The way competitive League of Legends is taught and trained has flaws, and the competitive scene can improve on those flaws by incorporating lessons from the oldest competition in human history, warfare.
Western military science recognizes six elements required to win a battle: Maneuver, Fires, Sustainment, Protection, Intelligence, and Command. These concepts are familiar to a League of Legends (LoL) player.
In LoL, teams are organized into five discrete positions that each approach one or more of these elements. In contrast, soldiers are trained to perform all of these functions, irrespective of a soldier’s specific job.
Our objective here is to outline how we believe a team could dramatically improve by integrating this doctrine into their culture.
Professional teams need to make a shift from organizing players into five distinct roles.
Teams must stop assigning a player to top, jungle, middle, support, and bottom; while telling them it’s their task to perform better at that job than their counterpart across Summoner’s Rift.
Framing the game entirely in terms of where you intend to initially station your players is not useful in defining and training what they must do to achieve victory.
Instead, a competitive team should capture the lessons learned in warfare, and train each of their players to be superior in the same six functions militaries train in.
“Mankind has had ten-thousand years of experience at fighting and if we must fight, we have no excuse for not fighting well.” -T. E. Lawrence
Maneuvering consists of the tasks related to moving and positioning your forces in places of relative advantage.
Properly Maneuvering provides teams with a deterrent capability and the ability to project force to defeat adversaries.
In a game of LOL, this encompasses three primary tasks: macro movement, micro movement, and pacing. Each of these tasks is divided into three distinct subtasks: positioning, navigation, and timing.
Macro movement is, simply, where you are on the map.
To achieve maneuver superiority, players must train themselves to continuously evaluate where their ideal macro position is (positioning), how they should get there (navigation), and how long they have to utilize that position (timing).
Perfection is impossible, your adversary will continuously contest your Maneuvers. A balance must be struck between positioning, navigation, and timing that maximizes your team’s advantages.
As you play, you will track your teammate’s general macro movements and they will likewise track yours. Players will often be unable to pay attention to the specific tactical situation an ally is facing.
Because of this, your current map position is to be treated as your area of responsibility (AOR). If your team has Maneuvered such that you are alone in an AOR, you are responsible for all warfighting functions that occur there.
If you are unable to execute those functions, you are likely in the wrong AOR.
The most obvious AORs in a game are the lanes and major neutral objectives, but AORs are not just the fixed locations in a game, they also include locations where non-fixed objectives are being contested, such as a team fight or ward emplacement.
Micro-movement refers to how a player positions themselves within their current AOR.
Similar to any combat sport, a fundamental aspect of your playing ability in LOL is footwork. This means a player must be accurately and precisely positioning, be correctly navigating around both their own and their opponents’ Fires, and timing movements for optimum effect.
Proficiency in this function is essential to mechanical proficiency with a champion. As stated above, perfect Maneuvering is impossible. A balance must once again be struck between positioning, navigation, and timing to maximize your force projection in the AOR.
Pacing is the aspect of Maneuvering related to executing a team’s strategies and tactics.
While it is not the formulation of tactics and strategy itself, it is the evaluation of where the team is versus where the team intends to be. Are you positioned where you need be to meet your win conditions at the ideal times? Are you free to navigate to your next objectives? Are you on schedule in meeting your objectives?
While macro play as discussed above is a task conducted in and for the present, pacing is conducted in the present for the future.
No plan survives contact with the enemy, and this means you will never execute exactly the plan you entered the game with. However, by using proper pacing, you can Maneuver such that you are poised to take your required objectives and meet your required win conditions with minimal deviation from the original plan.
“You really don’t defeat the Taliban by clearing an area. They move.” -Colin Powell
Fires refer to the ability to apply force and affect your adversary.
By their nature, Fires missions are time sensitive and leave the units executing them vulnerable. Fires must produce their effect with minimum time spent, and they must multitask.
Effective Fires will accomplish three tasks: respond quickly, execute precisely, and be multifunctional.
It is tempting for a player to believe they are effectively projecting force if they are dealing damage frequently and consistently. Tons of damage is useful to have, and big damage numbers are satisfying to see in the postgame screen.
However, focusing your attention on how much damage you output distracts you from the real reasons one team achieved Fires superiority.
