P for Psychology: Heroes of the Storm, Matchmaking, and a Very Expensive Herring

Heroes of the Storm has been out for almost two months now, to moderate and respectable success. You should go play it if you enjoy games like League of Legends or DOTA2, but don’t enjoy slugging through libraries of guides on obtuse mechanics on last-hitting or jungling or whatever. However, this is not a plug. I condescend to you to discuss a problematic trend in the Heroes community right now. Despite the youth of the game, HotS continues to get a lot of flack for its “matchmaking problems.” This is the purported issue of how Heroes’ matchmaker prioritizes speed over relative skill as measured by MMR, leading to countless posts on how the matchmaker put someone with, say, 3000 MMR on the same team as someone with 2000 MMR. Moreover, since the rise of Hotslogs.com, MMR checking and other pernicious habits have started to infest the community’s mentality, despite Hotslogs.com being notoriously inaccurate. I do not dispute the existence of a matchmaking problem per se, since Blizzard has already admitted to certain issues with it, but I highly doubt just how widespread people think it is or if they even understand the supposed problem to begin with. From a higher perspective, my concern lies in people latching onto a convenient scapegoat instead of learning how to deal with the typical and inevitable variance they will encounter in an online multiplayer team game. As I said, Heroes is a young game; bad habits form easily in youth; bad habits die hard.

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Including making bad memes.

Matchmaking in an online game has, is, and always will be an art more than a science, particularly in a team-based game. Often people offer blind praise for the matchmaking caliber of a game like Starcraft 2…a single-player RTS game. When you get right down to it, it’s very difficult to match five players against five players while trying to narrow any potential skill-gap as much as possible, let alone accounting for stuff like allowing for friends to queue with each other. Games are not at the point where their systems can make comprehensive value judgments on a human’s behavior, so any sort of matchmaking rating is a post-facto attempt to gauge pure game performance. As everyone knows, damage meters don’t tell you how good of a player someone is. Win ratios don’t reveal if a person yells at his teammates every second game or grasps strategic priorities on every map. At the end of the day, MMR only conveys how often a person has won or lost relative to the player base over a long period of time. Everything in between is variance.

But what is variance? Well, it covers a lot of ground. For instance, no one’s knowledge of the game will ever be complete. Heroes is not a solved game, like checkers. It is constantly shifting and being adjusted by its developers, who are in turn making decisions based on the collective decisions of a vast playerbase. Nobody knows everything about everything in Heroes at every point in time. Most people don’t learn even half the heroes of the game very well, even people in Master League. This is why you end up with players that only play assassins well or who can never play support. You will run into those kinds of people at every layer of the playerbase. Knowledge variance never disappears; it just stabilizes over time as you tend to encounter more people with wider game knowledge and wider competencies.

The same applies to performance variance. Robots are not playing this game: humans are. Humans are meat-bag primates whose nervous systems and physiques did not evolve to play highly complex computer games online. We have physical and mental limitations that affect our ability to perform at tasks. Sleep problems, a bad breakfast (or no breakfast), a miserable day at work, frustrating social events, etc., can all very negatively affect one’s ability to make judgments in a game like Heroes. Glaurung has bad days. Zp has bad days. Nick has bad days (and breaks the screen to cope). Everyone has bad days. Everyone makes a bad call on occasion, whiffs that key skillshot, gets tunnel vision, mixes up spawn timers, or even prioritizes playing a champion to have fun over winning. Just like knowledge variance, performance variance never goes away.

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What? I had to get a Snape reference in here.

So what does this all have to do with matchmaking? Well, everything. Matchmaking is no god. It does not determine everything that happens to you. In fact, unless you’re at a very competitive level of the Heroes community, it probably doesn’t affect your games much at all. The other stuff I mentioned is so much more important. Skill gaps, even tiny ones, can have far more drastic influence on how often you win or lose. Your team knowing when to take mercs or to go for an objective, or knowing how certain champions scale and which ones counter which, can make or break a match before it even begins. The mere skill of knowing when to back off is something most people at the lower strata of play don’t understand, even though it’s vitally important. To chalk everything up to “I was matched with a n00b” is both lazy and self-defeating. There are very few matches where you played perfectly and everything was everyone else’s fault. Yes, they do happen, but only once in a blue moon. You have no control over whether someone’s Time Warner connection is shitting itself at that particular moment. You can only control what you’re doing, so you need to focus on helping both yourself and others instead of tossing all blame onto a convenient excuse you don’t really understand.

