing fighting against you. You might be going up through the divisions with ease even if your play isn't improving or is maybe even worse. Conversely you might be dropping like a sack of Teemo's but your play could be significantly higher than where you typically perform. Once again, the only constant from game to game is YOU and you need to be your own evaluator because the numbers and league divisions will only tell you a small part of the story. You need to accept responsibility and take the proper steps fix errors whether you are winning or not. THE RESULT STILL DOES NOT MATTER!
League of Legends Solo Queue: The Second Job
That's a hard truth to swallow for a lot of people. There are millions of people playing this game and if you want to be great then you have to outwork the competition. If you actually want to improve League of Legends isn't unlike most jobs. If you get outperformed in the workplace you get replaced or that other person that outworked you gets a raise while you're stuck twiddling your thumbs and likely making excuses like "I've had to spend time with the girlfriend" or "I went out and partied last weekend". Well guess what? While you were doing that your co-worker was putting in extra hours, working on a new program, cleaning the store, and doing other things to EARN THEIR RAISE. In League, Mr. NextGreatPro88 was busy grinding out solo queue games, practicing his last hitting, watching replays and discussing strategies with high level players while you were busy playing Diablo 3, or hitting on chicks at the bar. So why is it right to get mad at them? They deserve it more than you don't they? Why do you feel you're entitled to that raise when you've been outperformed? Because you're not, that's why.
I'm not saying you need to drop everything you're doing and grind solo queue full time. I'd actually highly advise against that. What I am saying is that, you can't expect to step onto a stage and play Sergei Rachmoninov's 3rd Piano Concerto better than a famous pianist, or serve an ace to Rafael Nadal. The saying isn't "Practice makes perfect" but "Perfect practice makes perfect." Malcolm Gladwell says in his book "Outliers: The Story of Success" that it takes about 10,000 hours of practicing a specific task to truly master that task. Just like any other skilled activity, League of Legends TAKES PRACTICE. Concentrated, focused, high-intensity practice. For us League players that practice is best against equal or greater competition. And that doesn't just mean playing norms with friends, or ARAMs every night. You can't expect to achieve a high rating in League by playing 10 games and then complaining about how you had feeders in two of them while you played 4 ARAM's yesterday.
Am I saying that you can't have fun with your friends? No, you should. Am I saying that AFKs, and DCs, and trolls are awesome? Absolutely not, they suck no matter how you present it. Am I saying to drop everything and try to "go pro?" No. All I'm saying is to have REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. Much like most things in life you get back what you put in. The 167th ranked Challenger xMastaYoshi has put in 1442 ranked games SO FAR in Season 4. His win rate? 50.76% Not that impressive right? But he's put the time in to overcome the variance. Make up your mind on whether you want it or not before you start playing because doubling back on your goals because of a bad attitude is a poor strategy in both life and video games.
Other scenarios in which to avoid results oriented thinking
While the applications of this concept reach far and wide across almost all competitive activities there are a few other scenarios that commonly pop up in League of Legends that I'd like to briefly discuss.
The first of which is the concept of being "countered" in lane or "counter picks." Typically a counter pick is a champion that excels against the champion you are playing either in lane or in principle (a split pusher vs a team fighter for example). Simply put, a lot of people either don't have the proper sample size (amount of games) on a certain champion to even know its actual counters and neither does the person playing the counter in most situations. If you've lost to Teemo five games in a row it doesn't necessarily make him a counter to your champion. You, the player, could have trouble against Teemo or maybe you've played a handful of great Teemo players. Don't judge a matchup on a small sample size.
Another example I wanted to talk about is what I'm going to call "stubborn" builds. This is something I see ALL THE TIME. Top lane bruisers that refuse to build tanky even when they're losing because "my build is Hydra to Trinity Force bro!" or mid laners that insist on Tear over Chalice against Leblanc because "I need Archangel's not Athene's!" The fact is that people are stubborn and this is another example of being ROTty (results oriented thinking). Just because it worked for you in two previous games doesn't mean it's always correct. The same applies to "odd ball" builds like ADCs that relentlessly build Hurricane or other sub-optimal items just because "it worked great this one time!" Grow up, admit to yourself that it's not working, and do everything in your power to win.
The odds are stacked against you. Millions of players, millions of variables, constantly evolving game states, etc. Not only do you need to deal with the external variables, however, you've also got to look inward. Am I making mistakes? Did I build correctly? Am I doing everything in my power to improve? I've always pictured your ELO or League rating as a number that defines how consistently you perform but also how well you evaluate yourself. As we've already discussed, the only constant from game to game is you. YOU determine how well you play. YOU make all the decisions. YOU put the time in. YOU are also responsible for knowing whether or not you're right or wrong which means doing your homework, eliminating stubbornness and emotion from your decisions, and ADMITTING YOU'RE NOT THE BEST.
One of the inherent problems with competitive activities is that the human mind sees only the result (results oriented thinking!!). Why do you think professional sports teams have coaches? And why do you think those coaches have general managers? It's simply because you often don't realize you're making a mistake or need somebody to make an adaptation in your play for you. Now the professional players have these resources but we do not. All we have is the information we've accrued. I personally think that the biggest difference between most challenger level players and most low to mid diamond players is their ability to self reflect and adapt according to that information is significantly stronger. Bronze players don't even know that what they're doing is wrong. Silver players sometimes know they're wrong but not until after they fail. Gold players know what they're doing is wrong and do it anyway, for better or for worse. Platinum players know what they're doing is wrong and can usually get away with it because they're "gifted" or just used to making it work.
If I had to sum up improving at League of Legends in three words it would be "constant self evaluation." Critique every single nuance about YOUR play that you possibly can. Stop caring about other people, or winning, or losing, or any of the other myriad of excuses that are readily available to you. Take control of your own destiny. DON'T LET YOURSELF MAKE EXCUSES! Focus on your own abilities and decisions, grind out the games, and temper your expectations and I guarantee you'll find this game significantly more satisfying. This is the biggest life lesson that a video game has ever taught me and if you can apply it to your everyday life you'll become more than a better gamer, but a better person.