It all happens in a matter of seconds, and honestly, it’s overwhelming. You’re attempting to keep track of all the moving parts – the positioning of your teammates, the movement of your enemies, the knowledge of who you’re up against and what they’re capable of. You’re analyzing it all, looking for an opening, an opportunity. And all of this information is swirling around in your mind as you consider what to do next, what actions are possible, what outcomes are likely. But the pressure is building and it’s time to make a decision.
But be careful here.
With the right choice, you’ll be able to out-think your enemy, you’ll turn the tide for your team and be praised for making a pivotal move towards victory!
But with the wrong choice, you’ll give the enemy exactly what they need, they’ll take advantage of your mistake, make you look incompetent and then steamroll your team.
Now take a moment to step back from the situation I just described and consider which game I’m talking about – is it League of Legends, is it Counter-Strike, is it Apex Legends? Or am I describing something completely different, perhaps a quarterback’s time-pressured decision at the super bowl, or a hockey player skating down the ice, in the final moments of a pivotal game – and yes I’m Canadian, hence the hockey example.
But no matter the game or context, this kind of situation is universal. Being put in a position where you’re under pressure, forced to analyze all the key factors around you, combining tons of information to predict the best method of action. And with the right decision, you’ll advance towards the goal, but with the wrong decision, everything you’ve worked for will crumble before you.
What sets apart the most elite players in any domain is their ability to process more of this information, to literally be aware of more elements in the environment, understand all the possible interactions and potential outcomes, and as a result, make the most effective decisions that lead to victory!
This is the superpower of professional athletes and the genius behind pro gamers. SO how do you gain this elite ability?
Well, in esports, the professional players that you admire most, consistently use a key strategy to develop this, a habit that is often overlooked, yet allows them to develop this elite skill!
So what is it?
WHAT IS PATTERN RECOGNITION AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
During a match, your mind is constantly absorbing tons of information, mentally going through each possible decision and outcome, and then calculating the best possible actions. How well you’re able to do this is based on the number of patterns you’ve learned.
These patterns are essentially just the relationship between causes and effects while specific elements are present. And through experience in the game, you learn to recognize these different elements, how they interact with each other, and how your actions lead to certain results. Eventually, through trial and error, you develop a sort of mental library with hundreds or even thousands of these unique patterns. And the more patterns you add to this mental library, the more information you can call back on when making decisions.
And of course what sets a pro player apart from average players is their ability to see more patterns, to process more information – all as a result of having larger mental libraries.
But your ability to learn these new patterns and grow as a player is extremely limited by the short-term limitations of your mind…
During any typical game, everything is happening too quickly for your mind to absorb and make sense of the information – it fails to form cohesive patterns and as a result, you miss tons of opportunities to enhance your processing speed and become a smarter player.
But professionals in other domains already know this, and they have figured out ways of overcoming this limitation…
For example, when looking into what it takes to become a Grandmaster chess player – the research shows that the amount of time spent analyzing games, and not actually playing them, is the single greatest predictor of a chess player’s ability!
This means that these players can spend thousands of hours in actual games, yet those hours would be more conducive for success if they spent them studying games. This means studying matches by analyzing the positions, breaking-down every decision and understanding the thought process behind every move.
Similarly, the most successful football quarterbacks are generally the ones who spend the most time in the film room – watching and analyzing the plays of their own team and their opponents. By doing this they learn to see new patterns on the field from a different perspective, and they learn to make better decisions based on those patterns.
As a perfect example, the 6 time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady has mentioned in interviews that he watches back over his games rigorously, sometimes watching the offensive plays multiple times over to really understand the nuances of each play.
The reason this matters so much, is because when these chess and football players study a match, they are programming their mind to recognize new patterns at a pace that’s actually effective for learning. As a result, they train their brain to see new opportunities, to read unique plays, all in a matter of seconds, which is key in situations where just a few seconds can either lead to success or a complete disaster!
REVIEWING YOUR MATCHES
So if you want to develop mental patterns, absorb more details from your games, learn to make better decisions and discover missed opportunities, then the key is to learn by reviewing your matches, the same way that football quarterbacks and chess masters do.