Most objectives have a finite amount of maximum health.
An important aspect of Fires is to reach these damage totals in a minimum amount of time and with minimum risk to your team. A wise soldier once said: if the enemy is in range, so are you.
This is often misunderstood because not all weapons are created equal, and that criticism can be translated to LoL.
The various weapons that champions bring to the field have different literal ranges. However, the real wisdom in this statement is in not taking it literally.
Every human being has a finite attention span, and this means every offensive action you take subtracts from the amount of attention you are able to apply to other tasks. This presents you with inherent vulnerabilities whenever damage is applied to an objective.
This means you need to be damaging an objective for the minimum necessary.
This requires other forms of Fires than damage. In fact, damage is a very small fraction of what will make you effective at this function.
Fires encompass any effect that you directly apply to an enemy, and in LoL that encompasses two more tasks.
The first of these is establishing your vision control. It’s unusual to think this way when vision is seen to primarily be a supportive role instead of an offensive one. But when it comes to placing and neutralizing vision this idea must be tossed in the rubbish bin.
This is a major part of how you will target your other Fires and disrupt your adversaries capability to target theirs. It is it as critical as damage and it leaves you equally vulnerable when you establish it. This means to achieve superiority it must be done quickly and precisely.
More importantly, it must be treated as an offensive function instead of a supporting or defensive function, and it must be trained with the same mindset you train your ability to apply damage.
Non-damage effects, primarily crowd control, are the final category of Fires in league.
These effects are viewed with a slightly different lens; their purpose is to provide a force multiplier to another activity.
This includes improving a Maneuver, amplifying other Fires, providing windows for Sustainment or Protection, allowing the team to gather and process Intelligence, and any other task that needs to be accomplished.
It is imperative that crowd control is amplifying another function.
The only time a force multiplier is useless is when the underlying force is zero; these effects cannot be wasted by themselves. Teams should aspire to apply them when they can amplify a maximum amount of force.
“Untutored courage is useless in the face of educated bullets.” -George S. Patton
Sustainment is the ability to keep your forward forces at full strength to ensure freedom of action, extend operational reach, and prolong endurance.
As much as it is the responsibility of forces to support and resupply those at the front, it is equally critical for forward forces to manage their resources wisely and keep themselves supplied and healthy.
In a game of LoL this primarily means having effective resource management and resupply operations. As a player, you will have four resources to manage: gold, experience, health, and ammunition.
Gold is by far the easiest resource to understand, as it functions similarly to currency in the real world.
Unlike reality, you will always have perfect information about the goods you purchase in game, and consequently, questions about what to purchase should never arise in-game.
A player must go into the game knowing their optimal build, optimal build path, situational variants, and the conditions for using those variants. This leaves the player with the only the question of how to earn and spend their gold efficiently.
LoL provides excellent stats on how much gold you accrue; however, a much more important stat is the portion of your income that isn’t useful.
This amount is simple to quantify: it’s the gold leftover after you shop, divided by the time until you shop again.
This rate is the part of your income that isn’t doing anything, and it must be minimized to achieve Sustainment superiority. Furthermore, there is an opportunity cost to every time you shop, as you will always miss income and are unable to project force when you are shopping.
This is harder to optimize, as you must balance the costs of your absence from the AOR with the costs of being under-equipped, and teams must develop efficient means of balancing said costs.
Experience can be treated similarly to gold, and it is a simpler resource in that there is no opportunity cost for spending it.
Like items, your optimal build path and acceptable variants for skill order must be known in advance of playing.
This doesn’t mean there is no way to optimize your use of this resource, it’s critical to understand the value of the experience you earn, as well as the costs of splitting experience. The most obvious area we see this is in the use of jungling, which entered the LoL strategic meta to give two positions solo lane experience.
There are nuances to experience gain on a tactical level as well, and teams must understand how their actions impact the distribution and gain of experience across the team.
A team that has mastered experience management knows when then need to split experience, when to funnel solo experience onto someone, and when they should let the experience go to waste.
Health is a less intuitive resource; with rare exceptions, your champion is still effective at a single point of health because health rarely impacts the effectiveness of your champion’s kit.
