Picture Perfect – How Mental Imagery Can Help You

Mental imagery is an often overlooked aspect of improvement and learning. When looking to improve, most seek to better their mechanical skills, snap judgment and knowledge pool. While these are all areas that should be worked on, imagining what you can do to better yourself and picturing it is just as important as any of these. If you can’t picture in your mind, without assistance, how something should look and yourself doing it – how will you be able to actually do it? In this article I’m going to go over mental imagination and how it can improve your game and more.

Mental Imagery?

I threw that term around a bit, and it can be a bit vague. Are you supposed to have pictures in your head? Imagine scenarios that could happen? Project and see into the future like a demon time travel wizard, David Blaine? Unless you can actually see into the future, I mean I want you to play a movie in your head. Close your eyes and imagine what it is you want to do. At first, the images you come up with will be brief glimpses, but I am at the point where I play a full-fledged scenario out in my head entirely. This can be applied to anything you want to do whether it’s perfecting your form lifting weights to envisioning your penalty kick soaring in a wicked arc over the defender’s heads or how perfect the filing system that you spent all month organizing will look.

Monkey See

Obviously, the most critical part of this process is watching replays, videos, gameplay, tournaments or anything relevent to what you want to be better at. You cannot picture perfect serving form in tennis if you’ve never seen a match being played. Similarly, you can’t picture vaulting over Baron wall with a Malphite ultimate and stealing it and picking up kills if you didn’t know Malphite’s ultimate went through walls. Fortunately, League is a very open game with a huge community that shares their accomplishments.  This makes amazing plays more accessible to the casual user, enabling them to envision a stronger play. The Malphite example is a facepalm to most people because we’ve all seen examples of epic Baron steals on youtube ad infinitum. But, imagine someone who doesn’t ever watch videos and replays – they may not think the ult goes through walls.

Monkey Do

So, how do you get this mental reel going? More importantly, what do you picture and why? Let’s take a look at the first question – how to get this going. The best way to get the imagery going is to first find out what you want to accomplish. Then, once you have a goal in mind, find out how it’s done, what it looks like or think about how you’d go about it. This two-part approach will get you the results you’re looking for quickly. Let’s take a look at an example to solidify this imagery:

You’re playing Ahri in mid. The enemy has an Nautilus jungle and you’re laning against a Zyra. You’ve done harassment and whatnot to Zyra and now Nautilus is coming for you.  But you’ve seen this before a hundred times. Activating your ultimate you dodge off to the side of the anchor, tossing a charm to bring Zyra closer and an orb hitting at the same time. The snare flies out and you dodge back, away from Nautilus. Zyra is now retreating and you zip forward with your final burst, catching another orb for the kill and flashing out of Nautilus’ second anchor flying at your face, a clean kill.

She seems a bit on the angry side.

While I might have a taste for the dramatic there, that scenario will arise and if you can picture it, you’re more prepared than not. If you don’t imagine using your character in unique and effective ways, it will be hard to implement it on the fly. This example is a lot more detail than you may originally expect, but when you’re at the loading screen let your mind come up with scenarios. What happens if their Ashe fires an arrow up or if you are going for a kill and the jungler pops out? How about when top roams down or when you go to steal their blue. Picture not only the actions there, but also the reactions and throw scenarios together.  You may mess up, they may react differently, but either way you’re already more prepared for the situation.

This can be applied to whatever you’d like in League. Picture using a Flash/Shurelyia’s into Skarner grab and dragging them to their death. You’re Alistar and no carry dies on your watch! I will obliterate their jungler as Shyvana, I can picture them now doing their red and crapping themselves when a dragon flies over the wall. I can see the gold flying after every minion kill – didn’t even miss one on bottom lane. That Rumble ult dropped on top of their team, slowing their escape as I maniacally laugh chasing them with a flamethrower.  Get creative and put a video to your goals.

Feel It

That’s right, feel it. You watch the hail mary with a minute on the clock in slow motion flying to the wide receiver – touchdown and the crowd goes wild. Doublelift pops his ultimate, Tumbles around sniping off their support and FLASHES OVER THE ULT FOR THE DOUBLE, OH MY GOURDDDDD. The surge of adrenaline, the rush of excitement and the knowledge that you did something truly spectacular – that’s what I want you to feel.  It will keep your thirst for the amazing going and you have to feel it whether you’re in front of 100,000 people or alone in your basement at 3 AM in your underwear. Feeling the emotional and physical rush of doing something awesome is unmatched, so get your taste.

