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.

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.