Monday, September 7, 2015

Scrupulous Scrutiny: Improving your Self-Analysis in Reviewing Replays

So, you think you're pretty good at video games, huh? But you admit you're not the best. You know you make mistakes. You're humble enough to go back and watch replays of your gameplay to look for areas to improve. That's a good sign of a player who's going to improve. But what about when that VoD review doesn't seem to be helping you find what you're doing wrong? What if you think everything you're doing was right?

How do you approach VoD review in a way that ensures you're improving either the understanding of your mistakes or your understanding of the game?

I'm glad I asked!

If you're finding yourself unable to improve or find mistakes from reviewing your own gameplay, chances are you're not asking the right questions as you go through and watch. If you're not asking questions at all, well... I guess we found out why you're not improving.

Question everything. From everything you've done, to everything you see your opponent do, to everything your teammates do, to whatever's going on within the context of the rest of the game.

The most important question to ask when looking to improve:

Why did I do this?

If you can't understand why you did something, chances are high that it was a mistake. If you can't explain why you did something, you may need to explore the situation further. One thing to note, no matter how skilled you are at a game, the ability to understand something and to explain the same thing do not come hand in hand. Verbalizing instances is a separate skill and not always a necessary one for competitive gamers. (I refer to this mental iceberg often...) 

So, you've run into something you can't explain, but you're pretty sure you had a good reason for doing it. What do you do?

Pause the film. Ask, What are my options at this moment?

Before you answer the question, take a look at EVERY possible bit of information you can ingest. Don't answer based off whatever information you had at the time you made the decision to begin with. As you go, make a list of EVERY possible bit of information you can.

Take note of
  • enemy positions
  • ally positions
  • your own position
  • Weapons/Cooldowns/Abilities the enemy has available
  • Weapons/Cooldowns/Abilities your allies have available
  • Weapons/Cooldowns/Abilities you have available
  • Major objectives that are immediately relevant
  • Major objectives that may become relevant as the situation resolves
  • Major objectives that may become relevant after the situation resolves
  • Which players are reacting to the situation first
  • Which players seem oblivious to the situation

Now that you've taken in all of the above information, do you have a good idea of the number of options you have available? If not, let's make a short list of generic choices...
  • Run away! HE SKERRY! Don't let him start a fight!
  • Move to help teammate
  • Move too save teammate
  • Sacrifice yourself for teammate
  • Attempt to keep enemy from interfering outright
  • Stall an enemy from interfering
  • Isolate an enemy, then engage
  • Feign a fight, then back off into help from teammates
  • Pressure an objective somewhere else to try to deter the enemy from their current objective
  • Trade an objective somewhere else for enemy's current objective
  • Stall an enemy from their objective while your ally trades/takes more somewhere else.

These are just a few generic options that apply cross-genre. Evaluate how many of these options you have for the situation you haven't quite solved yet. For each time you're involved in engaging with the opponent (whether offensively or defensively), list the options you have for how to engage or disengage or stall for time for a teammate to help. Take note of which player is likely to get help first. Check all of the weapons or abilities you may use. Figure out which order of use gives the least windows for your opponent to react.

Throughout this process, you may often find you had options you didn't consider in the heat of the moment. Some of these options may be less optimal. Others may be much more optimal. Regardless, this analysis is a GOOD thing. It increases the amount of options weighing inside the intuitive mind during the game (Audley shut the fuck up about the fucking iceberg I get it okay?). Evaluating the effectiveness of the options while looking at the game analytically rather than while playing it increases your chances of making the right choice the next time.

But in the mean time... did you figure out why you made the decision in the first place?


It's time to ask another question: What information did I miss?

No, not in your above evaluation. Now it's time to re-frame the situation from the whole picture you're currently looking at, back into the heat of the moment. When you made the decision, what information did you already have? Look carefully at what's going on. Did you see everything the first time? Look again. Did you notice any information you had access to that you may have missed before making the decision?

If everything seems to be in order and all the information you acted upon is there, then you ask the next question:
What assumptions did I make?

Because in most cases, you won't have full information when you're making the decision, you have to fill in the blanks. Whether you're doing this consciously or not, you're making assumptions about the state of other players. (If you don't believe me, think back to the last time you asked “WHY THE FUCK IS x HERE?” in a fit of rage after dying to something unexpected. Yep, you assumed he would be playing differently.)

Compare your assumptions to the big picture / full information scenario. Were they correct? Were they wrong? SHOULD they have been correct (was someone else playing sub-optimally or better than you understood)?

Assumptions are not a bad thing to make in games, but they should definitely be taken lightly. If you act on an incorrect assumption, you're making a low percentage play. I mentioned in Part 2 of my shotcalling blog that you should almost always assume your opponent is going to play correctly / make the best decisions. If something smells like bait, it probably is. If you're blind to an objective being taken, but it's the right decision to take or bait that objective, that's probably what's going on.

