How to Efficiently Process Information in Card Games. Part 2: Developing In-Game Habits
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.
This is the second part of the two-part series of articles where we 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.
In this second part of the guide, I will go in-depth into the kinds of information that you have to process while in-game and the ways to optimize the task. 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 first part was focused on the ‘outside factors’ that can impact the way you think and the means to help your brain work at a maximum capacity. Feel welcome to check it out as well!
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 better quality games or just more fun in Legends of Runeterra.
Know Your Deck
It is always easier to process a particular sort of information that you are used to.
For example, my natural playstyle is a tempo-oriented one. Fiora Shen is a deck that I can stop playing for a month, and when I come back to it, it feels like nothing changed for me. Even though some cards – and meta – might change, the overall thinking patterns stay the same. They are something I was used to even before Legends of Runeterra was released.
On the opposite, I have much more trouble learning a very defensive deck that lets the opponent play out their game and then tries to set a trap over 4 or 5 turns. This kind of gameplay will require me to spend much more time learning the deck.
If you have all the basic information and patterns of the deck engrained in your mind, you will be able to dedicate more attention to other things.
When you know your deck perfectly, it’s much easier to focus on what your opponent is doing, trying to read their hand, planning several turns ahead. If you have only picked up the deck just recently, you will be more focused on figuring out your own hand instead of trying to gather information about the opponent’s hand.
Most people, when they see a deck online, they think they will achieve the same win rate with it as the player who originally posted it, and that the deck is somehow magical and will win games for you. However, it is common that when you pick up a deck for the first time, its win rate will be 5-10% less compared to the win rate of the player who created it and spent many hours refining and playing it.
As such, your knowledge of your deck, its matchups, the overall metagame, and even the tendencies of players at your rank all play a great role.
If you’re confident while assessing all these types of information, then you will have some brainpower left still to think about the other in-game variables. If these aspects are not mastered enough yet, your brain will have to expend energy on them and will ignore all other information that it can’t use to make connections.
The good thing is, there are other ways to increase your basic knowledge by a lot, while not actually playing – reading guides, watching streams, checking tier lists, etc. You can learn and process information at your own pace, without the pressure that comes with playing and climbing.
Still, actually playing the game and learning the deck through trial and error is of course the main way to learn. It helps to have different approaches, but sometimes our brain just needs a first-hand experience.
Play at Your Pace, but Regularly
To process a particular type of information efficiently you need to expose yourself to it frequently.
Playing three times a week for an hour will usually lead to better results long-term than having a single session of three hours. The reason for that is that your brain had time to process the information and that each session has built upon the information collected from the previous session. Our brain is only capable of retaining so many things, and if you feed it too much information that it needs to remember, some things will just get lost in the process inevitably.
As we already talked about in part 1, humans love habits. The habits make tasks easier and we become more effective as a result.
It is the exact same idea with learning – if you build good habits early on and play regularly so your brain has constant practice in how to process the information, you will be much more effective in high-pressure/high-focus situations. Be careful though, as internalizing bad habits will hurt both your current level of play and your capacity to learn.
Habits can change based on your goals and your level of play. For example, a new player can feel like an hour a day is a lot of information to process, while I need 7 to 10 hours a day to feel comfortable while preparing for the Seasonal Tournament.
It is up to each and every one of us to build our own habits, and they should be tailored based on our goals and capabilities.
If your capacities allow you only 45 minutes of high-intensity focus, there is absolutely no point in playing for 3 hours. Your brain can’t make good use of that extra time anyway. Instead, take a break, refresh your mind and get another 45-minute session later on.
Habits are a player’s best friend, and we all need solid habits as they will allow us to realize our potential and reach that next level of play. Just be ready that when you get to that next level, you might also need to develop some new habits to keep growing as a player.
Develop Your ‘Mechanical Techniques’
In a game like League of Legends, good ‘mechanical techniques’ is a very important asset to have as a player. It means you have done particular things (like cs’ing or kiting) over and over in the past – and now you can do these kinds of things unconsciously (‘mechanically’).
In card games, there are no ‘kiting’ or ‘farming’, but there are still some skills that you can train to the point so that they will become your second nature.
We can train our brain to adopt a certain way of thinking so we can do things faster and ‘mechanically’, without expending our brainpower and focus.