Conclusion

Running a movie through your head about what you can and will accomplish will absolutely vault your game to the next level. It’s important to see what you can accomplish and then do it. You shouldn’t be picturing the whole 45 minute game in your head, but pick out that five seconds or so of actions and reactions and you will be a lot stronger for it. Most importantly, remember the glory and the feeling of power from living out your mental image. It will keep you coming back for more.

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Sportsmanship and Professionalism in the Wake of MLG Raleigh

For those who weren’t aware, the first and second place team (Curse and Dignitas, respectively) were recently caught up in a “match fixing” scandal.  Major League Gaming (MLG) found evidence of ‘collusion’ or a match fix agreement to determine the winner.  The topic is red-hot right now, and many feel this is a very bad light to be shedding onto eSports, but what are the implications behind this collusion and what does it reveal about the community and eSports as a whole?

The Offense

First, let’s take a look at exactly what happened at MLG Raleigh and what went wrong. Dignitas and Curse battled through the tournament for two days to land themselves in the finals. This spot in the finals was going to take place on the following day and so the teams had some time to talk about what was going on.  They agreed upon a winner of the match and to split the prize pool.  They then played the first round of the tournament as an All Random All Mid (ARAM) style match, which as League players know, is a niche “fun” style of play and not tournament serious. Many think that the ARAM or even the prize pool splitting was the reason for the disqualification, however the agreed upon winner is the real offense here. Let’s take a look at the implications behind this seemingly exaggerated series of consequences.

The ARAM

The ARAM decision was probably the first sign that something was not completely correct.  It may have lead MLG to take a further look into things as both teams clearly were not taking this seriously. The decision to play an ARAM as the series opener is a slap in the face to the eSports scene whether or not you enjoyed it. It brings into question the professionalism of the League of Legends scene. For a comparison of offense, it would be like seeing two teams in the first game of the world series of baseball playing a game of stickball with street rules such as pitcher’s poison or no stealing bases.  It’s a format built to enjoy a different style of the game with different rules designed to make the game quirky and challenging. If this happened in Major League Baseball, there would be national outrage.

Bu..but I liked it…and so did other people!

This argument has been thrown around a lot.  Some people really enjoyed the ARAM and felt it was a nice break to the players and the viewers. And the surveys and numbers don’t lie either – this topic is trending extremely fast right now with articles just like this one popping up everywhere. However, you have to keep in mind two things:

  1. This is a major tournament.
  2. Trending and popularity doesn’t mean good.

The first point has been contested by few because TSM and CLG decided not to come to the tournament.  However, there was still a huge prize pool for a game tournament with over $40,000 on the line.  That kind of money is rarely seen outside of a very select few games, so this tournament was a real deal. The other 10 teams in this tournament were taking it very seriously and trying to earn circuit points to compete in the regional qualifier.

The second point can really be summed up by youtube.  There’s viral videos that have millions of views, but that in no way indicates something good.  There’s a video of a woman on a toilet stating she’s on a toilet with over 6 million views.  That is the way the internet works – find something very good or very bad and it will explode. Just because this topic is trending hard and people liked it does not mean it is good for the sport of LoL.

The Collusion

This is the bannable offense that MLG and Riot have come to charge the teams with.  Essentially, one team asked the other to take first place and they would split the prize pool with them.  The money itself is of nobody’s concern – the teams could give it to a homeless person outside the venue if they wanted.  The issue was with the fact that they were manipulating their seedings in the regional event.  Even if they did not change their opponent or seeding in the regional tournament, choosing a winner in advance is an extremely large offense. People in professional sports have been sent to jail over match fixing and even in Starcraft: Brood War players have been shamed, fined and banned from professional events forever.

Implications on eSports, League of Legends and the Future

So what do these things show for the “professional” scene for LoL?  It shows a complete lack of respect for the other teams, understanding of consequence and immaturity that will hold back eSports until resolved. The ARAM match was an insult to the other teams that were trying and was a cheap trick that could have been done as a fun side event.  The grand finals of a tournament aren’t to be taken as a joke in a serious sport. The collusion is inexcusable by both teams and the fact that it was public and both teams don’t realize it is an offense goes to show that they have no idea of the consequence behind their actions. 

