The Bird is the Word, and an Unnecessary Nerf

Before this week of LCS play kicks off, and OGN Summer starts soon, I had a few thoughts on early LCS play and the OGN qualifiers.

The hyper-carry is back. High damage, high risk champions like Kog’maw and Twitch have made their way back into competitive play in the Spring and Summer season, expanding a not-so-stagnant AD Carry pool (I’ve personally witnessed the successful competitive play of every AD Carry except Ashe and Urgot). Recently Alliance of the EU LCS threw a wrench in the hyper-carry composition by adding Anivia as a mid-laner. Alliance’s midlaner, Froggen, is a well known Anivia expert, and they used her late game scaling and excellent zoning to protect the AD Carry in their two wins last week. A second preferred component of the composition is Thresh, the do-it-all support that has excellent engage, disengage, peel, tankiness, and crowd control. Don’t worry though, we’ll nerf someone straight out of competitive play first (more on that later). I love Thresh, I really do, but he’s does almost everything with very little downside/counterplay.

So how do you pick against the hyper-carry comp? With hard engage and backline diving champs. I suspect we will see more Vi again in the jungle, as the rise of Morgana as a support hurt Vi. Banning Morgana, which does happen sometimes, means Vi becomes Vi-able again (yes, you just read that). Early game junglers are still preferred, but hyper-carry comps are happy to go late game, so jungle ganks before level 6 might not be the end of the world.

You can also counter the hyper-carry comp with bans targeted at the preferred supports or AD carries. Currently we see the vast majority of bans aimed at mid lane, then jungle or top lane. That could change. I’m curious whether we will see Anivia bans against Alliance, and I suspect we will.

I’m supremely disappointed with Riot’s quick decision to nerf Soraka out of competitive play. The Soraka pick opened up the mid lane, by either letting her through the ban phase or opening up a different midlaner by banning her. I thought that change to her silencing ability was ok, but didn’t like the damage reduction of her Starfall (Q). In addition, my biggest gripe of all was not letting the pro players work out a counter. She was a fun pick to see, and her composition encouraged small skirmishes all game long. It’s too bad it was gone in a flash.

Quick Hitters:

- TSM is a mess, I’m not sure Coach Locodoco can fix it.

- LMQ is the real deal, but probably not the best team in NA right now.

- Dignitas is playing incredible right now, and I see flashes of excellence from Cloud 9. Cloud 9 has some issues to sort out, but at their highest level are the best team in NA. Dignitas could get there though, the two additions from Coast and the coaching have done wonders for that team.

- Alliance looks fantastic, and I think the improved map play makes them the best team in Europe. SK is very good, but I’m not sure their individual skills are strong enough when they play other teams with good map movements.

- Fnatic is playing just good enough for them to think things don’t need to change. They’re wrong. As far as I’m concerned, even if they win the EU Summer Split, they are irrelevant to the world stage. They are incredibly skilled, but they take terrible trades in objectives and don’t play the map.

- Samsung is really really really scary good. Odds on favorite for a Season 4 World Championship. Wake up early to watch OGN or Masters and you’ll see what I mean.

Motivational Models and MMOs

I recently read a wonderful book about motivation called DRiVE by Daniel Pink. For myself, the truth of motivation is not new, but I would hate to make assumptions about everyone. Psychology has identified three motivational models: Biological (food, sleep, water, sex, etc.), Extrinsic (a simple if-then structure like hourly wages, performance bonuses, or reward system for chores), and Intrinsic (satisfaction for accomplishment, fulfillment of enjoyable work). Based on my understanding and experience, most people are aware of the power of intrinsic motivation, and many have felt or seen the deep sense of satisfaction that it can lead to. However, businesses and schools still subscribe to extrinsic motivators (grades, gold stars, hourly wages, performance bonuses) to drive behavior (completed homework, studying for tests, meeting sales goals, increasing productivity). The great joy of mine in this book is that it explores how some schools and businesses have successfully moved to a intrinsic motivational environment, and some tools for doing it yourself.

After finishing the book I explored how it impacted my personal life.

1. I am underpaid at work, which makes it impossible to do as much as I am capable of, or allow myself the time to be creative. Even though I listed pay as an extrinsic motivator, research has concluded that it is a threshold motivator – in other words, once you feel you are being compensated relative to your worth, it no longer becomes an issue. I feel I am worth $20,000/year, and my current salary is $6,300. This is a blameless problem. I have the capacity to coach college basketball, but until the right opportunity arises I am coaching high school basketball. It doesn’t change the fact that I am motivated to limit my time in the off-season since I don’t feel adequately compensated.

