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.




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.

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.




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.


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.

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.