What does it take to get good at a game? If you’re already a relatively good player, chances are you have a good base of game-knowledge and mechanics, and these two things can easily get you to an average or slightly above-average rank. But what does it take to go from good to great, to bridge the gap from where you are now, to the next level of skill?
One common assumption is that it’s largely dependent on mechanics. And there is good reason to believe this. We all love watching highlights of pro players that emphasize insane mechanical executions. These are moments that seem almost impossible and demonstrate near-perfect combinations of skills. After seeing highlights and compilations like this it’s easy to assume that this is exactly what makes those players so good. So if you want to make the leap from average to exceptional, is this what you should focus on improving?
Well, this assumption is a bit of a leap, and just taking a guess and putting effort into random areas of our performance is an easy way to make slow progress and hit skill plateaus. And quite honestly this is what holds back most players. They make big assumptions about what to work on next without really having a high-level of insight. So to avoid this, and to get much more reliable answers I reached out to 2 professional esports coaches for advice.
Both Jayne and Tikatee have high-level coaching experience in the Overwatch League working with The Dallas Fuel and have even been Head coaches for Team Canada’s Overwatch team. Now whether you play Overwatch or not, their advice still applies. In fact, they illuminated three key factors that anyone can apply to go from an average level of skill to an exceptional level of skill. So if you want to start making rapid progress and finally break through to the next rank, then get ready to upgrade your approach to improving…
Realistically, getting to a good level of skill in any game requires a high level of mechanics. But as Tikatee mentions, there is a point where you need to start shifting your focus and working on different aspects of your performance. He specifically mentions 2 key aspects: Mentality and Decision making.
So let’s break them both down and figure out how to master each aspect so you can climb to a high level of skill. Starting with your mentality…
So the key to developing a greater mentality is to build a level of emotional stability. Tikatee explained this as avoiding the peaks and valleys, meaning the emotional highs and lows that come naturally with the ups and downs of the game.
When you let negative emotions and even positive emotions control your mindset, you’ll begin to get caught up in trivial details of the game, you’ll lose focus of the long term goal of improvement and allow emotions to hijack your performance. So attaining a higher level of performance requires gaining stronger control over your emotions. But how exactly do you do this? Well, the first step is to address your ego…
So start by letting go of your ego, focusing less on yourself, on how well YOU’RE doing or how YOU feel. When you get attached to that focus on yourself you lose vision of greater objectives and let low points in the game cloud up your judgment. Ideally, you want to get yourself into a mindset where you can roll with the punches, brush off the low points, and move on quickly, towards the next opportunities to learn.
So to get out of your own head, focus on the greater objectives of the game, focus on your role within the team, and your personal long-term goals. These will ultimately take your focus away from yourself and allow for greater resilience.
But the other emotional vulnerability that you need to shield yourself from is your own expectations, especially when setting goals…
So when it comes to setting goals or personal objectives, you don’t want them to be unrealistic or out of your control because your expectations are one of the biggest culprits for emotional instability. So start paying attention to when your emotions, ego, and expectations take control of your decision making. Then swap that mindset with a focus on realistic and controllable goals. As you feel the ups and downs of the game, let it roll off you, as if pressing a reset button on your emotions. The more you practice this mentality the more clear your judgment will become and the faster you’ll improve.
Unfortunately, your mentality is only part of the equation. The other aspect we need to improve is your decision making. Now how exactly can we improve that?
So decision making is an aspect of the game that we naturally improve on from just playing the game over and over. But eventually, we will reach a certain level of skill where we need to switch our method of training to gain a greater perspective.
And of course, taking the time to go back into a replay viewer or VOD, and seeing your performance from a third-person view, can open up a wider perspective on what you’re doing well and what you need to work on. More specifically you can begin to identify what habits and decision-making patterns are holding you back.
Now as Tikatee mentioned this is something most players fail to do. Not because they don’t know it’s an option, but because they don’t know how necessary it is. But to really understand how valuable this aspect of your training is, consider how much time Jayne recommends you spend planning and reviewing your games…
Most players who understand the value of prep and review, have likely never considered investing half their time in it. And while this ratio will be much different for lower-level players, it still highlights how important it is as you want to climb to a higher rank. But it’s one thing to understand the importance of reviewing and a completely different thing to apply it effectively. So what exactly should you be looking for when reviewing your games?
When playing game to game it’s hard to notice trends or errors in your personal decision making. So you need to analyze your own gameplay to break down sub-optimal decisions. As you review your games you’ll look for moments where something went wrong. In these moments you’ll notice 2 types of errors.
The first kind occurs when you tried to do everything right, you had a plan, but something went wrong that was mostly out of your control. Perhaps you just got mechanically outplayed or something happened with your team. From these kinds of errors, there isn’t much to learn.
But the second type is decision making errors such as making a suboptimal play or pick based on the map, composition or other key factors. Decision-making errors also come up if you are being too aggressive or too passive. As well as when you are using your resources inefficiently.
This is where most of the analysis comes in – identifying poor decisions, suboptimal levels of aggression or inefficient use of resources…
While breaking down situations and reviewing your decision-making process within each context, you will learn a lot.
But to the untrained eye, it’s easy to miss key details. Over time you’ll fix many of the problems in your performance, but a certain amount will go completely unsolved. You will continue to make similar mistakes over and over and misdiagnose the root cause. To the right person, your mistakes are extremely obvious, but due to a lack of knowledge, you’ll never be able to identify the issue on your own. This situation happens a surprising amount because it’s impossible to identify an issue that you’re not qualified to recognize. So how do you overcome this?
So when you feel stuck or simply want to make progress faster, actively seek out external advice. The biggest mistake is assuming you can become the best on your own. This lone wolf approach to improvement is very limited, hence why top pro players and even semi-pro players work with coaches every day.
Now, if you are below an average rank, then this external perspective can easily be a player who is simply a few ranks above you. But eventually, once you reach the higher ranks you’ll need to seek guidance from a high-quality coach. Someone who understands how to break down a game, extract insights from it and effectively communicate the lessons to you personally…
So begin by building your emotional stability. Now, Tikatee mentioned, that emotional swings will inevitably happen, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t master this in a day. But when you notice your emotions taking control, analyze the situation and see how your ego or your expectations are contributing to your mindset. Then work backwards to readjust your focus and set new goals with more realistic expectations. The more you practice emotional stability over the next few days and weeks, the more clear your judgment will become and the faster you’ll improve.
As you master your mentality and reap the benefits of faster improvement, you’ll also need to upgrade your decision making. While this is something you’ve likely developed from just playing the game, perhaps with very periodic reviews. You’ll now need to step up the frequency of your reviews to a daily routine. In fact, at a high enough level, this will become up to half of your training.
But even reviewing your own games has its limits. So along with reviewing your own matches, you’ll need to seek external guidance from high-level players and coaches.
Collectively these three pieces of advice are enough to take you from where you are now to a high level of skill. So begin by mastering your mentality, reviewing your matches to improve your decision making, and seeking expert advice to overcome skill plateaus. By doing these, you’ll go be able to surpass an average rank, begin making rapid progress and finally reach an exceptional level of skill.