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“The Dream Job”

June 20th, 2013

relegation

The LCS has just started back up with quite a shift in the regions. Two teams from North America were dismissed from the LCS as well as three from the European region. The concept of having to fight for your livelihood keeps the players sharp, prepared and playing at their best— or one would hope. While the spirit of competition and having to prove your worth in the arena is excellent from a viewer’s perspective, fans and casters have been throwing around the “dream job” moniker on this position. But is professional gaming really a dream job or are we simply in love with the idea of playing video games for money?

 

Pay Paid to Play

 

soloqueuemoney

Every avid gamer has this golden image of being paid to do what they already do: play video games. Even outside of the simple monetary gains from being a professional gamer, there are many reasons this is an attractive position: the idea that you can outperform others in a realm not limited by physical capabilities, competition based on mental capacity with fast reactions and, of course, the fame that goes along with being a top player. These factors are often all players see into a pro’s life, and from the outside it looks amazing. However, being a professional gamer is no easy task, or we would all be challenging CLG for their spot in the LCS. So what goes on behind the scenes that makes this job not so glamorous after all?

 

The Mind Game

 

brainvbrain

Almost anyone can play video games to a high level, regardless of physical fitness or disability. Video games at a competitive level are battles of wit, execution and snap decision making without having a physical component- aside from dexterous hands. Conceptually, having to duke it out with your brain and some muscle memory is ideal, until you recognize the actual ramifications of that. A game such as Starcraft or League of Legends requires extreme mental fortitude. It’s not simply about your ability to out-think your opponent, it’s about outlasting them as well. Think about the amount of stress and emotion going into losing the first two matches in a best of five and knowing that a single misstep in game three removes you from the competitive scene or costs you $25,000. The mental strength of a professional gamer has to be to an equivalent to the physical strength of an athlete, if not more.

 

Fight for your Right (to game)

gopro

The eSports scene is relatively unique in both the pace of challengers arising and the ease of getting in. Going through high school and college sports to maybe get drafted is a much longer and complicated process. The allure of competitive gaming is that anyone that can game can play, so long as they pass through the tournament ranks. At a Starcraft tournament, people can blow through the casual round, open to anyone and make it, into a huge sanctioned tournament to face off with the best. But imagine being a mid-level or even top player in this situation. A newcomer on a streak is blowing through and taking your chances to win away.

Objectively, this seems like the proper thing; if you can’t hang with the crowd, you don’t deserve to be there. In reality, the livelihood of these gamers can hinge on having an off-week or slump period. This is amplified further in a team sport, for example, in the recent aAa v SK match where aAa were missing a player due to a personal reasons and this contributed hugely to their removal from the LCS. Say a family member passes away the week of a major tournament for a $50,000 prize pool, and they’ve had a rough few weeks with a new patch or map pool coming out. From the outside, it’s easy to turn your thumb down and sentence them to death: they’re not worthy of continuing if they can’t beat other players. But what if you’re aAa?

 

It’s a Small World

 

smallworld
Professional gamers are well known commodities. If you play League of Legends, you know the heavy hitters: Doublelift, Saintvicious, TheOddOne, anybody on EG, and so on. Starcraft fans know of Flash, IdrA, Boxer, and many more. In any sport or event there are huge celebrities and it feels really good to be in that spot. But think about the viewership and diversity of the subject. There are megastars in sports like Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, David Beckham, Tiger Woods or John Madden that almost everyone knows, but those are incredibly rare. Remember that these sports have millions and millions of fans and viewers. There are football, basketball and baseball players that you have never, ever heard of who make more money than your family combined and tripled in a year. And these are professional sports, not eSports. Even at a massive concurrent viewership of 600,000 people for a tournament, that number is significantly less than a regular television program needs to stay on the air.

To give some examples, let’s name JennaMarbles, Dan O’Brien, Flash and Wickd. The first two routinely have millions of views on their videos/articles on a weekly basis; Flash is one of the strongest players in Starcraft: Broodwar history and is quickly making waves in the SC2 scene; and Wikd is a popular top laner for team EG with a massive viewership peaking during his 1v1 for the All Star position. Ask yourself and your friends who knows all of these people. Ask your parents or coworkers. Your fame is great within the community, but it’s a drop in the bucket. The fame you experience is through a tournament or online, and rarely will that carry over into real life. It’s still better than no fame, but you’re by no means famous.

 

It Never Ends

 

restarea
If you go to work, you can punch out at the end of the day and go home. You also have a time that you have to be there and start your day. While your job might suck, it almost always has these boundaries to it. What if your job is to “get better at League of Legends”? What the hell does that mean? Do you play for a couple hours a day? How about scrim against other teams? Play some solo queue? When do you play? TSM has a good setup where they have a separate building for their gaming, but it’s really hard to draw the line between work and play and there is no time off if you can’t draw a line. You either play morning, noon and night for 7 days a week or have to set up some solid play time.

This fluid scheduling often leads teams to train for 10-14 hours per day to stay in tip-top shape. Can you imagine having to play a game for that amount of time for 5 to 7 days a week to keep your job? And you’re not just mindlessly chugging away—you have to be thinking, adapting and reacting for 60+ hours a week just to keep your job. And if you take a break and play other games, you’re often berated for not working hard enough. As a Broodwar player, playing SC2 in your off time was not well received because why do you have off time? You’re just sitting around all day; no reason you can’t be working at improvement during your waking hours. And keep in mind that if you don’t want to train 10+ hours a day, someone else will. And they’ll beat you. And you lose your job. It never ends.

