Card games hold a special place in the Esports industry. They are not really about big action-packed moments that fans can go crazy about. Instead, card games are seen as the quiet kids’ game, where everyone looks in silence at two guys being super focused.
Lovers of the genre find ways to be amazed the same way others go crazy about a pentakill in League of Legends. We know how difficult it is to process all the information available in order to find that championship-winning line the player eventually took.
In this two-part series we will talk about that specific aspect of the game: how to process information efficiently, and all the different factors that can impact your thinking process.
While I never intended to become a coach when I started my career, and my studies have nothing to do with teaching fields, I always found myself in a mentoring role whether it was in sports or in E-sports. While I am still very young to call myself ‘experienced’, I combine more than 10 years of coaching and competing between traditional sports (Football) and card games (Hearthstone mostly).
I started as a freelance coach, a period which lasted for 4 years. I was coaching in the 3 regions at the time (EU, NA, Asia) and really put my health at risk completely ignoring a healthy sleep schedule, and working 12 to 16 hours a day.
Doing sports on the side required way too much energy for my body to handle all the stress I was putting on it and I eventually ended up in the hospital. This is where I felt that I needed to understand how does a human being functions and how to make myself efficient in order to be able to keep developing as a coach.
I started doing research and got involved into performance training, physical through sports at first, and mental through card games later. I began to understand that there is only so much you can ask your brain and body to do, and that ‘performance optimisation’ is a thing of the daily life.
I started working with teams – first, in a small team called Mantic0re, I was in charge of the Hearthstone team, from recruiting, to handling training sessions and even negotiating partnerships. When the team disbandled in 2017, I felt ready for bigger things and applied to coach world-class players at GamersOrigin.
The players I was collaborating with there were miles ahead of me in terms of skills, and in order to be revelant and help them, I had to bring something different to the table. So I got involved in mental preparation, conditioning and psychology, as this was a way for me to help them improve even more.
When GamersOrigin stopped investing in cardsgames at the start of 2020, I decided that a big team wasn’t necessy to do what I love the most, and the mental aspects are so important and interesting to me that I wanted to keep going in that direction.
Now I am doing a mix of all those things, coaching on various platforms for beginners or looking to improve players. I help teams build their roster and prepare for tournaments and I compete and try coaching methods on myself when I find the time to.
This guide is built upon what i’ve learned during those years, and I tried to make it as simple as possible so anyone can use it and prepare in its own way to whatever objective they might have.
This guide will be divided into two parts. This first part will be focused ‘outside factors’ that can impact the way you think and the means to help your brain work at a maximum capacity.
Solving problems like stress issues or panic attacks would require much more than a guide, and are usually very personal so I will not try to give a general approach to it. Feel free to message me to talk about it though if you are looking for some help. I will gladly exchange with you about these specific topics.
In the second part, I will go in-depth into kinds of information that you have to process while in-game. I will also give you a simple method of how to process your turns and provide you with a logic that you can apply in your games.
The guide applies to all levels of players, and could be even useful in other areas of life, outside of playing card games. I hope everyone can take what he needs from it and use it to have a better quality games, or just more fun in Legends of Runeterra.
In order to operate and think at our best, we have to be in a good mental state, and most of the time, it is things outside of the game that will determine this state. So let’s dive into this topic: how we can put your mind in a good position to focus on what you ask it to do?
Establish a Healthy Daily Routine
This one applies to pretty much anything you do in your life and is the foundation of any performance-related subject.
The way you sleep and eat determines how much energy you can invest in your activities. And even when LoR is played in a relaxing way as an end-of-day activity, processing information and thinking your turns out is still using some of that energy.
Explaining how one should eat and sleep to prepare for competitions would take another full guide, so below I will provide only a concise example:
On important tournament days, the only meal I take is breakfast, and I load it with calories. I also try to eat at least 2 hours before the tournament so my body has all the time it needs to digest.
During the tournament, I will only have 2 kinds of food: dried fruit and candy. Dried fruit is great as it’s very easy to digest and provides lots of energy, I can stay at my peak while not putting my stomach through much trouble. If we’ve ever met in an offline event, you might have seen me eat banana chips.
Candies are my emergency food – sugar is the brain’s best ally. Sugar travels fast into the blood and allows for a rush of energy and focus for a small period of time.
Dried fruit is better to consume in-between two Swiss rounds, as its energy takes longer to be absorbed by the body. Candies help when I feel a little down during a match and only have a 5-minute break.
