So you gathered a group of lonely heroes and slapped them together in a ranked team, but you just can’t seem to git gut? You’re in luck!

Hi everybody, I’m Hazel, and I’m here to teach you all about how to self-coach and improve as a ranked five’s team. Some of you have waited a damn long time for this (for which I am sorry!), however I figured I’d rather take my time and make this the quality that it deserves to be.

First of all, let’s roll this out by explaining who I am and what I do. I am Hazel, and I am a coach. I have been a sports coach for six years now, and for the last one and a half year (ish) I’ve been coaching League of Legends as well. I currently have thousands of hours clocked, coaching anything from solo queue bronze V to ranked fives challenger. (Hit me up Alex Ich!) As you can imagine, my coaching technique is heavily influenced by my work with athletes.

So without delaying things anymore, table of contents:

  •         The ‘No Bueno’
  •         Fragmentalization
  •         How to talk to each other
  •         How to find problems and solutions
  •         Tournaments and competition

I would like to begin this piece with a section that I call “No Bueno”. This section will be dedicated towards dismissing certain common methods, for being either too in-depth, too difficult or just plain awful learning tools.

The No Bueno

Most of you reading this have a rough idea of how to approach learning and improvement in League of Legends. You have probably seen coaching videos on the internet, and figure that by replicating these, you have a solid chance at improving, and fast. I want you to scratch that notion, and here’s why:

The play-by-play

The play-by-play (PBP) is exactly what it sounds like. Also called replay analysis, the PBP is BY FAR the most common method of coaching. It consists of sitting down and going over the game, play by play, and finding as many mistakes as possible. However, this method is inherently flawed, and here’s why:

1: your brains are not hard-wired to process all this information

Studies on the human brain suggests that doing so-called play-by-play analysis is inefficient. The brain is simply not made to absorb information from so many different fields in such a short span of time.

2: It is time-inefficient.

Unless you have a sick deal with a scrim partner, chances are no two games are ever going to be quite the same. A lot of the information you will get out of analyzing a game in-depth will be difficult to put into practice, as you simply might not get the same chance again in many, many games.

3: It promotes bickering

If you lose a game, chances are at least one person on your team will be frustrated. Having everybody sit down in a little circle and talking about ‘what they think went wrong’ can easily promote arguments that aren’t productive to a good team atmosphere.

In traditional sports, the play-by-play is what an Analyst does in an attempt to be able to derive useful data that the coach can then streamline into more effective practice methods.

TL;DR: The play by play is not meant for improving, it is meant for optimizing.

Fragmentalization

The fuc… you might be thinking. Fragmentalization? I’m so glad you (didn’t) ask!

Fragmentalization is the idea that you want to break down practice in it’s most basic form, in order to gain the maximum benefit from the time you spend practicing. If you have ever done a sport you will have noticed this. Warning: The following segment will be using uninformed terminology as I am not actually a basketball coach, or indeed even an English native

For example, if you ever wanted to play basketball, you might notice that you don’t just show up, play a full game against each other and then go home. Instead you’d spend the majority of practice working on passes, doing only passes. Then, next time you might be doing exclusively shots from the 3-point line. This is fragmentalization.

‘But Hazel, how do I know what fragment to work on?’

The very first thing you want to do is get a sample-size. Sit down, play at least five games with the team where you try-hard. After the game, discuss nothing with your teammates, but allow yourselves a five minute break to reflect on the game. During this time, everybody writes down some things they felt like the team did poorly. After the sample games are completed, gather your notes and pick out the ones that you find repeated. Try to sort all the ‘micro’ decisions out of the pool, and eventually you’ll have a neat little list of things you need to focus on. Pick one, and dedicate at least a week to working on this point!

An added bonus to this is, that team atmosphere should be largely improved by this method, as you are no longer focusing on the smallest of mistakes. You are, in essence, shifting your focus from ‘did we win or lose?’ to ‘Did we improve on our weekly goal?’

Example:

Team Top Notch is a team of old boys, who’s played together for years and always found themselves between mid-gold and low platinum. They read a cool guide on the internet, and decide to play their sample games. After the games are played, they gather their notes and discover that the following points are repeated often:

They struggle with: warding from behind, getting early dragons, invading level 1, counter-ganking, jungle routes for the jungler, Mid getting 1v1’d. They decide to sort the two last ones out, as they are individual mistakes instead of things the team can work on. They then decide that they want to work on invading level one. For the next few days, they spend half an hour as warm-up in custom games, going over routes and trying different approaches. On day three, they try to implement it in an actual ranked game and end up making some adjustments and additions to their strategy. They are now confident in when and how to invade at level one!

TL;DR In order to make the practice as effective as possible, it is much better to pick out one or two MAJOR things to work on, and work on it until it sits on the back-bone.

How to talk to each other

I know what you’re thinking. “Don’t be a jerk, I know how to talk to people!”, and of course you do, you social human being you!

However, what I’m here to talk about today is a couple of pointers when it comes to how and when to direct appropriate feedback. The number one cause of teams disbanding and players being kicked is inappropriate communication. What this means for us, is that effective communication will not only have you playing together for longer, it will also increase the value of talking.

Past Tense is banned in game!

In order to ensure constructive and meaningful practice, it is vital to team atmosphere that all past-tense phrasing is completely banned during the length of a game. Bringing up mistakes that were just made serves no meaningful purpose in a game, as the mistake is already well in the past. In game, we look not at what went wrong, but how to make up for the mistake. So in order to keep up team morale and keep practice constructive, do not look back, look forward.

Ya’all thought you were done taking breaks huh?