 

Chump Change

 

nomoney

The professional gaming organizations are pretty big operations with a lot of money and sponsors coming through. While a lot of these gamers make a comfortable living and some make absurd amounts of money, it’s incredibly rare. The streaming and video money from ads and sponsors is excellent supplemental pay, but you can’t really live well or support a household. Now this is great for some, but I’ll always remember what a vendor for Magic: The Gathering cards told me concerning the professional scene for MTG. He participates in events and is a very strong player, but he makes a living through reading trends in the market and reselling cards. When I asked him why he didn’t participate in the Pro events, he said something along the lines of, “Hey man, I’m not going to grind it out, work my ass off and go to every event to scrape up $25,000 a year.” This is a reality for tons of professional gamers. Not only are you working your ass off, known by next to nobody outside your bubble and can be replaced by anybody on an off week, but you’re doing this for chicken scratch.

 

Why do it?

 

allstar
Well I’ve sort of put a pin in the balloon that was your dreams, and sorry for that. But there is still a positive side to all of this, and that is you can get paid to do what you love. If you truly love the competition, game and community, you can succeed. But this is really the trick here: you have to love it. People are envious of pro gamers, but don’t realize that these folks are not in it for the money, the fame or because they like video games. They are in it for the glory, competition and love of the game that runs deeper than you know. The other things are byproducts of their drive to become the best and compete against the best. So if you truly love the game and all of the aspects of it, becoming a pro gamer is less a choice and more the end game. A drive to do better, compete and the passion to continue playing will lead to the top if it runs deep enough. So the next time you start throwing around the “dream job” title, ask yourself if it’s your dream or someone else’s that you think looks nice from the outside.

tuning

In the first part of this article, I talked about how there is a Three-Talon Strike on balancing champions: kit, thematics and numbers. While reading about the reasoning and explanation behind the trio, it is often a lot more useful to pull in some examples to help flesh out these phenomena. Let’s get out of the kiddie pool and jump right into some examples.

Thematics

A character’s theme and overall “feel” play a lot into their power levels. It might seem that deviating from the theme wouldn’t really matter as long as you learned the character, but the most successful champions are an avatar of their theme. When the character nails theme, the player feels empowered and the perceived strength and viability increases. So who has nailed their theme and who has missed the mark?

thresh

Thresh smashed theme out of the park. He is a recent character, so the thematics will of course be a lot more in line. But his theme is a heavy control jailer/tormentor and he does it extremely well. His passive collects the souls of the dead in order to strengthen himself. He has a hook ability that drags people into the depths and can also bring ‘death’ himself to you. His lantern acts as a ferry and guiding light to souls, whether it be collecting those fallen or aiding those about to fall. He can either push you back or pull you in with his chains, again controlling whatever you do. His ultimate, the box, is the icing on the cake. Not only does it reference jail or solitary confinement, but it traps your enemies and punishes them severely (damage and MS slow) for leaving the box. Because of his thematics, Thresh has an amazing feel to him that a player can really get into. You may not be doing amazingly, but at least it feels totally awesome.

sej

Sejuani’s recent rework addressed these issues, but let’s take the ones she used to have. Sejuani was an ambitious character that lacked focus and didn’t really feel great because of it. They tried to make a mounted character, a female barbarian and a vicious Freljord leader. Her lines and voice made her come off like a very serious leader… wearing a metal bikini. I get a certain immunity to frost, but metal bikini discredits taking her seriously as a commander. For the barbarian portion, there’s the flail. It was another source of confusion, somewhat like Mordekaiser, in that she had this giant ice flail that can freeze/stun several enemies when thrown but her auto attacks did next to nothing. Last but not least was her mount. She’s riding an animal larger than half the cast of the league and he had somehow less impact than Willump (Nunu’s Yeti), who at least gets to attack. At that point, why have a mounted character? The rework made her boar smash into things and knock them up. The flail now smashes down on enemies and is swung around her head menacingly. She’s clad in heavy leathers and armor, really driving home the “I’m a fearless leader ready to wreck some face.” Sejuani now feels strong and makes sense.

Kit

Sometimes a champion can be very thematically correct but their kit is too problematic to balance. The switch over to Season 3 has brought out a lot of champions with strong kits that weren’t an issue before, such as Xin Zhao. Kit changes are necessary when simply shifting numbers up and down doesn’t work out. The last article had some comments that brought up a few kit changes, let’s take a look at some examples.

draven

Draven’s axes have an indicator of where you’ll end up. A lot of his DPS involves catching and using these axes, which is nearly impossible in a real teamfight. So with this skill cap, why does the indicator show where he’s going to end up? It might seem minor, but perhaps this is one of the things that kept him out of the highest levels of play for a long time. Does this add mind games in a “will I catch it or not” style? Or does it just create another obstacle in an already difficult course? If you were to change this part of his kit without number changes, would he be overpowered?

j4

Jarvan’s main form of CC, the flag/spear (EQ) combo, is also his main form of damage, harassment and his escape mechanism. Lowering the cooldown on this creates the problem of infinite CC and being too safe, while raising it creates an issue of being near useless when it is not available. His mana costs and cooldowns were raised, making his combo too sparse and he dropped from play. The mana costs were changed and he popped up again. Resistances were nerfed and his popularity sky-rocketed, which was recently addressed with the removal of armor on his Demacian Standard. Even though he has a strong foothold in the game right now, raising the cooldown and/or mana on his combo would ruin him. Does the fact that his viability hinges on mana and cooldown costs on his combo indicate a flaw in the kit?

Numbers

These are the easiest to see and change and only really require some balance testing. The examples for a number change are seen in every patch note, so I won’t go over them in detail. The important take-away from number tweaks is whether the kit and theme are working properly. A small number-change should not make someone flip the switch from bad to good, but should instead smooth out their power level.

diana

Diana was a problem child and was then lobotomized with some number changes. Her kit is very unique and has proven not to be the issue when they slashed her numbers. While the tag team of range, damage and cooldown nerfs were not entirely necessary, the numbers removed a lot of her strength. Her kit isn’t inherently flawed because she has to make sacrifices to make herself strongest, in this case meaning she has to be in melee range to do her damage and CC. The shield and ultimate reset then become necessary for engaging and fighting enemies. When some of those values were restored, she smoothed out her power level and now fits nicely into the spot that was created for her.

elise

Elise was released with a whimper and then became a power house. The season 3 changes to health stacking and having resistances increase in cost treated her well, so she had to be toned down. Her kit overall is absurd, and is borderline unable to be number balanced. She is a bruiser, mage, %health-dealing carry, support, top laner, with a humongous ranged stun, an escape mechanism, sustain and an execute. There are simply too many things she can do that make balancing her with only numbers incredibly hard. Do you reduce the rappel range? How about her base stats so she can’t jump in? Mana costs? %health scaling? And to top that off, a drop in any of those numbers to a bad state brings her from OP to support/unplayable.

