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.

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.

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.

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.

Role of Sports Psychology in LoL Competitive Scene: An Interview with Evan McCauley

With the recent discussions around the importance of support staff like coaches and analyst, the concept of sports psychology has been somewhat overlooked. Teams may have the individual skill, strategic depth, and synergy in game, but if nothing else, the NA playoffs has demonstrated the undeniable importance of mental fortitude and organizational support as key metrics in team’s success.

Recently, I spoke with Evan McCauley who is a National Curling Champion that competed in the World Championships in Switzerland earlier this year. He is also an avid fan of the League of Legends competitive scene and is finishing up his degree in sports psychology, hoping to break into the e-sports industry. He brings the insight of a competitor in a strategic, team-based sport as well as his knowledge of psychology and its relevance to the League of Legends competitive scene.


Evan McCauley (center) and his team after winning the Curling Junior National Championships in Seattle earlier this year. source


Questions about Background and Curling


I know you as Evan McCauley, the guy who went to the Curling World Championships in Switzerland this year. You're currently working, getting a degree in sports psychology, and coaching curling in your spare time. Starting with your background a little, when did you start curling?

When I was like 10. Two of the people on my team come from curling families and their dads were national champions, so they almost started as infants. My dad saw it on the Olympics, when I was like 8. He started then and I followed a year after. The rocks weigh like 42 lbs., so it was a little funny when I started. Over time I grew to love the sport and started pursuing it more competitively. I have gotten loads of support from my family and extended family, which made it a lot easier.


Fast forwarding to the World Championships, what was it like qualifying for, and competing at an international tournament in Switzerland?

That was...I don't know if I was expecting to happen like that. We were having issues the entire year with a really negative coach. Jake, my older teammate and I were really close at a certain point were actually quitting competitive curling because the feeling in the team wasn't fun at all, and even got worse than a job. A little less than a month before the national championships, we changed our coach, and it goes to show how important positive influence can affect you. We were all good curlers, but never thought we were because we were stuck in this mindset and atmosphere. It had gotten as bad as accusations of fixing stats targeted at certain players, and was a lot of drama involved for what we got out of it. Also, a curling team is small, about 4-5 people. For us, the coach is another teammate almost like Korean League of Legends team is actually 10 members where the mindset here is that the team has 5 players and all the support staff are considered extraneous. This coach turned us from a team who were hoping to make the final 4 in the United States to winning the gold medal match convincingly.


So what were your expectations in going to the world championships?

I...had a lot of trust in my team and my ability, and knew that if we played our games to the best, there was no team on the face of the planet that could beat us. That's sort of how you have to think when going into these things. These three guys on the ice with me, I believe that we have the potential to win. Even if we get behind, I know that we can come back. In many League of Legends matches or Bo5 series, players seem dejected after losses and it affects their game moving forward. Whereas on this team, I always felt that we were always able to look ahead with the confidence that we could pull it out.


I saw some of the results were really close?

You have no idea. The Norway and Sweden games were on the same day, that we lost by a point each, and I think they even made the final four. We got blown out by Canada because by that point we couldn't have made the finals and didn't have much of a stake in the game, but those other two we would've won with an inch here, but we definitely would've beaten them [Canada] otherwise.


Not knowing much about curling, can you go into some of the strategy involved? Does everyone play their own game, or is it more team-based and reactive to the opponent's play?

The strategy in curling is mind-boggling, from basic fundamentals to crazy mind games. For example, reading the ice is very important. Taking a shot in one zone of the ice is different coming at it from a different side. Some players prefer to a side for taking their shots, and so if I let them take difficult shots from the side they prefer, causing them to miss, it's going to lower their confidence in that shot or make them play differently to our advantage for the rest of the game. We actually did that a lot during Nationals. We played a team in the round robin stage, and again in the tournament. The first game, we made their team captain go on tilt, by playing so aggressively during the second half that they didn't know how to react. When we played them again, they were still trying to figure out our game and we were able to use that to our advantage.


I saw that you've been a curling instructor in your spare time, what does that entail?

It's kind of a place where beginners or intermediate players come to learn the sport, and I help guiding them through the fundamentals and see them enjoy it for the first time. Also, since curling is a Scottish sport, every club is connected to a bar where people can socialize afterwards. For me, after all the competitive curling I do, trying my best, analyzing the games afterwards and talking strategy, it's fun to go back and help be a part of what started that and made it fun for me.


Last non-League related question about you, what are your future plans?

 I'm not sure what the future holds, but I would love to be involved as a sports psychologist for e-sports, specifically League. With my background in curling and small team dynamics, and positive energy/high pressure situations is my specialty that it seems like a perfect fit for me. At the same time, I could go into most traditional sports or even research, I'm pretty interested in most facets of sports psychology, but e-sports would be the dream.



