Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Calling the Shots Part 3 - The Efficacy of a Loose Cannon

If you're a League of Legends fan, chances are you've heard the memetic repetition of "Chaos-style" as an explanation describing Unicorns of Love's gameplay in the European LCS. You've probably also heard certain analysts refer to said chaos as "just mistakes."

I'm here to offer a neutral perspective.

I mentioned in Part 2 that it's important to know your limits in the context of a game. You should also be able to objectively admit when an opposing team is superior to you, whether in regards of execution or strategy. It's okay to say “I'm not as good as they are.”

When your opposition have a superior strategical understanding compared to you, how do you win?

You fuck over their plans.

Okay, joke aside: you execute better. You rely on your manual dexterity and ability to pull off risky, low percentage plays in order to bridge the gap. In short, you gamble on your own skill.

In most cases of competitive gaming, players rely on high percentage plays in order to safely position themselves on the road to a victory. After all, safe play avoids mistakes. No mistakes means no room for being punished. But when that route doesn't work, fuck Order. Embrace Chaos. The primeval strategic void.

Keep everything fast paced. Keep everything hectic. Don't leave room for your opponents to breathe or set-up. Don't let battles resolve.

While Unicorns of Love are generally given as the example of a team that lives and dies on their “chaos-style” shotcalling – full of sub-optimal calls and plays that don't necessary make the most strategical sense, there's one team that are notorious for taking the opposite approach.

Elements/Alliance have always been a team afraid to pull the trigger when they're behind. Rather than risk a mistaken call, they avoid taking any shots at all and simply allow themselves to slowly bleed to death.

Froggen, the mid laner of Elements, is often regarded by many as quite possibly the best European mid laner of all time (and rightly so, he almost managed to win a season of OGN Champions). So in terms of execution, it's hard to believe Elements have much to fear from one of their highest impact roles potentially making a mistake.

Quit being a chicken, Froggen. You're the best. Act like it.

I mentioned in Part 2 to always assume your opponents will play the game properly – here I am going to contradict myself. When you've assessed you are mechanically better at the game than your opponent, assume you can force a mistake. Look for the opportunity to force a mistake. It doesn't matter how sub-optimal the call you make is. Make a call. Any call you can feasibly execute. Just go do it.

Before the Halo portion of my readership run away thinking this only applies to LoL, wait. Because I've even used specific examples in the past of the same notions. When I made a bracket preview for the HCSSeason 1 Finals, I mentioned in the Denial vs Str8 Rippin match-up that I thought Str8 Rippin could be favored on Shrine Team Slayer. My exact quote: “Str8's key to victory will be to keep the game fast and chaotic – don't let stalemates evolve. The less structured the game is, the more it's in Str8's favor.”

In this case, Str8 had a ton of explosive talent on their team with Str8 Sick, Prototype, and Naded's dominant Free for All gameplay. They were all players likely to win individual battles or be able to naturally react to battles going on elsewhere to clean them up – faster reactions, so to speak.

Chaos increases the degree of reactive gameplay required. Because it's harder to decide or predict what will happen next. You have less opportunity for proactive planning due to the increased pressure across the map, and thus must simply play your opponents rather than your own game.

If your opponents out-skill you, or execute better on an individual level, they will come out ahead in a chaotic situation.

And if you're thinking I'm talking out of my ass, and there's no precedent for using sub-optimal tactics to upset someone with superior strategic or tactical understanding:

Try reading about Anti-computer Tactics from chess. 

In the “Brains in Bahrain” event mentioned, the player knew he was superior in late game decision-making over the computer, so rather than try to play generally optimal openings, he chose to take the generally “riskier” route of playing hyperconservative (the best defense is a good offense!). Once he survived the computer's pre-planned strategical opening, the computer was in unfamiliar territory with less decision trees to allow it to properly analyze the situation. Because of this, the player managed to win two consecutive games. (In retrospect, this may be what Froggen is attempting to do when he plays so passively from behind.)

So, now that we've established that intentional sub-optimal gameplay is a real strategy with at least some merit... how do you go about shotcalling this manner?

The most important thing to note is that every voice is important when playing chaotic. You need a much higher information flow than slow-playing or taking a methodical, measured approach.

First, you need to identify a weakness in the enemy line-up. Whether this is a strategic weakness they have, or a player who you simply expect not to react properly to a surprise engagement from your team.

Attack the weak link. Regardless of whether contextually attacking that point makes sense at the given time, do it anyway. Even if it means giving something else up elsewhere. Don't hesitate.

Do they have a top laner who relies on being on an island? Send four people up there, dive the tower. Push the tower. Start to push another tower. Someone's coming? Abandon the push, go engage that player rotating up through the jungle.

Is this Lockout TS stalemate being held together by a player sitting BR1 who's known for losing BR fights? Hard push down low. Get people underneath library to ensure the spawns get split when you inevitably secure a kill or two. Now raise the pace. No huddle offense time.

(Mild tangent: Another League of Legends example of putting power into individual execution rather than team strategy can be seen in Season 3 Lemondogs. Lemondogs were a team that lived and died by 1-3-1 split pushing. They all had confidence they would outplay their opponents, so why wouldn't they just pressure every lane, right?)

This brings up point two: put your best players in position to make big plays on their own.

Pressure somewhere. Let them pressure somewhere else. You don't need to be in the same location to be impacting the game in the highest manner. (DO YOU FUCKING HEAR ME COAST? YOUR OLAF DOES NOT HAVE TO STAND NEXT TO SIVIR WHEN HE'S FOUR KILLS AND 200 CS UP OVER HIS OPPONENT AND PUSHING AN INHIB UNCONTESTED!)

If your best player needs to be on his own in order to be effective, PLAY AROUND THAT PLAYER, rather than around the enemy team. Make the enemy team react to that player.

Peacock somewhere, feigning strength. Make it look like you're going to do something you have no intention of doing to see if there's a reaction.

Point 3: Once shit has hit the fan, keep throwing more shit into it.

Again, the point of Chaos-as-a-Gameplan is to introduce situations your opponent has not experienced (but you possibly have) in order to come out ahead.

The more pressure you keep applying, regardless of how wise it is, the more likely the opponent is not to know how to react to it, and to make a mistake.

And finally, call off the dogs when you've obtained a clear advantage.

Unless you have no game sense at all and don't know how to play properly with a lead, then once you've gotten a lead, you should play like you have it. If you think your lesser-executing opponents can wrest control of the match back from you while you return to optimal play, then chances are you were going to lose regardless of what strategy you employed.

Anyway, again, “chaos style” shot-calling is not “just mistakes” but rather intentional sub-optimal shotcalling in order to try to shift the game out of your opponent's comfort zone and into a manner where you can reign supreme.

It is not a be-all, end-all approach to playing a game, nor should it ever really be your first choice. It requires a high level of execution (much like S4 Fnatic's obsession with kite comps). If you are confident you are better at executing on a micro level than your opponents, by all means, try to play a chaotic style of play. It's admittedly a bit disrespectful, and by definition not the best way to play. But it can work and has valid reasons for doing so.

Again, it is by definition an unsafe way to play. Much like trying to aim a loose cannon.

This concludes part 3 of Calling the Shots – although this one was more aimed toward responding to a perspective than how to actually improve as a shotcaller, I felt it belonged in the series. I'll be working on Part 4 soon as well and trying to get that out soon.

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