Tuning a Champion

As you can see, there are many variables to play with when balancing a champion, not just the numbers. You have to take a look at their theme to make sure your frost archer isn’t hitting people with a flaming sword. Then you have to take a look at their kit to make sure that what they offer isn’t too amazing. Once you have those two ironed out, take a look at the numbers and tune them up and down accordingly. I provided a bunch of examples, but who do you think they got spot on and who did they really mess up with?

Categories: Original Content Tags: , ,

The Blue Fist

May 13th, 2013

bluefist

There is an interesting trend going on in jungle itemization, and the name of the game is efficiency. The jungle has previously been a role in stuck purgatory; there was always too little farm to be a threat and too many roaming opportunities to justify running a double top. This has driven the picks, for both items and junglers, towards maximum efficiency; or how much you get out of what scraps you manage to scrounge. This is why Wriggle’s is rarely completed quickly, opting instead for Madred’s Razors alone. The Madred option, however, is being overshadowed by the new and improved blue fist – Spirit of the Ancient Golem.

season3

So let’s look at the itemization in Season 3 junglers so far. There are two resonating items with a swing in either direction: Aegis/Bulwark and Locket of the Iron Solari. Junglers used to be happy building Giant’s Belt items, but the trend has definitely shifted back to a teamfight/initiation-oriented jungler, running aura and support items. While other junglers are far from viable, the “safe” pick is a tank character with these items, and this makes sense. NA, EU and KR teams have a very fine line between the best and the worst. It very much reminds me of the American football saying “any given Sunday” where any team that’s hot can make some major upsets because the skill margin is very small. Running a tanky jungler to protect the team and provide a second layer of peeling and auras for the carries simply makes sense.

pic2

At the front of this resurgence of tanky, support junglers is a new build path. The big trend right now in the professional scene is building boots 1, the blue fist and then an Aegis. This is an interesting combination brought about by a change in the Spirit of the Ancient Golem. Originally, it was an armor/HP item with Tenacity, built from a Giant’s Belt and Spirit Stone. This combination was swell for about two characters, but otherwise it was just an “ok” Tenacity choice to those not building Merc Treads. Then the item was changed to provide 10% CDR, and be built from a Kindlegem and Spirit Stone; the armor was removed. While this initially seemed lackluster, it’s opening up an entire new door for junglers.

What’s Changed?

The Kindlegem component is letting junglers purchase parts of the blue fist without needing 1k gold for a Giant’s Belt and also granting CDR, which every character likes. The increase in base movement speed broke through for junglers and now boots 2 are a third item because, frankly, movement speed takes a back seat to life/tenacity and aura resistances in almost all scenarios (especially already running MS Quints). Having a tenacity option other than Merc Treads is saving junglers a ton of money on the most expensive boots in the game. This allows junglers to purchase strong impact items, piecemeal, as the game progresses, while still having strong presence. The small movespeed differential is often made up with CC abilities, plus giving a reduced cooldown tank bearing down on you with 500 additional health and 35% Tenacity. Every single one of the safe, tanky junglers can take advantage of this and bear down on the laners in turn.

Who Cares?

Well the uprising of the Blue Fist means a lot of really cool stuff. First, boot upgrades are taking a back seat to item progression. It’s also taking down Merc Tread’s holy spot of the Tenacity item and exploring other paths of CC reduction. Most importantly, this change is allowing junglers to have a smoother power curve. You have the Machete start into Spirit Stone and then more health with the crystal, then more CDR and then you get super regen plus CDR and a gigantic amount of health, all for a relatively low amount of gold. This means that a successful gank or two now leads you into this blue fist wielding terror, roaming the map smashing souls with supreme tankiness. This is a big change over simply spending 1k for a Giant’s Belt and feeling mediocre about it. It allows junglers to build the fist and boots 1 with a null magic and health crystal towards Aegis and being a threat with 100+ dual resistance. It’s a step in the right direction for jungle tanks, and hopefully not too far a step as to squash the carry junglers.

How do I apply this?

Well, as a jungler, you should consider building the blue fist. The cheap build items mean that even if you hit a rough patch, you can pick up health, regen or CDR easily. This is extremely potent on almost any jungle tank/initiator such as Nasus, Volibear, etc. I personally forgot about this item when playing, but it’s a strong first rush item. If you have any sort of CC, your ganks become much more potent with reduced CC on top of a CDR to re-CC them. Item builds for your junglers will shift depending on how the game is patched, but I don’t think the blue fist is a fluke at all. Try going boots 1, fist and Aegis in your games and reap the rewards or comment on how you did/didn’t like it!

too

 

Enough time has passed that I feel this isn’t a spoiler; TSM finished out the LCS Spring Split in 1st place! GGU put up a good fight, pushing the series to a fifth game, but fell to TSM at the last. Watching the games, I wanted to put the spotlight onto TheOddOne (TOO). OddOne is beloved by the community, but often doesn’t receive a ton of in-game credit or make gigantic plays. His jungling style tends toward control style junglers that amplify his team, much like Snoopeh on Evil Geniuses. This usually results in obscurity in the game analysis, but in this series TOO really stepped up his game and absolutely wowed me with his Cho’Gath play.

