Hello everyone, we have another guest post for you, this time from Zac from League Goals, an up-and-coming website dedicated to helping summoners improve and set goals. Enjoy!
There are so many things we need to do in order to grow as players. It’s easy to think that the answer is to gather more information or to squeeze more games into your day. But the amount of information available to us is so overwhelming that it’s hard not to fall into the trap of information overload. We jump between the million “tips and tricks” videos trying to find an answer but become frustrated when the information they provide does not get us very far.
In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey reminds us that improvement is a natural process, “The price must be paid and the process followed. You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut.” For us to really improve, we have to bring more focus into our practice, we have to change how we approach practice, and continuously be conducting experiments to improve both our practice and our gameplay.
The Importance Of Focus
The first step to bringing a stronger focus to your practice is developing awareness. In his book, The Art Of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “According to the Buddha, life is available only in the here and now, the present moment. He said, ‘The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment.’ If you miss the present moment, you miss your appointment with life.”
In today’s fast-paced society, it is so common for us to go through our day constantly rushing, running around from place to place, frantically trying to get everything on our to-do list done. We spend too much time worrying about the future and wishing we could change the past. It’s no wonder we find it hard to approach our games with a conscious mind; our habitual state is to be on autopilot.
Too many times we face check a brush, or look for a trade without completely analyzing the situation – and we get immediately punished for it. After it happens, we look back and realize how obvious our mistake was. We experience this time and again, but we just can’t seem to stop making the same mistakes. This is being on autopilot.
I recently witnessed the perfect example of how playing on autopilot can affect our gameplay: Our team had just lost a big team fight, leaving us in a 3v5 situation but we had successful disengaged and were running for our lives back to our base. On our way back, our Lee Sin shot a Q towards the enemy team and managed to hit the enemy ADC. In many situations, this would have set him up to make a play.
This time, however, there really wasn’t a chance. He clearly understood this because in the Discord he said to us, “I really shouldn’t do this.” To all of our surprise, immediately after displaying his understanding of the situation, we suddenly saw him flying directly into the enemy team, where he was quickly dismantled. This is the power that habits can have over us: even though we might have the right knowledge, too often our actions do not reflect this.
Awareness is the opposite of autopilot. We must be in the present moment, focused on what we are currently doing, if we want to receive the full benefits of each second. Our improvement will be agonizingly slow, if not nonexistent unless we approach our practice with the proper focus. in order to bring more awareness into their lives, and thus their practice, many people are beginning to meditate.
The topic of meditation can seem really overwhelming at first, but really it can be as simple as you want to make it. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than this:
- Grab a pillow.
- Find a quiet place to sit where you can be uninterrupted.
- Set a timer for 2 minutes.
- Sit in a comfortable position with your hands resting softly on your knees or in your lap.
- Focus on your breath.
- When you notice that you are no longer focused on your breath – you are lost in thought – calmly, return to your breath. Simply, start again.
Meditation can help you develop skills that are beneficial to both League and other aspects of your life – improved patience, stronger control of your emotions, and the ability to focus. In order to receive the benefits of meditation, just like to receive the benefits of going to the gym, you must practice consistently.
A technique that I have been experimenting with to bring more awareness into my games is to have a mindfulness bell (a bell that rings every minute; commonly used during meditation to help bring you back to awareness) play during my games. Every time the bell goes off, I let it serve as a reminder to reassess the current state of the game and refocus myself on my goals.
As we begin to bring more awareness to our games and practice, we can begin working on the practice itself. In his book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Anders Ericsson distills the information he has gained from spending multiple decades researching how the top performers in various fields got to where they are. Throughout his book, Ericsson explains how “Deliberate Practice,” a term he coined in the early 90’s, is the method that these experts implemented to reach their goals. On our journey to understand deliberate practice, Ericsson says we must start with the basics.
We’ve all learned a variety of skills throughout our lives, and for most of them, we took a similar approach. Let’s use riding a bike, a skill most of us have already learned, as an example. We saw other kids riding their bike around the park and we decided that we wanted to be able to do that too. So we got a bike (possibly with training wheels) and started learning.
We got the hang of it pretty quickly thanks to the training wheels, and pretty soon we were ready to take them off. At this stage, we likely had some help from our parents, helping us balance as we picked up speed. Finally, on the third or fourth try, as our parents let go, we took off on our own. We had now learned to ride a bike. As we continued to practice, we soon didn’t have to think about how to ride a bike anymore. It had become automatic. We had reached a comfortable skill level that allowed us to enjoy riding a bike around with our friends. This is great. There are a lot of joys to be gained from reaching this level.
There is just one important thing to remember: once we reach this satisfactory level, and let things become automatic, we stop improving. People often misunderstand this because they believe that the continued experience means that they will continue to improve. Research has shown us that this is not the case. In fact, studies have shown that physicians who had been out of medical school for 20 years, scored relatively lower in various key operating metrics than physicians who had only been out of medical school for 2-3 years.
