Reflecting on Summer 2016

It's been a few weeks since our loss and I still feel devastated. It hurts to watch or even think about the game and so I decided to leave LA and reflect on the last split. I'll try to elaborate on aspects that the public may be more unfamiliar with. While I've been with the TSM organization since 2015, this was my first split as a coach. The position has a great deal of responsibility, primarily because I have complete control over the players in terms of strategic direction. Since my predecessors left me with no discernible structure, the hardest part was building it from scratch. 

First, as a team we decided on a few game axioms upon which we built a simple system to evaluate different phases of the game. This gave the team a singular direction in the way we played, and gave a good structure to review and build our collective knowledge base. Next, as the person solely in charge of pick/ban, I had to develop a set of rules which took a lot of time. It started with simply building cohesive compositions, and every week added something new, adapting to patch changes, drafting to test matchups/strategic game plans, working around scrim opponents' specific tendencies, hiding a part of strategy or pick from every team, among the most relevant. Finally, there was the hierarchy of elements to work on: mechanics, game fundamentals, communication, higher-level plays/strategies, adaptations, etc. This 3-part system had to be constantly examined and optimized. For example, halfway through the split, I recognized that we had to establish a new "reset phase" to organize a subset of situations we were glossing over in reviews. After failures in the early game, we started actively devoting time to add to the playbook vision setups and plays from behind, something we were inexperienced at at the beginning of the split. All of these had to follow a certain hierarchy, depending on the weekend's opponent, patch changes, scrim partners, relevance of issue, and more.

I also had the pleasure of working with three extremely hard-working and talented people: Anand Agarwal, Brian Pressoir, and Matthew Schmeider. In addition to doing analysis and small projects for the team, one of their primary responsibilities was position coaching. After every scrim and team review, each player would meet with their position coach for the week to go over specific details of the game and personalized learning goals. We also brought each position coach for a week to work with us onsite, to help build relationships with the players and familiarize them with the details of working on staff where they helped me set the strategic direction for the week, work through prep and review, and pioneer objectives for the team to learn from. I want to thank all of them for their hard work and dedication throughout the split, their help was instrumental to our progress.

A large part in the success of Korean teams can be attributed to the systems that their organizations have built and have been refining for a long time. During the bootcamp and Worlds, I found myself questioning and changing core axioms of the systems we'd established earlier, things I could only learn through experience. I will never stop to wonder if we'd made some small changes in our approach, certain areas of focus, these small margins would've propelled us into the quarters or more. Despite a lot of factors that didn't go our way, I still felt each loss weigh heavily on my shoulders. These lessons are much harder to learn in NA, mostly due to lack of experienced coaching philosophies. In the same way that players need skilled opponents to practice against in order to improve, coaches, especially inexperienced ones, need different perspectives to learn from. This split, only Tony and Reapered were systematic in the way they approached (strategic) coaching, evident from their pick/bans and what strategies they practiced in scrims, but even then I could see the deficiencies in their team's style, as I'm sure they could see in mine. The best Korean teams are disciplined in the fundamentals of the game and adapt with a ruthless efficiency, and western organizations need to build and refine their systems to compete with them by allowing the coaching staff to gain experience and helping with professional development.

As disappointed as I am by our World's performance, I am equally proud of our accomplishments during the summer. We shared the same goal with a passion that resonated in every practice and stage performance, and the pursuit of excellence felt more important than the result each weekend. This ethos will be the ingrained as a benchmark upon which TSM will continue to operate. There is nothing more inspiring than working with a group of people willing to dedicate every minute of the day to the game. I'm glad our fans got to take this journey with us (thanks Max), and hope they were proud, connecting with the story of this team and how much it has matured over the course of the year, striving to do something extraordinary.

I love my team.

Update

This website was supposed to be merely a place for me to document my writing and work on little projects, but since joining TSM, a lot of fans of the team have been curious about my future involvement and personal decisions. For those who are interested, I thought this was a good time for a recap and update.

After leaving Boeing, I applied to a few places, but was really only passionate about one or two companies and when I didn't get those, I chose to just commit to taking some time off over working at a place that I didn't wholeheartedly love. It was a weird process of figuring out what I wanted to do, planning out my finances, and allotting a deadline for my return to a work-life. The name for my website literally comes from the number of days I calculated that I could financially sustain myself with no income without dipping into my cushion fund.

I decided to start with e-sports first, starting off by writing about things I knew or learned. I'd receive some comments at first, some constructive criticism, and a few people who were interested would add my on Skype and we'd have a conversation about e-sports. This industry is extremely niche and connections are everything. I somewhat stumbled into meeting a lot of cool people by doing something I liked without intentionally networking, and I look back and realize how lucky I was.

After briefly volunteering for Alliance and Leviathan, I posted my work and went off on my education pursuits. By using some creative travel methods and a lot of couch surfing (thanks to everyone who let me crash), I interviewed 30+ people (teachers, researchers, administrators) in 8 cities around the US, mostly discussing our current system of public education and their thoughts on how to change it. I've actually written a giant piece (70+ pages), but it's currently in a state where it needs to be heavily edited and re-worked. I really want to get back to some of this work this year in my spare time.

Sometime late 2014, I began to help TSM as an analyst, first as a trial basis, but then a remote, paid position. The amount of hours it took to keep up with other regions, watching scrims, and helping create documents actually took a lot more time than I initially thought, so I put some of the education work on hold and focused on TSM instead. I happened to be in the area for the TSM-CLG match with the pink hair bet because I was speaking to SpaceX at the time and got to meet the team. Throughout the Spring Split, I was casually applying for random positions at startups, but after MSI, TSM offered me to bring me on full-time. It was extremely competitive compared to what anyone else in the west was being offered. When I started out, I wasn't expecting to end up as an in-house analyst for a major team, but it was an incredible opportunity that I knew I had to pursue.

The details of my role are in a different piece, but work was simultaneously brutal and awesome. From watching other regions, coaching staff meetings, scrims, 1-on-1 sessions with players, data work, scouting documents and other presentations, I would be constantly thinking about the team, players, and the game from the moment I got up at 9 am till I passed out to Netflix playing on my Chromebook at 1 am. On Sunday evenings, we would have free time, but if we lost, I wouldn't be in the mood to do anything but prep for next week. Staring at Excel on Sunday evenings was the most relaxing part about my week. Despite the struggles (there were a lot), I enjoyed every second of what I did.

There were a lot of important moments for me. I remember the electricity in the room before the first TSM-CLG game during the Summer, a sense of urgency and pride that's indescribable. I remember the respect emanating from every person in the room for Andy's first review after he stepped in as coach. I remember crying for a long time after watching Dyrus's final interview, denoting the end of our season and his career. There's a lot of heart in e-sports, it's a very gritty industry where you have to be passionate about the work to justify the amount of yourselves you put into it, and as much as we like to treat it like a job or business, there's a strong emotional component that's almost more important.

I'm really excited to transition into a managerial position within the organization next year. I have a lot of respect for Andy, there's no one I know that is more hard-working and passionate about his work or who cares about the people working for him. I'll be working alongside Dan and Leena, who are both incredibly talented and do an immense amount behind the scenes. I'm currently helping the League team/staff put together a system for next year, then I'll be stepping back and overseeing the process throughout the next season, which will free up Andy to focus on his other projects.

Overall, I'm incredibly fortunate to be in the position I find myself in and am looking forward to pushing TSM, the teams and the organization, to be the best they can be. In my spare time, I'll be looking to return to my volunteering work in education, so this website will still see some new posts. Finally, in addition to my friends and everyone I've met in the last year, I want to thank my best friend Sanjeev and my girlfriend Amy, who encouraged me to start my journey and supported me throughout.

Sincerely,
Parth

Analysis in Competitive League of Legends

Despite the tremendous strides competitive League of Legends has made recently, the industry is still fairly young with regards to how players interact with the support staff and management. While the responsibilities of the coaching role have reached a state of general definition from developing team's social and performance elements, the analyst role still remains relatively obscure with regards to scope and impact. An idea popularized in the past few years is that analysts most commonly watch a lot of competitive games and advise on pick/bans or strategy. While this is an important aspect this idea presents a fairly reductionist visualization of the role.

A comprehensive definition of an analyst is a person who maintains a high level understanding of the game by collecting as much relevant data as possible, constantly reviewing the data with experts in the community to interpret the details, and reporting on meaningful and actionable subset of information. The most challenging aspects of the role are remaining objective in the face of constant barrage of subjective commentary, cultivating and maintaining a network of relationships that can constantly help you critique your analysis, and most importantly, efficiently communicating all relevant information to the remaining support staff and team.

The figure above shows a sample subset of analyst directives, where the width represents relative importance to the team and the height represents the time invested or the analyst’s expertise in the topic. The figure will look different for teams depending on their priorities and the amount of support staff they have. For example, a team with a large infrastructure can generally pick up multiple members that excel in niche areas or devote time to specific sections, while it may make more sense for smaller teams to pick up a full time analyst who can focus on all general aspects, depending on their long-term goals.

 

 

Scouting


Different Regions

In line with the community perception of analysts, support staff often track games from different regions, notably both LCS regions along with Korean and Chinese leagues. A year or two ago, many teams didn't have the ability to invest in a proper coach or analyst, leading to the dominance of empirical analysis where the Korean competitive scene served as an adequate model to draw inspiration from. However, the top teams from other regions adapt the opportunity costs of their in-game decisions to maximize the efficiency of their picks and strategies, something that can't be determined by observation. Thus, if the assumptions are mistranslated, the utility that teams gain from using that innovative advantage decreases considerably.

In addition to watching the other regions, analysts are also responsible for translating the efficacy of particular strategies and picks within the context of their local region or team. Analysts help build an identity around the unique proclivities of their players and establish the team's original hierarchy of pre-game and in-game opportunity costs before using empirical data to bolster their strategy. Essentially, analysts are responsible for watching other regions, but the underlying purpose is to help the team and players make informed decisions about their own strategies instead of simply mimicking other teams. Recurring benefits of scouting different regions include new strategies, playstyles, or meta-shifts that have a seed in external regions. Short term benefits include having a more holistic perspective of opponents at international competitions like IEM Katowice or World Championships.

 


Upcoming Opponents
Scouting specific opponents has a more refined and deliberate approach. At the beginning of each week, a scouting report helps break down each opponent the team is preparing for and it includes everything from player's champion pools and play styles to general level 1s and lane swaps. Depending on the team, there's also a mention of damage output and gold allocation throughout the game and pick/ban patterns to consider what the team prioritizes before and in-game. After a discussion with other members of the coaching staff, it's decided how this impacts the week's scrim practice. For example, if the opponent is proficient at prioritizing a certain role or champion the team is not comfortable playing against, there's a discussion about whether it's worth altering play style to prepare counters or simply rely on specific champion bans. Finally, the day before each match there's another discussion finalizing pick/ban contingencies and specific in-game plans where the coach then gets the team's final feedback to make any changes.