Locodoco, the new coach for TSM, embraces their new support Lustboy after their victory against LMQ at PAX. source

Fundamentals of Sports Psychology and it's place on competitive e-sports teams


Going back to more general discussion, can you generally explain what a sports psychologist does for a team?

So, there are a lot of things sports psychologist can do, from talking to individual players through struggles, issues or doubts. But anything from team dynamics, how players are interacting inside and outside the game. How the coach handles things and dishes criticisms. All those interpersonal interactions are delicate and where a lot of sports psychologists can help with.


Building off that, a lot of people involved in the competitive scene and the support staffs are either players or famous members from the community. Can you compare specifics of your experience and how you can use it to help facets of competitive League?

So, specifically dealing with teams is huge. You will see teammates get into arguments a lot that most people probably will never see. The arguments that are shown seem like issues that are brought open in a team forum. I've learned that 1-on-1s are the most useful way to get ideas and information across. These teams are under tremendous pressure, and opening up issues could lead to emotionally charged fights instead of constructive forums. Especially since a lot of players who don't understand the psychology of team dynamics, they aren't going to phrase their criticisms diplomatically causing more problems. These are issues that are universal to sports, and people don't necessarily need a large amount of in-depth game knowledge to resolve these issues. Any member with coaching experience in any sport can help with them within a certain context.


Do you think all competitive League of Legends teams in the LCS need a sports psychologist and how do you go about determining which ones do?

I think every team could benefit from it. There are teams that may need it less. I can't say specifically because I'm not there to personally witness the inner workings of the team, but if a team has a strong emotional role model, it's less necessary. For example I think Hai seems like one that fits this description. He handles explosive situations very well and there was one time between games where they lost and were dejected, Hai comes in and says to not focus on the negative and just prepare for the next game. That was really great, and I'm sure players like Krepo and Snoopeh also have great mental states, but can't speculate on how well they transfer that to their teammates. But there are problems with having the emotional team member in the team. Nien was a perfect example of a positive emotional team member. If you remember the third game in the CLG-TSM playoffs where he broke down; that's a case where your emotional leader is a player and he needs support too. When I was curling, I played that role for my team but sometimes you think as a player and can't fulfill that role for your team. I sometimes needed that support, and I feel that CLG needed that during the game. When we hired the new coach, he was able to do that for me and fix my shooting percentage. He helped us with confidence, willingness to make plays etc. A lot of coaches in the scene try to do that, but I don't know if they have the training or knowledge to create that positive environment.


Right now, a lot of sports psychology in e-sports is a luxury. Some teams are still struggling to hire an adequate coach or analyst. Do you think that hierarchy of support staff is correct with analyst/coach followed by psychologist or do you think some teams would benefit more from the latter?

I think a sports psychologist could bring more to certain teams. If you've got someone on the team that is already strategically and mechanically sound through the strengths of their players, could simply just be having issues with how they approach the game or what they think about their teammates. It's frustrating because I wish I could see more of the LCS teams' dynamics first hand to gauge the interactions between the various members: players, coaches, analysts, managers, etc to base my hypothesis on. And, while I don't understand the strategic nuances of team play, a lot of people empirically link team's improvements to their analysts. But I do think that especially when the team is young, a sports psychologist could serve an important role in bringing the talented roster together and create the proper synergy before introducing them to a level of strategic depth. For example, if you consider a lot of great western teams, CLG EU , Moscow 5, Cloud 9, etc, you see a trend that they were comfortable with each other first, and that allowed them to become great because they had a basis for trust, whether it was common language, shared determination, or just friendship. If you have that level of faith in your teammates’ abilities and dedication, it allows your team to shake off defeats, embrace new ideas, and adapt more efficiently as a unit, and that's something a sports psychologist can help teams develop.


Some people would argue that while this level of friendship and social synergy has successfully translated to teamwork and performance, it's not necessarily the only catalyst in developing a good team and coaches/analysts can provide the proper direction to make up for it. Can you comment on this argument?

I can see that point of view, but there's a range of acceptable emotions team members can have for one another and still succeed. But if a player is harboring a grudge, or if two players just despise each other, I would argue that the team is not going to perform as efficiently at the highest level. Competitive League is still somewhat underdeveloped and so it is possible for an analyst to take the five best players in the world to victory despite them disliking one another. However, this requires the team members to be extremely introspective and objective with how they talk about the game and critique without taking it personally. This actually makes the case for sports psychologists even stronger, because they can help set up and facilitate this objective communication channels for those members that choose to be personally and emotionally detached from the team.



Nien, the top laner for CLG retired at the end of Spring Split 2014 due to heavy criticism from the community. source


Roster changes, building team synergy, overcoming LAN jitters, dealing with losses, and negative community interaction. 


