Hero League Level-Ups, Part 1: Minimize Unforced Errors!
Mon 1st Oct 2018 - 10:21pm
Greetings! k0nduit here, and today I've got an article for you on Minimizing Unforced Errors, with the focus of helping you improve your gameplay and performance in Hero League. Unforced errors (or UFEs, as I'll call them) occur at every level of play; however, you'll find that as you move up to higher levels of play, they happen less and less frequently. I would even say that making a minimal number of unforced errors - or coming as close to eliminating them as possible - is one of the marks of a highly skilled player!
No one is perfect of course, and everyone will make these kinds of mistakes at some point or another; but, if you're on the path to improving at HotS, it's in your best interest to try and minimize the amount of UFEs you make - and that's what this article is aimed at helping you accomplish! Without any further ado, let's get into it.
The first thing I want to do is demystify the subject we're discussing and get concrete: I'll be defining what Unforced Errors are and give you plenty of examples of commonly made UFEs. Secondly, I'll provide some commentary on UFEs and what can cause them. And finally, I'll give you my advice on how to go about correcting these errors.
What Are Unforced Errors?
I define unforced errors as mistakes that could have been prevented by employing proper foresight. The kind of mistakes I want to focus on are those borne of one's own misevaluation of the situation, rather than the opponent's direct involvement. The vast majority of unforced errors involve decision-making or judgement errors, rather than micro execution mistakes (though micro-related unforced errors do come up). Unforced errors span many different areas and concepts in the game: rotations, camp control, proper soaking, teamfighting, thinking in your opponent's shoes, etc. I'll be focusing on the more straightforward examples, but there are many more subtle/nuanced instances of unforced errors to watch out for as well, so be vigilant!
It's time to get concrete. Below you'll find a list of many common unforced errors in HotS, which I've organized/grouped into categories. By the way, almost all of these are actual UFEs that I've noted down in my own play notes for improvement, so you can rest assured knowing that they're real, genuine, 100% authentic unforced errors! Enjoy!
- Pushing up too far in your lane/not respecting your opponents' gank potential when they're not visible on the map.
- Not responding quickly enough to teammates who are fighting nearby.
- Initiating a fight when you don't have all your team members nearby (or in general, misjudging the numbers on both sides).
- Being too split on the map, and letting the enemy get what they know is an advantageous engage on you, particularly in the lategame.
- Before an objective (though it depends on the map and circumstances), not taking a free merc camp to apply pressure.
- Leaving an opponent's merc camp push uncontested for an extended period of time.
- Not having your tank/someone anchor when you're doing a merc camp or boss. If there's any threat at all of being invaded or disrupted, this needs to be done!
- Walking into a bush (colloquially known as "facechecking"), rather than scouting it with an ability that grants vision (or asking for a teammate to do so).
- Not letting your tank lead the way into a contested area.
- Making an unsafe or 'aggressive' rotation between lanes and getting caught out.
- Overextending for a kill, when the value of which is less than the risk of being caught out.
- Chasing too far for a kill, when the opportunity cost of accomplishing something else on the map is high.
- Trying to save a teammate that's definitely super dead and getting yourself taken down in the process.
- Hard defending structures that are imminently going down, when you should let them go (as the enemy can collapse on you/flank you).
- Playing too far forward when your opponents are about to hit 10 or 20 through trickle XP (keep an eye on impending talent tiers).
- Hard fighting lvl 1 when you're disadvantaged in terms of lvl 1 teamfighting, or when the opponent has questing talents but you don't have any. In this case, you should go to your lanes and avoid a full-committed 5v5!
- Going for boss, when fighting over boss is what the enemy team wants to do at the current game state.
- Not respecting the opponent's all-in potential on you, sticking around at low health (e.g. Genji/Tracer instantly closing distance and finishing you).
- Not paying attention to the opponent's respawn timers and getting blindsided when chasing too far.
- Greeding for regen globes and getting punished!
- Not focusing the correct target in teamfights (given the freedom to pick between multiple targets).
- Not checking the opponent's ultimates after level 10 and getting blindsided by one that isn't always taken/you're not expecting. (The best example for me is always Cassia's Valkyrie. For some reason, I always assume that they've got Ball Lightning and then get pulled in by Valkyrie, every time!)
- Voluntarily playing into the opponent's strategy (e.g. forcing a hard engage when your comp wants to sit back and poke).
- Taking voluntarily hard-committed teamfights when your team's ultimates aren't off cooldown yet.
- Voluntarily fighting in areas/around terrain that favors the opponent.
- Not chaining your Crowd Control correctly with your allies, i.e. overlapping CC, allowing your kill target to escape.