 

Tools of the Trade

From post-game data to Riot's API, there's an abundance of readily available information for teams to consider. After extracting the data into a reasonable format, Tableau and Matlab allow analysts to dynamically consider data or perform in-depth analysis. For example, if a team wants to focus on the early game, the data helps find other teams that generate early game leads to answer questions like, is the gold concentrated in specific lanes or are the leads a result of overall pressure? How do these champions perform if they don't have early game leads? What are the opportunity costs of early dragons vs. towers? The answers to these questions help shape the direction of the conversation, and offer constructive precedence players can reference.

Generally, the data mentioned above isn't seen by coaches or players; analysts act as an intermediary source. But there is data that needs to be presented and manipulated by coaches and players. Excel and PowerPoint are traditional and powerful tools to help accomplish the task. Online excel documents shared within the team tracking scrim information let players go through and see where they did well, what they did poorly and help them present their arguments to the team regarding picks and strategic direction. PowerPoint or other presentation software helps summarize information for vision control, scouting reports, pick/bans and more. Finally, video editing software like Adobe Premiere allows analysts to put together presentations for reviews or introducing new concepts.

 

Introspective Analysis

BoxeR, the renowned Starcraft player and current coach of SK Telecom T1's Starcraft II team once described his strategy as one in which "even if the opponent had predicted it, he cannot stop me." Day[9] similarly advises his audience that "strategy and solid play doesn't revolve around tricks, surprises, or hidden information, but very solid planning and crisp execution."

An implicit and understated responsibility of analysts and support staff in general is to help team's development, rather than merely searching for new tricks or scouting other regional strategies. More often than not analytical resources are focused on external data, while team development follows a reactionary path rather than a proactive one. A methodology that reflects an infantile approach to delayed gratification, teams focus heavily on the short term in order to win games, rather than establishing a foundation for future success. New teams consistently fall prey to this trap, and while they may enjoy sporadic successes, they lack a cohesive identity and rarely achieve greatness.

In order to help direct team growth, support staff have to recognize the type of team approach that will best represent their players. Some teams are innovative and enjoy playing combinations of new or off-meta picks, while others are reflexive, those who have diverse pre-existing strategies and can adapt to various picks and game situations. Teams can be adaptive, those that heavily research and are the first to pick up and master the new meta styles, while other teams prefer a conservative approach, and shift slowly, letting their skill and teamwork carry them through the transition. Committing to an identity helps team create long term plans regarding how to approach patches, tough opponents, tournaments, roster changes and more.

Similarly players' development can take different routes. Mechanically adept players learn certain champions and playstyles at a different rate than tactical players. Other players are neither but are more open to the learning process, allowing the support staff to mold the player that the team needs. Analysts have to recognize the type of players they are working with in order to recommend plans for adapting during patches or preparing for upcoming tournaments and games. Investing the time to learn about the players and team before setting long term and short term goals is important for any team that wants to set themselves up for long term success.

 

 

Final Thoughts

After the coaching role is established, the analyst role becomes the next most important on the support staff. There is a considerable amount that analysts can be responsible for depending on the goals of the team. Some teams simply want to place well in their region, while others want to win worlds or create a lasting team legacy. As the expectations of the team increase, it becomes critical for the organization to invest in good analysts who not only knowledgeable about the game and various scenes, but can also communicate and present their ideas in a clear and persuasive manner. For a team expecting to maintain a top place in the regional standings and doing well at international competitions, the reasonable expectation is 60-80 hours of analysis work per week, from planning and creating content to scouting regions and analyzing scrims and more. We are slowly approaching an era in team e-sports where player and team development is going to become more important than raw talent, and surrounding the coach with a strong supporting infrastructure will ensure a team's long term success.

Not All Leaks are Created Equal

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Introduction

On December 29, 2014, the moderators of the League of Legends subreddit created a thread to discuss the topic of leaks and rumors. In response, DailyDot writer Richard Lewis posts a video on his YouTube channel to defend leaks on three premises: freedom of speech, public right to information, and objectifying the narrative. This piece will critique each argument in order to show that leaks can be good or bad, depending on the context in which they are presented.

The majority of this piece will revolve around quotes from each of these sources: Richard Lewis’s video discussing leaks, the preamble from the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the work of Kirk O. Hanson, the executive director of the Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. The tags below contain links to the relevant sources.

 

What is a leak?

A leak is defined as the intentional disclosure of secret information. 

This information can be personal. Consider a man who just proposed to his girlfriend and hasn't broken the news to his friends or family. A colleague who overhears the conversation and shares it publicly without the consent of the couple, despite the intention, has leaked the information. A couple who wanted to broach the sensitive topic with their parents, or have a quiet wedding with close friends, now have the awkward task of handling a narrative they didn't perpetuate.

Similarly, all organizations hold a wide array of information that’s secret due to its financial value, marketing potential, research and development specifications and more. Corporations seek to protect information due to the economic value from not having this information widely known. This concept is relevant in professional e-sports from team strategies to recruitment methods. For example, a player or organization with multiple options can leverage their options and dictate terms. But, a leak regarding their internal discussions mitigates this negotiating power.

 

Value and ownership of information

Similarly, marketing players and sponsors is a relevant part of the e-sports ecosystem. In the video, Richard Lewis goes into further detail:

In alignment with the discussion surrounding value in information, Lewis lists several sources of marketing revenue for organizations, and also points out that the original source of the news garners the most web traffic for that particular piece of information. Therefore, by leaking the information, Lewis diverts most of the web traffic and attention away from the organization and to his publishers like DailyDot. Naturally, there’s a long list of organizations frustrated with Lewis’s reports either because they undermine some strategic plan or diffuse the value of their information. In response to this Lewis comments:

Business regards information as a commodity and the possession of it as an asset. Economists would like to treat and account for information in the same way as physical assets; however, no discipline has provided an accepted model for such treatment although analogies abound.  

As inventory, information goes through the value-added stages of raw material (events or processes to be measured), work-in-progress (information in development), and finished goods (marketable information). Information gathering and presentation require capital investment and human labor. Besides being costly to acquire, information incurs management costs. Like physical assets, information faces quality control inspection before it can be distributed. (source)

Along the same lines, e-sports organizations have information that they want to protect from proliferation until they can redeem it for its value, such as roster changes, management decisions etc. for variety of reasons. But, Lewis claims that information within this context cannot be owned and implies that while he sympathizes with the frustrations of abused trust within their organization, he has the right to publish the information if he can obtain it and confirm its accuracy.

The problem with Lewis’s defense is that there is a lot of ethical and legal precedent to support that information of value can be owned and protected. From the personal privacy rights to corporate ethics surrounding proprietary information and more, the leaking of protected information is a serious issue. Even the SPJ declares as part of their core principles that:

This principle implies that just because you can obtain private information legally, you must also have an relevant reason for then sharing it with the public. Regarding the acquisition of information itself, Lewis himself quotes the SPJ to maintain the anonymity of his sources and goes on to posture his sources’ contractual obligation to conceal information does not concern him:

Lewis elevates his sources to some sort of undercover-hero status, with a tone implying that his sources innocently found themselves embroiled in a conspiracy or danger, and that they are now willing to risk their careers and livelihood to expose some deep-rooted corruption. But when we consider leaks in the e-sports community, only some of them actually expose malicious behavior or intent. Most of the leaks that have sources "close to the subject or team" should not be revealing the information they do. They’re breaching the trust of their friends and colleagues and should not be considered role models in the community.

Hanson elaborates on the ethics of confidential information and sources:

Hanson points out that any protected information that is obtained by a source that violates an obligation to keep it a secret is morally dubious to leak without a valid reason for doing so.

 

Public Interest vs. Public Right to Know

Lewis next weighs in on his reasons for revealing protected information, claiming that he weighs the discomfort to organizations against the benefit of the public and justifies it so:

While the argument may sound reasonable, there is a clear philosophical distinction between what the public is interested in knowing and what it has a right to know. People, even famous public figures and elected officials have the right to privacy despite the details of their private lives being the 'public interest'. Similarly, organizations retain the right to share or withhold information pertinent to their competitive advantage.

Referring back to the SPJ, the code of ethics state that:

Leaks, by definition, imply that the information should not have been accessible by proper channels, and preys on the curiosity of the community (excited to learn forbidden or secret information) to generate revenue for the website, at the expense of the involved parties.

For example, during the off-season, Martin ‘Rekkles’ Larsson, considered by some to be the best western AD carry, moved from the veteran Fnatic team to the new European powerhouse, Alliance. A fan favorite, the spark of a rumor in mid-October regarding this possibility resulted in many speculation threads and self-proclaimed Reddit detectives to search for evidence supporting this claim. 

Lewis, aware of the public interest surrounding the issue, published a series of articles in the span of a few days like "Rekkles in talks with Alliance" to "Rekkles has had enough, buyout option is 15k", garnering front page status multiple times and yielding tens of thousands of hits. There’s however a difference between excited members of the community speculating about rumors and leaked articles posted by journalists claiming to have inside sources:

Lewis acknowledges that when he publishes a leak, the information transforms from a speculation into a state of quasi-confirmation. When two organizations are re-negotiating sponsorship details and contracts, transitioning players in and out of their teams, the process is time and information sensitive. Leaks force all involved parties to scramble and shift their plans to work around the loss of what they previously believed was privileged knowledge.
 
Speculation is an expected by-product of the community, to be taken somewhat lightly, but leaks that feed on the public interest by sacrificing the ability for teams, players, and organizations to conduct their private businesses are a serious matter, especially when their only purpose is to convert this community interest into clicks and revenue.

 

Controlling Spin

Lewis offers another reason to support leaks, by claiming that organizations tend to spin the information to suit their selfish narratives.

There are two sides to the spin issue, first of which is marketing. For the sake of self-promotion, you replace an individual, organization, or identity with a persona that offers a limited or incomplete picture of the real thing. Individuals spin themselves during interviews; advertising spins their companies and products. E-sports personalities and players are no different. One team may explain a roster move as a skill-based change or a personality-shift to support different narratives like competitive edge or dedication to their fans. However, there may be a series of complex underpinnings behind the decision such as salary, appearance, marketing, and more.

