What does it take to be a top League of Legends player? A lot of people sell themselves short, saying, “I could never be as good as HotshotGG,” but I think that’s a falsehood. Don’t mistake me, I do think that most of the current LoL pros (including Hotshot) are prodigal. I do think that they got to where they are partially due to natural talent. I’ve watched a lot of streams and interviews and listened to pros talk about their training schedules, and I can honestly say that while they do practice a lot, most of them don’t practice enough.
But no amount of talent can replace the other skills you’ll need. Even if Pobelter has a natural ability to dominate LoL matches, he has refined that talent through hard work. If you practice the skills here dilligently, you can get in the top levels of the solo-duo ranked ladder and you can get picked up by a pro team.
Effort is the #1 skill that will get you to the top. If you put in the effort, everything else will come. No matter how unskilled you may be to start with, if you work hard you will pick up the other skills.
Every pro player has worked hard to get where he is right now. You can’t assume that playing two or three games a day casually will be enough. If you want to be a pro, you need to put in real practice time — eight or more hours a day, five days a week. If you can’t, you need to find the time to get regular practice, both with matches and mechanics practice.
This is the big reason why players like yours truly aren’t professionals. I know what it takes to be a top player, but quite honestly I do not want to put that much time into League. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to reach the top, you will need to put in the time and effort into playing.
Additionally, while practicing is good, attitude is important. It’s pretty low down the list; not all top players have it. It helps tremendously, though. A good attitude toward learning and self-improvement will take you a long way. It also helps if you have a strong love of the game. If you are constantly upset with LoL’s development, it will discourage you from putting forth the effort. It also turns “study” into “grinding matches.” If your practice is just a grind, then it’s not really practice. League of Legends isn’t a nine-to-five job. You need to be studying and improving, and a positive attitude helps you learn from every game and try things you aren’t sure about.
Mechanics are where a lot of “talent” comes in. Slow old codgers like myself need to practice harder than young guys like Pobelter. The main mechanical skill that can be improved in LoL is mouse precision. The faster you can move your mouse to a spot and click it precisely, the better you will be at League of Legends.
One thing I noticed recently about my skill in this area is that I am hard-capped by my mouse. I use a Logitech m570 wireless trackball and I have noticed that its DPI is kind of low. It’s fine for my level of play in League of Legends, but when I play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or other games with really demanding mouse precision, I find that I cannot quickly pin the bullets on the counter-terrorists even if they’re standing still. It bothers me especially in CS:GO because I often shoot and hit first but die anyway. I would recommend that if you’re looking into becoming a pro player, you make sure that your hardware can match your skills. That being said, though, LoL is not especially demanding, as the things you need to click on are fairly large and there’s some click leniency if you miss slightly.
I do recommend not using a trackball if you’re looking to play competitively. It is a pretty big detriment, as there is nothing on the market that is well-suited to gamers.
The other mechanics of the game are memorized. Knowing where to put your mouse to flash or leap over walls, how to execute skill combos for your character, and those sorts of things are all byproducts of practice. If you don’t know how to do these things, load up a custom game and practice them until they’re second nature.
Making the right plays
Good judgment is something that is easy to describe broadly but hard to narrow down. It’s the simple skill of making the right choices in game. This one skill is the biggest skill that separates the top 1% from the top 0.1%. Only experience really helps, but I’ve found that there are people who just magically are better at it.
The best way to train it is to watch your replays (using LoLReplay) and find out what you did wrong. Understanding bad calls helps you improve as a player. It’s good if you keep your old replays and rewatch them, to see if your assessment of what was a good call changes over time. If you’re not into the idea of playing, you can also watch replays as a bit of lower-stress practice. It’s also good if you watch them much later than when you played them, so that you remove most of the emotional connection to the match.
Watching high-level matches, either via stream or featured matches, also helps train this skill.
One related skill that is impossible to learn except via practice is mindgames. I’ve talked about mindgames in lane a bit, but there’s no way to learn except to play. Some people are just disturbingly good at this skill. A long time ago I talked about laning against Nidalee and how she managed to thread the needle and hit me with over 9000 spears. That’s about 20% mechanics of aiming the spear and 80% knowing where I’m going to be. If you play with the idea of getting in your opponent’s head, though, you will eventually be able to.
One thing about mindgames is that it does help if you’re an extrovert. I’ve noticed that outgoing people tend to be better at prediction and tend to be more assertive about taking action on a “gut feeling.” There is a certain talent to it, but it’s a skill anyone can learn.
The last soft skill that is very important is improvisation. This is a mostly talent skill; once you’re experienced in a situation, you’re not improvising it anymore. The only real way to improve it is to play a lot of different games and just learn random things. Of all the skills I’ve listed, this is the one where being born better at it really just makes the difference.
Improvisation is important because in a tournament situation, there is a pretty good chance another team will deploy some technique or strategy you may have no experience with. How do you counter something you’ve never seen before? If you’d practiced the situation beforehand, it would have helped, but that does you no good right now.
This is the most baffling pro skill. A huge number of pros, despite their deep knowledge of the game, rely on this skill. Watch pro streams during the time of a new champion release and see how they play, especially when they play against the new character. Often they don’t know the ranges or tricks to the character and they often get caught by a new trick once, but after that it fails to work. The pro tends to win, even in these unfamiliar situations. Improvisation is a very unique skill, and if you’re good at it, great — if you’re not, just practice everything else and your improvisation will naturally level up.
While the skills listed above aren’t everything, they’re the backbone of what it takes to be a great player. Obviously deep knowledge of League of Legends is absolutely essential, and knowledge of other games in the genre like DotA 2 can help to understand concepts in any MOBA, including LoL. I don’t really expect many people to actually take the route of a pro gamer, but it’s interesting to see what it takes to really compete on their level, and why they are as good as they are. Some of their skills really do border on magical; when pros hit with 4-5 slow-moving skillshots in a row, you know it wasn’t luck.