While the pro scene is very friendly and close for LoL in particular, giving match wins to friends cannot be done in a professional scene. This was not a weekly tournament for a $1200 prize pool, it was a large event held by a professional association. These actions show the issues that eSports has and will have until players can realize that even though they’re playing a video game, it’s a sport. In order to progress and be taken seriously, the players of these games have to realize and embrace professionalism. Being professional is the most important part of organized sports, and hopefully this is a wake-up call to all of the eSports teams that think being a progamer is all fun and games.

Meta Musings: The 2v1 Top and Bottom and Why it Works

There is an old trick that has become a new trend in the professional scene, and that is the 2v1 top and bottom.  This used to be a niche tactic from long ago to counter strong champions on top such as Nasus.  It was then buried for a while until early aggression and pushing teams such as M5 and Azubu Blaze brought it back as standard play.  Now it is something that every top laner needs to be prepared to deal with in any given game.  Why the change and what advantages does this new shift in laning provide?

Dictates Champions

The amount of champions on top lane are automatically reduced by using this strategy.  In reducing the number of tops, the need for bans on strong laners and flavor of the month tops is gone.  On top of that, a team can add pressure by banning sustained laners good at handling a 1v2 situation.  There are not many champions that can handle a 1v2 well enough to come out even with the opposing top laner.  This is because the team that is initiating the 2v1 is aware they are doing that strategy and can choose champs in advance.

Hi, I autolose to 1v2!

Implementation of this strategy cuts down the top lane pool to approximately: Cho’Gath, Malphite, Rumble, Shen, Yorick and Vladimir.  While other champions can handle it, such as Gangplank and Urgot, they aren’t as prominent or flexible in the pro scene.  Having this pool to choose from can make a ban on someone such as Malphite, Shen or Vladimir much more potent because you’re not only removing a strong top laner, but a laner that can handle a 1v2 situation.

Counter to amazing laning snowballers

Quick, who counters Riven in lane?  How about Darius?  Well sure, these counters exist, however the lane is still extremely volatile.  You can pick the best hard counter to Darius or Riven and they’ll still pull ahead if given a gank or early advantage.  Lane counters have an ebb and flow of importance where in the early levels player skill dictates how well you do, in the mid levels the counters are effective and at the high level the game itself matters more than lane counters.  Countering a top ELO Riven player is less about counter picking and more about having a team that understands the situation is still fragile.  The Riven on the other team at that point is well beyond competent and can snowball off of a slight mistake you’ve made or roaming to pick up a kill on your jungler. 

Better hope I don’t get a kill!

So, what does the new meta do for this?  It automatically filters out who can sustain and farm in a 1v2 situation.  Riven and Darius both cannot handle a 1v2 very well at the high ELO level.  While I’m sure a bad ADC and Support player will fall prey to a lonely Riven, a properly played duo will hopelessly annihilate a lot of the top lane snowball characters.  In order to 1v2 you need to have a lot of sustainability, a ranged farm mechanism, a strong escape mechanism and relavence to a teamfight without a lot of farm.  Every single character listed above has these in spades and Riven not so much.

Amplifies the jungler and his matchups

Switching around the top and bottom lane gives both lanes a lot more safety early on.  A common issue with top is being pushed up, however against a duo that issue doesn’t exist most times.  You’ll often be hugging your tower and being harassed, which is fine for a competent player.  This alleviates the need for early wards on a solo top and adds wards to the duo, making it safe for both parties.  This gives the jungler a lot more room to do one of two things: counter jungle or gank mid.

I will eat your jungler alive.

You can see by the selection of jungler what the team’s strategy will be in choosing someone like Maokai vs. a jungler such as Shyvana. The Maokai is much more open to gank middle and his strong early ganks can provide an edge to his solo lane. Shyvana also becomes a lot more relavent because the need for ganks isn’t as high.  This allows her to roam around killing the other jungler. The switch makes counter junglers have a lot more presence and weeds out the ganking junglers to the cream of the crop.