As Lewis rightly points out, the other side of the issue is perception. The audience needs additional information to assess if the conclusions offered or perpetrated by the source are valid or accurate. Independent reporters have the opportunity to provide a different perspective on the same issues. They can challenge assumptions, talk to experts, and present their own conclusions regarding the issues. However, Lewis then goes on to explain the mechanics of independent reporting:

Lewis implies that independent reporters are not motivated by the need or desire to spin the information…and then in the same thought, explains how readers that support them helps build reputation and generate revenue…the same reasons why most organizations or parties choose to control the narrative of information in the first place. In order to further contest this point, let’s consider the primary thrust of this video where Lewis leaks information regarding a secret Riot meeting regarding content creation:

In his diatribe, Lewis uses the knowledge of an internal Riot meeting a few weeks before the video to perpetuate the narrative of Riot as a greedy and manipulative organization trying to quash community content in order to have full marketing control over their product and infrastructure…while the evidence he offers to support his claims is tenuous at best.

But let’s delve into some of the issues: While Riot has assumed broadcasting control over the Chinese and Korean scenes, it is far more likely that the reason for doing so is to offer better produced free, content for the viewers. Also the content from in the new Riot talk show barely overlaps that of shows like Summoning Insight and First Blood. It even some promotes (albeit Riot-filtered) community content. From this perspective, these aren't particularly sinister in nature, but rather fairly logical and straightforward decisions from a company standpoint, and while their methods may be inexperienced or vary in efficacy, Riot’s dedication to their players and fans has never been in question.

This perfectly valid conjecture highlights some of the good resulting from Riot’s recent moves. Yes, a discussion perhaps needs to take place regarding the advantages of organic growth by promoting 3rd party content versus in-house investment in production value and marketing control. But clearly, there is more to the conversation than Lewis presents in his editorial.

It is common knowledge that Lewis and Riot have a poor working relationship, the Deman-IEM incident as the most recent conflict. Furthermore, he disagrees with a majority of Riot’s business policies regarding control of their product and surrounding infrastructure. According to many journalists in the community, if Riot begins to publish and promote their own content, it diverts business away from independent sources, Lewis being among them.

So, while Lewis offers a new perspective on Riot’s recent string of announcements, it is certainly not an objective one. He has both personal and professional reasons to perpetuate the negative narrative about Riot, spinning the information and evidence to support his claims, and disregarding the positive effects of Riot’s new initiatives.

In his assessment comparing good leaks to bad ones, Hanson points out that:

It is a misconception that journalists are unbiased or that they have no vested interest in how they present the news. Cable news networks like Fox News have been constantly accused of promoting conservative political positions and criticized for biased reporting. Web-based articles utilize click-bait headers and skew their reporting toward sensationalism to grab readers’ attention at the expense of honest, objective perspectives. 

To summarize, as Lewis rightly points out, independent journalism should exist to offer new and different views. But it does not justify leaking information to prevent organizations from establishing their own narratives. Journalists are still subject to personal biases and financial motivations in their reporting and players/organizations have the right to market themselves in the manner that they choose.

 

Conclusion

Leaks can help provide alternative perspectives and reveal malfeasance, but not all leaks are created equal. Players, teams, and organizations have a right to privacy to conduct their business. If these rights have to be infringed upon, through furtive methods or asking confidential sources to break their NDAs and/or trust of their friends and colleagues, there should be a good reason for it. Leaks that are self-interested and financially motivated and use dubious methods to acquire the information, simply to reveal things before organizations can, should be seen as ethically immoral. The community approval of leaks will not wane. It is human nature to be curious and want access to private information on topics that interest them. The responsibility falls on the journalists to assess what good and harm leaks can do, and act accordingly.

Learning from SK Telecom

Following the mass Korean Exodus, SK Telecom T1 remained one of few teams to retain a full roster of top-level players, resulting in a crucial developmental advantage compared to the other teams that competed in the OGN pre-season. While teams like Samsung were still laying the foundation for their new (albeit extremely talented) roster, SKT forged ahead by testing the limits of relevant strategies within the context of their team, ultimately finishing the pre-season well ahead of the other teams. With the LCS about to start, it’s important that the coaches and analysts look towards SKT as an example; not merely to see what champions are strong in the current meta-game, but also their approach to pick/ban phase, their resource allocation, and their vision strategy.


The Pick-Ban Mind Games


Before delving into the pick ban phase, let’s first consider the landscape of relevant champions in this meta-game. There were 54 different champions picked over 36 games, 7 of which were used in multiple roles. Some of the more contested picks for each role are shown below, along with their pick, ban, and win rates.

 

It’s interesting to note that Gnar has been banned in all 36 pre-season games. Corki and Lissandra, despite being present in 83 and 81 % of the games only show a win rate of 35 and 33% respectively. With the exception of Ahri and Leblanc, the majority of mid champions are flex picks, a list that includes Jayce, Ezreal, Kassadin, Lissandra, Morgana etc. This flexibility also extends to item builds and strategy, allowing champions to overcome weaknesses at various points in the game, further opening up the possibilities for the pick ban phase. For example, Renekton normally struggles against Jayce; however, in their game against Samsung, SKT’s Marin opted into the matchup. With some pressure from Bengi and an unorthodox full damage build, Samsung’s Cuvee ended the game with a score of 1-8-2, 100 CS behind Marin.

These changes make pick ban phase much more interesting than ever before. Coaches, who are now allowed to participate in the process, not only have the responsibility of helping choose the champions but can also help outline strategies and objectives for that particular team combination. With that in mind, let’s consider SKT and their coach Kkoma’s brilliant pick ban phase against Najin em-Fire.

 

Each pick-ban phase is a separate game, played by exchanging information and bound by player skill and time. Recognizing that Najin has the first pick in Game 1, SKT choose to trade power picks for flexibility. Najin opt for Janna as their first pick, followed by SKT picking up Lissandra and Jarvan IV. Najin pick up Corki to complete their power bot lane set, after which SKT pick up Ezreal and Alistar. At this time, SKT does not know where Kassadin is playing or the last two champions, but between Lissandra, Jarvan IV, and Ezreal, SKT can use their last pick for top, jungle, mid, or AD Carry.


 
After Najin pick Zed and Elise for their final rotation, Kkoma picks Lee Sin for Bengi, locking in Jarvan IV for top lane. This forces Najin to lane swap out of the Kassadin-Jarvan IV matchup and allows SKT to avoid facing Corki and Janna in the bot lane. While this game exemplifies Kkoma’s emphasis on pick flexibility, the next game he manipulates power picks to focus on team synergy, putting Jarvan IV and Lissandra different positions and using Jayce and Graves-Janna to disrupt mid and bot respectively.

Four of the five games Faker played in the pre-season were on flex champions like Ezreal and Lissandra. It’s an approach to the game that uses the highly skilled players to adapt for the team, rather than having the team cater to the strengths of the star player. Professional players are an aggregate of many elements: mechanical skill, game sense, flexibility, etc. The pick-ban phase in Season 5 will test not only team’s knowledge of the current metagame, but also how they create an identity around the unique proclivities of their members.

    
Game Economy and Resource Allocation


A game of League of Legends has limited resources on the map for its players in terms of experience and gold. Moscow 5 recognized that Darien’s repeated deaths allowed them to pick up dragons and buffs from the other side of the map, while their enemies lost wave after wave chasing Darien. CLG was criticized for having a singular strategy of feeding Doublelift and letting him carry the team. These are but a few examples of how some teams use resources differently.

The question then becomes, how can teams use resources efficiently? In terms of gameplay, the jungle and support roles are examples of how a team concentrates resources onto the top, mid, and ad carry roles during the laning phase. But once the laning phase ends, each team has a different philosophy on which members receive farm, push out lanes, and control vision. 

A top laner who is split pushing by himself will have more farm than one who is responsible for defending a turret with his team. A mid laner who has to retreat due to jungle pressure gives up a wave of creeps. While these seem like disparate events, teams influence resource distribution within the team based on their objective focus and overall strategy. The figure below shows the distribution of CS within each team during the preseason.

 

Teams like Samsung Galaxy and Najin prioritize farm onto their AD carries at the expense of their top laners, while KT Rolster does the opposite for its top laner. Teams like CJ Entus have a tight distribution, while other focus on their mid laners, notably IM and SKT. This data gives valuable insight into a team’s strategy and how teams will react. Let’s now consider the new SKT, a team composed of members from both K and S teams, specifically the top lane.

Another impressive facet of SKT’s strategy is their deliberate allocation of gold to their players. Unlike Impact, Marin prefers a carry-oriented approach to the game. His aggressive style relieves pressure from the map and has a strong presence in teamfights alongside Faker. However, this requires additional gold for him to buy items and remain relevant against his opposing laner.


 
The figure above shows the average CS difference for each player compared to their lane opponent at different phases of the game. During the preseason, when Impact was in the top lane, Faker and Bang would end on average with 121 and 39 CS above their lane opponent while Impact would be even or just below his lane opponent. In the games with Marin however, Faker and Bang’s CS leads are halved, CS that’s donated to Marin. This conscious effort has been rewarded by Marin’s impressive 10.5 KDA in their wins, compared to Impact’s 4.3. Marin and Bang have helped create a much stronger and relevant identity for SKT that wouldn’t have been possible with Impact and Piglet. If Marin was forced to follow Impact’s established utility role, SKT would not have been nearly as successful as it has been so far.

Western teams have segmented the game into phases of objective control, but resulting in haphazard distribution of resources. Sometimes farm is deliberately funneled to members in ways that is counter-productive to team’s goals. It’ll be interesting to see whether teams like CLG and Curse accommodate their new solo laners, or force them into established roles set by their predecessors.


Final Thoughts


SKT has started the preseason in dominating fashion, dropping only 1 game out of 10. Is this a foreshadowing for things to come? It’s hard to tell. SKT certainly looks like the most polished team; Bengi’s mechanics have drastically improved and the team has found a modicum of synergy with Marin’s carry-oriented style and Bang’s calculated approach. But, veteran teams like Najin and KT aren’t to be dismissed. Najin didn’t play Ohq in their set against SKT, a player who has ensured victory in every game he’s played in the preseason. Additionally, teams like Samsung and HUYA have shown more than glimpses of potential. Samsung especially who have shown time and again that their mechanical skill is top notch, will only get stronger under their veteran coaching staff as the year progresses.

Shifting to the west, the examples above show how SKT have formed an identity, displayed in their pick-ban phase and resource allocation. But if western teams are to compete against other regions, they must innovate themselves, discover their own opportunity costs and fortify weaknesses instead of mirroring other teams. Since Season 2, western teams have played behind the curve, relying on empirical analysis from regions with a more established infrastructure.
 
With Riot’s acknowledgement and financial support for coaches and analysts, it’s time for teams to learn from SKT, not only superficial elements of meta champions and vision strategy, but the deeper insights into how they approach the game to accentuate their players’ strengths within the context of the team. Will CLG and Alliance give the proper resources to their new members? How will Team8 and Roccat use the unique styles of their top laners? It’ll be interesting to see if the west adapts in the new season.