And I imagine if you’ve ever watched YouTube videos from your favorite pro teams or any esports documentaries, you’ve likely seen pro players doing this sort of review. And perhaps you’ve even considered trying it yourself.
But chances are, when you first saw it happening or first heard about it, it seemed like a lot of extra effort, and it made you question how important it actually is…
Noted: “I have over 10,000 hours in CSGO, and out of those 10,000 hours I think 3,000 or 4,000, was reviewing demos. Like I review so many demos!”
This is Vince, more commonly known as Noted – and if you’re a Rainbow 6 player then you’ve likely stumbled upon his YouTube channel in the past, but beyond the channel, Noted is an esports player who’s played competitively in PUBG, CSGO and Rainbow 6, for the teams Trifecta, GFX, and Pain Gaming. He’s had his fair share of experience in the competitive realm and as a result, he’s invested a lot of time into watching replays or as he says demos. And he agrees that this tactic is extremely important…
*Noted: “Dude, there’s nothing that can improve yourself more than this, especially if you want to become a pro. Each time that you watch this bro, you’re going to see a new thing. And each new little detail can give you an edge when you’re playing in a competitive match. So that’s why it’s so important for you to watch.”
So we now know that watching your replays or demos can be important, but what exactly should you be looking for when you’re watching? Well, this is the kind of question I asked Noted, and he shed some light on a few major things to watch for.
But we both agreed on one critical prerequisite… before you dive into a fresh replay or demo, you need to address the biggest potential obstacle, your own ego – because it’s easy to look past our own mistakes and place the blame on other factors within the game, but doing this will only prevent you from learning…
Noted: “And, one of the things in esports, and to become a better player, and to become a real professional player, is to ignore the ego, like let the ego aside. If Fallen told me to hold that angle and I did it wrong and I died, I should think with myself – why did I die? You know, what was the reason for it? – and stop blaming him. That’s how big athletes become better if you see Lebron James, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, all of them, they learn with their mistakes.”
So this is the necessary first step, learning from and embracing your mistakes, taking ownership of your short-comings and releasing your ego.
This means taking ownership of losses and bad plays, even when at first glance it doesn’t appear to be your fault – because once you disconnect from your ego, and taken extreme amounts of ownership, you’ll be able to see more opportunity for growth and as a result, you’ll begin to develop your pattern recognition much faster.
From here you can begin to analyze each major play – Looking for key moments when things went right, or when things went wrong. But of course when analyzing these plays there will be a lot of things you could pay attention to, and of course, each game will be different, but there are some universal things that are important to watch for, including your level of aggression…
Note: “If I’m being over aggressive, like one time. And then the second time again. And I notice. And in the third time I notice again, my over aggression, and I die anyway the third time. That means it’s just ignorance. So you gotta pay attention to those little details. For example, there’s a map called Club House in Rainbow 6. I see myself being aggressive a lot in the stairs, for example. And I stopped going to the stairs and I stopped dying at the beginning of the rounds.”
So watching for levels of over-aggression is important, but your level of aggression is a balance, and being under aggressive can be just as detrimental…
Noted: “I’m not going to say any names, but I had teammates, that made me really mad back in the day, because they were so under aggressive, that they used to hold one angle for 3 minutes, and after that they used to be alive, and like 0 kills, 0 deaths. But they used to be there, like a little pole that you put there. So this is being extremely under aggressive.”
Your level of aggression often comes through in your positioning and vulnerability, rushing to say a specific spot too quickly, or holding a single position for too long.
As Noted later mentioned, knowing the right time to be aggressive and the right time to be passive is key – and this timing is dependant on your personal playstyle, your skill level and the types of enemies you’re typically up against.
So pay attention to your level of aggression in your reviews – when you are being over-aggressive and slipping up due to overconfidence – but also when you are being too passive and missing major opportunities where you could have been assertive and succeeded.