It’s a resource that’s primary function is to buffer against death: when your entire champion is on cooldown.
When your health is consumed, you are forced to pay your adversary a fine and remove yourself from the board for a significant chunk of time.
Optimizing your use of health requires always understanding the significance of being removed from the game for one death timer, and understanding that each expenditure of health increases the risk of death being forced upon you.
Health is a shield meant to mitigate mistakes and preserve advantages, so optimization also requires an understanding of what errors you are capable of absorbing at any given moment (e.g. taking a single auto attack versus an entire spell rotation).
Health should willingly be spent in only situations when you increase your adversary’s risk of death more than your own, and when it will gain you a significant advantage.
Ammunition refers to the supplies which enable you to project force.
In-game this primarily means your cooldowns, resource bars, and consumables.
More than any other Sustainment concept, this one will draw on your champion knowledge.
How many spell rotations do I have available? What are the impacts of my cooldowns? How should I spend my consumables? The answers to these questions will vary, but certain concepts can be generalized: you should always manage your ammunition so that it will only become exhausted when resupply costs (missed gold, experience, or opportunities) are minimized.
You should aim to resupply when you can combine that mission with as many others as possible (shopping, rotating, etc.) You must never have too little ammunition to project force.
On a different note, out of game Sustainment is as crucial as in the game.
Playing this game at a professional level is physically demanding, and carries with it significant risks to your well being.
Unhealthy players will never perform at the same level as healthy ones, so it is critical to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s critical to understand and mitigate both physical and mental health risks. It is also critical to understand the need for rest.
Ignoring any of these sets a team up for failures.
Do not allow yourselves to become the team that loses a game because a player didn’t wash their hands and had to compete with food poisoning, do not allow yourselves to become the team that loses a game because they didn’t sleep well the night before, and do not allow yourselves to be the team that falls apart because mental or physical health was ignored.
“Riches do not consist in the possession of treasures, but in the use made of them.” -Napoleon Bonaparte
Protection consists of the tasks associated with holding the advantages you’ve gained.
While this primarily pertains to keeping control of objectives and maintaining superior assets, it’s equally important to prevent yourself and allies from becoming insider threats due to sloth, negligence, overconfidence, and poor morale.
While Protection is a defensive function, it is critical to realize Protection is neither reactionary nor passive in nature.
It’s difficult to describe specific, in-game, Protection tasks because the concept is the most nebulous and generalized of the warfighting functions.
More than any specific practice, Protection relies on cultivating a culture of introspection.
This means developing an environment in which vulnerabilities and mistakes are not a source of shame and tension, but instead opportunities to learn and improve. This can be difficult to implement, as most competitors have a dangerous combination of pride, confidence, and perfectionism that inhibits this type of thinking.
While these traits are essential to the mindset of a professional athlete, mistakes and vulnerabilities cause significant cognitive dissonance within minds programmed to think this way.
One of the most natural responses to this discomfort is rationalizing and making excuses instead of recognizing the roots of the problem. This most obviously manifests itself in the phenomenon of “tilting,” in which this dissonance causes errors to compound rapidly.
However, more frequently, this results in ineffective gameplay that neglects Protection to instead operate in an unbalanced, reckless fashion.
This is complicated by how naturally tilt and aggression occur in contrast with how unnatural Protection is to a players mindset.
This is something that must be dealt with in a team’s overall culture, out of game, to achieve the desired in-game result. This means creating an environment where mistakes are not such a cause of shame that they will be ignored.
It means creating an environment where when someone sees a mistake or vulnerability, they will speak up and the issue will be addressed.
At the same time, Protection is but one of the six functions a team must perfect, and each function is equally important.
A good rule of thumb for training your Protection mindset is with time: one out of every six hours you spend training should be devoted for looking at your weaknesses; irrespective of where they are.
This does not mean they must all be immediately corrected, but they must at least be recognized to prevent exploitation.
A team with Protection superiority will continuously evaluate not only what advantages they have, but how those advantages can slip away, and that team will use that knowledge to preserve them.
Furthermore, a team with Protection superiority will police themselves, and be aware of their vulnerabilities as they move to mitigate them.
“Passivity is fatal to us. Our goal is to make the enemy passive.” -Mao Zedong