The Games

The picks were almost identical each time. Dyrus was on Rumble or Renekton; WildTurtle was mostly on Cait and some MF or Varus; Xpecial ran mostly Sona, with some Thresh and Lulu; Reginald played either TF or Diana. GGU ended up picking mostly a Nocturne/Orianna/Thresh(/Blitz) core with ZionSpartan swapping his champions out and MashMe on Twitch or Cait. In games 1, 3 and 5 TOO picked Cho’Gath and TSM won. In games 2 and 4 TOO picked Nasus and they lost. Games 1, 3 and 5 also had Xpecial on Sona support, and there are no other relevant trends in the series. Honestly the Cho’Gath pick was what pushed these games into the ‘W’ category for TSM. This is due to the way the games played out and his distinct advantages over Nasus.

nasusvcho

TOO lost two games on Nasus and won three on Cho’Gath. This obviously doesn’t mean that Nasus is bad or TOO’s Nasus is bad, but Cho’Gath brings a set of skills to the table that Nasus does not. Nasus is an extremely strong ganker and diver in the early levels, and post-6 with his wither and armor-shredding ability. This can be used for some incredibly aggressive play and strong counter-ganking opportunities. This is very much in Diamond’s style, who was one of the first people to roll out the jungle dog. However outside of the single-target wither utility and armor shred, Nasus isn’t effective in teamfights. He has an option to either peel with Wither or hit their ADC with Wither and cut their DPS. Looking at the matches, NintendudeX was usually ahead in kills early and ZionSpartan ran an in-your-face style champ 4/5 games. This means that Nasus would want to Wither Nocturne to peel, the ADC to cut DPS and any other snowball top that leapt onto WildTurtle. In the games, MashMe on Twitch or Caitlyn was too far away to Wither, forcing it onto either Nocturne or Kha’Zix. This leaves Twitch free to shred your team, and the jungler or top to pounce on WildTurtle.

Cho’Gath, on the other hand, has the ability to knock-up several enemies or silence them, both of which match or exceed the range of Wither. While this makes for weaker and more predictable ganking, the teamfighting is where this really shines. When Nocturne and Kha’Zix jumped into the fray, they were met with a Feast, silence and a knock-up. This extreme amount of peeling for his team resulted in so many successful teamfights. Typically the fights broke out surrounding TSM’s bottom lane. Nocturne would ult in with an Orianna ball, Kha’Zix would then jump in and Xpecial/Turtle had to fight reactively. When running Nasus the wither wasn’t enough to stop this combination, but a well timed silence onto Orianna, followed by an immediate Feast of Nocturne or Kha’Zix, and a knock-up on them into a Crescendo did the trick every time. This amount of extreme AoE peel kept the back-line-diving GGU out of luck.

teamfight

Daydreamin was always running a hook-initiator, Thresh or Blitzcrank, and Cho’Gath provided a constant block of meat in front of his team. Nasus can do similar, but Cho is much scarier to have in your face looking to pick off a target. This allowed them to pressure objectives extremely well, and objectives are what won these games. TSM didn’t run off on a killing spree, these games were all relatively low-score games, won through taking multiple towers and dragons. The pressure that Cho’Gath offers in comparison to Nasus in that regard is clear; Feast is amazing for dragon control and stopping a team from taking a tower with a 950 range knock-up is quite effective. The changes to Spirit of the Ancient Golem also allows Cho’Gath some cooldown reduction. This means he can Rupture first the targets on his ADC and then their ADC as well, with over 200 more range than Nasus could possibly do. Cho’Gath is stronger in these areas and I’m not even mentioning the amazing 2 and 3 person Rupture into Crescendo combos that turned the game around.

Closing Thoughts

I hope to see TheOddOne and TSM continue running champions that fit their game style and flow. Teams typically have a playing style they work towards and a set of champions in that pool, and TOO embraced his peel/teamfight/support roots with Cho’Gath. I don’t feel Nasus (or Volibear for that matter) are strong choices for his, or his team’s, style and that’s ok. It’s ok for a team not to run a strong jungler because they don’t fit their style, and it’s ok for a jungler to play who they’d like even if they’re considered weak. Both Volibear and Nasus were considered bad, but fit Diamond’s playstyle, so he rolled them out to great success. The OGN Korean series definitely demonstrates this, and I hope to see more of it in the NA and EU scenes. Don’t watch the LCS and take from it “Cho’Gath is a great jungler”, but instead watch these games and think about why certain picks work. In a low score, teamfight and objective-oriented game, control junglers such as Cho’Gath and Nautilus will outshine the others. A player who enjoys playing a support and peel jungler should stick to those roots and find ways to make them work for his team. Take these things into consideration when evaluating picks, teams and yourself in your games.

Analysis Paralysis

May 1st, 2013

analaysisparalysis

The internet is a wonderful source of information, depth and strategy for nearly anything you can imagine. This access to information on a quick and reliable platform certainly has its upsides, however it can lead to an overload of information. In addition, there can also be misinformation spread by people who make their voice the loudest. Having too much to think about and a lack of focus causes a phenomenon called analysis paralysis, in which the interpreter of data is confused by the bombardment of information.

The Warning Sign

The warning sign is focusing on the the minute details, while not understanding the context. A standard player will read guides, watch professionals play and/or read up on the game a little bit. They’ll see these players doing and saying really remarkable stuff and will obviously want to replicate it. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it can easily get murky, like this:

When you’re top lane, you need to be harassing your foe and winning the lane. But you also want to be roaming around the map to help the other lanes. Top laners can run teleport and do awesome bottom lane ganks as well as help with dragon control- so you should run teleport. Are you a jungler? Well maybe you should be invading a whole bunch and messing up the enemy jungle. How about playing Maokai, he’s good at ganking right? You need to be ganking all the time. No, just counter ganking. No, invading and map control. Mid? Gotta be hyper aggressive, it’s how Regibro does it. Nah, maybe a little passive with Anivia, Froggen is considered real good, right? Curse has some great dragon control, we should focus on early dragons and doing them just as they spawn! The jungle is about buff control only, we need to have the strictest timers on our buffs! That Nunu/Caitlyn bottom lane is amazing, we should try to run it all the time. But it’s weak early and Leona and Alistar are fun, let’s do a kill lane! Man, this matchup in lane is considered weak in my favor. Strong in my favor. This guy counters them in lane! Maybe I should choose a safer character to play…

CLG runs three teleport. You shouldn’t.

