Breaking Out of a Rut

Last week was pretty brutal for me in solo queue LoL.  On Monday, I was sitting comfortably around 2030 elo, but by Friday, I had managed to drop all the way down to 1864.   Early in my loss streak, I chalked it up to just a bad streak.  My teammates had been underperforming in lane, and it just seemed like a few unfortunate games.  Around 1970, I was feeling pretty damn unlucky, but I was also unphased by my downward swing.   It seemed like game after game my teammates were getting picked off lategame and just throwing games that were in our favor or somewhat even and that the streak would just pass.  By 1910, I felt like the unluckiest guy in the world.  When I finally bottomed out at 1864, I finally stopped and started reflecting on what happened over the course of the previous week.

Not surprisingly, when I stopped to really look at my streak, I realized that there were some flaws in my own gameplay that were contributing to my decline.  Most notable of these flaws was my lack of map awareness, which I believe was the product of a few outside factors.  Namely, my sleep schedule was terrible during this week, which was leaving me exhausted, and I was going out of my way to make sure I streamed my games since becoming a featured streamer on teamliquid.net, and as a result, I was distracted by getting my stream settings just right and interacting with my viewers.  While I wasn’t doing terribly poorly in my lane or in standard 5v5 teamfights, I was frequently playing sub-optimally in the skirmish-level fights in the earlygame and midgame.  Although I don’t think this was 100% to blame for my loss streak, it certainly wasn’t helping my cause and discovering it gave me something about my own gameplay to fixate on for improvement.

In order to solve this issue in my play, I made two conscious decisions regarding my gameplay.  Firstly, I was going to stop playing top lane so much, as this is the easiest lane to get tunnel vision in, and instead try to favor jungling to force myself to pay attention to the whole map.  And secondly, I was going to cut back on my playing hours, put more time into other hobbies and make sure that I got my sleep schedule back on track.  Since taking these steps, I’ve put together a nice little win streak of 4 games and gotten my elo back up to 1914, but, more importantly, I feel better about the games I’m playing and the decisions I make in them.

This is hardly the first time I’ve had a rut in a competitive game and will certainly not be the last, so I’d like to get into generalizing what the issue usually is and how to recognize it and fix it as soon as possible.  From my experience, the best way to describe the typical run of the mill gaming rut is a regression to auto-pilot.  What I mean by this is that instead of approaching your games with an active and adaptive mind, you approach games by shutting your brain off and letting your raw experience and muscle memory dictate your actions.  We all do this from time to time, especially when gaming isn’t the core focus of what you’re doing.  If I get together with my friends and we just happen to bust out a gamecube to play some Smash Brothers Melee, chances are I’ll just be auto-piloting and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with doing this.  But when your goal is to get better at a game, you can’t approach games with your mind turned off and expect to see results.

With that being said, let’s get into the ways I’ve found effective at breaking out of a rut.  The first and most frequently successful method in my gaming career is simply taking a break.  It’s amazing the sort of clarity you get from simply putting down the controller for a week.  I’ve found that after taking a break, I always come back to games with a simpler, and often more effective, approach.  When you’re putting a lot of time into a game and things aren’t working, you’ll frequently find yourself agonizing over details and getting bogged down in little problems rather than seeing broader issues that become incredibly apparent when you just step away from the game for a short bit.

Another consistent method for breaking out of a rut that I’ve found is to switch things up in game.  This varies from game to game, but for instance, taking a break from playing top lane to focus on another role in LoL, taking a break from playing Falco to try playing Fox in Melee, and changing the deck that you’re running in constructed Magic: the Gathering, are all good examples of shaking up your in-game behavior.  Anything that knocks you out of your comfort zone is a good way to gain insight into yourself as a player, as it forces you to deal with new situations that will force you to think about what you’re doing rather than auto-piloting.

The last thing that I really want to touch on for fixing a bad streak in gaming is focusing on other aspects of your life.  This sort of goes along with taking a break from the game, but it’s more than that.  When you take a game very seriously, you start to get very invested in it and doing well in it.  This in turn puts a lot of pressure on yourself to do well, and when things aren’t going well, this starts to drag you down and generally makes you feel unsatisfied with the whole gaming experience.  While you’re taking a break, it’s good to give yourself some perspective and take the pressure of playing the game off.  That way, when you get back into playing the game, the focus will be less about seeing results (wins, elo, etc) from working so hard at it, and instead will be shifted to actual individual improvement, regardless of the results of the isolated games.

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2 Responses to Breaking Out of a Rut

  1. Bobby says:

    Magnificent musings, Mogwai. Autopilot is brutal, that’s been my struggle for the past month and I feel like I’ve taken some steps towards increasing my awareness. Definitely a topic where people can’t get enough help, it seems.

  2. callmepakman says:

    Good blog, Mogwai. I frequently take breaks from gaming to clear my head. Does wonders for your stress as well as your focus,
    I’ve been playing Melee on autopilot for like 3 years. It does not help you at becoming a better gamer, but I am going to keep doing it because melee takes too much work to get good at.

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