Makes support much more influencial

The support player in a 2v1 situation has a lot more influence on the match.  They are responsible for setting the pace and aggression of a normal bottom lane. When in an advantaged situation, however, they become even more powerful in their abillity to do so.  Zoning, harassing and denying an enemy solo top is the primary objective and they often have kits available to do this. A Blitzcrank grab or Alistar pulverize becomes far more relavent when there’s only one other person you’re targetting.

Less emphasis on early dragon control

Since most teams are wanting to do dragon as a 5 in the professional circuit, having the duo bottom has become less of a priority.  The team with the duo still has a slight advantage, but in order to swing a dragon they have to take out an extremely strong laner on bottom and mid. Basically, the jungler and ADC for the team with a duo bottom is often times not strong enough in the early levels to do dragon outright.  A top lane that is 2v1 will be able to push down the tower on top quickly and then objectives and roaming can be accomplished.  A shift away from early dragon and towards towers has been happening, and this just solidifies that sentiment.

Wrapping up

So is this the new big thing?  Will solo queue start seeing this?  It’s likely to happen every once in a while and with smarter top laners that can handle a 2v1.  However, due to the points I listed above, most of the potency of this comes from professional, coordinated play.  It is an attempt to shut down extremely strong top laners, take towers early in the game and amplify the jungler’s presence.  It has succeeded so far in accomplishing this, so I can’t see it dying quickly in the pro scene, but I also wouldn’t be forcing it in your solo queue games either.

The Deceptive Pick and Drafting

There is a phenomena going around the professional circuit that I like to call the “deceptive pick.”  This can be a powerful strategy to throwing off team compositions, lane matchups and mindsets.  They also allow your team to wriggle out of counter picks in lane, as long as you can coordinate properly.  So what exactly is a deceptive pick and how can it benefit you and your team?

Pick Order and You

Picking order in League of Legends is one of the most interesting dynamics in the game. Through having first pick or first ban, your team is able to convey strategy and pace.  There are “safe” first picks such as the support as well as the hasty first picks, grabbing a character that will do well and isn’t banned.  This can sometimes fall apart when the other team has last pick, however, because they have opportunity to see what you’re doing and counter. 

After seeing this happen, some of the pro teams decided to shake things up. This cat and mouse game of countering had a wrench thrown into it – the deceptive pick. A deceptive pick is choosing a character that can play many roles, however typically is found in one role.  What this accomplishes is having the enemy choose a laner to respond to that pick when, in fact, that character won’t be where they think.  It isn’t as simple as “pick a character that does top or jungle and pray they respond,” your jungler and top need to be versatile enough to switch in the event it does happen.

Professional Examples

There are a ton of characters that are versatile, however in the professional scene only a small pool is actually played.  The main perpetrators of the deceptive picks are Shen, Malphite, Alistar and Lee Sin. These characters are almost always picked or banned in the recent tournaments and solo queue and it’s not entirely because they’re “overpowered.”  They provide a challenge in forming a team composition on the fly as well as unique challenges to the lane they are entering.

Evolution and Adaptation

While the deceptive pick is an old bag at this point, it still continues to influence the team compositions and character selections.  The reason this tactic arose was the creation of counters to lanes and dodging hard matchups, taking advantage of the knee-jerk champion selection and pick order.  Now what we see in most picking is team compositions that can play well off of each other and work despite the counter picks. Pro teams are back to selecting what champions fit into their grand strategy instead of picking a lane to win and countering it.  This has diverged from the solo queue roots and to into the hearts of team synergy.

Using it in Solo Queue

Trying to implement this strategy in solo queue can be a challenge and is best accomplished with a partner.  You will then be able to pick a top laner and switch out if they counterpick that person. I recently did this when my friend picked Cho’Gath and was counter picked on top lane.  I was able to use my last pick to switch around their expectations and jungle Cho with ease. You can accomplish this in solo queue as long as you have competency in your characters and have their team counterpicking you.

So next time you’re queueing up, take a look at the picks and pick order. Through picking versatile champions, you can set other lanes up for failure or success.  Approach the champion select wisely and you will see a flexibility in your games that can give you the edge you need to win a game.