Clearly you can see there’s an abundance of information and things you can work on. What’s left out of all of these descriptions? Fundamentals such as farming and warding are left entirely out of this. Far too often players focus on things they could be doing to change the game, like counter picking lanes and item builds. The reason the actions in the paragraph above work, at the professional level, is because they’re good at doing whatever they want while maintaining farm. Emphasis on fundamentals is not glorified most of the time (except maybe some comments about how well a player can do it) and is swept under the rug. However, if you are able to farm better than your opponent and can ward properly, you can make it to the higher leagues. Having sound fundamentals is also the key to improving because it creates a feedback loop.

The Feedback Loop

The feedback loop is how you can diagnose and address problems in your performance. By having sound farming and warding skills, you’re removing variables. Why did you lose this game? Well you were only ten CS behind where you should be and warded well enough to avoid most ganks. This means that those aren’t the reasons you lost the game; maybe you lost because you didn’t shut down the opposing laner, join teamfights or contest dragon, etc. But if you are at 52 CS at the fifteen minute mark, you’re missing a substantial amount of income. Did you lose the game because you didn’t have that money, or for any of the above reasons? Having strong fundamentals in lane helps you find your actual problems so you can work on them.

More farm = more gold

Dumb It Down

Keep yourself out of analysis paralysis and don’t let too many different options stop you from fixing something that can be much simpler. If you’re not able to farm with 90% efficiency (you miss maybe one creep in a wave of 6), work on your farm. If you’re not buying wards and you are being ganked or losing map control because of it, learn to ward. Item builds, lane harassment, counter picks, lane matchups, roaming, counter jungling, buff control and teamfighting can take a back seat to these issues. Get to great farming and warding and I will guarantee your game will not only improve, but it will become easier to spot errors in your play.

Categories: Original Content Tags: , ,

A Subtle Dagger

April 7th, 2013

Udder

Often times a few small words or a comment on a situation can drastically change the mood of the game. While there can be frustration when something bad happens, the easiest way to ruin the game is by pushing that enter key. Most summoners understand that blatant harassment and trolling are unacceptable, however the subtle dagger is much harder to pinpoint. How much does the in-game chat actually impact your team and can you avoid tilting your own team?

To What End

The first question you have to ask before you hit the enter key is “To what end?” What are you looking to get out of this exchange of words? If the answer is “I want to feel better about this situation by letting someone know I’m disappointed” then congratulations, you’ve seen through a variety of ways to say this information without those exact words! Clearly nobody opens up all-chat and says the statement above, however many comments point in that direction.

Say your support dies wandering into river and facechecking a bush with mid MIA. At that point telling them “dude wtf mid was mia” doesn’t resolve anything. What are you looking to say with that comment? Clearly the support is now aware that mid was both in bottom lane and waiting in that bush, so the informative part of your statement is gone. This leaves us with “dude wtf.” Well that’s not helping anyone but you.

Not pictured: Helping

So let’s just say you left it with “mid was mia.” Well thanks to the power of perception, when someone reads the text in game it’s put into their frame of mind. This is a problem with email and text communication as the communicator cannot indicate tone. You might be saying it in the nicest and most polite way, like “hey, next time can you just go the safe way?” but as long as you’re referencing that scenario they will probably read it negatively. This makes the last statement equivalent to saying something along the lines of “didn’t you look at the map, you idiot?” Whether you meant that or not; saying anything directly after the incident is like walking on eggshells.

Paper Tigers

The next consideration is a paper tiger or “living in a glass house” concept. Your words being said to them is all it takes to set them into flames. Now think about a scenario where you’re not doing well and your team is blaming the loss on you. This makes you even more angry and then you start raging about how the jungler never came to gank and bottom lane has 12 CS at 20 minutes. The very next game you queue up, you sling some “are you serious, stop feeding and just play safe” at your failing top lane because “not this shit again, solo queue players suck!” And once you start that flame, it’s only a matter of time before the whole team is raging at eachother.

Fierce and fragile

 

Here are the outcomes of starting the fire off of this one comment on a failing lane or jungle:

  1. Your team thinks that you’re an asshat
  2. Your team thinks your teammate is bad
  3. Both of these

Having a team that thinks you’re a jerk combined with “oh, another game with a baddie” gives a poor mindset to all of your allies. By starting that fire, you’re putting everyone in the game on tilt. Picture being in the post office and someone starts screaming abuse at the teller over a misplaced stamp. Nobody in the office thinks you’re fighting the good fight, they just think you’re an ass, the teller is bad at their job or both and now waiting in line is that much worse.

Like Moths to Flame

Once that flame is started, everyone else will be drawn to it. You start it off with “omg dude, mid was mia” and then the support snaps back “well if MID could call mia’s and follow his lane, we wouldn’t have this problem!” Now mid lane is upset because they were doing well in lane and bottom didn’t see the mia. Or perhaps they are struggling because they’ve been chain ganked by top and jungler.

Once that fire is lit it becomes infinitely easier to start throwing crap at everyone. They can now blame the entire game on that one person. Bickering and fighting over silly points also demoralizes your team as nobody is willing to give it their all if the team as a whole is acting like a bunch of children with scraped knees.

In Your Hands

So what can you do about this? Disable your chat? Mute everyone on your team? Be overly enthusiastic about the game and a cheerleader? While the last option is a step in the right direction, that won’t work most times either. The best way to approach the chat is to just let it go. Yes, they died. Sure, they’re feeding. If you were trying to lane and the opponent was better or you were camped or whatever else, how would you like getting grilled for poor performance? If you weren’t thinking and just facechecked a bush and died, do you really want to hear about it? Of course you don’t! Most of the time people are aware that they’ve messed something up.

