League of Lessons

I’ve been playing League of legends for a little while now. It’s a super fun online game where you and four other teammates (either real life friends or an automatically selected matchup) are pitted against a team of five other real players in an effort to infiltrate each others base. You select from a large selection of champions with unique abilities, who are more suited to specific roles. There’s a little bit more to it than that, but for the sake of this post it doesn’t matter so much. League of legends very much follows the philosophy of being easy to learn, yet near enough impossible to master.

What makes this gaming experience so unique when being set up with a team of strangers is that it really throws into relief how significantly a team’s ability to get along can affect the chance of winning. Having played for six months or so, I certainly can’t call myself an expert, but I have seen a lot of recurring things which can cost a team an otherwise attainable victory. As is my habit, I seem to have fixated on the things which translate pretty easily into everyday life.

So let’s jump into an imaginary game queue together and see what this match could bring.

But… I don’t play that lane!

The first thing you’ll see once the game has matched you with team-mates is a screen with a bunch of champions to choose from as well as the names of your new team-mates and a chat module. This is the place where you select which role you’ll be playing during the game.

Things tend to operate on an “I called it” basis, but every now and then there will be a friendly and experienced player who will relinquish the role they have called because a different player has said that they have no experience with the only role remaining.

Life is a lot easier for the player who is happy to be a bit flexible. Of course they are going to favor a specific role, but able to adapt to different roles not only benefits the team, it gives the individual a new skill. They have also learned a bit about that role and have empathy for the person performing that role in the future, even if they go back to their favored role next time. In the case of LoL it also means you are able to anticipate your opponent’s actions a little better if you have played that role.

Oh ffs, this guy is new!

I’ve seen people proclaim that they’ve deduced that a player is new to the game and is therefore an excellent target for ridicule. It’s typically difficult to win these matches. What’s funny is that I have also been part of matches where it has become apparent that a player is new, and someone has taken the newbie under their wing and explained a few basics that they’re clearly missing. I’ve seen players  improve inside the space of a thirty minute game when somebody has taken ten seconds here and there to point some seemingly obvious things out.

Stan Lee knew what he was talking about when he wrote Spiderman’s credo. Being an experienced player doesn’t mean you have an unsaid right to poke fun at less adept players, it means it’s your responsibility to help if you expect them to improve.

You are never blameless

An interesting superpower that our negative friend in the previous example often exhibits is the ‘impenetrable field of blamelessness’. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for a game to go south for reasons outside of your control. What I am saying is that pointing fingers and telling people how terribly they just screwed up does not tend to make them spontaneously become a better player. It’s very easy to shame a player for failing in a fight; it’s harder to get there in time to help them win the fight, or to explain why walking into the enemy’s jungle by yourself is a bad idea.

Sometimes you have to go outside of your job description if you want your team to win. If your territory is taken care of for the next few minutes, what can you do to help that poor new guy that’s having a hard time holding the middle lane by himself?

It isn’t over yet

The game does not let you surrender to the other team until twenty minutes have passed. This number is theoretically a good enough amount of time to tell if you are suffering a slow loss or not, but this is not always the case. Our cranky friend is likely to type “surrender at 20″ if their team doesn’t have a safe lead.

Anybody who has played this game (or any of the more traditional ‘grass sports’) could attest, the epic games that you talk about afterwards are the ones where one team was behind only they fought and turned it all around. These situations are by far the most exciting to play, and those who try to urge their team to throw it in early are robbing their team of the opportunity to have a real fight. Well, that is assuming you don’t have a fed Darius to contend with.

GG!

At the end of the match, players from both sides land in a shared chat room, where the match results are visible. Generally one of three things happens:

  1. Most players say GG (good game) and exit

  2. A couple of players bad mouth team members or make fun of the opposition. Everybody exits.

  3. The winning team thanks the losing team for the battle, the losing team congratulate the winners. A player will recount a particularly interesting play during the game, where say two players chased one enemy who lead them to their team who were hiding and the skirmish which ensued was so amazingly close and ‘oh em gee this is why I play this game’.

 

Situation 3 is fun. I’ve been in a room like this one for ten minutes after a thirty minute game, just recounting all of the close calls and the what-ifs. People have offered pointers to team-mates and opposition alike which could help them next game. It’s easy to see that this situation is the most fun, so why doesn’t it happen the most often?

It’s often hard to get past our own bravado and bitterness after a mis-matched game; and it’s just as easy to have the best of intentions yet assume the experience is over as soon as ‘Victory’ or ‘Defeat’ flash across the screen.  Celebrating victory and acknowledging defeat is a pretty easy shortcut to having meaningful conversations and experiences.

Conclusion

It’s pretty easy to see which type of behavior makes life better for everybody, but it’s often easy to overlook this when we feel like we could lose. Whether you’re new to something or an old hand it, there is always time for learning and self-reflection. GLHF!

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