2. I have to change some of my parenting tricks. I had a chore chart. Do chores, get stuff – ice cream, small toy, watch a movie at home, etc. It worked for three weeks, and then my kids stopped doing chores. You only chase the carrot at the end of the stick for so long, and the research indicates extrinsic motivators DECREASE desired behavior and punishment INCREASES it.

3. I left teaching to raise my kids at home while my wife works as a pediatric hospitalist. I haven’t even considered a return because I hated the culture, and I could never put my finger on it. This book helped me sort through the tangle of emotions teaching left me with. I REALLY hope schools get their act together, because the worker bee assembly line frustrates the shit out of me, especially with a child entering kindergarten this year. Man, I am going to be a pain in the ass parent.

4. I haven’t been playing Warcraft at all lately. I really love how beautiful Pandaria is. The music is incredibly good. I think the story is original and reasonably enjoyable. Pet Battles are fun, and I can lose myself in them. Something else is keeping me from finding the joy and satisfaction I used to experience playing the game. The guild I belong to is not raiding 10 mans due to roster problems, and instead they run LFR. I had some fun with heroic scenarios, especially running them with guild members, but have lost my taste for random groups. I haven’t found a happy place leveling alts, because I often think about how fast I can get to 90, then I get slightly depressed about what will happen when I get there. After reading this book I looked through what was causing my WoW time to be unpleasant, and the trend was stunning and embarrassingly simple. I wasn’t satisfied chasing Blizzard’s extrinsic rewards anymore.

I can’t bring myself to play the game for the rewards provided anymore (gear, pets, etc.) because I’m looking for a more meaningful connection to the ‘Why?” of what I am doing. Things start to get sticky here.

  • Playing WoW with friends for the achievement and the fun can be satisfying.
  • Completing current content requires a certain amount of carrot and stick effort to prepare for.
  • I can’t bring myself to chase the carrot so that I can enjoy the content the I used to enjoy.

Oh shit.

I was ready to cancel my subscription at this point, since it was clear to me that I wasn’t willing to make certain sacrifices to my gaming time. In a moment of clarity I hesitated. If the extrinsic rewards that were distasteful to me were obvious, maybe the intrinsic rewards were harder to see. So I set out finding things that I wanted to do for the sake of doing them, regardless of the rewards, or maybe because the rewards meant more to me on a deeper level. What I found was that there were lots of things I still wanted to do in the World of Warcraft, on my own time and terms. Pet Battles for instance are really cool. I desperately want to complete my Shadowmourne, with my experience in Wrath being significantly informed by my love of the Warcraft RTS series. I haven’t done The Black Temple, or The Sunwell – and I’d really like to.

Suddenly, I had plenty of reasons to play WoW, and curiously, they were the same reasons that led me to fall in love with playing the game the first time. I then explored all my other gaming interests, and found that MMOs in particular are stuck on this model of extrinsic rewards to increase the enjoyment of the game. I wonder if this goes into the design process though, because it seems that other MMOs have ways to engross yourself so that you aren’t stuck in a cycle of quest/reward, kill/reward. Neverwinter has The Foundry and SWTOR has some exceptionally deep character development.

The final question is whether you can even create an MMO that doesn’t fit the if-then reward system. The staple of these games is questing and leveling, the rewards of which is gear, money, and new abilities. Is it possible to design a system in which mastery of your character, development of their story, and creation of new stories take a front seat to questing and leveling? I don’t know what the answer is, but I think it’s a question worth asking.

A True Rebirth for Starcraft 2

I am excited. I’m pretty sure the paltry writing skills I have in no way attempted to foster can express how excited I am for the 2013 year of Starcraft 2 pro-gaming. When in doubt, go Caps Lock.

I AM SO FUCKING EXCITED.

With the launch of Heart of the Swarm, Starcraft 2 has been truly reborn (not unlike a certain character in the campaign). Between IEM Cologne, MLG Dallas, and GSL I am convinced that we are headed for our most entertaining and fulfilling year of professional SC2 competition yet. The skill ceiling is higher, and I don’t think that phrase really does it justice. The skill ceiling was just raised in such a way that some people got dropped into the basement.