The Heroes community needs to stop mistaking what has come to be called “matchmaking” for normal shit that every player goes through in every online game. You will be matched with feeders, AFK’ers, the first-pick Sonyas, the last pick Novas, and you will be matched against the first-pick Zeratuls that can Blink-dance with one hand tied behind their backs. It’s called “life”. Deal with it. Matchmaking shouldn’t even be on your mind until you’ve been Rank 1 for months and your win ratio is very stable. Only then can it be an intrusive element that you can legitimately complain about. In the meantime, if you really want to improve, watch replays, watch high-level players in tournaments, analyze what they do, analyze what you’ve done wrong, and treat your teammates with respect and decency. What’s more, part of this “matchmaking” issue arises from the way the competitive ranking system is structured at the moment. It’s much harder to rank yourself against other players and judge where you really are when there are only 50 ranks, only half of which matter, and there’s no Grandmaster League yet to stratify and discriminate between the people who’ve gotten to Rank 1. That will be fixed in time, though. It’s not something to get worked up about.

Heroes has the potential to be a very popular and excellent MOBA, but if we keep instilling this mentality that “matchmaking sucks” and teaching new players to blame their poor performance on a convenient scapegoat, we poison their experience from the very beginning. Even at the very worst, Heroes doesn’t fuck you over nearly as much as a game like LoL or DOTA, where you’re stuck with that feeder for 30+ minutes and just one ill-matched person on either side can sink the game for you and waste such a significant amount of time. If you get stomped in Heroes, the match is over in 10-15 minutes and you move on. We should be selling that as a big feature instead of running around with our heads cut off about that stupid Sonya pick.

Perspective is everything in life, and we shouldn’t lose it here just because it’s a game. Games really are serious business. We enjoy them and invest ourselves in them, which is the only thing that truly matters for us in an otherwise brief and largely futile existence. If you let something as specious as “matchmaking” control your thinking, you’re not going to have fun in Heroes, and that’s a crying shame, because that’s what games are all about.

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Oh.

And winning. Winning is more important.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition – The Beginning of the End

Unlike my previous post, this is meant to be a more serious take on Dragon Age: Inquisition. Fair warning: it is pretty nerdy. Feel free to skip over it if you don’t have a significant interest in the lore of the Dragon Age franchise and such. If you proceed, know that I never pull punches with spoilers.

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Zankyou no Terror – 7

It took 16 FUSILLY.EVACUATECKING minutes into this episode for them to figure out that evacuating one of the busiest airports in the world might have been a good idea, i.e., the one thing that would have singlehandedly derailed all of Gasai Yuno the Evil’s convoluted plans.  Of course, they don’t actually do that, thus putting tens of thousands of innocent people at risk.

In fact, there were tons of ways both sides could have done things smarter. Let’s start with our genius terrorists:

  • Contact Shibazaki before the very last second and coordinate with him more so you have a better chance of succeeding.
  • Set off mass panic in the airport, forcing an evacuation that the local authorities, including the evil police working for the evil Americans, would have no way to resist and would have no choice but to ensure proceeded in an orderly manner, thus taxing their resources and allowing our genius terrorists to move more freely throughout the airport. Think that facial recognition software is going to work when thousands of people are running through the hallways?
  • Predict that Gasai Yuno the Evil wasn’t going to play by her demented little rules in the first place and consider where she might end up actually placing the bomb in order to create the most destruction possible. This is called “reading your opponent.” Maybe you didn’t pay attention in that class at Unit 731’s School for Gifted Psychopaths.
  • Tell Lisa to stay in hiding once her part in the plan was done. Since they switched the surveillance camera footage, all she had to do was remain out of sight of the cameras so that Clarence the Henchman wouldn’t know where to find her. Instead, Clarence the Henchman finds her in like two seconds and puts on her a plane in five seconds without anyone noticing. How did they get onto an empty plane with no one noticing?
  • Lisa, have you ever flown on a plane before? Use the emergency exits. I’m pretty sure Clarence the Henchman had neither the time nor the tools or expertise to disable all the emergency exits on an international airliner that are expressly designed to require no knowledge to use and be almost impossible to disable or impede? I was laughing the whole time. Why was she in any danger in the first place? Why was this supposed to be a tense scene? All she had to do was use her brain for three seconds and take a sled ride outside of the aircraft. Woop dee doo.
  • Hey, idiots: you can memorize detailed floor layouts of huge skyscrapers and play chess-games in your head in an international airport while running as fast as your legs can carry you. (This is biologically impossible, by the way. Your higher brain functions shut down whenever you push yourself past your aerobic comfort zone, so to speak.) Why don’t you just instruct Lisa on how to stop the plane? Remote auto-pilot can be overriden by the manual controls in the aircraft because simple engineering. How come you conveniently don’t know the controls for an airliner when you need to? You have for the other six episodes.
  • How do you even know there’s just one bomb? What if Gasai Yuno the Evil put, like, five more bombs around the airport just to be a dick? Or as a pretty basic backup plan? What would you do then? It’s almost like everyone just read the script in advance.

With that in mind, let’s talk, Five:

  • Why not carry your gun with you to the control tower just in case someone makes it up there? You know, the gun you had with you in the previous scene? Where did it go? Did it run off on its own two legs? What, did you just leave it with your Token Black Henchman down in the Surveillance Van for some inexplicable reason? Why didn’t you have your gun? That would have prevented Shibazaki from stopping you. What the hell?
  • On that note: where was Clarence the Henchman after he dropped Lisa off on the plane? Where did he go? Why didn’t you just tell him to meet you at the control tower?
  • Place more than one bomb at the airport as a backup plan and make no indication of where they are. If it really bothers your addled brain so much, just use Aizen Sousuke the Younger’s self-serving logic and say he was cheating by having a third member he didn’t announce. You win no matter what they do. That’s what I would call “checkmate.” If you know your opponent is going to make a billion stupid assumptions about your mindset and plans, use that to your advantage.
  • Why put Lisa on a plane unattended where she could easily get off had she had functional grey matter? Why not just capture her and use her as a hostage? Or kill her to make her an example and blame it on Sphinx? Say she found one of those other bombs by accident and foolishly tried to disable it in a naive act of heroism, thus painting Sphinx as the brutal terrorists they almost are anyway. Seriously, this is Subterfuge 101, here. Did you skip that class too?
  • Predict that your foes, being skilled in electronic warfare, might think about infiltrating the server room and secure it before they ever get the chance. Derp.
  • Notice with your insane genius brain the security footage was changed instantly, as opposed to five minutes later for some reason we call “Shitty Writing.”
  • Capture your foes right after they leave the airport when you know exactly where they are.

Shibazaki, you’re not guiltless here either:

  • Call in an anonymous bomb threat to the local authorities, thus forcing an evacuation of the airport. This bypasses any political strings the Evil Americans can pull and drastically reduces the gravity of the situation.
  • If that doesn’t work, point out the strange messages being flashed on screen–which would unnerve everyone in the airport anyway–and get your fellows to set off mass panic.
  • When you figure out the terrorists or whoever are planning to ram a bomb-laden airplane into the terminal, get one of your people to set off mass panic so people leave. I’m pretty sure people will catch on that the plane heading straight for the terminal with no guidance is bad and should be avoided.
  • If you have a visual on one of the terrorists on a particular vehicle at a particular geographical location, call it in via the control tower and tell people to secure that vehicle and to lockdown the airport–which would be happening automatically after a plane exploded on the goddamn runway. Then you can apprehend them and put an end to the whole mess.

My only explanation is that everyone in this show is addicted to stupid pills.

