Saturday, September 5, 2015

Calling the Shots: Part 2 – Limited Range

Some time last year, I started a multi-part series about shotcalling in competitive gaming, starting with discussing victory conditions. I said I wasn't sure when the next part would come, but I didn't mean to leave you in suspense for 16 months (oops!).

Anyway, it's time to revive the series with the next important part of shotcalling. Apart from knowing what it will take to win a game, there is one more important piece of information: KNOW YOUR LIMITS.

Sorry, Cady, that's just not true.

When you're ahead, you almost always want to get further ahead. You want to put the game out of reach of your opponents. But in order to do that, you need to make sure you don't end up overreaching and making mistakes.

Too many League of Legends games get thrown by a team believing they can stay for the inhibitor and ending up getting aced, losing Baron, losing an ensuing team fight, and consequently the game. Halo games can be thrown over a forced flag run leading to the team all dead and enabling the team to set up a counter cap (RIP every Sanc Flag game ever.) You were too confident in your abilities to make a play that wasn't going to happen, and gave away the game.

But Audley, how do I learn my limits?

Step 1: Play more. Be willing to experiment whenever the stakes are low. You learn limits through practice. Whether that practice is directed practice like scrims or micro drills (practicing CSing in LoL or jumps in Halo), practice helps you learn what you can and can't do. Even if you're playing solo queue, don't be afraid to try new things. You can never know if something has the potential to work unless you try it.

Competitive play revolves around high percentage plays and consistency. Practice does not. Practice is where you not only improve your play, but learn exactly what you can and cannot do.

Part of this is why players with thousands of games on a single champion in LoL tend to be really good at that champion – they know what risks aren't really risks. They've been in the situation before. Their mental iceberg tells them “Hey, we've been here. Do this.” – they know their limits and come away with an individual play that works.

But Audley, I know my personal limits. How do I learn the limits of the 3-4 other guys on my team?”

I'm glad you asked, Reader. And for that, I point to one of the world's best shot callers ever to grace Summoner's Rift in LoL. Mata, formerly of Samsung White, now on Vici Gaming. Although he's not at Worlds this year, it's pretty hard to say Mata is to fault for Vici's failures. The team played a fantastic cerebral style of play and won games off incredibly smart plays. With MVP / Samsung White, Mata won two seasons of OGN Champions and a World Championship. It was fairly common knowledge Mata was the shotcaller of the team. When he was on point, the team executed as a well-oiled machine. When he was thrown off his game, the team looked like a mess. When White were on point, it was hard to find a player more aware of how to win than Mata.

But there's one fact about Mata most people are unaware of: he had multiple Korean solo queue accounts in Challenger tier. And on each one, he mained a different role. He wasn't a support only player in Solo Queue. He also played Jungle and (I believe?) mid lane extensively. This enables him to know the limits of other lanes on his team. It helps him learn match-ups and the needs of his teammates.

You don't necessarily have to attempt to play other roles to improve as a shotcaller (though, it definitely helps) – at the very least, however, you should try to observe your teammates in practice and discuss their mindset during their games (or while watching replays together).

Ask a few questions such as
  • Why did you do that?
  • What would happen if you did this...?
  • (In the case that he's losing) – What do you need to come back from this?
  • (In the case that he's winning) – How do you keep your opponent from coming back?
  • How do you deal with pressure in this situation?
  • How could pressure be relieved in this situation? ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Learn how your teammates think. Learn their limits, or at least the limits of their style of play. Knowing these helps you know what you can get away with.

Other than practice and post-game discussion, there is one other important way to assess your limits, and is key during a game.

Step 2: Get more information. Most competitive games are Imperfect Information games, where you do not know everything that is going on for the other team. Whether hidden in fog of war or simply not visible to your personal camera, knowing what's going on elsewhere is important to knowing what your limits can be.

It's probably not a coincidence Mata is one of the best shotcallers in the world and also one of the supports with the most wards placed. In League of Legends, vision is information. Madlife rose to power known for being one of the first players to time even the most minute of cooldowns of his opponents.

Beyond mini-maps and vision control in LoL, communication is your key to information influx. This applies to any game – especially First Person Shooters. A mistake many make is simply communicating what's going on among enemies. Calling out targets, calling out weapons, et cetera.

If you want to know your limits, you also need to know your teammates' status. In shooters, communication focused on telling your teammates where you are helps them know how soon they could have help or come help, or where their team's gaps in vision or sight line coverage may be. In League of Legends, it may help them know when your important engage abilities will be ready to go.

Whether you're the shotcaller or not, focus on proactive communication. Speak about what you CAN do, or SHOULD do in a situation. It helps the team create a much more clear picture of how to move forward, rather than focusing on what an enemy is capable of. Think in terms of enemy perfect execution, and plan the best way to play against it. Always give your opponents the respect of assuming they will play the game properly.

Silent moments are moments where information isn't being generated. Information should be generated constantly throughout a game. If no one is talking, get the wheels turning by asking questions as the shotcaller. “Can you do this?” “Can we do this?” “Where can we push?” “What [cooldowns/weapons] do you have?” “How close are you to [item/weapon/location]?”


You'll never have a complete picture of the game. You must make decisions based off an incompleted jigsaw, or a painting where the colors haven't been blended all the way just yet. Every bit of information your teammates feed to you fill the picture just a little bit more to help you know what call to make, or what calls to avoid as you learn the situation a little bit better.

But regardless, getting into the minds of your teammates in and out of game and objectively assessing yours and their abilities will help you KNOW YOUR LIMITS as a team, and as a result, help you call the shots in a way that reduces mistakes and leads your team to more victories.

I'm not sure when part 3 will come (hopefully it won't be another 16 months ;D) but this series isn't done just yet.

Also, I've added a Paypal Donate link to the main page of my blog. If you enjoy my blogs and would like to see more of them, I encourage you to Donate in order to help me get closer to quitting my day job in fast food to focus on writing and game design. If you can't afford/don't want to donate but still enjoy the blog, PLEASE, comment / tweet / message me and let me know what you enjoy / what you'd like to see more of! I've got a few plans for upcoming entries, and I intend to write more in the upcoming days, but any support you can give me (verbal or monetary) is greatly appreciated!

Audley out.

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