I got grabbed? You don’t say…

 

This doesn’t necessarily mean talk to others as you’d like to be talked to. The lack of tone and expression on the internet doesn’t really allow this. You have to assume everyone on the internet you don’t know is a sensitive little flower that causes nuclear destruction when the breeze blows. You can offer words of encouragement, tell someone they did a good job, assure people that you can still win the game, offer advice later on in the match or simply be silent. Lashing out against someone else for poor performance does nothing but make you feel better and them feel worse. That is straightforward, however you have to remember their performance is directly related to whether you win or lose this game.

A torch to end all torches

A subtle dagger can be just as deadly as full on bashing. Be careful with the expressions you choose to use, if any, and when you use them. Ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish by saying anything at all, and if there is a better way to approach it. Defending yourself is the natural response to criticism and the lack of tone makes any comment come across how the reader is feeling at that point in time. I know I’ve personally been enraged at something as simple as “…” at the wrong time. Have you seen any sideways comments in chat before and how did they impact the game?

Udder

Everyone hates a cheater, yet there is so much emphasis placed on doing well that “cheating” is often turned to. Cheating comes in many varieties and rears its ugly head all around the place, but the severity and connotations behind the word change dramatically. This gives rise to an interesting code of ethics involving where to exactly draw the line for cheaters. Even more interestingly, the person judging the cheater has a different outlook than those cheating themselves.

What is “Cheating”?

Cheating is defined as:

  1. To deceive somebody: to deceive or mislead somebody, especially for personal advantage
  2. To break rules to gain advantage: to break the rules in a game, examination, or contest, in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage
  3. To be unfaithful: to have a sexual relationship with somebody other than a spouse or regular sexual partner

Let’s focus on the first and second definition as they are the most relevant to this discussion. In a competition or game, deceiving and misleading the enemy is commonplace; sometimes it is called cheating and sometimes it’s strategy or mind-games. What is the difference exactly? Let’s look at an example from Magic: The Gathering Trading Card Game.

When you’re playing against an opponent, you can keep your cards in a neat pile to hide how many cards they see. You can put your ace-in-the-hole activated land card under your other land cards to try and have the opponent forget you have it. You can make disgruntled noises or be exasperated at a draw that is actually a good card but you want them to do something stupid on the premise it’s a bad draw.

mtgtactics

Not that kind of tactics

Now the opponent can ask you how many cards are in your hand, or for you to spread your lands out, but it’s not against the rules to do those things unless you are being obnoxious or refuse to answer. Are these things cheating? Say you win a game on the activated effect of a hidden land because the opponent forgot about it and misplayed.

By definition, this is cheating. You’re deceiving somebody for personal advantage. But where is the line drawn between strategy, mind games, reading your opponent, tactful deception and cheating? If you intentionally take damage in lane because your jungler is there and you want to bait out your laner, you’re purposefully deceiving someone for personal advantage. For this reason, the first definition of cheating leaves a lot hanging in the air.

Breaking the Rules

The second definition is much easier to swallow: it has a hard condition. There are rules, and you have broken them. This ranges from steroid use in sports to hacking in video games. These are obvious infractions and are usually punished harshly. Everyone dislikes this sort of cheating because it creates an advantage that not everyone has– therefore making it unfair.

From the standpoint of the person doing the cheating, they also know what they’re doing. Someone that is exploiting the mastery tree system to have infinite flash/smite is clearly cheating. Woong glancing up at the monitor at the Season 2 championship was clearly cheating. What about a situation in a tournament where members of a certain team leaked compositions and strategies of other teams? Technically this isn’t against the rules. Leaking strategies leaves a bad taste in your mouth despite not being explicitly against the rules. How about attacking and killing someone who is AFK or has disconnected from the game? It’s not against the rules to do that.

punchface

Riot never said I couldn’t punch your face.

Advantage can be created in more ways than just exploiting the rules, like using an expensive, high DPI gaming mouse. Are an expensive mouse, powerful computer and fancy keyboard cheating? Well no, anyone can buy the hardware and it isn’t banned, so it’s not cheating. Will it still create unfair advantage between players of equal skill? Sure, it could. Let’s say you had a keyboard macro program that perfect casts your combo. That’s definitely cheating, right? Both have created advantage, but only one is considered cheating. Why is this?

Cheating can then just be broken down into three general sticking points:

  1. Removal of skill
  2. Requiring less work or practice
  3. Breaking the established rules

The first issue is removal of skill. This isn’t really a punishable offense on its own, in fact it is often rewarded. New kitchen gadgets and power tools often seek to remove the skills and craft required to make or repair things. The difference is there isn’t typically a competition for “Who can cut and de-seed the apple the fastest” and so having a tool that does that in one action isn’t really slighting anyone but helping you. As you can see, in competitive environments this is turned on its head. Removal of skill makes the wonder and competitive aspect much harder to appreciate and standardize. Someone grinding a clearly overpowered pre-nerf Yorick to the top of the ladder is removing skill from the equation. They just grind out ghouls and win every lane and herp derp their way to the top.

vi

No, she’s not overpowered…I’m just amazing!

The last one is the hard condition: breaking the rules. This seems like it is really straightforward, but again can be confused and pushed to technicality. Rules are established to prevent cheating and unfair advantage, but by their nature are complex. The simple existence of a set of rules means that there are ways around the rules and ways to interpret rules. If a rule states that you “can’t intentionally stall a game of Magic” what’s to say you’re doing it intentionally? If a rule says “No third party software” when playing a game, does that count keyboard macros or extra mouse features you may have? Rules can do a great job at regulating a game, however they can also outline ways for people to be “cheating” while exploiting a technicality in the rules.

punchface

Still not against the rules…

So what does all of this random babbling about cheating and dissection of definitions and terms that I’ve strung out mean? The point of all of this is that cheating is cheating and what one person defines as cheating can be entirely different than another. Aside from blatant infractions like hacking the game, the feel of being cheated can come even when they’re not cheating. Similarly, you can feel as if you’re doing nothing but exercising a strong advantage or strategy when cheating.