Elevating the Educational Experience

Introduction

Elevate is a recent addition to the genre of brain fitness games. The company markets itself as a cognitive training tool designed to build communication and analytical skills where members are provided with a personalized game-based training program that adjusts over time based on performance. It features a free-to-play mode with limited features and a subscription program that unlocks additional exercises and modes for 4.99/month. Since launching in May 2014, Elevate has been a commercial success with more than 5 million downloads on the App Store and Google Play. It has also been selected by Apple as ‘App of the Year’ for 2014.

After installing the app, Elevate asks the user for preferences in training goals (ex. Articulate your thoughts more clearly), and more recently has added a formative assessment that tests you in key areas to gauge your initial skill level. With its emphasis on communication and analytical skills, the application tracks the users in speaking, writing, reading, listening, and math abilities. Each of these categories has 3-4 exercises that help users can complete in order to gain proficiency points for the ability. The difficulty of these exercises increase with performance up to a maximum level. Elevate unlocks 3 semi-random exercises every day, depending on personal training goals, and tracks the user performance history. The exercises are all unique in design and execution, each with its own graphics, sounds, and user interaction.

In this article, we will delve into the machinations of Elevate because it exemplifies the modern learning experience combining design elements with a data-driven approach to learning. We will consider its engaging user experience and explicit tracking of proficiency levels, while comparing them to their counterparts in public education. While Elevate is targeted towards a different audience with its own goals, it’s possible to consider tangible elements from its structure and apply them the learning experience in traditional schools.

The 'Diversifying Design' section below refers to these case Studies of the five Elevate subjects along with a featured game evaluated for content, engagement, and validity.

 

Diversifying Design

 

For Learning

On average, students’ learning experiences are extremely structured, often at the expense of engagement. Especially towards secondary schools, classroom layout follows a pattern, there is little variation in teaching style throughout the year, and students spend the entire day sitting in desks, taking notes, listening to the instructor, participating in some discussion, or filling out assessments. The biggest criticism of students not engaged in learning is that school is ‘boring’. Most adults assume that this comment is directed at the content, but perhaps it’s equally important to consider the environment and how the content is presented.
 
One of the most remarkable attributes of Elevate that distinguishes itself from traditional learning is the number of different ways players can interact with the games. Even in the confines of the application, you can tap the screen, swipe left or right, choose between responses, drag facts to appropriate markers, build a tower, and more. Let’s consider the Mathematics Case Study. The featured game teaches players how to organize units in different systems of measurement, by having them build a tower of length or weight units in order. In school, the student will learn the ratios between the numbers and convert them on a test, perhaps with a few examples. Especially as we progress to middle and high school, concepts and ideas are taught, practiced, and assessed in only abstract terms. This game design allows student to visualize explicit and relevant numbers. In order to succeed, you must still internalize the proper ratios, but the application of this knowledge is more meaningful a range of learners, and allows abstract, visual, and tactile learners to absorb the information.

Singapore math is one traditional approach to mathematics education that uses some of the principles outlined above to teach standardized curricula. The method uses three steps to teach students the same concept. First, students engage in hands-on learning using concrete objects, followed by drawing pictorial representations of the concepts, and finally solving problems by using numbers and symbols. Variations of this methodology are still employed in elementary school, but concrete and pictorial exercises don’t mature well with students, and are therefore discarded in secondary education. Digital tools offer a clean solution to this problem, and well-designed applications or games can supplement in-class instruction to provide diverse and interactive learning opportunities in not just mathematics, but other subjects as well.

 

For Testing

Assessments present an interesting design issue, because the process itself is so detached from learning. Standardized tests use Scantron paper forms which allow machines to quickly translate responses to scores. Widely used to save time and resources, the test limits the questions with discrete answers, where the student must choose between options. Many secondary schools began to follow this trend, partly for their benefits, but also because it helps prepare students for the standardized tests to come. Even schools and teachers that don’t use it directly employ the same elements in their tests like multiple choice, true/false, and matching questions. This simplification comes at the expense of student learning by introducing discrepancies between the goals of the knowledge or skill and how it’s being tested.

Alternatively, let’s consider Elevate’s approach, where assessment and learning are intertwined and game design reflects the development goals. The games offer instant feedback and corrections to mistakes, prioritize accuracy and speed differently, and reward streaks and specialization over comprehensive knowledge gain. 

For example, the Syntax game in the Writing Case Study helps you identify grammatical errors. It displays a highlighted word or phrase within a sentence, and you must choose if its usage is correct. If the usage is incorrect, regardless of whether you were able to identify it, the game displays the proper replacement in its place. This adds a dimension to the otherwise simple true-false structure where the player gains more information than just whether he was right or wrong. Both, the Conversion game in the Math Case Study and the Precision game in the Speaking Case Study have similar features where they provide immediate feedback or additional knowledge to the player after his response.

Also, the game designs also reflect the values of the goals. The Syntax game features a boat trying to reach the harbor before the sun sets, personifying progress and time respectively. The boat moves forward with every correct answer, but back for every mistake, and the game is scored on the time left. Therefore, a player who is quick but makes an error may earn more points than one who is careful. It’s an assessment designed to prioritize speed and efficiency of the skill. Conversely, the ‘Processing’ game from the Reading Case Study uses its design to control reading speed, but values accuracy by testing comprehension—you lose the game if you make two mistakes in the session. These are but a few ways that design in assessments can help cater to specific goals and skill objectives. 

Over the last few years, teachers have begun to use an assortment of formative analysis and digital tools to provide gauge student learning and provide feedback. One widespread example of this innovation is the usage of the clicker, which allows teachers to gauge the proficiency of students to determine if more time is required to cover particular concepts. But a majority of these tools are either diagnostic in nature, directed towards teachers, or derivatives of simplistic evaluation metrics. A combination of good design and digital tools can transform assessments into powerful and engaging learning tools that empower students.

 

For Engaging

The final argument for diversifying the design in education is engagement. Our culture has evolved considerably within the past few decades, especially with regards to technology and how we interact and communicate with the world. The current generation of students has grown up in a world where they have unfettered access to an expansive world within the internet. They have always known the accessibility of smartphones, computers, and tablets. Their videogames and movies feature incredible graphics, and unprecedented interactivity. The consumer culture is accompanied by escalation in engagement metrics that our current system of education has been unable to match so far. It’s only natural that students will feel uninterested reading from textbooks and copying notes from a chalkboard.
 
Much of Elevate’s novelty comes from its visual design and interactive games. Consider Focus from the Listening Case Study, where users listen to a conversation between two people regarding a theme with multiple subtopics. These subjects are visually represented by three different circles on the screen. As facts about these subjects surface in the conversation, they get added to the screen as a hollow ring. Players must drag the ring to their respective topic circle, after which the game visually and audibly rewards you with a flash and sound effect. These fact rings then rotate around the circle, until the topic set is completed, and the user is left with a list of facts on a topic. While the purpose of the game is actually to improve concentration and memory, it can just as easily be a more modern approach to note-taking, where audio and visual cues reward adding information.

The process of increasing engagement through digital tools is met with resistance from some educators who provide some variation of the reasoning, ‘I learned things this way, why can’t they?’ The problem with this line of thinking is that the goal of education is to prepare its students for the future. It not only takes more resources to teach students with tools outside of their comfort zone, but it also isolates their learning from their interests and peer interactions. If education is to cater to the needs of children, educators need to adapt and teach through a language that’s familiar to students.

 

 

Data-Driven

 

Students in the current public system maintain an unhealthy relationship with numbers that are used to evaluate them and their peers. Assignments, quizzes, participation, reports, tests, projects, and exams all provide a number that is supposed to measure students and hold them accountable for their learning. In this section, we will examine the philosophy behind how Elevate measures and uses the proficiency levels of the players and compare it to the approach in schools.

Compared to the escalating linear approach in schools, Elevate employs a more gradual, cyclic approach. Each subject category is divided into core competencies rather than units. Players begin at a low difficulty in each game, and their performance determines both the subsequent changes in difficulty and proficiency levels. This creates a system that assesses students, reveals the explicit metrics used in the evaluation, tracks trends in student performance, and refines itself for a personalized model of achievement that values constant development.

 

Transparency in Numbers

Elevate shares all explicit numbers with its players behind the details of their performance. In the same way that the game’s design highlights certain objectives, the scoring system explicitly states the different ways students can improve.

At the end of each session, the game displays the base score for completing the game as well as additional bonuses for speed, accuracy, and difficulty. This has several implications, notably, that the game explicitly notes the value of participation by having a base score. Essentially, the game assigns a value in the player putting in time to practice a skill, and the learning that takes place because of it. Next, the speed and accuracy bonuses give players points for finishing faster and making fewer mistakes respectively than what is required of them to complete the session. Finally, the difficulty bonus varies depending on the level; the bonus is negligible at lower levels, but gives substantial (20%) at higher levels.

The numbers also help target specific skills for each subject. For example, the Proportion game asks players to scroll through and match various fractions to their respective decimals and pictorial representations. As players start to improve, they become more familiar with the ratios and are able to complete the exercise faster. Conversely, Retention asks the player to listen to a list of things and answer questions about them from memory. The speed at which the player responds is negligible in value compared to his accuracy because intuitively the skill is developing your memory skills, not the speed at which you can respond.

When you consider assessments in schools, students can’t easily discuss their proficiencies, because they are never explicitly stated. In the course of reviewing homework, or receiving tests and quizzes, both students and educators are made aware of how many mistakes were made, not necessarily what they specifically were or if they are relevant. In order for students to improve, there needs to be motivation, but also clarity regarding the direction. For example, if a test is designed to delineate between structures (multiple choice, matching) instead of subject categories (fractions, graphs), it’s harder for the students to recognize where they performed well, and where they faltered. A student who can see that he missed four graph-based problems is better informed that one who sees he missed two true-false and two matching problems. There are a host of similar initiatives that schools and teachers can utilize by finding synergy between transparent assessment structure and course design. 

 

Tracking Scores and Recognizing Trends

Elevate’s loop structure of Assess > Reveal > Refine > Assess… has another enormous advantage; the structure allows players to track their scores and recognize trends, a sort of meta-learning. 

At the end of each session, Elevate displays a graph of your recent scores in the game and that your high score for the game is. The graph above shows a player slowly developing in two subjects, Reading (Connotation and Visualization) and Math (Proportion and Tipping). If we assume that the design of progression is consistent, then several important points become significant. First, despite Proportion and Tipping both being subcategories of Math, the skill at the onset and development is different. For example, as the difficulty in Proportion increases, the player goes through phases of equilibration, where he adjusts to the new standards, resulting in performance dips. Meanwhile, Tipping shows a slower, but more consistent growth.
 