Getting back to teams, roster moves during and between seasons has been quite common this year. Do you think sports psychologists can play a role in helping teams draft a new player, via interviews or conversations to determine if he would be a good investment, because currently the process is subject to the whims of the players or the organization that don't necessarily see player's viability from a mental perspective.

Yeah, there are several things sports psychologists can do with changing rosters. As you mentioned, the first thing is vetting the player based on their emotional and mental strength and that stuff. But these are also traits that can be learned, and that's almost more important. Having a sports psychologist can take a young player with great potential and help instill the proper mindset. For example, if I were a sports psychologist on a team that just hired a young, inexperienced player, I would work really closely with him and help instill a positive attitude, talk him through expectations, and help him translating the raw potential the team saw onto the stage. Coming from solo queue, players sometimes try too hard to make plays and when the team loses, they are probably blaming themselves for their loss. Understanding how to credit victories and handle defeats as a team and unit takes time, and I think newly drafted players struggle mentally with that. The opposite problem some new players have is lack of belief in their team, and mentally shift blame to specific members, creating a huge barrier between communication and teamwork. Instead of blaming themselves or others, I would teach them how to be a part of the team and help them communicate with the team about how they approach the game and what they need to succeed, and try to find a balance between individual and team needs. I firmly believe that trust between players is the most important thing to succeed at the highest level.


Some players seem to struggle translating their solo queue or scrim performances to live events. Pobelter and Link are two examples of players that were extremely hyped before their introduction into the scene as being incredibly strong mechanical players, and while they've demonstrated instances of brilliance, they don't have the consistency of players like Bjergsen and Rekkles who seem to thrive in the spotlight. What do you think needs to happen for these players to resolve this issue? Is it one overarching problem that applies to everyone, or do you think it's specific to each player?

There are a few reasons that cause that lack of consistency during high pressure events. The first could be belief in yourself, and fixing that really varies per person. If we consider depression, there's a range of people and how they respond. Some people can be cheered up while others; you can only help get them through the rough times. Similarly, it's about showing players that being a good player and playing well are not necessarily connected. Players that dwell on negative performances slowly change how they feel about themselves, shaking their confidence and causing them to play poorly, further reinforcing the idea.

Another reason is less based on the player and more on the team. Some teams misuse the talent on their team by transferring resources to other lanes and members, and players that rely on these resources to do well may not have the strategic understanding of how to alter their game to optimize for the team's needs. For example, if a super mechanically proficient player is brought in to play a position, but farm is funneled into other lanes, or the jungle uses his presence to pressure other parts of the map, the player may not have the decision-making skills to know the best way to proceed in that context, and his performance may look lackluster compared to his potential.


Dealing with losses in both the short term [Bo5 series, tournaments etc] and the long term [over the season] takes a lot of resilience and mental fortitude. From your experience or studies or experience, how do you think this can be improved in the scene?

I actually have a great personal example for this. We were in this curling tournament where we were against North Dakota, which was maybe the 4th or 5th seed at the time. We went in so confidently, expecting to crush them, but get absolutely demolished. It was really jarring, especially considering that we were going to play the top seeds the next day. In that situation, the team needs to maintain confidence in order to maintain belief in their team. Depends on the time between games, the team needs to either learn from their mistakes and adapt, when they have a week for their next game, or they need to ignore and shake off the defeat as a fluke, and maintain composure for the short term. In both cases, the team should go into the next game with the belief that they will still win, either because they adapted and improved since the last game, or simply because they know they are better. This is made especially difficult under high pressure situations or under the weight of expectations, and it helps to have someone outside the team, coach/psychologist that the team can rely on to talk them through it and maintain a positive attitude.


From a psychological perspective, what do you think of the level of interaction between the community and the professional players, and what would you do to address it? 

Oh god...I love how close the pros are with the community...but our community is pretty terrible because there's so much pointless, poorly phrased negativity based on assumptions that are speculative at best. There are multiple approaches players can take, the first is Locodoco's approach where players isolate themselves from social media after losses, or completely. An alternative idea is to develop a thicker skin, modeled after many athletes and celebrities, where they consider themselves so detached from the community that they can look at criticisms without feeling the need to address it. It's also situational depending on the person, but some players and members in the community are so tied to social media for support, that when that support turns into negativity and critique, it's difficult to handle.


The recurring theme in this conversation seems to be that teams and its members need to believe in each other in order to achieve the highest level of competitive success?

From all my experiences and studies, I do strongly believe that everyone on the team needs to trust that their team members are going to be at their best and are doing everything in their power to strive towards that goal. As cheesy as it sounds, and I know I've stressed it multiple times already, trust is extremely important. A team that has these qualities is most likely going to sustain through difficult times, because the knowledge that they did the best they could and will continue to keep going is the biggest strength for a team's mental fortitude.