This match, played at MLG Dallas between Innovation and Flash is the best game of Starcraft 2 I’ve ever watched. It’s a best of 5, and I was captivated by every game. Keep in mind that the actions executed by these two could be done by less than a handful of pro gamers right now.

I also want to talk about Blizzard’s announcement of this years World Championship Series (WCS). This is huge news, and I think it was handled really well by Blizzard. There is already some complaining that NASL (North American Star League) and Dreamhack were left out of the rotation, but there is only so much you can do at once, we’ve gotten word that Blizzard and Dreamhack have something in the works together. But I’m not going to get into that here.

This is a major step forward for Starcraft 2 in the eSports scene, because we finally have a storyline to follow throughout the year. Players will compete all season long in an attempt to accumulate points that will determine who gets an invite to the Global Finals at the end of the year, to be played at Blizzcon 2013. There is going to be some incredible tension at the Season 3 regional championships and finals when there are only a few spots left up for grabs. There should be no shortage of compelling storylines to follow this year, and WCS Korea has already started.

WCS Korea

While we don’t have information regarding how the points distribution will go, RorO (Zerg) got off to a strong start winning Group A with a 2-0 record, and an impressive 4-1 map count, dropping one map to Bomber (Terran), the other player to advance. Complain about balance if you will (and people are – big time), but there are excellent Korean Zergs who are still winning games, so let’s cool it on the IMBA bitching until we have more evidence. Anyway, I have more thoughts on balance I’ll share shortly. Bomber’s two victories both came against Creator (Protoss), who complained about IMBA before gg’ing out – and if I’m not mistaken did so at MLG Dallas too. Season 2/WCS Korea continues next week on Tuesday April 9th at 5:10 am EST.

The group I’m really looking forward to is Group F with INnoVation, HyuN, and Rain. I can’t wait to see more of Rain in HotS, I think that he could be even better than in Wings of Liberty when he was regarded as one of the top Protoss in the world, and INnoVation just came off from an excellent showing at MLG Dallas with a third place finish.

A word on balance. I really don’t think we have enough evidence or time to determine where there are problems with balance. In my short experience watching pro SC2, most pro players can be broken into two groups – the researchers and the surgeons. The biggest reason some pros are having trouble with HotS is that they continue to use the thinking from WoL to defend and attack, when a different thought process is required. “I can’t deal with proxy Reaper” is probably more accurately “I don’t know how to punish/defend proxy Reapers.” And we probably won’t have those answers until an innovator comes along and sees the game in a different way than other players. The surgeons are the ones who takes the researchers discovery, and uses it to create build orders that can crush their opponents. Right now, we just don’t have the necessary research to draw good, solid conclusions yet. But we will.

Gaming Roundup

I’ve intended to write a blog post every week for almost 2 months, but I always end up doing something else. No more I say, time to write again. Of course, then there was the issue of what to write about, as I have been barely playing World of Warcraft lately. I’m not sure what has been keeping me away, but I just haven’t felt the pull of WoW outweigh Starcraft 2, League of Legends, or XCOM lately. So I settled on just changing my focus to gaming in general, and write about what I’ve been up to.

I purchased XCOM on Steam a few weeks ago and was addicted almost immediately. I’ve always been a sucker for turn-based strategy with games like HOMM and Lords of the Realm (I still play Heroes of Might & Magic 3, and found a way to play online with my brother as well), and XCOM is a twist on that with turn-based combat and soldier movement. The story is good enough that it doesn’t detract from the value of the game, and I found the user experience to be pretty enjoyable. I defeated the game on Normal without much fuss, and decided to try my hand at Ironman Classic difficulty. It’s exceptionally difficult, and I have a feeling that its going to keep me coming back.

One of the reasons I needed to purchase a new computer was that Diablo 3 and upcoming Blizzard games were no longer going to support the video card in my iMac. I love my new computer, but I admit to being a little disappointed in Diablo 3. I recently found the time to complete my first play-through on Normal with my Monk, and enjoyed it quite a lot. The disappointment surfaces after that. I’m really supposed to play the entire game again, only harder? I really don’t think I get it, but I’ve created a few new characters of different classes, figuring it would be fun to play them through. So far though, this hasn’t drawn me in at all, and I don’t get the attraction of repeating the game with a more powerful version of my original character.