This information is valuable to players because it allows them to not only gauge their current status, but also how far they have progressed in a given period of time. Next, as players achieve the highest level of mastery in the game, the scores normalize for difficulty, but players can still improve in other metrics such as speed and accuracy, encouraging players to continue playing the game to maintain their skill. Elevate’s goals are much more grounded in application and place less relevance on the consistency of objective metrics; however, the model presented is extremely relevant when applied to schools.
 
Students often don’t have an accurate gauge on their skill level in subjects, and their perception depends on their test and exam scores, due to their value on final grades. Similarly, parents have to rely on teacher conferences to glean their child’s growth, and even these conversations turn out to be subjective depending on parent’s expectations. Finally, while teachers have a general idea regarding the proficiency of each student, their understanding is based on in-class interactions and discrete scores.

Valerie Shute and Matthew Ventura offer the following metaphor. Retail outlets in the past had to close down once or twice a year to take inventory of their stock. But with the advent of automated check-out and bar codes, these businesses have access to a continuous stream of information that can be used to monitor inventory and flow of items. Not only can a business continue without interruption: the information obtained is also far richer than before, enabling stores to monitor trends and aggregate data into various kinds of summaries as well as to support real-time inventory management.

Similarly, Elevate’s model applied to schools can help both students and parents recognize development in various categories throughout the year. Students will have a solid basis for introspection regarding their strengths and deficiencies. For example, a student completes daily homework assignments in a digital or web-based application. Over the course of two weeks, the application points out that while the student has kept up with expected math skills, but his Algebra scores are lower than average. As the student starts to make a conscious effort in the category, the Algebra scores begin to improve.

Teachers benefit enormously as well. The past decade has seen an increase in initiatives to measure teacher effectiveness in the classroom. However, one major criticism of this system that teachers cite is that these evaluations don’t account for the starting level of the students. If a student is too far behind at the onset of the class, teachers point out that it’s impossible to get him to the appropriate standard. Tracking performance data helps alleviate a lot of these issues, by demonstrating student levels at the beginning, as well as their development throughout the year. Additionally, teachers can compare growth rates and proficiencies among clusters of students, helping them tailor content and pace in the class.

This process of data tracking is not simple; it requires both a proper infrastructure and class designed around its usage. Teachers need professional development to be able to interpret and discern relevance from this information and students need to be able to use the tools effectively. But the potential benefits after the capital investment are recurring, both for the teachers and the students. 


Adjusting Pace and Tempo

In order to develop the player skills in its games, Elevate tries to achieve a difficulty range between comfortable and challenging. It does this through an iterative process responding to player performances, and uses the same methodology to adjust player proficiency. 


At the end of each session, you receive a score composed of a base score along with bonuses for difficulty level, accuracy, and speed. The game evaluates your score and adjusts your difficulty and proficiency level accordingly. The graph above shows normalized scores compared to the subsequent difficulty increases. Additionally, the player’s performance in each game also affects their proficiency in the subject. For example, the graph above compares the scores from the game ‘Retention’ to the resulting increases in the ‘Listening’ subject proficiency. In this scenario, the player receives 6-8 proficiency points per session because his current level is Listening is quite high. If the player had a higher or lower proficiency level, the points per session would lower and rise respectively— a novice level player would gain more for the same performance than someone who is an advanced or expert level.

This concept of proficiency is a mastery-based approach to learning instead of a score-based system. Players have a proficiency rating for each subject: 0-1250 for novice, 1250-2500 for intermediate, 2500-3750 for advanced, and 3750-5000 for expert. The formative assessment at the beginning of the game places you at a proficiency level. You now have to do several things, first of which is play different Listening games because mastering and repeating one game will lead to marginal returns in terms of proficiency points. Next, you have to maintain or increase your level of performance in games; otherwise you will begin to lose points. Elevate has quantified breadth and depth of skill or knowledge into its subject that motivates novice players to improve and expert players to maintain their performance. More importantly, this happens at an individually appropriate pace set by difficulty levels that iterate in response to your sessions.

The application of this flexibility already exists in the classroom in the form of differentiated instruction, where teachers respond to the needs of their classroom to cater to specific groups of students or results of recent assessments. Most classrooms contain a diverse group of students with regards to skill level, learning abilities, and interests. Teachers can differentiate content or process to best suit the needs of their class. For example, if the recent assessment shows that the class is behind the curve, the teacher can reiterate concepts or adjust her pace. If current events are of interest to students, the teacher can leverage that to teach concepts, or if the students in the class are technologically inclined, the teacher can use more digital tools to teach. 

The biggest issue with differentiation is that no technique, direction, or process is completely inclusive. Slowing the pace in the classroom inhibits the growth of students who have the potential to learn a greater depth of knowledge through a rigorous, challenging pace. The same theory applies to adjusting process and focus. Digital media, particularly video games, have refined the ability to engage players and develop relevant skills at a pace that is challenging to them. If we are able to extract these elements and apply them to our assessment philosophy, it will help alleviate the stress of having to differentiate from the teachers.

 

Conclusion

Integrating technology in the classroom allows schools to establish some equity in terms of learning and opportunities. The problem is that the efficiency of technologies and digital tools used in schools is primitive in comparison to those used for in every other aspect of the current culture. Elevate shows how the proper integration of design can create an engaging and personalized learning experience that also highlights focus and objectives. For example, the same elements applied properly to standardized curricula of mathematics, literacy, sciences, etc. have the potential to create a more engaging and relevant environment for students. 

The theory of Connected Learning proposes that students motivated by understanding how particular knowledge or skill is applicable to their own lives will yield the most meaningful and sustained learning. However, the current system prioritizes accountability through scores and assessments that determine student’s level of academic achievement. The Elevate Case Study demonstrates that there is a compromise between the two by making the assessments themselves engaging and relevant enough that they produce learning. In order to be practical, this entails realigning the philosophy of assessments from stigmatizing mistakes to rewarding development and redesigning the structure to diversify goals and offer feedback. 

Formative assessments, especially short-cycle ones can help bring about this philosophical shift. Elevate shows how a data-driven approach using a series of short game sessions can provide meaningful information about the learner and personalize their learning. This information can help students focus their learning and help connect parents to the full details of their children’s learning. When this assessment approach is coupled with teacher’s professional development, they can leverage data to compare and track group performances, and employ more efficient differentiation in the classroom.

Our current system of public education is a protracted process of university entrance (later job placement), and as a result, the deeply-rooted culture of comparative assessment is not likely to change dramatically in the next decade. However, we can shift the surrounding infrastructure so that these assessments are meaningful to students, teachers, and parents in terms of development, rather than reductionist measures of judgment.

 

 

 

Socio-Economic Divergence in Schools

During the 1900s, the pillars which characterized social life, such as the church, extended family, and village community broke down. These were replaced by new practices such as capitalist economy, the suburban family, mass communication and scientific progress. Within the last decade, these practices are in conflict with the modern structures of global free markets, individualization, consumer lifestyle, and digital networks.

Today, the individual, as a freely choosing agent, has evolved beyond the need for social structures, and is no longer represented by social institutions, conventions and traditions. Individuals have begun to increasingly take responsibility for all aspects of their life while the ideals of social cohesion, welfare, and community are crumbling.

The implication of this sociological narrative within the discussion of education is that parents and students are becoming more accountable for their own learning and development, and perhaps not rely on public institutions. Parents have already begun investing heavily into out-of-school enrichment programs for their children, a trend that has slowly increased over the last few decades.

Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane’s analysis of consumer expenditure below indicates that upper income households’ expenditures on enrichment activities have nearly tripled from the years since 1972 and 2006, while those in the bottom income quartile have remained relatively constant. Covay and Carbonaro’s analysis of extracurricular activities confirms higher levels of participation by upper income families, and suggests that this participation contributes to some advantages in non-cognitive and cognitive skills.

The enrichment activities mentioned above mostly refer to digital tools and programs that allow students to personalize their learning within more engaging and relevant contexts. The implication here is that the current structure of public education will be even more inequitable, creating a greater disparity between those who have access to out-of-school resources and those who don't.

It’s not clear if the debate between standardization of content-based curriculum and development of skills for the knowledge economy is going to resolve itself in the near future. If anything, the history of curriculum focus shows that as long as society is not at a political and cultural equilibrium, the focus is going to shift again. While schools have to adhere to fluctuations in curricula, they can control the approach to teaching. By integrating elements from out-of-school tools and programs like digital tools and diverse learning experiences, schools can restore their relevance in the community and promote equity.

Identifying Group Dynamics in Competitive League of Legends

 

E-sports and League of Legends have seen brilliant strides recently in the western scene. One of the most important recent developments is Riot’s recognition of coaches and support staff as being integral to team’s success.

Last year, the League of Legends scene learned the importance of analysis and teamwork to ensure long-term success. The goals for this year, especially for the support staff should be to create an efficient system of adaptability, as well as learn how to foster an environment where social dynamics of the team are cohesive and aligned towards growth and development. While meta-analysis primarily concerns visualizing trends and developing variables that can respond to changes, the relevance of group dynamics has been vastly undervalued in the context of e-sports and League of Legends.

 

 

Introduction
 

Starting this conversation, let’s consider Group Dynamics, a study exploring the variables surrounding the notion that the capabilities of a group can far exceed the cumulative potentials of the individuals comprising it (ex. SK Gaming’s success in 2014 despite their lack of star players). Conversely, the improper circumstances lead to groups misrepresenting the values of the same people.

The challenge in the application of group dynamic theory is that it requires an intimate understanding of the context because the same measures that enable some groups can disrupt others, depending on size of group, maturity of leadership, organizational resources, temperament of members, etc. For example, some players require encouragement, others a challenge. Some teams can share responsibility; others need to have a defined leader. It is the responsibility of the coach and support staffs to be aware of these nuances and manipulate them to best serve the team.

The ability and experience in working with variety of teams is a valuable commodity for organizations looking for new employees. Professional sports teams develop regimented training programs before their season to acclimate their player to structure and strategy. While the competitive e-sports world is relatively young, there are a remarkable number of sources to draw insight from regarding group dynamics and introduce them into a new context. The Tuckman Model is one such tool that teams can consider when evaluating their team’s group dynamic.


The Tuckman Model states that there are four stages of project team development (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing) that are inevitable in order for a team to reach a point where they are functioning effectively together and delivering high quality results. The graph above depicts how a team’s effectiveness varies depending on their state. We will now examine each phase, describe the characteristics to identify the stage and provide general criteria for the team to meet for them to advance to the next stage.

 

 

Stage I
 


“Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

 

The Forming phase takes place when the team members are first introduced to one another. They share information about their backgrounds, interests and experience and form first impressions of each other. They learn about the objectives and goals of the team and start to develop an idea regarding their role on the team. This phase occurs before the members begin working.

