Divorcing skill from teaching skills in LOL

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League of Legends is a game where skill takes many forms. Knowledge is a skill, as is mechanical execution, adaptability, decision-making, and prediction. In LoL, the emphasis is mostly on decision-making and knowledge. This doesn’t mean that the other skills aren’t necessary to become a great player, but being a good player mostly requires those skills.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I’m not a great player. If I were, I’d probably be trying to get on a pro team (or I’d already be on one). Even “good” is debatable. I am kind of emotional when I play, and it messes me up. I tend to surrender vote early, which sometimes brings my team down. I am not a team player. I tend to rely on my superior mechanics. Even my mechanics are bad compared to great players. I tend to think of myself as OK at best and that most people are just awful.

However, I also think I’m pretty good at teaching people how to play. LoL has a lot of games-within-a-game to play, and I’m not too bad at explaining how those things work over time. I’d like to think I’m good at giving commentary (both positive and negative) to a player trying to learn. I could be a coach, and I sort of am — I get to coach all of you guys, after all.

There’s really no such thing as player coaches anymore

If you look at any sport, electronic or otherwise, coaches are not players. Most of them play their game, whatever it is, but virtually none of them is on a similar level as her players. A fair number of coaches are former top players of whatever sport they played, but it is actually sort of rare that these coaches are the best ones.

In League of Legends, this is multiplied quite a bit by the huge knowledge burden. There’s a lot of stuff to know in LoL, so it makes sense that someone who spends a lot of time studying the game might not spend enough time to be pro at the game.

It takes a very different skillset to be a coach. You don’t have to make the moment-to-moment decisions in League of Legends. There are no downs, no halftime, and no timeouts. It’s a coach’s job to pick apart strategies employed by other players, identify their core components, and teach his team about those strategies. A player has to think less about the “strategy” of the game like picks or bans and more about the guesswork and tactics of the match as it plays out.

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Players suck at teaching

Have you ever read a pro guide before? I have read dozens of guides written by people who are paid to play League of Legends. One thing that is shared among most of them is that pros are terrible at communicating why they win. To be frank, most post-match interviews with pros are generally awful because they can’t really explain why one part of the game led to a good decision that won (or lost).

This isn’t a shot at pro players. Pros spend hours and days and weeks and months getting better at playing League of Legends. A pro player shouldn’t be expected to write a quality guide, just as he shouldn’t be expected to be able to fly a plane or perform surgery.

Playing a video game at a professional level is unbelievably hard. I’ve seen that mountain (for other games) and decided a long time ago that was way too high a mountain for me. It takes a monumental amount of effort to be pro at any sport. In Korea, LoL pros practice for 10-13 hours a day, every day. In America, it’s a little bit less than that, but they still play a lot, and it shows when they compete.

As a result, though, there needs to be people to bridge that gap. There needs to be a translation of pro-level instincts into understanding that lesser players can grasp. I’m not saying I understand League of Legends as a top player does, but if I can understand and convey even 15% of his decision-making process, I’m conveying more than he can, and again, it’s not his fault. Most excellent players’ “knowledge” is instinctual. It’s simply hard for instinct-driven players to translate those instincts into words.

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Ultimately, a statement is right or it isn’t

Once upon a time, I was reading guides on Mobafire. I came across a few guides written by really bad players. I knew this because the videos contained within the guides were really, really bad. There are some really great tutorial videos out there, like Ciderhelm’s, but these were the opposite of that.

The body of the guides was pretty good, though. Actually, even the videos were useful because they illustrated some concept, even if that concept was executed poorly. At the end of the day, it did not matter how good at LoL the guide writers were. I learned something from it, so it was a success.

The success or failure of a guide has nothing to do with any skill of the writer. If it teaches something, and if it’s right, it doesn’t really matter to me whether it’s well-written or whether the person writing it is in bronze V.

There is a small amount of correlation with writing skill, but even that’s pretty small. If a guide is well-written, some people might be able to understand it more easily. That doesn’t actually matter too much, though. If it teaches something useful, then it teaches and it doesn’t matter whether it’s written by someone who speaks English as a second language or by someone who writes for a living.

That’s the final message here. If there’s a point to be made, then it needs supporting evidence. I can’t just claim something like “Tear is a bad item” without providing support for my claims. I could give circumstantial stuff; it’s rarely purchased in top level play, for instance, but that’s not a reason. A reason is something like “buying power now wins games.” If we look at gameplay trends at the highest levels of play, we can see people buying power earlier and making plays earlier. We can see aggressive plays like that winning frequently, with late-game stall tactics becoming less prevalent.

If you disagree with a point someone makes, it does not matter whether that person is in bronze or pro league. It only matters if she can communicate it properly. What really matters is whether she’s right or wrong, and if she’s wrong, whether you can prove it.