We went through a similar process with League. Maybe we saw our friends playing it or we saw a video of it online and thought it looked like fun. We played a game and enjoyed it. We decided that we wanted to get good enough so that we could play it with our friends. So we hopped onto YouTube, got our friends to help teach us, and practiced on our own in bot games. After spending some time doing this, we finally reached a level where we could hold our own in a regular game with our friends. We had mastered the basics and reached a comfortable level at which we could enjoy the game.
As you continue to play games with your friends, it becomes clear that you still have weaknesses. Every time you go up against an assassin, you have a hard time not getting killed in lane. This is frustrating to you (and your friends give you a hard time about it), but you don’t get to go up against an assassin often enough to consciously work on it. This isn’t a big deal if all you want to do is to be able to enjoy playing the game with your friends; however, if you are looking to improve, this can cause great frustration. So what do you do if you are not satisfied with your current skill level? The answer is “purposeful practice”.
Purposeful practice has a few key differences from what Ericsson calls “naive practice”. Naive practice is doing something repeatedly and expecting to improve. Purposeful practice has these characteristics that differentiate it from naive practice:
- Purposeful practice has well-defined and specific goals. Without a specific enough goal, there is no way to tell if the practice session was a success.
- In our case above, if you are struggling to lane against Zed, the next time you lane against him, you could set the goal: “I will not die to Zed before 10 minutes.” This gives you clear feedback on if you were successful or not.
- Purposeful practice is all about putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a long-term goal. Break the skill down and make a plan.
- The first goal could be not dying before 10 minutes. When we are able to accomplish this regularly, we could move on to a tougher challenge. The second goal could be staying within 10 CS when laning against Zed. As a final goal we could have: Kill Zed during the laning phase.
- Purposeful practice is focused.
- Focused practice means a few things: You have a small set of goals that you are focusing on intensely, You are bringing awareness into your games, and you are actively collecting and using feedback to adjust your gameplay.
- Purposeful practice requires feedback on how and where you are falling short, either from yourself or outside observers.
- Overcoming these barriers is one of the hidden keys of purposeful practice. This is one reason why it’s useful to work with a teacher or a coach – someone who has already had to overcome similar barriers.
- Purposeful practice requires you to get out of your comfort zone
- Instead of trying to avoid playing against Zed, you should actively seek it out. For example, you could ask your friend to play Zed against you in a custom game to help you practice.
Barriers are a natural part of the improvement process. What is not natural is a barrier that cannot be overcome. The issue here is usually motivation. “So here we have purposeful practice in a nutshell. Get outside your comfort zone, but do it in a focused way with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals and a way to monitor your progress. Oh, and figure out a way to maintain your motivation. This recipe is an excellent start for anyone who wishes to improve. But it is still just a start.” (Ericsson).
The final step on the path to improvement is experimentation – continuous and deliberate experimentation.
In his recent article, Forget The 10,000-Hour Rule; Edison, Bezos, & Zuckerberg Follow The 10,000-Experiment Rule, Michael Simmons argues that “Throughout history, the scientific method [has produced] more human progress than any other philosophy.” Simmons continues, “At the heart of the scientific method is experimentation: develop a hypothesis, perform a test to prove the hypothesis right or wrong, analyze the results, and create a new hypothesis based on what you learned.” (Simmons) We cannot know what’s going to work best until we’ve tested out all of the possible options – this applies to both our games and how we practice.
As you go to practice trading with a new champion, you start off at ground zero: You run up to the enemy champion in the middle of lane and press all of the buttons. The results aren’t great. “Ok,” You think to yourself, “What if I tried it this way.” BOOM, right there. What you did right there is fundamental to the improvement process.
We need to also approach our practice with this same mindset. Let’s say we go to practice, but find that we are having trouble staying focused. Ok, for the next practice session let’s use a mindfulness bell to help with this. So you try it out, and you noticed an increase in your focus. But there were still periods of time where you wouldn’t even notice the bell. Alright, for the next practice session we are going to turn our music off and turn the volume up on the bell. After the next practice session, we were very happy with our level of focus, but noticed that we weren’t quite sure what we should be focusing on. So before our next practice session, we spend an hour working with a coach to get a better idea of what it is we need to be working on in our next practice session. This process of continuous experimentation is what will allow you to continue to improve and overcome the barriers that you encounter.
- Dalai Lama – Why Meditate
- New York Times – How to Meditate
- Calm – Offers great guided, introductory meditations for free
- Dan Harris – Hack Your Brain’s Default Mode with Meditation
- Meditation 101: Practices, Postures, and Pretty Much Everything In Between
- League Goals – Practice League of Legends More Effectively
League Goals is dedicated to helping you practice League Of Legends more effectively. Use Mobalytics to pinpoint what key areas you need to work on and then head over to League Goals to help you focus and keep track of your progress. Our Goal Module will help you set and review your goals, and our articles and coaching will help you overcome any barriers that you encounter.
Thanks for reading! You can find our guest writer as Zac#3350 on Discord for more information on this article. Let us know your thoughts on how you stay focused, practice, and improve in our Discord community.