- Positioning too far forward in a teamfight as a squishy damage dealer/not respecting the opponent's CC or ability to turn on you.
- Missing "free", or high percentage skillshots.
- Not stutter-stepping and missing out on a kill because of it!
Miscellaneous UFEs & Hero-Specific Example UFEs
- Picking the wrong talent accidentally.
- Picking a highly suboptimal talent relative to another for the situation (e.g. Greymane's Go for the Throat when you really want Cursed Bullet for the matchup).
- Clumping up against lategame Zeratul with Cleave build, or in general getting 4-5 member Void Prisoned.
- In general, taking hard-committed fights with pre-lvl 4 Varian.
- Biting in as Rehgar when it's not safe.
- Playing too far forward under the opponents' gate when they have Junkrat and/or Garrosh.
- Not playing around high-impact initiations (like Hanzo's Dragon Arrow). Basically, allowing/offering your opponents ideal circumstances without any setup from their part.
There you have it, a list of common unforced errors (borne from yours truly)! As you can see, all of these items are things that each player has almost completely agency over and can be prevented with proper foresight.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There many more unforced errors, and different kinds. For example, every hero has their own specific ones that arise from their kit's intricacies and gameplay play patterns. UFEs can also arise from not playing around the opponents' heroes' capabilities (like the clumping up vs. Zeratul example mentioned above) and even not synergizing correctly with your own team's heroes (like not chaining CC correctly on a kill target). There are also team-wide unforced errors (e.g. not being where you need to be on the map as a group), communication errors (e.g. not calling out/pinging a focus target), etc. Those are a bit more nuanced/complex (as they get into the realm of shotcalling), so I won't get into them too much here, but keep in mind that they do exist and keep an eye out for them. Strive to improve your game in all aspects!
On UFEs, How They Arise, and Their Game Impact
While reading through the above list, you might have thought that some of the listed items are 'obvious', or 'trivial'. However, let me assure you that these are mistakes that can arise at every level of play. There are many reasons that even advanced, highly experienced players that have thousands of games under their belt make UFE's; but in my opinion, the root causes for UFEs are playing on autopilot, getting 'relaxed'/taking things easily, getting impatient, and/or not actively thinking about game state and options for lines of play.
For those of you who have read my writing before, you know that I'm a big fan of Magic: The Gathering, the strategy card game. In MtG, there are a couple of terms that are often colloquially used when describing a player's decision-making/lines of play: playing 'tight' vs. playing 'loose'. In essence, to play 'tight' is to make decisions that cover as many angles as possible to constrict and lock out as many escape avenues as possible that your opponent might have and to deny your opponent any clear opportunities to gain an advantage.
To play 'loose' is to, via your decision-making, give your opponent a greater leeway and freedom to make strong plays of their own, expose yourself to unnecessary/unwarranted risk, and offer your opponent 'free' windows of opportunity to get back into the game. Playing 'loose' can also simply refer to not properly thinking about your plays and decisions, taking game actions without having considered them fully and thoroughly.
Carrying this over to Heroes of the Storm, playing tight involves minimizing the amount of unforced errors you make. Strive to play tight! Be disciplined in your play, and don't take the current game state for granted. While you might be ahead or at parity, you better believe that your opponents are looking for every opportunity to get back into the game or to claim an advantage. Be vigilant, and don't go on autopilot! Keep thinking about the game state and what each team's best play is. One thing I can tell you from experience is that fatigue really makes playing tight difficult; when I play HotS for longer periods of time, I start playing much looser compared to the sharpness of my mentality in my first game. If you're tired, then you're much more likely to go on autopilot. Take breaks between games, do some stretching, etc. if you're doing a long play session.
The effect of an Unforced Error on a game can range from "trivial" to "catastrophic". A poor rotation in the earlygame - resulting in you getting caught out - may not cost your team much in the grand scheme of things, but that same poor rotation can lose your team the game if you're 20+ minutes in and the death timers are colossal. But even in the former case, the "butterfly effect" has some relevance: an earlygame death can mess up your team's map control, allow the enemy team take a free merc camp, gain an xp lead, resulting in them getting level 10 first during an objective, losing you a massive amount of equity, etc. etc.
What I mean to say is, don't write off a UFE with "it didn't matter too much," or "fixing that wouldn't have affected the outcome of the match." The error could have affected the match's outcome in a subtle way and, even if it didn't affect the match result, in another game it very well could! Thus, don't let UFEs pass by without taking a look at them.
How Does One Minimize UFEs?
So, now that we're familiar with UFEs, how do we go about improving and minimizing how often we make them? The answer is somewhat straightforward, but first, let's step back a bit and talk about the whole process.