It is integral during this phase for the leader to be clear about team goals, ensure members are involved in determining responsibilities, and work with the team to help them establish how they will work together.

In the context of e-sports, the leadership role belongs to the coach and support staff. This stage particularly affects teams in the Challenger scene where rosters are newly formed or constantly in a state of flux. Teams are often assembled based on raw skill on the ladder or experience in the professional scene, where the individual players have different views on goals and leading to internal conflicts. For example, some players may be committed to a team or organization, while others are simply looking for more experience or simply want to market themselves. Without a strong coach or intuitive support staff, a team that doesn’t resolve the forming stage often find their members constantly in conflict about deeper issues of motivation and trust, an environment that’s especially dangerous when left to fester.

Alliance is one example of a team that was formed last year with the shared purpose of winning the European Series and making it to Worlds. Despite their shaky start, their commitment to goal allowed them to develop synergy and finally snatch the European title from Fnatic. In cases of large roster changes before the new season, it’s equally important to address or re-iterate the objectives and goals of the team. Based on the attitudes of the teams last year, it’s evident that the social dynamics within the team were vastly different among XDG, Dignitas and CLG. As the new members make their way to CLG, they need to find a shared purpose, and re-allocate responsibilities. CLG’s success in the upcoming year will depend heavily on Scarra creating the foundation for collaboration and trust.

 

Stage II
 


“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict”

 

The Storming phase is the most critical and unavoidable stage in the process. While the “Forming” phase applies to new teams where individuals are unfamiliar with each other or the team goals, the Storming phase allows members to compete with each other for status and acceptance of ideas. Diversity of opinions often leads to conflict and tension between the members and it’s the responsibility of the team leader to help the members solve problems together in order for them to function independently and together as a team. Teams comprised of professionally immature members often remain in this stage, spending their time together in conflict and low morale or motivation.

It is essential for the team leader to facilitate civil team communication where members learn to listen to each other and respect differences. This can often extend to encouraging some members to be more assertive and coach others to be more effective listeners. This stage resolves when the team becomes more accepting of each other and learns how to work together for good of the team, after which the team leader can start transitioning some decision-making and independence to the team while staying involved to efficiently dispersing conflicts.

The League of Legends professional scene has seen been the nexus for a large number of internal conflicts surfacing on social media and Reddit. Some conflicts occur when two or more outspoken members disagree on a particular topic causing heated outbursts, while other issues fester and grow, leading to distrust and division within the team.

This is further exacerbated by the young average age of players, where the combination of adolescence and inexperience in professionally verbalizing emotions and criticism causes unhealthy living and working conditions, particularly in times of stress. This stage is one of the primary reasons that teams need to invest in a mature, level-headed coach who commands respect from his team. His position in the team allows him to quash minor squabbles and address major issues in a constructive format that leaves a precedent for his players to follow.

StormingPic.jpg

One example of the precarious nature of this stage is the dynamic within CLG during 2014. During times of success, the team looked like a well-oiled rotating machine, determined and optimistic. But towards the end of the season, the same team seemed to crumble, dejected and erratic after a series of losses and shifting blame amongst one another. It was clear that they lacked the proper channels to provide criticism and accept feedback. By simply investing time in overcoming this social dynamic, perhaps the lineup of teams representing NA would have been entirely different.

 

Stage III


“Build for your team a feeling of oneness, of dependence on one another and of strength to be derived by unity.”

 

The “Norming” stage denotes the span of time where members of the team are beginning to work effectively as a team. They are no longer distracted by individual claims, and put the team’s objectives above their own. They respect other opinions and see the value in different ways of approaching problems. This is partly because the team has agreed (either implicitly or explicitly) on a set of rules to govern their teamwork, communication, conflict resolution, and the subset of tools through which they work. While the previous phase is recognized by conflict and tension, this phase offers more trust and collaboration between members.

This stage allows the team leader more autonomy in his role, from developing more efficient practices and performing high order tasks to working with individuals in the group in varying capacities. While on average, this stage reflects comfort and professionalism, the social dynamic is fluid–both having the potential of reaching a higher efficiency of performance and the threat of regressing back to the previous stage. The team leader’s primary responsibility at this point is to strive for the former and avoid the latter.

In professional teams, this stage creates a professional stability within the team. As a coach working alongside his team, aligning goals and resolving conflicts, here he can personalize his efforts for the team and turn his focus to performance elements. Team members on the other hand, should be accustomed to a schedule of work and recreation by this time as well as work on their specific roles within the team, both in-game and out. When conflicts arise within the team, both players and support staff know the proper methodologies or channels to resolve them to avoid regressing into the previous stage.

So far, there is little evidence of teams actively helping their players achieve higher work standards and professionalism. Most teams reach this stage, achieve minor milestones in performances, but are unable to maintain their level of success, sometimes regressing back to the previous stages. A few exceptions to this are teams like Curse and SK Gaming, who have the resources to employ a sports psychologist to work with them. The impact is evident in their player’s level of professionalism and respect for one another, regardless of results. Hopefully with the recognition and funding of new coaches, more teams will recognize the importance of this stage and its implications on group dynamics—and hire appropriate, mature members.

 

Stage IV
 


“When a gifted team dedicates itself to unselfish trust and combines instinct with boldness and effort, it is ready to climb.”

 

The “Performing” stage is the pinnacle of team collaboration and efficiency and it emerges as team members use the time and opportunities together to form close bonds and align their efforts towards achieving team goals as a team. Distinguishing itself from the previous stage, the Performing stage reflects an environment where trust is established between the members, and all members are comfortable in their roles that accurately reflect their strengths. While the previous stage, members work believe in and work towards the common goal individually, this stage shows members actively sharing ideas and aligning perspectives to attain the objective together.

The goal of the team leader in this stage is primarily to monitor progress, celebrate milestones, and continue to build team camaraderie. Finally, team leaders can also serve as a gateway when decisions need to reach a higher level of the organization. This stage is extremely stable unless a dramatic change is introduced into the ecosystem, such as a new team member, where the team may regress to previous stages temporarily until the team can adapt.

It’s difficult to make the case for any professional western team consistently existing in this stage, with the exception of perhaps Cloud 9, and even that would be speculative. Reaching this stage requires both time and the proper alignment of player personalities, team incentives, and organizational resources. Many members and analysts in the community call for players from Cloud 9 to be replaced, and perhaps they can even find replacements that match the in-game mechanical and strategic abilities. But, the roster’s resilience and continued success is a testament to their level of personal and professional relationships within the team—a status that would be jeopardized by roster changes.

 

Final Remarks
 

With the new support for coaches, it’s important to recognize their role in the team. While player performance can be studied and scrutinized, it’s time to develop a metric to measure the efficacy of support staff. Group Dynamic Theory provides team leaders with one starting point to recognize the professional state of their team and steps to create an environment where the team can improve performance and grow. The Tuckman Model is meant to serve as an introduction; the next section will outline a plan of specific initiatives coaches can enact in order to facilitate both the social and performance development of the team.

Knowledge Retrieval

There have been significant changes in how we understand the nature of knowledge and what it means to know. It’s slowly transitioned to a state where knowledge is now perceived as located within particular ‘paradigms’ with their own rules, criteria, and symbolic representations. For example, computer science is a rising topic of study in secondary education, and it requires a firm understanding of logic along with the proper syntax to communicate. Similarly mathematics, physics, literature, or history, each gave their own particular modes of interpretation, rather than the traditional theory-free descriptions of the world. This view of knowledge reflects the values of the knowledge economy, where workers need to be able to think systematically, creatively, and critically. As this discussion transgresses into familiar territory, let’s shift the focus onto knowledge acquisition and retention.

The prevailing thoughts on human learning are guided by a few tacit assumptions. The first such assumption is that learning happens primarily when people encode knowledge and experiences. Our school systems are structured around teacher sharing information or concepts, which the students then store or encode in their minds. A related assumption is that retrieval of this information, defined as the active cue-driven process of reconstructing knowledge, measures the products of previous learning, but doesn’t itself produce learning. The idea behind this assumption is that measuring memory can’t change memory in the same way that the act of measuring a shape does not change the shape. However, Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt’s research shows that retrieval plays an active role in learning.

The figure above shows the result of an experiment where students were evaluated on science concepts after various study methods. In ‘Repeated Study’, students studied the text in four consecutive sessions. In the ‘Concept Mapping’ scenario, students studied the text in one session and then created a concept map of the material while viewing the text. Finally, the ‘Retrieval Practice’ method involved students studying the text for one session, then practical retrieval by recalling as much information on a free recall test. The total amount of learning time was equal to those in concept mapping and retrieval practices.
 
The results of this experiment prove two important things. Firstly, not only is retrieval a relevant metric in knowledge acquisition, it has the potential to exceed traditional study and encoding methods. Secondly, it showed that students are introspectively unaware of their own learning capabilities. Not only did they largely overestimate the value of these approaches, and weren’t able to rank the relative efficiency of each approach. 

Research shows that retrieval doesn’t merely access the stored knowledge in one’s mind and the process of reconstructing information itself enhances learning. Especially when considering the evolving definition of knowledge that values interpretation and analysis, an approach that focuses on practice and application of encoded information seems intuitively synergistic. This new perspective on the human mind opens an exciting set of possibilities regarding the design of new retrieval-based educational activities.

Homeschooling in the United States

Homeschooling in the United States is not the most relevant issue in the context of the institution of public education in the United States with the exception that of the parents that home-school their children, 74% cite dissatisfaction with academic instruction at schools and 91% are concerned with school environment. Additionally approximately 50% of these parents claim one of these two issues as the primary reason for their choice in homeschooling their children. As a result, the 3% of school-age children currently home-schooled are exposed to a unique education, bereft of standardized practices and traditional social dynamics. Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to interview several parents throughout the United States, whose methodologies, motivations, and results, offer an in-depth perspective on the philosophical and heuristic efficacy of the practice

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Charter Schools: A Brief Exploration in Pittsburgh

Charter Schools are conceptually interesting entities in the education landscape. In the United States, they offer primary and secondary education based on a set of principles and core beliefs that drive their methodologies. While they receive less public funding than public schools, they have the advantage of having less rules and regulations. They are generally founded by parents, teachers, or organizations, and there are currently greater than 6000 schools in the United States, accounting for more than 6% of all public schools. However, the perception of charter schools is quite ambivalent, and the efficacy of each depends on how they convert resources into teachers, spaces, and initiatives that best serves their students and credo. The problem in addressing charter schools as one collective ideal is that they are fundamentally very different. While I'll address the broader scope of charter schools in a longer piece, I wanted to take the time to talk about two charter schools in the Pittsburgh area that surprised me with their commitment and depth to their ideals.