Inevitability

                There is an important concept that is lost on many people in the fields of justice, and that is one of inevitability.  By definition, inevitability means something that impossible to avoid or prevent.  How does this boil down into character selection and League of Legends, you ask?  Well, choosing characters with this trait can often times win you more games than with other champions.  The breakdown of characters tends towards this for me:

Early Game Hero

This is a champion who has a fantastic early game.  They will have great base stats on their skills as well as skills that outclass anyone else for their level.  Champions that are geared towards the early game usually have bad scaling on their abilities, which prevents them from having a good late game.  Starting base stats play heavily into the early game hero status and the amount of value out of single ranks of a skill as well.

An example of this type of champion would be Pantheon.  He has one of the highest damage combos throughout the early game and is a menace in this respect.  His ability to have a targeted, ranged stun as well as targeted, ranged nuke gives him a good early game when people cannot punish his proximity. 

Mid Game Hero

Midgame heroes are characters that are highly impacted by levels into their abilities.  While the level 6 ability isn’t always the deciding factor, most times the level 6 or 9 mark is a major turning point.  A good amount of farm on these types combined with a higher level of their champion will yield an extremely strong level 6-15 powerhouse.  Most mid game heroes are also strong in the late game.

Jax is a good example of a midgame hero.  After he picks up his ultimate, his tankiness skyrockets and his damage also starts to become a real threat. Aside from his ultimate, his Empower cooldown is severely reduced by leveling, making not only level 6 but level 9+ very strong for his damage output.

Late Game Hero

These champions are usually item dependent.  This means that they will have great scaling abilities that allow for the item builds to put them over the top.  Ranged carries are almost exclusively late game heroes, though some are able to do well all game.  The late game hero always has a way to deal a lot of damage, even against beefed up late game champions.

The inevitable champions land near the late game on this scale.  However, most of the inevitable champions lose to the early and strong mid game characters.  This makes them less desirable a pick in solo queue, however they are always present in professional play.  If you look at the picks and bans you will see a lot of Kennen, Vladimir, Irelia, Karthus and many others.  These characters have been and always will remain in that circuit because of inevitability.

So, this can seem a little confusing.  What makes Irelia inevitable and other top laners not?  Well go back to my definition of a late game hero:  “always has a way to deal a lot of damage.”  Well, Irelia does a ton of damage with a Trinity Force and even without it, her late game includes a significant amount of true damage on her auto-attacks.  This means that she’ll always be doing damage to anything, no matter how far behind she is.  Inevitable can often be confused with snowball champions, but when thinking of who will always have a great late game, look towards characters that do well even when you’re behind.  Let’s look over some champions I consider inevitable:

Irelia – Will do true damage and high damage no matter how far behind once items are purchased.

Karthus – He has an ultimate that will do damage to the entire enemy team and his defile will always be doing a lot of damage in teamfights.  Unless you build 0 AP on Karthus, he can never be a bad late game hero as even death will secure thousands of damage onto their team.

Kennen – Once Kennen has some items, his ultimate becomes a real threat.  He can be really far behind and turn the tide of a fight simply with his massive damage output and CC onto the enemy team.

Rumble – A well placed ultimate from him will do a lot of damage and slow no matter what.  Throw that on top of having a shield, an unforgiving slow and a lot of damage no matter what on his flamethrower and you have a strong champion as long as you’re competent.

Ryze – This guy is possibly the best late game mage in the game.  You build him full tank and watch things melt in front of you.  Even with a few items he becomes a serious threat and if the game goes on long enough he will be good.

Skarner – This guy has a guaranteed late game with amazing base stats and amazing ultimate plus a bucket of utility.  He also will do a lot of damage in the late game because of how often his slow and auto attacks can be applied.

Vladimir – An AoE ultimate that amplifies damage dealt to their team will always be useful.

Warwick – He becomes over the top tanky with his swipe giving him a ton of life and damage to tanks and squishies alike.

Putting It All Together

Putting everything together, playing a champion that has a strong late game no matter what can help you improve your game and ELO, as long as you are competent with that character. While a strong early/mid laner such as Riven or Pantheon will certainly win games outright, picking an inevitable character will mean that you can win even if you lose the lane. You won’t obliterate most lanes with these champions, however they provide such a guaranteed late game that often times you can win through dragging the game out.  Try to add some inevitability into your character choices and you’ll find that bad teammates just means you have to do more work to win.