The next thing to watch for is your mechanical skills – Now don’t get too stuck on this and blame mechanics for every failure – but notice when there is an obvious flaw in your skill execution that you need to correct. Then, once you’ve identified a bad habit or poor mechanic, create an exercise that you can use to work on that skill over and over until you’ve corrected it.
Noted is heavily engaged with aim training and similar exercises to boost FPS mechanics – he’s set an impressive record in the CSGO workshop and he’s currently on a mission to be the top of the leaderboard in Kovaak’s aim trainer. And when chatting with him, he stressed the importance of using these sort of mini-games or drills to hone specific mechanics – but depending on the game you play, might have to get creative with it. For example, Noted even brought up the notorious video of Faker playing “I wanna be the boshy” in order to train his dodge mechanics. And in past interviews, Noted has even mentioned of some people learning to juggle in order to train their peripheral vision.
So when you’re in a game, pay attention to any major mechanical errors and make it your priority to create some sort of creative drill or exercise where you can train that key skill.
Perhaps the most important thing to watch for is your decision making… breaking down specific plays to figure out why you made a certain choice, what factors contributed to the outcome, what factors you were aware of and what factors you missed…
Noted: “If I rushed out like crazy, without flashing, without smoking or anything, as soon as the round starts. If I rushed like this and I die, I will try to understand all the rotations, and all the respawns of where each player was in on the map. I will try to understand, why did I die at the time that I died, and the timer of the game. What should I do to flash the guy at the same time he’s coming out of the respawn. That way I can get an advantage and get their before him. So all this stuff you learn with your own mistakes. And a lot of players, they don’t do it, and that’s why don’t evolve.”
The key to getting the most from this is to break down your thought process in that moment – considering what exactly you need to do differently, and how you need to think differently, in future scenarios, and why.
By learning to recognize these combinations of in-game factors and how to make better decisions based on them, you’ll slowly add new patterns to your mental library and unlock the decision-making skills that makes elite players so good.
But Noted also brought up an important idea – which is to not only watch your own replays but to watch plays of pro players so that you can compare and contrast them to your own.
Perhaps compare a single match from your favorite pro player, playing on the exact same map, or with the exact same character, and attempt to understand their decision making in contrast with your own.
Noted: “Go watch someone that plays extremely well and try to calculate their moves, and try to get their experience. Like in Rainbow 6, if you watch someone that plays really good, playing a tournament or something, you’re going to understand angles, you’re going to learn new stuff. So that’s pretty much what is needed, but few people are willing to do it.”
So add this to your protocol for improvement – create a checklist of things to watch for when reviewing your games. Now depending on the game, there will be many more game-specific things that you need to analyze, whether it’s pre-aiming certain spots or warding certain areas of the map. But regardless of the game, consider adding the steps of consciously addressing your ego, watching for level of aggression, being aware of mechanical errors, breaking down your decision making and comparing your own replays to that of pro players.
And as a bonus tip, if you want to absorb these patterns even faster, I suggest combining the lessons from this video with the lessons from our recent video on game-sense and learning twice as fast…
So by nature of how your brain works, the more you study a pattern, recall it, and come across it, the easier and faster it’ll be for your mind to process it. Soon enough you’ll have an enhanced awareness of opportunities in every game, you’ll be able to process information much faster and you’ll be making more intelligent decisions.
But I’ll be honest, this is not a tactic that’s not exactly fun to implement – it can be boring, and mentally taxing to spend hours reviewing matches or searching for subtle lessons or patterns to learn from. It’s much easier to just sit back and play the game. But if you have any aspiration to become a pro player then this tactic is something you MUST do…
Noted: “If you see like Coldzera, he’s like the best in the world at CSGO. Like this guys watches more demos than anyone. Him and Fallen. There’s a reason he’s the best because he’s willing to do what no one else wants to do. Which is sitting in a chair for like 10 hours and watching people playing. Some people go to watch Twitch because it’s funny. Instead of watching Twitch, if you want to become a pro, go watch demos. If you don’t – it’s pretty simple – if you don’t do it, you’re not going to become a professional player…”