For example, at first, coming from Hearthstone, it wasn’t easy for me to adapt to the turn system of Legends of Runeterra that is based upon ‘actions’. I was used to the pattern of focusing one minute and then relaxing during the minute after. My brain had that ‘mechanical technique’ of high-then-low focus engrained from all the years I spent on Hearthstone.
Coming to LoR, I had to learn how to manage my focus differently. I needed a more durable focusing technique because in this game I was asked to take actions much more often. This might sound like an easy adjustment, but when you combine this with all the other things I was asking my brain to do while planning out actions, the task becomes fairly complicated.
Another important mechanical technique that you need to internalize is about efficiently planning your turns out.
In Legends of Runeterra, your gameplan is evolving with every action that any player takes. At the start of the game, you assess your matchup and plan out the win condition. You create a ‘mental map’ that will lead you to a victory and consider which cards are super important during the mulligan.
After that, every time a game takes a turn that was not represented on your ‘mental map’, you have to create a new one. Well, doing this is another technique that takes a lot of practice.
The mechanical techniques required for a particular game can vary significantly when compared to the other game, even from the same genre.
For example, in Hearthstone, the opponent can’t significantly interrupt your turn, but you need to come to several decisions during a turn. That means players will be encouraged to practice memory as one of their main mechanical techniques because they have to store several decisions and the order in their memory.
In Legends of Runeterra, where you have back-and-forth rounds instead of turns, you’ll need to train reactive thinking as your main mechanical technique. You need to process information very fast to adapt in case your next planned decision is altered all of a sudden by the action of your opponent.
Mechanical techniques are the most important thing to consider when you want to get serious at something, they will help you get better instantly and in the long run. But they will also be very demanding as we are talking about shaping an entire way of thinking and processing information.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Processing Information
There are three phases of thinking one goes through when playing a game: 1) Coming up with the game plan; 2) Mulliganning to get the best start possible; 3) Navigating a particular situation to the best of abilities. Below, I list the most important questions to have in mind during all of those phases and basic answers for them.
- What’s my win condition? How do i achieve it?
- What’s the breaking point? How do we get there?
- When should I have momentum? When my opponent should have momentum? When to take risks?
‘My Plan’ is something I can do outside of the game – I have all the time I need in order to process information, make it my own, and memorize it. When preparing for a competition or just trying to be the best player you can, anyone should be able to answer these questions for any matchup of their deck.
- Who’s the aggressor? When and how they get aggressive?
- Who has the edge in theory? (Me/them)
- What are my best cards?
- How much do I need my best cards? (A lot/Not much)
- How much risk should I take to get my best cards? (High risk/Low risk)
‘Mulligan’ is a mix of outside knowledge and inside the game adaptation. I usually enter this phase knowing exactly what I’m looking for, but some specific synergies can only be seen on the spot. We need to know the theory so the brain can focus on the specifics – assess risks of throwing away a particular card, imagining my opponent’s side of the mulligan, etc.
- Did I reach the breaking point?
- What am I trying to do? (Pressure my opp/Lower his health/Wage value war/Stay alive/…)
- What is the key resource (Life points/Available cards/Cards in deck/Mana/…)
- What can change this situation?
- How to get to the situation I want?
‘The Situation’ assessment is done fully in-game, I have to react to what is in front of me and make a decision with the time allowed for it. The questions above should help identify a situation faster, and they can help direct my focus. Questions might vary from one match to another, but these are generic enough that you should be able to use them for every single game.
Now that we’ve determined things that we should focus on and that we set up some directions for our thinking, we have to actually go and get the information so we can take action. Below is a list of questions that you can go over whenever you take almost any kind of in-game action.
- Step 1: Gathering information
- Step 2 : Thinking outside the box
- Step 3: Taking action
Thus comes the end of my two-part guide! I consider this series to be a mix of all the information I’ve gathered during my 7 years of coaching and competing, and yet there are still a ton of things I wished I would dive into more.
If there is one thing i’d like you to take out of this guide, it’s that we all have capacities and we can use them to the fullest! It sometimes just takes a little bit of method and effort to get our brain in the right direction, and you would be surprised how far you can go once you actually push yourself.
I hope all this will help some of you out there, whether you are new to the game or already accomplished and trying to get to new challenges.
Wishing you good luck and fun times on Legends of Runeterra!