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Working with Alliance as a Remote Analyst

Last month, I had the opportunity to perform some remote analysis for Alliance as well as offer a second opinion on a lot of topics surrounding scrims, tournament, mindset, approach etc. I wanted to thank Jordan for involving me in the process and allowing me to share portions of my brief journey.  It was invaluable experience and gave a great insight into the professional scene. 

 

Introduction

Someone had posted on Leviathan's ask.fm account where Jordan mentions that he would like to help any analysts trying to break into the scene. While my end goal isn't to simply do analysis, I thought it would be an interesting experience, so I sent him a detailed email with my resume and a reference that my project manager at Boeing wrote for me along with links to my website and writing asking to be introduced to a team in NA. With his busy schedule, I wasn't actually intending an email back before Worlds was over so I was pleasantly surprised when a few days later he replied saying that he was impressed with my qualifications and thought my perspective would be valuable. Additionally, he asked if I would be interested in helping him and Alliance at Worlds. I was pretty excited to just be involved in the process and I added him on Skype immediately.

The next day, we spoke on Skype for the first time and he mentioned that he'd read some of my articles and thought I would be a positive influence to the team. We delved into some core topics in that first conversation and towards the end, my first assignment was to review their scrims and take notes. They were BaronReplay files, a software I had never used until now, but it was pretty intuitive and easy to set up. A few days later, I was also tasked with recording and uploading the video versions of scrims onto youtube privately so that the players could watch them on other devices. He also mentioned the idea of creating a video library of games for players, which I think has a lot of merit especially during the regular season. 

 

Analysis

After receiving scrim data, I was also invited to several chat groups labelled NJWS and C9, each with 7-8 people. While it was interesting to participate in the discussions, I personally didn't feel that I was adding much, and I stopped engaging in the conversations. Instead when Jordan asked someone to put together a summary presentation on Cloud 9 and Shield, I realized that it would be pretty interesting to rewatch games from an analyst's perspective. Since I already knew the general dispositions of both teams, I decided to narrow the focus to vision strategy because it was something both teams did well, and what Alliance somewhat lacked at the time. I rewatched and took detailed notes on Cloud 9's playoffs matches [8 games] and Shield's gauntlet run [10 games]. Then I converted these notes into summaries of each player and their inclinations as well as how the teams approached visions with respect to their compositions. I'm not sure how Jordan or players of Alliance used this work, but the presentations would've easily been three times as long depending on the perspective. I decided to focus on vision control, but objective-based movement and teamfight/skirmish strategies are similarly important. Separately studying these elements before synthesizing them into a cohesive team strategy is the next step for analysis in western League of Legends.

Pre-Group Stage research on Cloud 9 focusing on their vision strategy and projected picks

 

Scrims revealed to me that Alliance's biggest flaw was vision control, causing them to lose control of early dragons and allowing opposing teams to freely roam around the map. After I pointed this out, Jordan expressed that they had resolved the issue in the early game, but still struggled with mid and late game decision-making. I had been thinking about this topic a lot during my brief involvement with helping a team in the Challenger scene. I helped break down the mid-late game into objective control, vision, and map movement for the shotcaller, and offered recommendations on how to improve each. Some of these included reviewing replays with partial team vision and replaying team movement before major objectives or fights. Next I advised on pausing replays at various points in the game and having the shotcaller discuss each team composition, their strengths, and end goals, before watching the remaining replay to measure the differences between expected and actual outcomes. Other suggestions included practicing certain elements like overdoing vision control to appreciate the value of information and then scaling back the amount to increase efficiency in order to complement compositional strengths.

Pre-Group Stage research on Najin White Shield focusing on their vision strategy and map movement

 

Next, I was told that the pick/bans for each team were done the day before the games. I wasn't asked for it, but I decided to consider several pick/ban scenarios with the help from a few friends. Assuming certain bans like Zed and Rumble from Alliance's side and opposing teams to certainly ban away Irelia and possibly Zilean, I made the following presentation focusing on team compositions, their synergy, and how to approach each with vision. I didn't have the opportunity to speak with players about pick/bans or priorities, but I was hoping this would be enough based on my knowledge of their champion pools and resource allocation. Overall, I spent approximately 60 hours reviewing videos, discussing ideas, and creating the presentations. 

 

Notes on some sample team compositions for Alliance assuming particular bans like Zed, Rumble, Zilean, and Irelia

 

Issues

Outside of analysis, Jordan and I spoke a lot about how to approach the game and tournament. The first discussion revolved around expectations and mentality. At the time he was concerned about the players' doubts about their own condition and ability to beat the top Korean teams as well as the community's reaction to his confidence on social media. Drawing from my experience and my conversation with Evan McCauley, we talked about the difference between having confidence in your abilities and the issues with displaying that confidence. Also, it was my contention that the benefit of humility is that it lowers community expectation and therefore reduces the pressure from players to perform, allowing them to concentrate on the task at hand. Next, as Evan and I had discussed earlier, I pointed out methods to build confidence from reaffirming faith in their fellow teammates' skills to offering constructive criticisms in a 1v1 conversations instead of group setting. Again, these were merely discussions and I was simply offering my perspective, but it was encouraging to see support staff actively consider and attempt to solve these issues. 

You can find the discussion with Evan McCauley here: Link

 

Final Thoughts

I wanted to thank Jordan (@LeviathanLoL) for giving me this opportunity to work alongside the team and for allowing me to share my experiences. Even though Alliance still has a lot to learn, I believe that the top western teams are at least equal with Chinese teams and rapidly closing the gap onto the Korean scene. However, an influx of efficient support staff and increased professionalism are the next hurdles to furthering the western scene. I would encourage anyone with the interest or passion to reach out to members in the industry. In my experience, I have found that everyone in the scene is very receptive of new members and are willing to help and encourage growth.

Changing the Focus of Public Education in the United States

Introduction

In the United States, the system of public education transitioned from home-schooling in the 17th century to community forums and apprenticeships in the 18th century. It wasn't until after the American Revolution that primary education evolved in the United States and especially the Northern states to support the rising demands of industrialism. With the concept of public education and the age until which children have to attend them became mandatory, private schools started to emerge to offer competitive programs and entrance to the top universities at the time such as Harvard. The structure of this system was built in a time where the identity of the vast majority of people was linked to their families, religion, and communities. The goal of this system was simply to impart general knowledge and basic skills to the students who on average had a very narrow path regarding the course of their life. Public education has evolved over the last two hundred years to be more inclusive of different genders and races, standardized the educational infrastructure with staff and resources, and covering a comprehensive range of subjects. 

However, the rate of cultural change has been slowly increasing and the introduction of the internet and smart technology has demonstrated that we live in a world that's unpredictable and no one knows what it'll look like in 30 years. Despite this uncertainty, we're supposed to be educating our children for it. Our workplaces value creative and well-rounded individuals. Our political system requires people to take an interest and be well-informed of issues. Our culture constantly feeds us an abundance of information that people need to know how to judge or evaluate. Instead of adapting, our focus has been to overemphasize limited metrics to judge and evaluate students, causing a lot of smart and talented individuals to feel like they are not. I propose that our current system is too limited and inflexible and although it was suitable until the late 20th century, it is extremely inefficient to meet the needs of the current and future generations.

 

Learning over Information

The concept of 'Progressive Education' was proposed in the United States in the early 1900s by John Dewey who believed "to prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities" The current system of public education emphasizes information transfer, often without generating interest or establishing long-term relevance for the subject. As a result, a majority of students struggle to connect the importance of education to their lives and accept their time in school or certain subjects as an obligation rather than a worthwhile experience. 

Unless actively refreshed or maintained, most people can't recall specific names from the Civil War they learned in American History or how to perform complicated integration from Calculus, mostly because those skills are irrelevant to most people after leaving the education system. Instead, people should be able to read the current events and understand how the political and economic forces affect themselves or how to decipher statistics and data presented to them in marketing, advertising, and many other forums to identify its relevance. My contention isn't that schools should stop dealing with curriculi and information, merely that the context of how and why we learn is more important than the what because it's more applicable and relatable to our lives. We live in a world where information is readily available, and education should be a institution that helps each student appreciate its value and allows them to work towards their own personal goals.                                                                                                                                

Investing in Educational Change from an Economic Perspective

Public education is an investment made by the society in the next generation, and while previous generations could predict the market with relative certainty, the recent commercialization of technology has introduced a cultural rate that makes it difficult to predict what may happen. The current education system focuses on conformity with regards to curricula, evaluation, and teaching methods. Instead, it should shift the core towards fostering creativity and diversity. This can include many initiatives from offering a wider range of topics, introducing independent learning programs, restructuring evaluation from test-based to project-based etc. 

One common and odd argument against changing the focus of schools towards creativity for economic reasons is that the average person will still have a job that focuses on productivity, rather than critical thinking, and won't see the benefit from this system. The problem with this argument is that the education system doesn't or shouldn't just cater to the average, but instead try to maximize the utility of every individual within reason. In addition, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the majority of jobs with the highest growth rate for people with a Bachelor's degree are engineers, analysts, managers, and software developers. A lot of these jobs are highly diverse that deal with complex issues and require people who are adaptable and creative to fill them. Therefore, it makes sense from an economic perspective to re-evaluate the structure of public education to focus on diversity and creativity, rather than the conformity.


Establishing Unique Educational Identities

The system of public education is often responsible for being the only time during their pre-adult life that children are segregated from their parents alongside others of equivalent status. This separation allows for each individual to form their own social and cultural identities. It is interesting that the same institution that accepts all forms of social and cultural diversity doesn't apply the same methodology to teaching. People are interested in a variety of different subjects for a multitude of reasons, but the current system has a strict hierarchy of important subjects. At the top are maths, sciences, and literacy, followed by the humanities and languages with the arts at the bottom.

Many students in middle and high school are steered benignly away from their interests because what they like to do isn't considered important, or even stigmatized. As a result, the spirit and talent of many students are being ruthlessly squandered, especially because there's no way to accurately gauge the lost potential. In order to encourage creativity and diversity, subjects should be given a more equal status at least culturally, if not financially. The process of having original thoughts and learning is often correlated to multi-disciplinary ways of thinking, and this equality would not only help exceptional students prosper, but also help struggling students appreciate education by having different avenues to express their strengths. 


Introducing Social Elements and Skills

Education originally started in the United States with the premise that it would help students give back to their communities and government. The curriculum-based system of education has left little place for such involvement, and the responsibility of teaching students the merits or even possibilities of community interaction is left to the families. However, the technological surge in the past 30 years has given students many avenues to spend their time without having to come in contact with their communities. In addition, the domain-based segregation has student forming their individual identities and therefore the idea that "every generation has to rediscover democracy" is more true than ever.