Our brain likes routine. Having an erratic sleep schedule, consuming different amounts of nutrition day-to-day, and even playing at different hours will require your brain to use much more energy. It wouldn’t have any reflexes built-in about the activity, the energy required to perform it and so on. Basically, your brain doesn’t know how to optimize the process that you are asking it to partake in.
If you have a daily routine, eat similar meals in terms of calories and sleep about the same amount at the same time every day, your brain will be able to help you, instead of slowing you down.
Another thing that greatly helps in cardgames is memory and fast-thinking exercises. Personally I like to play sudoku as a daily routine on my phone while i’m on the bus or waiting for something. It’s a simple game but it keeps the mind sharp when it comes to making connections and developing logic. You can also put a timer on to work on thinking under pressure.
An exercise I recommend to most of my students that are trying to develop their mind for card games is called a ‘Minesweeper challenge’. If you’ve never played it, ‘Minesweeper’ a basic game that comes with Windows operating system.
Learn the game so you can unlock the ‘expert level’. Once there, we can set our own difficulty and put a memory challenge in top of it – it will replicate very well all the processes regarding the information we are supposed to store during a card game match.
The idea is to not mark the bombs until we have a certain amount of them (start with 3, then 5, 7, 10…). That way, you are asking your brain to keep information stored while you are looking for more, and when you have the amount of bombs required, you try to remember the spots of all of them.
This sequence replicates very closely what a player does when he tries to process a turn and he has to sequence his cards correctly. The player first stores in his mind the effect of each card, then has to order them before he can start playing out the sequence, and if the opponent does something unexpected, the player needs to change the sequence accordingly.
Free Up the Space in Your Mind
Outside of maybe a dozen people on this globe, Legends of Runeterra isn’t our main activity. We do not wake up in the morning with the game being the reason we have food on the table.
This means that when we are playing the game, there are other things on our mind, naturally making our brain not focused completely on our task. We should be aware of these things and put ourselves in a good position to reduce the impact.
Just like most machines, our brain gets slower the more tasks you assign to it. Unlike machines, we can’t decide which tasks our brain can shut down so we can completely focus on the one we want.
So if we want to be effective in our playing activity, we have to make sure that there aren’t too many programs running in the background that would slow down our brain. This means we don’t want to multi-task while playing. We want to complete our important tasks of the day so we don’t stress about whether we’ll have time for them later.
Reducing the amount of things our brain needs to think about will help us focus during our sessions. It also is a way to reduce the impact of a losing streak we might have – we will have more mental energy to productively look for solutions instead of letting tilt get the better of us.
Your Body Needs Comfort
Our brain likes good habits, and our body does as well. To perform at our best, we need to feel comfortable.
There is a reason most newcomers to the tournament scene mention that it is way harder to play in a tournament than at home. It’s simply because there are so many elements that are different in a new environment, and getting used to them takes valuable time and much-needed energy.
Achieving a proper level of comfort will help us feel relaxed and we can settle into our optimal state of mind faster, as our body will not be a distraction to our focus.
It is not only the chair and the computer, comfort is also about playing in the same visual environment, having the same noise background, or playing at the same hours we are used to.
These are our ‘anchors’ and they unconsciously matter a lot in how long it will take us to feel comfortable in our activity, and for how long we will be able to play at a high level.
For example, on a losing streak, you will tilt way faster in an unusual environment because the anchors aren’t there. When your brain tries to process why the session isn’t going your way, you will be all over the place, with unfamiliar sounds and surroundings only adding to your annoyance.
These are very subtle things that we don’t even notice most of the time, but that actually play a real role in our capacities to be at our best.
However, the change of environment might be a good thing sometimes, when our mind can feel ‘on the rails’ and we have what is called a ‘tunnel vision’. It means that we are focusing on only a few aspects and are incapable of looking at the big picture. In this case, exposing ourselves to new anchors might actually be very helpful in finding back our inspiration.
Stay Tuned for More
Healthy mental habits are the foundations of a good preparation and can be the difference between a successful ladder session or a tilting session we wish to forget. While they are often the most overlooked aspects of performance, these little things are fairly easy to fix once we take them into consideration.
Come back tomorrow for the second part of the guide, where we’ll talk more about the techniques for gathering and processing all the in-game information that is available to you in a match of Legends of Runeterra.
Thanks for reading!