This creates an interesting effect that you should be aware of when evaluating things in your life. It’s important to realize whether you feel cheated because the offender is actually cheating or they’ve exercised a set of morals you don’t want to. I’m not saying go out there and find ways to push and bend the rules to take advantage of other people, but simply that everyone isn’t you. Just because someone finds a way to better their situation in a manner you’re not comfortable with doesn’t mean it’s always cheating.

When your Ethernet cable popped out and the opposing laner killed you when you totally wouldn’t do that to someone doesn’t necessarily make them a cheater. It also doesn’t make you weak or a non-cheater. It’s simply that you don’t feel right killing the disconnecter. The world is a complicated place filled with complicated decisions, reasoning and interactions. Declaring something as black and white can’t be done, and always remember to keep this in mind.

The Meta Model

March 24th, 2013

metamod

Meta. We hear this word thrown around a lot, but what exactly does it mean? Is the meta two solo lanes, a jungler and ad/support bottom? Is it the set of champions being played right now? Is it the items being commonly built? Meta as a term is vast and encompassing and in this article I want to scratch the surface on what the meta is and how Riot sees.

Meta in philosophy is: “A prefix meaning one level of description higher. If X is some concept then meta-X is data about, or processes operating on, X.” (Dictionary.com) So the metagame is the data about the game itself, in this case League of Legends. As you can see, this is entirely open ended. The meta can be any of these things and more:

  • Lane assignments
  • Item Purchases
  • Types of Champions played
  • Playing style
  • Role specific expectations
  • Team compositions

 Layer 1

People commonly refer to “the meta” as a solo top, solo mid, solo jungler and a duo bottom, which is a mindset that Riot has discredited. The next stop on the meta train is usually the absolute most popular thing like “League of Warmogs” and “League of Bruisers.” This is the first layer of the meta and is the most general sense. It doesn’t really explain anything about the true meta of the game at any time.

Layer 2

Team comp is the next layer to be looked at. You can see clear patterns in the style of teams played, such as AoE composition, armor shred or strong laners. With champion specific synergies, teams can achieve aggressive diving, early towers, safe laning or something else. The solo queue meta doesn’t have as much emphasis on this aspect, but you will still see trends such as the long holding bruiser top, bruiser jungle, AP mid or an AP top/mid setup.

Layer 3

Inside of the other two layers lies the lane specific environment. Each lane has their own meta going on, whether it’s a mobility emphasis on the ADC on bottom or the switch from AP to AD in middle. This meta changes fairly frequently and is often an entire ecosystem within the game. You can main a lane and not have it get stale thanks to the match-up and champion pool changes over time. As a jungler, I’ve gone from “what’s a jungler?” to strong gankers (Rammus/Maokai) to strong counter junglers (Diamondprox’ breakout Shyvana play) to the support (rise of CLG.EU) to the now current carry jungler meta. Over the course of a year or two the champions and environment has changed entirely.

Layer 4

Role specific expectations are just a broad way of saying what each lane is expected to do. This creates lanes like the recent Nidalee/Soraka bottom lane from Dragonborns. The lane is expected to have an AD that gets farmed and can do so effectively. To counter this expectation, a very strong poking composition was thrown down there to make sure no farm can be gotten. When middle was expected to roam, champions such as Evelynn and Katarina became wildly popular because they could roam well. This is where a lot of the action goes and many mind games of counters and counters to the counters and a lot of really fun, interesting stuff.

core

The heart of the meta is playing style. Over time, player’s styles start to change around. While the game was developing and people were learning still, a much more passive approach was taken. Players overall took little risks compared to today as they were feeling out the game. As people learn the game, more and more aggression and calculated risk is found and rewarded. If the meta is healthy, this will trend a different way and keep the overall flow of the game going. There are individual styles to players and teams, however a global trends also happens when someone breaks the mold.

How to work my meta model

My model has a core and several layers that go outward. The meta is a general trend in what is being played right now and as such can be countered at the proper layer. Each layer then radiates all of the decisions outward until you’re outside the model. If there is a shift in the lane-specific environment, it will then effect the team compositions and lane assignments. When Talon, Kha’Zix and Zed took over midlane in preseason 3, the team compositions shifted towards supporting armor shred (Renekton, Jarvan, etc.) and stacking up the physical damage dealt, which in turn drove things such as Miss Fortune buying Black Cleaver.

Conclusions

The churning turmoil of the inner core impacts everything else in the game. You can see this with the trend over the last two years of League of Legends. First there was passive play style with safe laners that had strong teamfight abilities, such as bot lane tank. This was then countered with stronger lane presence in a roamer and jungler combined. The roaming meta was stopped by running a dedicated AD/Support style bottom that was well insulated to the roaming and a strong control jungler. This was dominate for a while until folks figured out that strong counter jungling puts the mostly passive approach of control jungler/support/adc bottom to rest. To stop the counter jungling, lanes started swapping and playing strong pushers to force junglers to respond instead of counter jungle.

Currently, there is a trend in the meta towards strong snowballing lanes and champions that do well against or in combination with heavy lane pushing. This is indicative of a healthy meta and I’m sure a new style of play will soon arise that does well against early tower aggression and diving compositions. When the next trend drops, expect changes in every other layer to trickle to the casual players. What do you think is the next step in play style to defeat the towerkrieg currently going on?

tuning

The user Postal Twinkie brought up a suggested change to Akali on the forums, which lead to a good dialogue between Riot’s FeralPony and the community. Through this post a design philosophy surfaced that has some awesome implications and thoughts behind it. This will be a two-part article going over what the design philosophy is and then showing some examples, flaws and perks to this system.

This back-and-forth conversation brings up the three-talon strike of champion balancing: thematics, kit and numbers. These three are present in any champion and balancing requires multiple iterations until things are right. A flaw in character theme can be overlooked with a strong enough kit, but numbers cannot fix a bad kit. So what exactly are these three things?