For one, awareness of having made a mistake, or of an error in general (learning from observation also works, you don't always need to learn from experience!) is the first, and most critical impetus for improvement. By having the knowledge of a potential pitfall, you are better equipped to change your behavior and circumvent the obstacle. And again, as I mentioned above, it's important to be vigilant in identifying the UFEs you make and not let them pass by. Note them down for future improvement, no matter how minor they might seem. What might be an inconsequential slip-up in one particular game may be a consequential one in another game. And as odd as it sounds, it's often a very good thing to have your opponents pounce on and punish your unforced errors. Having your mistakes punished is a great learning opportunity, as opposed to them not being punished and sometimes going unnoticed.
Once you're aware of the unforced errors you make, you can now look to change your play patterns. However, let's discuss what not to do. What you don't want to do is walk around thinking, "Don't take unsafe rotation paths, don't take unsafe rotation paths," or, "Gotta make sure I can't get ganked, gotta make sure I can't get ganked." Focusing on something to not do is difficult, can mess with your application of other principles (as you're just focusing on one unforced error that you want to prevent, rather than holistically improving your play), and can in general make you play suboptimally. What you want to steer clear of is having a bunch of mistakes to avoid bouncing around in your head as you're playing! A better method is to, instead of trying to avoid making mistakes, build new habits that incorporate tight play. Check out this quote:
"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." - Dan Millman
In other words, it'll be more effective to build NEW gameplay habits rather than trying to avoid the old ones. For example, instead of focusing on avoiding unsafe rotation paths, on a broader/more general scale, concentrate on evaluating your map movement and figuring out if it would be better/safer to take a longer route around to the objective as opposed to walking in via the shortest route. In other words, the focus should be on building proper risk evaluation, map awareness, conscientiousness, and not playing on autopilot: all of which lend themselves to making proper rotations, rather than simply avoiding unsafe rotations.
By practicing this line of thinking, you'll develop a habit that will come to your aid game in and game out, eventually becoming a part of your skillbase (holistically improving your gameplay) rather than a tidbit you have to remember each time. The end result is that, when it comes time to go to the map objective and you're pathing to it, a very natural alarm bell will go off in your head: "This rotation path isn't safe, I'll take the long way around." Provided that you're not playing on autopilot - it will become automatic! Succeeding in Hero League is all about consistency of performance; thus, it's important to ingrain the habit of playing tight.
In essence, for those categories of unforced errors I came up with above (they aren't comprehensive though, do some thinking on all the areas you want to improve), work on building your skills in those areas. Develop your proficiency in map awareness, merc camp timing/understanding for each battleground, teamfight play patterns and positioning, etc.
This same strategy (focusing on building new gameplay patterns, rather than avoiding old ones) applies to every unforced error on the above list. Take the mentality of seeking to play tight, rather than avoiding making misplays (which can lead you to make superficially correct moves, but they won't be ingrained into your overall gameplay).
On UFEs and Wrapping Up
So there you have it, a breakdown of some commonly seen UFEs, as well as some thoughts on how you can go about addressing them. I want to quickly revisit an idea I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, that advanced players make fewer unforced errors. This is definitely the case, and it's also true that your margins for error get smaller as your level of play increases. You will be punished for lesser transgressions/misplays, and much more frequently/reliably at higher levels of play. This is why you see pro games sometimes have very few kills, as everyone is playing careful! But, what I want to note is that all of this doesn't mean you should "play passive", regardless of your level of play. Not taking opportunities when you see them is, in a way, an unforced error in and of itself! That's a topic for another day, though, haha. Basically, rather than play passive, scared to make unforced errors, you should play "tight".
I have heard this concept of "don't feed" being used as a method to succeed in ranked play. While simplistic, in a sense, there's some truth to it. If you're not dying, you're continually getting value: getting soak, applying pressure to your opponents, providing presence on the map, etc. By simply staying alive and existing on the map, your opponents' gameplay will change, as they have to respect your presence and cannot play as aggressively. There's a ton of value in simply being alive; as such, there's a lot of equity and win percentage to be gained by minimizing the number of unforced errors you make.
Minimizing unforced errors is a result of practicing an amalgamation of principles across many different areas and concepts in the game: macro, micro, proper teamfighting, playing around stuff, thinking from your opponent's perspective, etc. But perhaps the most important takeaway is to keep a clear head, don't play on autopilot, and immerse yourself in thinking about the current game state (as even if you're aware of a potential pitfall, if you're playing on autopilot you may still run into it!). Focus on building good gameplay habits, and the number of UFE's you see will decrease!
That's all for today, I hope you enjoyed the article. If you'd like to discuss anything HotS, have comments/feedback on this article, or just want to say hi, feel free to tweet me @k0nduit and I'll get back to you.
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