Dealing with emotional stress in League of Legends
League of Legends is a frustrating game. As much as I portray myself as an unfeeling robot in the Summoner’s Guidebook, I am not a paragon of precise execution and flawless decision-making. I’ve mentioned that I experience rage at my fellow players just as much as the next person. In fact, I probably get upset when I play more frequently than a typical player does.
As many of you have probably noticed, I take League of Legends pretty seriously. I don’t screw around or play oddball characters. I don’t like the idea of “playing for fun,” even though I like to have fun as much as the next person. Saying “I play for fun” is just an excuse to dodge responsibility for my failures, and I don’t like to play that way. I like to think that my contribution in a game matters, and two to four other people are counting on me to play my best. Even though that responsibility is hard to carry sometimes, it’s better to shoulder it than to mindlessly mash my face on the keyboard and expect a win.
The problem is that sometimes it wears on me. I will frequently play only one game in a day if that one game ends up causing me a lot of frustration. It isn’t about winning or losing; it’s about dealing with the emotional frustration that comes from a game outside my control.
Objectively, winning shouldn’t be everything
Part of the problem for me is that I value winning highly. I’m not interested in winning just because it gives me some element of bragging rights. While the goal of a higher rating or win/loss ratio is certainly a worthy one, I actually don’t care about those things. I care about being better at League, and things like ranked Elo or win/loss ratios are just tools I can use to measure my progress.
The problem is that because I care about being better at League, things that damage my rating tend to bother me. I’m in roughly the top 10% of Dominion players, but that hardly means anything to the top 1%. I’m constantly looking up and trying to find little ways to improve my game, but it’s hard to employ a strategy and objectively see results. Too many games end up out of my hands, and sometimes skill involves predicting what idiocy my teammates will produce this game than it is outplaying the enemy.
When I have a particularly bad losing game — or even a winning game that my team should not win, but does anyway — it tends to demoralize me, and that keeps me from playing my best. I am extremely affected by my emotional state while playing. When I’m upset, I tend to jump on opportunities that aren’t there or make poor decisions as a whole. I trust my teammates even less than I normally should and let them die when they commit to a fight. I rarely express my rage in chat, but that’s just a defense mechanism to keep myself from facing the Tribunal.
I mentioned in passing a while back that ARAM helps me relax. ARAM is literally an excuse to play awful characters that I wouldn’t otherwise play, and my win/loss ratio in custom games does not matter at all. Sure, I like winning, but if I’m emotionally stressed, I can play ARAM and it won’t affect my matchmaking for my “real games.”
An ARAM match literally doesn’t matter at all. It’s a custom game, so the “seeding” is based on complete random chance unless we have a full group of friends to play. There’s no matchmaking or skill rating in ARAM. I have nothing to prove. If I lose, it could be because of a bad team composition, a bad player, or simply playing a champion I am not very good with. Last week, I played in an ARAM as Annie, and I realized how terrible I am with her. It just reinforced the idea that I don’t need to buy her even more (she was free; I don’t own Annie). I went on to the next game and ended up going 15 minutes without dying as Sona (I ended up something like 12/1/32) despite the entire enemy team desperately trying to dive past my teammates to get to me. The complete lack of responsibility lets me start each ARAM mostly fresh.
ARAM is great therapy for me. It helps me deal with unfamiliar situations, gives me experience with champions I might otherwise be bad at, and helps me improve my teamfighting fundamentals. All of the actual discoveries I’ve made in that arena were not in ARAM, but ARAMs help me polish those skills. Most of ARAM is teamfight positioning; even when you’re not fighting, you’re fishing for a good position to start a fight. It’s a good stress-free way to practice those skills.
More importantly though, ARAM lets me “just play.” I tend to quit playing early if I’m annoyed or mad or “not feeling it today” or whatever other excuse I make for not playing well. ARAM makes it much more likely that I will stick around and at least play a few more games that don’t matter, and that helps keep my mechanics and fundamentals in shape.
Why being fresh is important for me
I won’t play real games if I’m feeling upset. I used to play bot matches if I got mad just to vent stress (which sometimes didn’t help if I got a bad team), and it helped a little. When I’m not in an emotionally stable state, I play much worse. When most people have an off day, they don’t realize all the mistakes they made and they can bounce back. When I have an off day, I notice my mistakes and it makes me incredibly frustrated at myself. If I’m frustrated at myself, I play even worse and slip into a huge downward spiral into grumpiness.
If I’m in a good mood, I tend to go on insane win streaks. It is not normal to win 10 games in a row when you’ve played hundreds or thousands of matches. Matchmaking tries very hard to put you in games that it thinks will be good challenges, so lengthy win streaks are fairly uncommon. When I get in a good mood, I tend to go on much longer streaks, like 20 wins long (lasting over several days). This is extremely abnormal behavior, but it’s because when I am playing my best, I exemplify a lot of the things I try to write about and I end up playing like a god. Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic button I can press to make that kind of thing happen.
I try to maximize the games where I’m in a good mood and avoid the games where I’m not so that I have the best chance of putting myself in that dominating mindset. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work like that, and my average win rate tends to be fairly neutral overall if I’m not in a deep depression or a manic win streak.
I really don’t have an answer to how to cope with emotions because everyone’s emotions are a bit different. The most important thing is to just keep playing like the wins don’t matter, do your best in the moment with every choice you make, and never stop trying to improve.