Goals and Desires – Four Approaches to the Game

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In my coaching experience, I’ve met a lot of players. Many of them are frustrated with the game. They feel as though the experience that they have doesn’t satisfy their desires. They are unfulfilled in some way. Typically, this comes from a lack of understanding of the goals they’ve set for themselves.

Over and over, I see three common goals in League of Legends players. You can play for fun, to win, or to learn. Each of these goals encourage different approaches to the game. Knowing which is most important to you (and being honest about which one) will help you get more out of the time that you spend on league.

Internal and External Desires

Now of course, these aren’t the only three goals you could be working towards. There are a number of different things you could be searching for by playing the game. However, all of these desires can be roughly divided into two categories:

  • External desires
    • Respect for some accomplishment
    • Positive social interaction
    • Acceptance into a group
  • Internal desires
    • Wanting to overcome a challenge
    • Curiosity (How high can I get?)
    • Experimentation and expression
    • The desire to learn and grow

The bad thing about external desires is that they need the cooperation of others. And as we know, you can only influence other people’s actions, not control them.  (STOICISM) This can leave people feeling powerless to achieve their goals.

Meanwhile, internal desires are, for the most part, fully self contained. They reflect a change in oneself, rather than in circumstances or surroundings. Thus, if possible, it’s always best to have Internal goals. This is because it gives you control over (and makes you accountable for) achieving what you set out to do. With this distinction out of the way, lets get into the three most common goals.

Playing For Fun

There is nothing wrong with playing to enjoy yourself. Most players don’t want to spend time on a game that they don’t enjoy. However, the ways that we enjoy the game are varried and complex. In a lot of ways, every goal to do with the game (short of playing professionally) boils down to this. The key is being aware of what makes the game fun for you.

Some people have a certain champion that they love to death. The game is that much more enjoyable when they get to experience that champion’s kit. For me, I’d have to say my favorite champion is Zac. Landing the perfect slingshot is the most amazing feeling in the world, I can’t get enough of it. I know if I queue up for a game of Zac, it’s going to be that much harder to have a bad time. Simply playing the game will bring me joy.

Take a minute and think about your most memorable experiences playing the game. What made them so enjoyable? If you can identify what you like, you can work towards ensuring that it happens more often. Keep in mind, though, that if you want calm teammates, you may be best off playing exclusively with friends. Otherwise, you’re leaving your enjoyment in the hands of people who don’t care about you. You’ve made an external goal – not good.

Another angle you can take is trying to remove the parts of the game that frustrate you. Don’t like listening to angry teammates? Use the mute button proactively, or spend time looking for a group of friends to play with. Don’t like getting outplayed in lane? Try jungling! Don’t like losing? Consider getting good.

Playing To Win

Speaking of getting good, many many players want to win the game. If your goal is to win, the easiest way to achieve that goal is very simple. Pick a small (1-3) pool of easy to play champions and play them over and over. Pay attention to what plays work and which don’t. Don’t play champions outside of your pool. I’m serious. There is no way around this. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

If you’re ever uncertain, play it safe. Sit back, punish your opponents mistakes and you’ll win. You don’t need to force anything until you’re at the highest level of play. You need to be patient and alert – your enemies will outplay themselves, all you need to do is catch their throw.

Unfortunately, playing to win in solo queue can be frustrating. As one player on a team of five, you only influence the outcome of the match, not control it. It is an external goal. If you want to win, the best way is to play on a team. It doesn’t have to be super serious – you just need other players who share your goal.

It surprises many players to find out that playing to win can cause stagnation. You’ll hit a point on the ladder where you won’t know what you’re doing wrong, and you’ll be stuck. This is because of a crucial fact – climbing isnt about winning, but to improving.

Playing to Learn

Sometimes, you need to lose the battle to win the war. Patches change, tastes shift and the metagame evolves. To keep up, you need to be flexible, and you need to take risks. When you play to learn, your goal every game is to find out something you didn’t know before.

If you encounter a situation where you are unsure whether you can make a play, try it. What’s the worst that can happen? You lose the game for it? In a week you won’t even remember the outcome. At the end of the season, it’ll be one loss in a huge volume of games, if you play consistently. What’s one match in 400? 800? Insignificant. But, consider this:

If you aren’t sure whether you can make the play, and you dont try, the next time the situation arrises you still won’t know. Take the risk, and make the play, you find out. If it works, great – you just discovered that you’re more powerful than you thought. If not, now you know better how to punish enemies who make the same mistake. You’ve learned something.

By learning about a wide variety of situations in the game, and paying attention, you improve as a player. Eventually, you’ll understand the game better than the players you play with. You’ll start to beat them without effort. Your B game has become their A game, and your A game outclasses theirs. The wins come without you even trying for them.

The best part though about playing to learn is that it’s internal process. There’s almost always something you can learn from a match, good teammates or bad. Solo queue becomes a playground, rather than a torture chamber.

In Conclusion – Playing to Climb

In the short term, by playing to learn, you may drop some ranks. This is expected, but necessary. However, to learn quickly, you need to play against strong opponents. You need enemies that punish your mistakes so that you can identify and eliminate them. Thus, the optimal strategy to climb is to alternate between playing to learn and playing to win.

The most common mistake that I see among lower ranking players is playing to win too much and playing to learn too little. In the end, if you truly learn the champion, there should be no situations that surprise you. However, most people don’t have the time or the will to master a champion to that degree. So, you accept a small amount of uncertainty. Play to win once you start finding it difficult to face new situations.

Do not be afraid to lose if it teaches you something. How many matches do you think faker lost before he made it to where he is? More than you’ve played in total, probably. Take risks. Push yourself. The only way to suck less is to do more.

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Atherton Wing
Atherton Wing is a long time League of Legends player and coach. When not initiating teamfights, he enjoys cooking, writing bulleted lists and composing video game soundtracks.