Unlike your opponents however, it's often wise to assume your teammates (especially in solo queue) are going to make the wrong play / a bad decision. This is why communication is important, whether you communicate through typing, pings, or just saying “Hey follow what I do and we'll win.” – if you're in a situation where voice chat is able to be done, explain what you're intending to do in order to avoid your teammates having to assume what you will do, as well as to avoid assuming what your teammates will do (assuming you all talk in terms of intentions.)

By this point, you should have gotten an idea of why you made the decision in the first place (and if not, you may be fucked beyond all hope, or may just need to ask someone better than you for help.)

But, along the way, you may have discovered some better options that you could have done. So let's backtrack to the “What are my options?” and ask a second question: How did my opponent react to my decision?

If they reacted aggressively, there's a good chance they had some information you were not accounting for (or they made an assumption they were stronger in the moment.) If they reacted passively, they made the assessment or assumption that you were the stronger force in the instance. You can gloss over your opponent's options/assumptions to try to better understand why your opponent reacted the way they did, but often times their initial reaction gives plenty of information about their self-perceived state.

While still focusing on your opponent's reaction, there's one more question to ask. Regardless of their reaction (which, as I said is a decent barometer for how they expected the situation to play out), ask How could I have altered his perceptions?

If you were attempting to bait your opponent into making a bad decision, but he reacted passively, did he have information that could have been denied? If you were attempting to peacock and he aggressed onto you, did he evaluate you were weaker? Did he underestimate you? Overestimate?

I assume you're reading this because you're doing part of a team game. So that means you have teammates also making decisions on the fly. So after you've figured out why your opponent reacted the way he's time to ask:

How did my teammates react to my decision?

If there was a teammate nearby you expected to help or join in on the play (or in the case of LoL, across map with teleport you expected to come in) then ask: Who could've helped me? Then ask what their options were. Skim your teammates' nearby opponents' option. Could the opponent have stopped your teammate from helping you? Then chances are you expected too much of your teammate. (Was this a miscommunication or a bad assumption from you?)

Unless your team has some sort of shotcalling schematic set up (which is unlikely in the case you're self-reviewing to improve your solo queue gameplay), then chances are you're operating off assumptions and your teammates are making decisions based off reactions rather than cohesive plans made ahead of time. If your expectations of a teammate are at odds with how your teammate actually reacted, either your communication needs improved, or one of you made a mistake.

Take on your teammate's perspective of your play for a moment. If roles were reversed, what would you have expected your teammate to do?

By now you have a very clear picture of why you did what you did. And along the way, you may have found a few areas where your expectations of the situation didn't match up with how it actually played out.

Now let's frame the situation a little more by asking another question:
How did I get in this situation in the first place?

Oftentimes when you're in a position to make a mistake, you often made other decisions on the way there. Granted, if you're asking “Why did I do this?” over every step of the way, you'll already have this question answered. But in laying out other options, you may find a way to avoid putting yourself in the position to make the mistake. Ask yourself, What could I have done to avoid this situation?

After acknowledging your potential pre-emptive routes, it's time to look at the other end of the chronological spectrum...the future. How can the result of this situation play out?

Consider options both good and bad; proactive, reactive, aggressive, passive, whether you're trying to catch up or get further ahead. Pick what you think the best decision is from the current situation. Resume your video.

Did you make the decision you expected to be the correct one?

You didn't? What did you do? Well now... it's time to ask yourself...

  1. Why did I do this?
    1. What are my options at the moment?
      1. What aggressive options do I have?
      2. What passive options do I have?
      3. Did I take the best option?
    2. What information did I miss?
      1. Did I see everything right the first time / in game?
      2. Was there something else I should have seen that I didn't?
    3. What assumptions did I make?
      1. Were my assumptions correct/incorrect?
      2. SHOULD they have been correct?
        1. Did I assume the best of my opponents?
        2. Did I assume the worst of my teammates?
        3. Did I properly communicate my intentions to teammates?
    4. How did my opponent react to my decision?
      1. What were his options?
      2. What were his assumptions?
      3. How could I have altered his perceptions?
        1. Does he have more information than I expected?
        2. Could I have appeared stronger?
        3. Did he mis-evaluate me?
    5. How did my teammates react to my decision?
      1. Who could have helped me?
      2. What were their options?
        1. Did I expect too much of them?
          • Was this a miscommunication or a bad assumption?
        2. What did they expect of me?
  2. How did I get in this situation in the first place?
    1. What could I have done to avoid this situation?
  3. How can the result of this situation play out?
    1. What is the best decision from here?
      1. Did I make that decision?

Just rinse and repeat this rubric of rhetoric as you review your replays. You will find you better understand your own gameplay, and if you can find where your assumptions, assessments, or expectations are wrong, you can begin to improve your ability to make the right decisions in the future by correcting your approach.

So, happy VoD-hunting, self-reviewing gamer. Hope this helps!

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