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League of Legends Build Guide Author xenoproboscizoid

A Playmaker's Guide to Aggression

xenoproboscizoid Last updated on October 19, 2014
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Hi, my name is Xenoproboscizoid and I'm a rising diamond aiming to climb as high as I can get. One of the most distinguishing differences I notice between high elo (high plat and above) and low elo (low plat and below) is that players in the lower brackets tend towards caution rather than aggression.

Minimizing your deaths is certainly a valuable skill, but if your goal is to minimize mistakes the it becomes impossible to learn. In light of this I decided to write a guide focusing on working through what I suspect to be the most common hurdles that prevent players from reaching their full potential. The issues I will discuss has to do with performance anxiety, and as such I will discuss therapeutic methods for dealing with it.

Before we start, I want to clarify in dealing with this anxiety, the goal is not 'to relax' but to tolerate and accept the anxiety. The age old adage "it's just a game" is true, but it certainly won't help you deal with your anxiety.

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The Source of Over-Caution

Due to League's current scoring system, only a few statistics are reflected in-game and in the post-game lobby. The most prominent stats are kills and deaths (and assists for supports or junglers). Since these scores are the only objective/concrete means judging our own performance as well as the performance of others, we tend to worry about our end-game score rather than our direct impact on the game.

Although I personally dislike the reliance on kill/deaths/assists as the primary reflection of a player's impact on the game, I will not argue that they are meaningless. Maximizing kills and assists while minimizing deaths is certainly a prudent goal to keep, but if you attempt to do so before testing and knowing your limits, you'll never make the mistakes that truly make you a better player.

So why do we worry about our scores? Yes, it's the only objective means of judging our performance and the performance of others, but why should we care about our objective merits? I would argue that this score-based anxiety is born of two core fears:

  • Core fear 1: afraid of death and the discomfort it entails.
  • Core fear 2: afraid of social rejection.
This discomfort is dealt with via the only means our primitive brain (mainly the Amygdala), through avoidance. The problem with avoidance strategies is ironically that they work; playing passively will reduce deaths and therefore it will reduce frustration. The lack of social rejection in the form of teammates raging at you for a poor score further enforces the "efficacy" of avoidant strategies. In the following sections I will explain why we should avoid avoidance, and how we should go about doing so.

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What's Wrong with Avoidance?

The Amygdala

Avoiding negative stimuli (situations, objects, people, etc.) is an extremely effective means of preserving one's life; if a bear mauls off your arm your brain will tell you to avoid bears, as this is much easier than learning to fight them (especially one handed). The problem is that our Amygdala (the primary region of the brain involved in threat detection) cannot effectively distinguish between life-threatening discomfort (such as losing an arm to a bear) and more domestic discomforts (such as dying in a video game). It is as such that our overprotective brain tends to tell us to avoid anything that generates discomfort, and although this strategy will maximize your chances for a safe life/game, it will minimize your chance to better yourself.

How do we Improve?

Improvement is virtually always the result of learning from one's mistakes. Most of the time this is an unconscious process and as I've indicated above, the "lesson" we default to is to simply avoid the situation all-together. The only "exception" to this mistake -> learning pattern is classical education (book-learning), though whats really happening there is that we're learning from other people's mistakes.

Here's a classic example of mistake based learning:

Iteration One:
In the interest of explaining the movement of the "heavenly bodies" about the earth, Plato and his student Aristotle hypothesize that the sun, stars, and other planets orbited the earth (known as the geocentric model).

Iteration Two:
Copernicus proposes the heliocentric model. Although it was just as flawed as the geocentric model in terms of predictive accuracy, it was a clear step in the right direction.

Iteration Three:
Galileo uses the newfangled telescope and makes numerous observations inconsistent with the geocentric (and preceding heliocentric) model, providing the founding evidence for the adoption of an updated heliocentric model.

In this example, we (humanity) start off with the goal of explaining the movements of stars and planets through the sky. The mistake was to assume that the earth was the static element, about which the rest of the universe orbited. This model was later out into question via the work of Copernicus on his heliocentric model. Upon this groundwork Galileo uses empirical evidence to refine the latter, eventually leading to it's widespread adoption.


From a gameplay perspective, playing passively to minimize you deaths is not conducive to victory. What wins games most is knowing when to go for high reward plays. Notice here I didn't say high risk high reward; this is because with enough practice and enough mistakes, you'll start to learn how to distinguish between high risk high reward and low risk high reward; the latter of which is what you see on the competitive level of play. Sticking with passivity and playing not to die won't win you games, you'll just lose gracefully.

Lets recap with a pros/cons list for listening to the amygdala:

  • Less frustration
  • Less discomfort
  • Less social rejection
  • Low chance for improvement
  • Passivity loses games

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What to do Instead

Just because it's be brain/amygdala's natural response to avoid discomfort doesn't mean we need to obey it. Ignoring it's signals is a matter of understanding and believing in the value of mistakes. With that in mind, I want you to walk away from this guide with is a willingness to take risks knowing that there is a good reason for it.

Here are some techniques you can use to overcome you attachment to score:

1. Set realistic goals:
There is nothing so sad as seeing a plan die because it's author felt too overwhelmed to execute it. While it may be true that you're ultimate goal is truly play the carry role, making dashing leaps into seemingly hopeless frays only to emerge unscathed from what seemed order to you, and chaos to others, such a goal is problematic for several reasons.