League of Legends has been an absolute blast to play, and I can feel myself getting better, which is cool. The problem is that there is still not a clear role that I excel at or enjoy, but Attack Damage Carry (ADC) I’ve ruled out – I just don’t enjoy it. I have, however, had excellent runs as a single lane bruiser, jungler, mid-lane Ability Power Carry, and Support. Unfortunately  I’m almost exclusively stuck playing support in most PvP games, as most other players prefer the glory of a high kill count. And I swear, after the Sejuani rework I’m going to work her top lane, jungle, AND support. You’ll see.

I’ve also had a lot of fun watching the NA and EU LCS. This competitive series is so well run, and while I dislike the observer UI for LoL, I’ve learned a lot and had a good time watching the powerhouse teams rock games without losing a single turret, while occasionally the weaker teams come up with a monster performance and knock off a heavy favorite. Riot has a winning formula in their hands and I think they know it. Now if only the observer screen wasn’t so awful.

Starcraft 2 launched its expansion Heart of the Swarm and I urge all of you who love gaming to pick this up, even if its only for the campaign. This is the most fun I’ve had playing a video game since I got Mario Brothers 2 brand new back in the day and stayed up all hours of the night trying to beat it. The teaching missions and the story were excellent, and the game is much more user friendly than its predecessor Wings of Liberty, especially to new players. I won’t get into SC2:HotS too much here, as I have another post dedicated to it coming up.

Warcraft has waned on me, probably because I have lost my passion for raiding and now feel that I need to re-invent myself in game before deciding to re-enter the fray. It doesn’t help that most of our members are on mountain and pacific time now and we’ve had to move our start time back to 10 pm eastern. I mean, damn, I’m 32 years old with two kids – there’s a good chance I’m unconscious by that time. I’m going to focus on playing my alts, and slowly working on my Leodar’s rep (not even revered with Golden Lotus – don’t ask), because I still love the game, and I think Mists of Pandaria really is an exceptional expansion – I just need to find my place in it right now.

Happy gaming and happy hunting to you.

Gamer Tags: Shield or Self

An interesting thing happened a few weeks ago. Riot, the maker of League of Legends, banned 5 professional players from competing in the qualifiers for the third season of the LCS. See the details of the first ban here, and the second with this link. The second ban disqualified an entire team from competing. This is an encouraging action taken by a gaming company that is serious about the positive impact its game has on the eSports scene, so kudos to Riot. But that isn’t what really interested me. There was some rumbling in the community and on the forums about the ‘outing’ of these players personal identities, which kicked my brain into overdrive. Is anonymity a right? Or is it a privilege?

Regarding these bans, my opinion is pretty straightforward. As a professional, you are already a public figure. Anonymity is eliminated when you choose to go pro and compete for money, so in this case I don’t see how people can feel their rights were violated. And certainly after the horrific behavior they demonstrated towards others (who have the right to log on and not get trolled, berated, or verbally abused), that feels morally cut and dry.

This brings up a larger and more interesting facet to gamer tags in my opinion. Is your gamer tag an extension of self, or shield from others?

Leodar and all its variations (Leodaric in LoL and PlanetSide 2; Leodar on Steam games and Blizzard games, and LeodarTBoK in other instances)  is an extension of my personal self. I am Leo, and Leo is me. I can’t even fathom doing something that would smear that tag, because it’s how I identify myself to the gaming world and how I see myself in the gaming world. The idea of using that name as a shield from my personal identity to do and say terrible things to other gamers makes me a little ill and very uncomfortable. In fact, I guess this post is my response and contention with the famous (and funny) Penny Arcade comic.

It’s bullshit. Not complete and utter bullshit, but mostly bullshit. The problem is with the ‘Normal Person’ part of the equation. Anyone who uses their anonymity to be a ‘Total Fuckwad’ was – in my opinion – already one, albeit without a safe outlet for their true self. Change ‘Normal Person’ to ‘Closet Fuckwad’ and we’ve got a better picture of the truth. I feel completely comfortable saying that if anyone who has gotten to know me in-game would feel no different if we got together for dinner or drinks.

There is another facet to this subject of anonymity that is intriguing, but I believe strengthens my argument. Some people need to use their tag in the virtual world as a shield, but not in the same way as the trolls. Some of us are in situations where our opinions cause enough backlash and disagreement that it could pose issues for our personal life if our identity was unmasked. Using your tag as a shield in this way is totally appropriate and completely different. I would argue that in those circumstances your tag doubles as your identity and protection, and I would imagine that those people would be just as upset if they were forced to assume a new online identity in the community. In my mind, there is a big difference between hiding behind your identity or using it to protect yourself.

