How to Improve Decision Making in Gaming


It's estimated that the average adult human makes 35,000 conscious decisions in a single day.  These decisions can often be nearly automatic.  Driving a car demands constant tiny adjustments to the steering wheel, accelerator, brakes, vision on the road, turn signals, and middle fingers.  Decisions can scale in complexity throughout the day, from what clothes to wear, to what to eat, to choosing words while conversing.  Most of the decisions we make throughout the day we don't think twice about, they just seem to flow naturally, but why is that?

History is a teacher

The saying goes "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."  Humans are in fact excellent at naturally learning from their experiences.  Neurologists have studied and tried to replicate the workings of the human brain, the ultimate supercomputer capable of storing, correlating, and recollecting at a moments notice.  We have thousands of hours of life experiences stored in our minds, the kind of information that allows us to react quickly when driving to avoid an accident.  For any given situation we enter in throughout the day we're automatically calling on similar situations in the past to guide our actions and decision making.

Why people make poor decisions in gaming

Given the massive amount of super fast information at our disposal, human beings should be the ultimate decision making machine.  So why do we sometimes see gamers making terrible decisions?  What do you mean jungle Sona isn't a thing?

We humans also possess the ability to feel and express the full range of what we call human emotion.  These can range from the positive, like the joy and exuberance of winning a long drawn-out team fight, to the negative, like missing a skill shot that costs your team an objective.  These emotions when left unchecked can heavily influence or even act as an override on our rational decision making.  A player "on tilt" or playing an emotionally charged game will often play poorly.

Both positive and negative emotions can work against us.  For example, scoring a convincing ace over the enemy team will usually lead to several objectives taken.  The victors may feel empowered or even unbeatable, and if they overextend they may suddenly find the tables turned as the enemy team respawns.  Or if you take the flip side, a team getting trounced may respawn to play an overly timid defensive game out of feelings of fear, giving up on important map objectives as the game snowballs out of their control.

The very top League players, while possessing world-class skill at what they do, are also masters of emotional control while they play.  The teams at the top of the rankings with near undefeated records are not doing so just on their gaming skill, but also through possessing superior emotional IQs, both individually and as a team.  There is a reason teams like TSM carry full-time support staffs - by paying heed to the players emotional needs and helping them cope with emotions, they ensure players keep their cool when it matters and not let the game get emotional.

Understanding your instincts, fear, and risk taking

This can also be called a "gut feeling" or "fight or flight" reflex, when you have a strong sense about how a certain decision you make will pan out.  Ever take a team fight in a poor area of the map and think to yourself (or out loud) "This is a BAD idea"?  Those are your instincts - memories and recollections of past team fights in this same map area that went poorly for you.  The little voice in your head is screaming out "DANGER!  DANGER!", while your teammates (depending on level of experience) may or may not have the same instinct.  When you get those feelings it's important to quickly understand what's causing them (map positioning, a fed enemy character), and deciding how best to act or communicate this information.

Fear and risk taking are a delicate balance.  Ignoring that little voice screaming "DANGER!" and you'll find yourself falling victim to the same mistakes repeatedly.  Take too little risks and your game will be too timid to achieve victory.  The key to risk taking is to take smart risks - those with a decent chance of having a positive outcome.

Thinking ahead

While living in the present is the best way to micro game, you also have to take a moment from time to time to think ahead about the macro game.  Great moments to do this are between waves when laning, when backing and returning to lane, when taking an objective or when moving between lanes.  Just take a few seconds to consider the end game.  What lanes are likely to be pushed in the next few minutes?  What objectives are spawning soon?  Where is the enemy team positioning?  What will the map look like in five, ten minutes?  Should you reset the lane or keep it frozen?  Where will that next team fight likely happen and how can you position yourself to get there quickly?

We can't predict the future with 100% certainty, but by not considering the endgame we're opening ourselves up to setbacks.  You'll suddenly find yourself mispositioned for a team fight, or giving up objectives that you otherwise didn't intend to, or get completely blindsided by an enemy player.  By taking a moment to think ahead we're making our in-the-moment decision making even better by tying this to our long-term objectives.

When emotions get the better of you

If you find yourself typing to your teammates messages like "WORST TEAM EVER", you're probably on tilt and not playing well.  The best thing to do is to take a break.  Step away from the game for an hour and try to understand what's triggering your emotions.  Are you upset about your own play?  Go watch some videos for inspiration and ideas.  Upset about others play?  Realize that this is outside of your control and it is what it is - people are going to play poorly, emotionally, or troll.  If you return to the game and are still emotional, you may need a longer break - a day, or even as long as a week.  This will allow you to reset and get back to your old self.
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