Ph for Philosophy – House Syndrome

Last night I had soSRS.HOUSEme frustrating games in ranked, but the most annoying turned out to be, as usual, from my own team. I had a support who constantly critiqued everything I did, and not just my play, but everyone else’s, from top to bottom lane and all the way back. As is typical of these types, no self-critiquing ever issued forth from this support’s mouth, even though he made some pretty significant mistakes that contributed to our loss. Regardless, that wasn’t the real issue. All the commentary he gave was conveyed very politely, so when I proceeded to call him on how annoying, distracting, and condescending it was, the truth reared its ugly head:

“Learn to take advice nicely and you’ll climb up the ladder faster. Don’t have such an ego.”

Way to miss the point, kid. As any person who’s ever had to endure the trial called “public speaking” knows, there’s a component we like to call “delivery” that tends to be extremely important when communicating with people. From a neurological standpoint, this is because humans are semi-rational beings who work off a complex, ever-shifting mixture of emotion and logic. You can have the best advice or counsel in the world, but if you spit it in someone’s face while calling their mother a whore, you’ve sabotaged the possibility of it being successfully conveyed and accepted by the other person. This ruins your vaunted wisdom, as advice’s only value lies in the act of sharing it with someone. The universe doesn’t care if you have all the answers and keep them to yourself. The burden of ensuring that such experience, knowledge, etc., is transmitted successfully lies on your shoulders in the first place, since you have the information and the other doesn’t. You cannot control whether the person on the receiving end will either swallow their own pride and listen to what you have to say or just take the low road and call your mother a whore in kind, but you can control how you transmit it. If you don’t take all practical steps to ensure your end of the telephone line, so to speak, is clear and free of static, you have no right to begrudge the other person’s poor reception of it.

The deeper dilemma in this particular circumstance proved to be this support’s defense of his behavior, in that his advice was indeed very politely conveyed. There was no cursing, swearing, or condemnation in his words. However, he missed the fact that his tone and manner of delivery came across as very patronizing. This is an innocent mistake in and of itself, but he fell when he tried to use his “nice behavior” as a defense. Listen carefully, Internet denizens: not treating someone poorly is not an act of sainthood. It is a given, something that should be done regardless of the circumstances. You are a miserable Pharisee if you think being “nice” to someone gives you brownie points for some magical reason. You should be treating everyone you meet with the respect and kindness they deserve as human beings no matter what you’re doing.

Moving on to more subtle matters, what this support missed was a simple fact: nobody likes a Monday Morning Quarterback, especially a hypocritical one. If you nitpick every last decision someone does, even in good faith, you’re not going to get very far with your audience, least of all when you fail to analyze your own mistakes that they are observing at that very moment. This is not hard to grasp. Furthermore, if someone is taking your words the wrong way, the first step you should take is to consider what you are doing wrong. Tone is very important to human beings from a psychological perspective. The human mind excels to a fault at picking out patterns and reading between the lines. It is your responsibility as the speaker to do as much to control and explain what you’re trying to get across. You cannot let your audience’s minds run free and blame it all on them for not pushing past it.

Here’s the final and most fundamental point I’m trying to make: being right on some technicality, be it your mechanical observations, analysis, or mere basic human courtesy, never excuses all other flaws you might have. This is what I call “House Syndrome,” the self-centered, childish idea that if you’re right about something, nothing else matters. House was a very popular show in its prime, and its titular character has become a cultural icon of the brilliant curmudgeon who gets away with everything. Of course, the reality is that people love the fantasy of being House, not Gregory House himself. Most people watching the show got off on seeing House get away with speaking his mind and not having to suffer any significant consequences for it, all because he was an undeniable medical genius who could diagnose things no one else could. House went on innumerable rants about how his miserable condition, bad behavior, unethical stunts, and risky decisions all were excusable because he turned out to be right. A lot of people took this message to heart and now try to apply it, consciously or unconsciously, in their daily lives. An unfortunate, albeit predictable, consequence, as the real message of the whole show–and it was far from subtle–was that House was full of shit. He was a broken shell of a human being whose salient justifications time and time again failed to bring him any real satisfaction or happiness. As a show, House was both an exhibition and ruthless deconstruction of this kind of person, a show that carefully pondered the many good things House had to say while constantly reminding the viewer that his act was all one big smokescreen. Being right on one thing doesn’t make you right on everything. It doesn’t absolve you of all your other mistakes as a person or a human being.