But this idea extends to more than just government process and community interaction, there are skills far more important to students than information. One example of these skills is personal finance. Understanding how to gauge their own financial situation gives students the power to better evaluate and personalize their decisions about their present and future. These issues belong in the education system because their importance has been lost while the culture expecting the next generation to know them without giving them the proper channels to learn about or experience them. 


Emphasis on Personalized Teaching

Teaching is indisputably an art-form, but the cultural perception of teaching is limited to transferring information from a source to the student, an idea that is equally fallacious as the one that learning simply involves memorizing and regurgitating knowledge. The interaction between teacher and student is the most fundamentally important dynamic in education, and it's been vastly understated in American society. If we examine the core of education without the modern institution, we can strip away the buildings, syllabuses, principals, textbooks, unions, etc, we are left with a student learning from a teacher. People are vastly different from one another and consequently learn in every way they can experience the world. The role of teachers is to facilitate learning by engaging a diverse audience onto the topic of discussion. 

Standardization is the biggest impediment to teaching because it forces teachers to adhere to information, structure, and topics that may not fit the needs of the group of students. Personalized teaching does not imply reducing the student-teacher ratio, but more allowing the teacher to judge how to best teach each subset of students in the setting. If recent news is dominated by a certain region or lawsuit concerning a mentally ill person, placing emphasis on those topics in World History or Psychology class takes precedence to make the material relatable. If a topic in mathematics or chemistry has been especially engaging for students, it's worth exploring their interest and allowing for organic progression of learning. These are a few situations that demonstrate that teaching can be more effective if it's allowed to be adaptable to the context of their students. 


Micro-control to Increase Flexibility

Dewey's ideas on progressive education were discussed, but rarely implemented on a large scale because they encountered a highly bureaucratic system of school administration not receptive to new methods, mostly because they receive instruction from the state and national sources. The standardization and evaluation of education by the government is extremely inefficient because there are too many cultural and regional differences throughout the United States. Teachers, schools, and school districts are the best people equipped to make decisions regarding their students and keep up with the changes in culture and should be given more control and flexibility. The role of the government should be to monitor the efficacy of local initiatives and use elements from successful ones to help those struggling. 

For example, a school district in Alaska that is dealing with high drop-out rates has a different list of priorities than a school in an upper class neighborhood trying to help students prepare for highly competitive colleges. A community near an urban area with a diverse population has different focus and initiatives than a school district in a remote area where students don't get the same experiences. There are too many contexts for the government to treat the system using a command structure, and should instead allow schools or regions to develop their own standards and monitor their efficacy. 


Personal Interest and Final Thoughts

I attended school in India until the age of 10 before moving to the United States. I spent a few years outside of Boston for middle school, and then outside Philadelphia for high school. After attending college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, I moved to Seattle where I've been involved with programs like STEM, Lego League, and the CMAC council. Through my diverse experiences with education, I've noticed that our current system of public education has not adequately responded to cultural changes in the last 20 years. After reading about the various organizations and key figures in progressive education, I want to conduct my own research and add to their work. I personally believe that the creative capabilities and talents of many individuals are being squandered under the current system, but there's no way to quantify lost potential. I will be travelling and speaking with various teachers and school districts throughout the United States in the next few months to gain a better insight into their priorities and see if my thesis has any merit. 

Alliance's Road to Worlds: Translating the Numbers


The members of Team Alliance after their victory over Fnatic at Gamescom 2014. source

In a world where most teams are shifting power from friends and players to coaches and organizations, Alliance is an anomaly in the League of Legends competitive scene, centered on the work and dedication of its founder, Froggen, and the teammates he gathered. And yet, Alliance is going into Worlds with a dominating performance in the Summer Split and playoffs. The only question now is whether Alliance will be able to perform as well at Worlds, against a diverse group of talented opponents. Let’s take a look, by analyzing Alliance’s performance thus far, the current meta, and their group.


Journey to Worlds

Alliance was formed after Froggen’s previous team, Evil Geniuses, failed to qualify for the 2013 World Championships. Froggen created the team with the idea that a team based on the concept that the players should not reach a mechanical ceiling in their quest towards being the best in the world. His team was hailed from the start as the “Super Team,” but they did not live up to that name until the Summer Split of 2014, when they stormed through their competition to claim the top European seed at the World Championships. 

Mechanical Ability

Let's first consider the Alliance’s mechanical ability, which is the sum total of each member’s individual ability and is ultimately a measure of the team’s raw potential. Teams with high mechanical ability can consistently beat teams with low synergy, because they have the ability to outplay their opposition. In Alliance’s case, Froggen sought to gather players with great mechanics, suffering short-term losses in the Spring Split until the players’ synergy could catch up to their individual skill.

We can measure mechanical ability by comparing the team’s KDAs to the LCS average.

All data provided by LoLStats.GG


Alliance’s high KDA with respect to the LCS average is a result of their ability to consistently outplay their opponents in skirmishes and teamfights, helping them recover from early deficits and make decisive calls around objectives. Every member of Alliance has a KDA that is higher than their respective role’s average. Of particular note is Froggen’s KDA of 7.28, almost double the mid average. 

The high KDAs suggest that Alliance is a team with high mechanical ability. However, each member’s above-average KDA may be a side-effect of Alliance’s high winrate (27-9 in the Summer Split and playoffs). To find out whether that is the case, we can split their games according to wins and losses, and then compare their KDAs to the LCS average.


All data provided by LoLStats.GG


We can also use CS scores to measure skill in laning, which is a component of mechanical ability. It measures how efficiently players can move and kill minions while preventing their lane opponents from doing the same. Each creep score is measured as the average difference between the player and their lane opponent at various points in the game in wins and losses.

 

 

All data provided by LoLStats.GG

The graphs also reveal some interesting differences in behavior when Alliance is ahead or behind. In the early game, Shook generally has a larger CS lead on his opponent in losses than in wins, perhaps implying that Alliance may have had a stronger early game if Shook spent more time ganking or establishing vision control in the games instead of farming. Wickd tends to fall behind during losses, while Tabzz is even by the 20 minute mark, but their relative CS leads at the end of losses may mean that Alliance reallocates their resources from Tabzz to Wickd in an attempt to make him relevant, but he is unable to have enough of an impact on teamfights to lead to a win, when the gold may have been more effective on Tabzz.

 

Team Synergy

How well players focus or disengage from teamfights and the amount of cohesion they display in high-pressure situations is a result of how well the players understand and communicate with each other in game. This team synergy is slowly developed through experience, as the players learn each other’s responses to specific situations, along with their strengths and weaknesses. Understanding each player’s tendencies also allows teams to identify the strategies and compositions that are best-suited to their style of play.

A team’s synergy can be measured by their the team’s participation in kills and how well they control objectives. Kill participation also demonstrates how well the team coordinates teleports and sets up ganks for their opponents.

 

All data provided by LoLStats.GG


Despite their dominant win percentage, the data suggests that Alliance may have further to go in terms of objective control, although they have improved significantly since their formation, when they were unable to work as a team to defeat their opponents. Alliance currently only controls 57% of dragons, most of them due to lack of early vision or prioritizing other objectives

They do however control 68.42% of Barons, which somewhat reflects their win percentage, and they have the second highest GPM in the league, showing that they have the ability to optimize resource collection around the map. Alliance’s high kill participation also shows that they are highly coordinated and approach team fights and skirmishes as a cohesive unit. 

 

All data provided by LoLStats.GG


If we divulge kill participation for each player, we can see that, in wins, Alliance’s players participate in more kills than the LCS average. In contrast, their losses show a dramatic decrease in Wickd’s and Shook’s kill participation, who fall below the LCS average, as Alliance are unable to leverage their primary strengths to secure the win. Froggen, however, participates in ~9% more kills than his fellow LCS midlaners in both wins and losses, demonstrating his consistent impact in all of Alliance’s games.


Strategic Depth

Teams with strategic depth adapt well to changes in the meta and the changes between the games in a series. They can successfully play multiple types of team compositions and understand where to allocate their resources during a game to ensure victory against a variety of opponents. 

Strategic depth comes from applying thoughtful analysis and introspection to the team’s playstyle, and is supported by individual ability and synergy. In the same way that a skilled team with great synergy can lose due to poor strategic direction, a team that displays a deep understanding of the game may be unable to translate their analysis into victory if the players lack skill or synergy.

 

 

All data provided by LoLStats.GG

Most teams in the LCS are limited strategically by either the skill of their players or lack of analysis and understanding of team compositions. Alliance’s players leveraged their innate mechanical strength to experiment and find success with more champions than the rest of the LCS, the only exceptions being Cyanide in the jungle and nRated as support.



Overall, the Alliance members individually have shown a great deal of adaptability in their picks. This adaptability means that the team could utilize a range of strategies during the summer to bolster their unique strengths in each meta. The result is that Alliance demonstrated a fairly even distribution of playstyles, though they prioritized teamfight compositions most often. This makes sense because it allows Alliance to use their finesse in fights to make aggressive plays and create opportunities. 

At the same time, Alliance chose to use intelligent map movements in order to win with siege and split-push competitions in 16.7% and 9.7% of the games each.

 


Looking Forward

Alliance’s group, Group D, is the most interesting of the four groups at Worlds with Alliance, Cloud 9, and Najin White Shield forming an exciting triumvirate of talent that will create some of the best games in the tournament. Members of Cloud 9 have recently demonstrated their mechanical skill in the Korean ladder by achieving Challenger and Master tiers in a short period of time, and have always been hailed as a strategically apt team after the mid game. Najin White Shield are famous for their perfect execution in the late game, and demolished a much-hyped gauntlet of teams, such as KT Arrows and SK Telecom T1, to reach Worlds. Despite their dominance in the EU LCS, Alliance will need to focus on refining certain aspects of their game to compete against these teams.

Early in the game, Alliance focuses on either farming or creating picks, but not necessarily controlling dragons. Many teams take advantage of this to establish early leads or roam freely in Alliance’s jungle. In their loss against Copenhagen Wolves, CW exposed this weakness and were able to completely take control of the game using those early advantages, despite being a weaker team both mechanically and strategically. Ordinarily, Alliance can recover from these early losses through superior teamfights and skirmishes, but since Cloud 9 and NJWS excel at converting their leads into victories, it is paramount for Alliance address to their early game plan. 

In the face of adversity, Alliance has to maintain composure and play to the unique strengths of their team members in order to find success against much stronger opponents than were present during Season 3. This involves looking at past data to identify areas of weakness, developing a plan to erase or mitigate those deficiencies, testing the efficacy of these strategies in scrimmages against other strong opponents, and, most importantly, having faith in the ability of their team. Alliance is one of the strongest teams in the western scene, and can beat any opponent when performing at their best. Hopefully their performance at the World Championships will reflect the confident team that finished at the top of the EU gauntlet rather than the inexperienced team that entered the Spring Split earlier this year.