Final Thoughts


I wanted to thank Evan McCauley for taking the time to speak with me. His experience as a national curling champion and knowledge of sports psychology brought a great deal of insightful depth to the discussion, which highlighted countless and extremely relevant ways that principles of sports psychology can help make a positive impact for professional e-sports teams. With the current growth in coaching and analyst infrastructure in the western League of Legends scene, hopefully teams will also consider the addition of sports psychologists to the support staff, even temporarily will have a positive impact on the mental fortitude of the team.



Scarra [far right] transitioned from a player to a coach between the Spring and Summer Split earlier this year. source

Random Topics


In a previous article, I argued against recently retired players being elevated to the position of coach/analyst/manager etc, because there are internal feelings of inadequacy that complement the decision to retire. In addition, these retired players are probably not older or more mature, so the team members, community, or even internally, it's hard to make the switch from the mindset of a peer to a different role. Am I missing something?

I agree with you if we're posing this as a hypothetical and the supply and demand of support staff is at equilibrium, because the effectiveness of the staff is directly proportional to the respect the players on the team give the staff. But otherwise, I think it would be logistically very difficult for a player to retire and gain the adequate experience and maturity before trying to break back into the scene. It makes sense for that player to join the staff immediately and slowly work towards developing those. Also, it helps that there are successful models like Scarra to look up to.


Building off that, Scarra is a very intelligent person. I remember interviews from a few years ago where Scarra talked about the development of the competitive scene and Riot's role in it etc. He has this intuition that's rarely found in other players. If a team doesn't have the adequate funding to invest in a proper support staff, a good coach can actually fulfill most of the responsibilities of a sports psychologist. Do you think that these skills require professional training/experience or can they come intuitively to people?

I definitely think they can come intuitively. When I was on the curling team, I tried to fill that role on my team. The funny thing was, I used to be a very headstrong player and used to get very down on myself for doing poorly. But over time I realized that, everyone on my team must feel this at some point and like me would be underperforming because they had no one to help them. So I decided to take what I felt in my weakest moments and learn from that to help my teammates overcome their struggles. I slowly became a positive player and it transferred to a lot of players on my team. So in the same way, I think someone can definitely acquire these skills and learn how to deal with the team, and right now that's going to have to be enough for the competitive scene. Unless an organization is actively seeking a sports psychologist, there's no way for someone like me to break into the scene. More funding will allow teams to diversify their support staff, but until then smart coaches, analysts, or even managers can try to fill this role for the team.


Another reason I see the importance of sports psychologists in e-sports is that the industry is still growing and changing. In other sports, a student can have reasonable expectations for what to expect, or ask his family or other sources for support. In e-sports, most of the players start off as kids, and don't really know what to expect, sometimes dealing with a lot of social pressure due to their decision. What do you think organizations and Riot can do mitigate some of these issues?

Obviously, the biggest thing Riot could do is bring more money into the scene. Financial stability definitely helps for aspiring players to argue their case. I agree that the uncharted territory makes it harder for a lot of players, and why I respect the dedication a lot of players put into pursuing it, because there is so much that affects game performance that the spectators just can't understand. Sports psychologists can definitely help players come to terms with their decisions and help ease a lot of the social pressures surrounding the scene, and again with more money, organizations should definitely look into investing. A major part of the issue is also that the majority of players join the competitive scene at the age where they should be focusing on education, and that's awkward for both players and their families.


Upcoming article on strengthening ties between Riot and universities: A lot of other sports have presence at universities and allows players to do both, so Riot could try to strengthen their relationships with universities and help with transitioning ex-professional players to higher education or creating a more legitimate university league where players can join and compete so they aren't stifled by the choice.



Random tangent on role of strategist vs. tactician

The person in curling relaying the strategy during the game is called the skip or captain. He's not necessarily the most strategically apt player on the team. Strategy is something that should be decided by the team before the game. The skip is actually the tactician, who can translate the strategy in high-pressure situations or intuitively feel the game and guide his team by doing what he considers the best option. In the same way that players can misplay mechanically, it's possible for the tactician to make a mistake, but those should always be addressed after the game. Insights like this are ingrained in a lot of other sports that would greatly help a lot of competitive LoL teams.


I see your distinction, but I would argue that League is not a game where you can prepare for contingencies, so it would make sense that the person who has the primary strategic knowledge to also make the calls in game because he can understand the context and nuances of particular strategies.

I think you misunderstood, I'm not necessarily saying that the strategist and tactician need to be different people, just that deciding the overall strategy should be a team effort, and the tactician should be chosen by the team who can best translate the strategy. If something goes wrong in the game, the team gets together in the end and shares the blame and re-evaluates their strategy, and not place unnecessary strain on the tactician. If you suddenly blame primary shot caller on the team for your loss, there is a trust that's broken that leads to a lot of teams imploding. Trust is the most important thing for a team to have.