If you have advice, pass it on, but don’t be irresponsible about it. You’re part of a two-way conversation; your delivery is very key. If you clear out the log in your own eye, you’ll be much more likely to succeed and really help someone out. However, remember this: the best teacher never looks for faults in his students to crow about. It’s not about correcting others; it’s about helping them learn because you care about them. Even if it’s just some idiot in solo queue that you’ll never meet again, you can make a small, real difference in their play, behavior, or experience of the game, all while being a better witness to humanity itself. That’s how you make the world a better place: little by little, step by step, and keeping House locked up in the cage he loves so much.

I’ll Suck Less Someday – 1

67After some bad Vayne matches yesterday, I’ve decided to expand my ADC retinue. On the list so far is to practice a lot with Caitlyn, Kog’Maw, and Jinx. I may try out Lucian’s new playstyle (btw, Riot has failed utterly in nerfing him; they actually buffed him significantly in my opinion), but the rest of the ADCs don’t interest me. Riot has put Trist on their radar for nerfs, and her playstyle never interested me to begin with. The real issue is that Vayne is just too weak in the current meta, with her kit simply falling behind in terms of the rest of the ADCs in the game. Her laning phase is horrible for no real reason other than convention or tradition, while her much vaunted late game isn’t spectacular anymore compared to Trist or Kog’Maw, both of whom have significant range advantages.

Frankly, Vayne needs help. I was thinking about how to help her out, and I think some basic mechanic improvements would really put Vayne on much more solid ground. I think the larger problem, though, is that Vayne isn’t living up to her fantasy as a relentless hunter. She can’t really chase anything these days. Almost everyone outranges or outdamages her, even with full build.

The first and foremost thing I would do is to change Tumble so that, like every other cooldown in the game, it goes on cooldown immediately when you use it, not when you auto-attack afterwards. If this really buffs Vayne’s chasing potential too much–which I don’t see as an issue anyway, as she has to have something to close the gap on her increasingly more mobile enemies–then simply put a slightly longer cooldown gate on it, like 3 seconds or something. But right now, Tumble effectively has a base cooldown of six seconds no matter the rank, which really limits her mobility offensively and defensively. Tumble is Vayne’s bread and butter and what she relies on to outplay and outwit her opponents. You should be able to use it reliably.

The next thing I would do is modify Silver Bolts to give vision of the afflicted target. There was a topic on Reddit a few days ago about having Condemn give vision to Vayne, but I think this solves that problem much more elegantly. Ignoring the rabid legions who are opposed to any sort of buff to Vayne ever for some reason, I would see this as fitting well with Vayne’s character fantasy while giving her a boost at all levels of the game. If you’ve ever played Vayne, you know how many times you’ve lost a duel because you condemned your opponent into an unwarded bush.

Another thing I would consider would be to either nerf Condemn’s mana cost or to improve Vayne’s incredibly boring and lackluster passive. Make Vayne the ultimate duelist/chaser like she’s supposed to be.

From what I’ve gathered playing Vayne for hundreds and hundreds of games, the idea is that Vayne has one of the worst laning phases/early games to pay for late game damage output that surpasses all others. It’s not working right now, though. On the other hand, buffing Vayne carries with it significant risks, as her kit is incredibly powerful in the right hands. The solution seems to be what Riot’s been doing to other ADCs: making small mechanical improvements and buffs that carry into meta buffs later on. That’s the reason Tristana and Kog’Maw have suddenly become gods, even though very little about them was changed.

Without some significant help though, Vayne is likely to keep fading more and more from view as other ADCs surpass her for no good reason. A shame, as Vayne is such a fun and interesting character despite all the frustrations and pain she has to endure these days.