So we get it. When we played the games for sample-size, we took a five minute break after every game to gather our thoughts. Well, now that made such a nifty habit for ourselves, why not stick with it? There are a multitude of reasons for this:

1: By taking a break, we allow heated emotions from in-game to be cooled, allowing for more productive discussion.

2: You can use the five minutes to analyze what you intend to say. “We shouldn’t have fought for dragon” might be correct, but a much better way to phrase it would be “I think our team-comp was weaker during the early game, so we should look towards trading the first one or two dragons instead of contesting it.”

Never ever EVER say ever!

Talking in ultimate phrases are quite the stable factor in most team environments, however they are very counter-productive to effective communication. Saying “You guys always lose bot!” is hurtful, unhelpful to the bot lane in question, and overall serves as a vent for your frustration rather than helpful feedback. Instead, you will have to use examples.

Example:

Team Top Notch is glad that they are making progress on their invades at level one. However, after a day or two where bottom lane has consistently given first blood (followed by the support yelling out ‘fuck! You always go for the bad trades’), the team suffers from a bad mood. TTN sits down and decides to analyze on their last game. ‘Man, you always overextend!’ the jungler says. ‘Screw you man, you never gank!’ the support says. Top lane (let’s call him Big Daddy) silences them both, and calls for a five minute break. After the break, Jungle and Support makes friends again, and Big Daddy manages to quickly call out any uses of ‘never’ and ‘always’. Progress!

How to find problems and solutions

When we talk about analysis and finding problems, we will first have to ask ourselves the question: ‘How do we find the solution to our problems? I want to talk about two concepts, micro and macro learning.

Micro learning is the individual learning that we do. Getting better at CS’ing, improving your reaction time, figuring out your positioning can all be attributed to micro learning.

Macro learning is anything related to the macro strategy in the game. Rotations, objective control and streamlined builds are all examples of macro learning. A truly good team will be able to improve on both, while only working on one at a time. Dividing learning into these two categories allows us to take advantage of all of our time playing, namely solo queue. Most of us nerds who play ranked fives also play a solid amount of solo queue. It is very important to utilize this time for micro-improvement, as raising the team’s overall base level will of course make everybody able to pull off more difficult strategies. The answer to all of our problems is a bit of a hippie tactic. We will do circular learning.

Circular learning means that each day/week/millennia, everybody gives the guy ‘on their right’ some homework. Support might tell the Marksman to work on his cs’ing, while marksman will tell the mid laner to work on his roaming opportunities. Mid laner will tell Jungler to work on ganking pathing, until they come full circle, and everybody has a meaningful way to improve.

Where do you find all this information?

In a nutshell, you want to do research. Typically, you want to try contacting qualified coaches and support staff first. If you can’t find anything, ask your substitute players (if you have any) to spectate you for a game or two, their input might be invaluable. After this has been done, do research, starting with anything that provides numbers and stats, and finally working down to opinionated pieces. If nothing shows up, I recommend watching streams and some professional games.

Example:

Our beloved team is quite simply stumped! They feel like they hit a skill-ceiling, and gain about as much elo as they lose. They decide that more practice is warranted, and while one guy contacts different free coaches, another watches Vlogs of the lovely Montecristo talk about Rotations. Finally, they all agree to give each other homework. This eventually results in a stronger laning phase and more room for outplay!

Tournaments and Competition

This is it you guys, can you feel that familiar tingling in your gut? It’s the spirit of competition sneaking up on us! (not to be confused with the spirit of Christmas, that’s a totally different beast). Many people view competition as ‘the end game’. Playing in a tournament essentially becomes ‘the goal’. However a tournament has other applications, especially if you logically aren’t necessarily in the running for dat sweet money prize.

Execution

Calm down there Satan, no we aren’t going to beat the opposition by strategically executing their support player. No, Execution revolves around the fact that a tournament can be used to correctly gauge your skill level, by using the different layers of competition as a measuring instrument. Say you play a weekend tournament, and make it to the quarterfinals playing a protect the AD comp. You make adjustments, and the next weekends, you take it to the semis before being knocked out. Progress!

The reason it’s very important to agree on WHY we participate in tournaments, is that to a lot of people they are a space in which they will give their 110% (as they should be). Giving your all and still not living up to your own, individually created goals is a great way to end up with anger and regret as your personal experience. This is not something we want. This is, in fact, the exact opposite of what we want! So please, before you sign up for anything, discuss as a team what your goals are with joining, and why.

Optimization

Remember how, up there somewhere, I talked about not doing play-by-play? Well following a tournament, you can scratch that carefully explained notion!

To explain why tournaments are special, let’s talk a little bit about when you would apply play-by-play coaching. Before or directly following a tournament, a coach and his analysts might elect to coach in this way, because before a tournament you will know who you are playing against. This means that you can derive meaningful data from your opponents. In traditional sports, you also want an athlete to tone down on the actual practice before a tournament, to allow the muscle time to rest and build up your full strength. This isn’t an issue in LoL, however we still play differently when under pressure found in tournaments. Therefore, analyzing on the patterns we have difficulties dealing with under stress can be a great help, and the information you can get from tournaments (due to their limited availability) is therefore valuable enough to warrant spending all that time on it.

Conclusion

So, to conclude – If you can, recruit help from one of the many free coaches on the net. Be mindful of your communication, as there is no substitute for a sustainable team environment. You might have the best practice routine in the world, but if the team just don’t like each other and you quit the team after a week, you’ll never get where you want to go. Remember to break your practice down into manageable chunks, and pick a focus that you work on until everybody is comfortable with it.

And remember to have fun, Summoners!

-Hazel



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