Five Practical Lessons From League of Legends

1) Not everything that counts can be counted; not everything that can be counted counts. At least weekly, I see a game won by the team with fewer kills—and sometimes with fewer turrets. Often, I hear players with the most kills on their team assert their excellence at the game as they deride others (often on their own team) with fewer kills. Yet there is no record kept of who bought the most wards. There is no quantification for ward placement turning games around, or the timing of a stun that won a teamfight. Stats are fun to look at, but they can never tell the full story. Despite the fact that the game is played on a program based on mathematical algorithms with pre-specified parameters, the experience cannot be reduced back to numbers and raw data.

2) Five Ingenious, Great Plans are a disaster; One Moderately Good Plan is usually a Victory. Some of my worst gaffs have occurred when I have had the most specific, clear plans in my mind—and when the rest of my team had their own specific, clear plans, too. It is not rare enough that one person wants to retreat while the other leaps in to attack while another feels it is important to sneak around for an ambush from the side, etc. Each plan is clever and well-reasoned, but each ends in disaster because everyone is carefully trying to execute their own incompatible plans.

3) It is easier to tell people that they “suck and should uninstall” rather than provide any useful, helpful advice. People talk a lot about being “team players” with “communication skills” on resumes and in interviews 90% of the time. These skills are actually displayed in LoL about 10% of the time. Proper, useful, effective communication is more difficult than people think. Expressing displeasure is easy (most teens, even children, know a good collection of four-letter-words—for that matter, even babies can cry). Being helpful, constructive, and positive is a real skill that takes effort and thought and does not come easily or naturally to most people-especially if they feel frustrated or discouraged at the time. Games in which teammates encourage and build one another up are both more enjoyable and more likely to result in victory than games in which players focus on one another’s failings. Despite the fact that everyone knows there is a post-game chat available in which you can spend hours dissecting and analyzing and blaming, people would prefer to do that in-game while trying to play. It is no accident that directors and coaches give notes on how to improve after a performance or competition. League of Legends reinforces the value of saving some feedback for later.

4) Trajectory Is Predictive. Most games are won or lost in Champion Select: if people are arguing and fighting each other before the game starts, there is a good chance there won’t be good teamwork in the game. Once the game starts, if things start to look bad early (maybe with a few early kills against us), they will get worse if frustrated players spend more time blaming than playing. (Press BLAME to lose.) The larger lesson is to remain focused on working towards goals and not allow yourself to be completely derailed by setbacks.

5) We play for the Experience, not the Outcome. I like victories, sure. But what makes the game fun is the experiences that happen within the game. I really don’t remember my wins and losses, but I remember the time I was Garen and I chased Vayne all over her jungle with her entire team in pursuit, and how my heart was actually pounding by the time I caught up to her and ended her 23-streak killing spree. I remember the time I was Nidalee and I ran an entire lap around the map while getting chased, juking in and out of brush. I remember wining a 1v1 against a Caitlyn as Nami, and how excited and proud I was to win that underdog fight. There are dozens more of such memories. There have been plenty of games I’ve won, but still felt annoyed or frustrated or bored: winning doesn’t mean the experience was satisfying. And I’ve had plenty of losses that I would happily play again because the game was just fun, whether because my team was a lot of laughs to play with, or I had a really cool play I was proud of, or something else that made it a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

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