There is a fundamental difference between these two functions of gamer tags. One person looks at their character creation or username selection screen and cares about the identity they are about to create. The other just wants to be anonymous.

An New Year’s Update on my WoW Hibernation

Not much has changed in the last two months, and I’m still not playing World of Warcraft very much, logging on maybe once every 8 days or so to check mail, patches, and add-ons. Truth be told I just don’t have enough time for a game without a pause button – or the options to walk away and come back. So Diablo 3 and Heroes of Might and Magic (3, 4, and 5) are getting my attention these days because I feel like I can accomplish something and save my game if I’m interrupted, which I usually am. WoW is so immersive and social to me that I feel like the 20 and 30 minute chunks of gaming time I find aren’t enough to really accomplish anything.

So far my basketball season is going very well. We are 6-1 and very close to securing a berth to our local playoffs that lead to our state tournament (for you New Yorkers I’m referring to sectionals).  According to the moderately reliable but not completely accurate MaxPreps website we are also a top 25 team for our size in New York, so to say this season has been my best as a coach would be a massive understatement. Our points per game are up, turnovers are down, and we’ve seen a 5% increase in field goal percentage. I have no seniors and go eight deep with substitutions which includes three sophomores. Simply put, things are good. Unfortunately for my gaming lifestyle things don’t get much easier. We have 4 games in the next 8 days, which includes 2 ranked teams, one of which is an undefeated local rival who hasn’t lost to my school in…well, a really, really long time. That means putting in long hours with scouting, film breakdown, and practice planning to make sure we are well prepared. Obviously this leaves me with virtually no time to run dailies and heroics, mostly because I’m still at home with my two daughters full time and the only time my wife and I have to spend time together is at night (when I’m not at practice, or have a game, or am scouting an opponent, etc.).

Despite the general disappointment I have not being able to play as much as would like (and I have barely played on my Starcraft 2 ladder since my promotion to silver last season), I’m pretty happy overall, if not a little tired. These breaks I take every year from November through the end of February are good for me in the long run. When March rolls around and my free time opens up I can get right back to a good balance of gaming and coaching.

I hope everyone had a nice holiday, and that the new year brings you happiness and shiny loot.

Finding the Time

World of Warcraft is an old game. This is not meant as an insult as much as it is meant to state a fact. WoW was released in November of 2004. At the end of this month the game we love will be 8 years old, and its success and longevity is the envy of many game development companies.

Something else has aged during that time. WoW’s players. A person who started playing at launch as a college freshman of 18 years would be 26 now, with new responsibilities and different life circumstances than we started with. That college freshmen is either in graduate or post-graduate studies, or perhaps has a full time job. Maybe they have a spouse and a family. One thing is almost certain: free time is hard to find.

The flashpoint for this post is the convergence of exceptional game titles by Blizzard. It is likely that by the summer of 2013 they will have released an expansion (Mists of Pandaria for WoW, and Heart of the Swarm for Starcraft 2) or sequel (Diablo 3) to some of the most successful titles in the gaming industry in the span on a single year. I find my ability to keep up is lacking.

I started playing World of Warcraft in 2007, not long after the release of The Burning Crusade. At the time I was married for 3 years, and my wife had just finished medical school. I was leaving a full time teaching job because of the move required by my wife’s new position as a medical resident, and was going to be a substitute teacher. I was also a women’s basketball assistant coach at a local community college. Things were really uncomplicated. When I wasn’t teaching (which was frequent) or performing my assistant coaching duties (which were really only heaviest from October through March) I could do what I pleased. I read tons of books, exercised all the time, and played WoW as much as I wanted. One week I was able to put in about 40 hours, and didn’t even blink at the number.

Let’s skip the middle and fast forward. Today I have two daughters, aged 4 and 2. My wife is an attending hospitalist who works fewer evenings than before and is not a gamer. I’ve added Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 to games I enjoy playing. I am also the raid leader of my guild, and the main tank, so my out-of-game work has increased. I can play WoW about 4-10 hours a week at most, usually during nap times so as not to miss out on opportunities to spend time with my wife in the evenings. I’m happy, but its a far cry from the days of my youth when I thought I was busy.

I wonder about other World of Warcraft players experiences. How has your game time evolved? I find this evolution really interested, and would love to hear about it.

How are you at Finding the Time?

eSports, League of Legends, Wildstar, and Hearthstone

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