  • First and foremost goals must be short term. This does not mean you shouldn't aspire to to hit diamond within the year, or that you should hit it faster; what it means is that you need to split that large, long term goal into smaller, short term chunks. For example climbing one division every 2-3 weeks would be a much more reasonable timeframe to work with.
  • Goals must be specific, by which I mean you must know exactly the actions you must take in order to achieve them. For instance setting the goal of "climbing ranked" is far too unspecific; with a goal that general you're likely to settle for less than you truly wanted, and as such you won't need or try to learn nearly so much as you're capable of.
    Updating that goal to "hitting diamond" is more specific, but it's still far too general because there are simply far too many factors involved in reaching diamond. A specific goal might be more skill-based, such as, 'I want to place six more wards per game'.
  • Finally, goals must be achievable. I don't mean achievable as in 'easy', but I do mean within the realm of possibility provided some significant effort. For example: If I record 50 CS by 10 minutes, and 100 by 20, then doubling those numbers would be far too difficult a goal. Instead I might set a sub-goal of increasing my CS by 10 per 10 minutes game time (60 by 10 minutes, 120 by 20) and if that's too easy or too hard I could make the necessary changes.

2. Congratulate Yourself for Mistakes
This one may sound strange, but the goal is to accept your errors and to become comfortable with your propensity for making them. Everyone makes mistakes and ignoring that fact won't change it. I'm not advising you to settle of mediocrity here; I'm not saying that because you screwed up a tower dive you should say, "well I'm just bad at tower-dives, everyone makes mistakes". Being "bad at tower dives" isn't a mistake, it's an ignorance of how to do it better so you need to do some research and keep trying. The worst thing to do is to pretend it never happened.

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Preloaded Lessons

Although I've only stated it off-hand thus far, learning from your own mistakes isn't the only way to improve. It's true of course that you'll have to execute whatever mechanical or strategic action you're having trouble with, but there's nothing wrong from researching how other people have done it.

For example I mentioned tower dives in the previous section. You could probably learn how to execute a clean tower dive with your jungler through manual practice, but you would likely learn much faster if you watched how professionals and high-elo players juggle tower aggro before giving it a go yourself.

Here are two lessons I will teach:

Value of Vision

If I had to pick a single deciding factor in who will win a game, it's vision control. This is because every single team comp relies on vision in order to execute properly; if you're running a catch-comp you need to spy out vulnerable targets, if you're running a team-fight comp you need to know where you can catch your opponent grouped, etc.

More relevant to the material in this guide, if your goal is to distinguish high risk high reward plays from low risk high reward, then the best tool for doing so is vision. If you see one opponent but you haven't seen four for more than 10 seconds, then flashing in for an engage is high risk. If you had some map vision and you know three enemies were in another lane less than a few seconds ago then the play is lower risk.

As a general rule of thumb, I buy one Vision Ward or Stealth Ward each time I back (in addition to my trinket). Keep in mind that once you've lit you map up, you still need to practice paying attention to your minimap.

Value of Flash

The second lesson is to use your summoner spells, especially Flash. Flash is certainly a great escape tool, but it's also a spectacular engage/catch tool and so restricting it to one type of usage only will severely limit your potential. The best way to learn how to use Flash aggressively is to play a some what squishy champion with some form of heavy single target CC (snare, stun, root, knock-up), such as Ahri, Lux, Xerath, etc. and make it your goal to hit 1-2+ flash CCs per game.

I mentioned squishy because it's feels much safer and natural to flash in with a tank than it normally will with a more vulnerable champion. I also stated that it should be single target because again, people are much more accustomed to flashing in for some form of AoE CC (like Amumu's Curse of the Sad Mummy)

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Prepping for Plays

The worst way to learn aggression is on a sluggish mind, the lethargy of recent wakefulness or daily inactivity is a poor conductor of the adrenaline you need to start intimidating your opponents. In order to combat this, I use the following two methods before I ever play ranked:

Physical Activity:
One of the best ways to wake up your mind is to wake up your body. I'm not suggesting you need to do a full-scale workout, but if you aim to feel sore the next day then you're doing a good job. What I usually do is a combination of high-knees, variegated push-ups, jacks, left lifts and a couple of machine exercises (stationary bike and TRX). I don't count reps and I don't set a time limit, I just work while I wait in queue for a couple of games or until I feel the need for a shower.

Setting the Stage:
I don't know how to describe this one exactly, but I like to set the stage for hyperactivity; sort of like stimulating and invigorating my mind. Perhaps the best way to describe it is through example: before I start playing I watch a Dark Souls speed run (any game would probably work). Watching players attempt to maximize the speed of their every action and observing them take advantage of every opportunity in ways I haven't fathomed is extremely exciting for me. Just this alone makes the difference between going into a game sluggish and passive versus giddy and excited.

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Ending Notes

I would love to hear your feedback! If you have comments on the process I've outlined, suggestions for more lessons, other preparatory work, stories about learning from mistakes, or anything else you can think of don't hesitate to comment or PM me!

If you're looking for a good champion to practice aggression with check out my Ahri guide!


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