Thematics

The first thing to consider is a character’s theme and how their abilities relate to it. The theme ties directly into how a champion feels and should feel, given their appearance and background. In theory this makes sense. You would expect Vi, a champion based around punching with her gauntlets, to have moves focused on being a beat ’em up style punchasizer. You would not expect her to be summoning flaming space creatures at enemy champions.

punchasize

Punchasize your face, for free.

A lot of the reworks on characters have been to address oversights in their thematics, as the only way to alter it is a rework. Thematics can be problematic, but not always. Nobody would see a spiked turtle (Rammus) and expect him to taunt things while creating an earthquake (Prehistoric Turtlesaurus didn’t), but this character miscommunication works because it ties into his other, predictable abilities.

Kit

The next stop on the way to balance-town is the character’s kit. There are reworks focused on kits, whether it is a small change such as removing armor from Lee Sin’s Safeguard or a full blown rework such as the Karma changes. A champion’s kit usually determines how hard they are to balance. Someone such as Lee Sin or Elise would be extremely hard to balance. You can’t simply look at numbers and adjust them; you have to see what impact each of those abilities has and isolate the instances where it is too strong or weak.

dualability

A lot of the double ability characters (Lee Sin, Elise, Nidalee, Jayce, etc.) are constantly played and fluctuate from “OP” to “playable”. Their kits are strong and offer a variety of options in play patterns while maintaining theme. Characters that drop off the face of the planet almost always have a kit that can be rendered useless by linear play and numbers. This can be seen in someone such as Volibear who’s play style is “run in and maul things.” This is very linear and he’s either able to maul things or gets exploded; there isn’t too much in between.

Numbers

Numbers are the final stop. They’re the fine dials you can play with in order to tune a solid kit up or down without making sweeping changes. After enough number changes with no real improvement in perception, a champion will typically see a kit or thematic rework. This was the case with Katarina and Shen where the changes made didn’t really fix their core problems. Number changes are also what creates flavor-of-the-month style characters, as a buff or nerf in a cooldown, base damage, health, etc. can swing a character back in line.

dianachart

Numbers matter too

While numbers can always make a character stronger or weaker, an inherent flaw in a kit cannot be fixed with numbers. Think of someone such as Sejuani in this instance. Her early game and tankiness could be changed by raising her base health, sustain and/or damage, but this creates the problem of her now being too strong in a best case scenario. Her kit either presses too much advantage with slows, AoE damage and stuns or falls flat on its face because she can’t take any damage in order to accomplish that.

Putting it together

We can see that problems in either thematics or kit can render number changes useless. There are constant complaints about champions going up and down in power level because simply tweaking numbers doesn’t work. The next part of this article will go over some problematic examples, the flaws and the perks of using this approach.

Until then, what examples can you find of a patch aiming at the wrong fix for a champion? What champions, like Akali, would be a lot more balanced with a simple (0.5 second cloaking removal) change? What champions would get better with a small kit change (minion pass through on Udyr’s Bear Stance) without a number alteration?

Udder

     The meta in League of Legends is a changing tide, influenced by many different factors that end up washing up a set of strategies for any given tournament. While the exact definition of “meta” will be left for another article, the current meta has definitely evolved as a result of Season 3 changes. This comes as no surprise to anyone, especially those suffering through the League of Black Cleaver, League of Warmogs and League of BoRK that has just passed. While some of these changes have made their way up into the LCS, the changes in the meta can be far more subtle and influential in the professional scene.

     The new trend that I’m talking about is a shift in individual role meta. The solo lanes have drifted away from a sustained, strong teamfighter to a snowball or reset character. The jungle has moved away from extreme support and into more of a carry or utility bruiser role. Bottom lane has seen adjustments away from mobility and into utility. These are far from rules to follow, but this small change in role-style has altered how some professional teams play.

EG_Logo

     Let’s first take a look at a team that’s somewhat slumping lately: Evil Geniuses. Now silly curses aside, they have had a pretty rough week, going 1-4 in the Super Week and having a poor showing at IEM Hanover. Diamond talked about this and the team itself has brought it up in some AMA’s on Reddit, but their compositions are somewhat outdated. They play very similar champions, but more importantly a very similar style. Snoopeh was absolutely legendary when support junglers were king, and he definitely showed it. His Cho’Gath and Maokai play was exemplary, and he proved time and again he knows the support style. Wikd is known for his Irelia and Renekton play, and while Renekton has stuck around, his style is very different in the new season.

     But the new change is pushing towards a carry jungler and snowball-type solo lanes. Renekton can certainly snowball a lane in solo queue and he’s been fierce in competitive play. But he doesn’t have the same impact as a Zed or Akali in the laning phase. And let’s be honest, Snoopeh hasn’t had a big impact on carry junglers so far. This is nothing against their team but they have to adapt to the new style of play, not just the items or character picks- a problem they have recognized and began adjusting. But not all teams have suffered from this; the counter example to EG is Curse.

curse_logo

     Curse was usually the team that was #4 NA, which is not so prestigious. They lost the LCS qualifier to CLG.NA, but managed to get through with the other new entries such as GGU and compLexity. However after four weeks of the LCS, they remain very strong in the standings. Again, we can look to the change in the way the game is being played to help them out. Saintvicious is not a support jungler, and never has been. Now he’s given the chance to shine and carry his team with the new set of junglers. In addition, they picked up Voyboy and he’s been absolutely tearing through teams with his Akali and Elise play, two characters that can secure a lead and strangle their opponents.

     While Curse’s dominance was shut down by Dignitas and EG has seen a bit of light with some newer, more aggressive strategies, the point remains that some teams have fallen into the meta changes for the better or worse. The truly amazing teams will transcend this natural division, just as they have in the past. I’m sure EG will come out of their slump and Curse will have the rest of the LCS catching up to them. The question remains as to whether future shifts will be beneficial to teams and styles they’re more comfortable with.