“He has incredible mechanics!” “His champion pool is so deep!” “His shotcalling is so clean!”
When people rave about their favourite players, they use these attributes to evaluate their strength. Every sport has star players; they dominate matches, putting up ridiculous numbers and we admire them for their incredible talent. But natural talent is just one aspect of becoming a star, there’s another key characteristic that’s far more important: an unwavering mind, incredible confidence and the desire to become greater every day.
Part 1: Motivation
The driving force behind every athlete is motivation; no player in the big leagues got there by accident. Their initial goal might not have been to reach pro level, but they all shared the desire to be better, grinding that LP and climbing the ladder to Challenger. But at what point can we say someone is objectively “good”? It differs from person to person and the goals they set for themselves, and these goals are only part one on the way to achieving greatness.
Setting a goal is part one of growth. Set it high enough to motivate you, but don’t aim too high and risk demotivation when faced with setbacks. We see young players claim that they want to be the best, not only in their respective region but the entire world: these claims are often met with amused smirks, dismissed instantly as daydreams or simply overreaching. When we dismiss those claims, we forget that we are talking about the 0.0001%, the absolute best the region has to offer. So why is it unreasonable for them to aim even higher? In doing so, they give themselves room for growth, and by setting a high goal they prevent themselves from becoming complacent or content.
The notion of being “good enough” is a poisonous one, for every athlete. While you’re resting on your laurels, the player below you keeps working as hard as he can to take over your spot. This is exactly why being at the top and staying there is often harder than the journey, and why you cannot praise the consistency of top teams enough.
Part 2: Mindset
The second and most important part of growth is how much the player is actually willing to sacrifice. Declaring that you want to be the best is easy, but putting in the effort is the hard part; while other athletes relax in their free time, you have to push your limits at the gym (or in League’s case: grind the ladder) and think about the game while you eat, shower, and sleep. Obsession is one of the biggest differentiating factors between “good” players and the legends we’ll tell tales of, long after their careers end.
When talking about pro players, we often comment on their “great mindset”, but what does a great mindset consist of? When asked how to climb the ladder quickly and efficiently, almost every pro will tell you to self-reflect as much as you can. When you lose a game, assume you made a mistake contributing to your loss and don’t try to shift the blame to other players.
This point still stands when playing at the highest level: pro players with thousands of hours of game time have to be able to reflect objectively and not let their ego stand in their way. But being objective is harder than it sounds, and that’s where the coach comes in. If players disagree on actions in the game and they cannot reach a conclusion themselves it is very important to have a third opinion.
Unfortunately, objective assessment sometimes means criticising your teammates, but the young guys that comprise the professional League scene can feel like they’re being personally attacked. They’re not always able to differentiate between the in-game aliases and the real-life person. This is exactly why “friendship” between players is not always beneficial. Though it’s appealing to the audience and it creates good storylines (I mean, hearing that five friends won the split sounds awesome, right?), it takes a lot of professionalism to criticise your friend and to receive constructive criticism in return.
Part 3: Attitude
Players who are tough on themselves are far better suited to take advice, but also to give it. Advice given by someone who constantly strives to improve himself carries more weight than that from someone who thinks he has nothing to work on. Many players I’ve encountered so far in esports struggle with self-reflection, because they feel like it hurts their confidence; thinking about your mistakes more than your achievements puts you in a negative mindset. You could understandably claim that it makes you second-guess yourself more often, leading to indecisive plays and a lower level of performance.
But this is where we have to expect more of the players. This is a struggle they have to put up with if they want to succeed as a pro player; they’re not casually enjoying the game anymore, but they represent a brand and they’re living a life their fans can only dream of. The will to improve should be natural to everyone who seriously considers himself a competitor.
“Be your biggest critic, but also your biggest fan” is the best advice I can give to current pros and young players aspiring to reach that level.
Take me as an example; naturally sitting at the bottom of the table warrants a lot of criticism, fair and unfair. But almost every point is something I’ve already considered during self reflection, most of the time I’m tougher on myself than social media commenters. Admonishing myself lets me read those comments objectively, and evaluate them with a calm mind. At the same time you must have unwavering faith in your abilities; nobody knows what will pay off in the short-term, so don’t let the present affect your vision of your mid-long term goals.
Finally, take losses as motivation. Everybody loves winning, the elation of victory is the most natural high we experience, but you have to learn from them. Self-reflect, understand your mistakes and use that knowledge to aid you on the path to greatness in the future.
I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a Champion