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Pay to win: from chump to champion with a pro League of Legends coach - final report

Chump to Champion Pro League of Legends coaching

Is it conceivable for a League of Legends noob to become a pro in ten hours? It’s an impossible sounding task, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying. That’s why we hired a League of Legends coach to teach me – Matt Purslow, hater of eSports – how to play a MOBA. With all ten lessons complete, it’s time to judge my skills and reflect on my incredible, life-changing journey.  

Want to try the MOBA for yourself? Play League of Legends for free now. 

To catch up with my progress, check out my first lesson,mid-season report,and ARAM practice.

End of season report

So, the burning question: are you a League of Legends pro yet, Matt? The answer: of course not. You didn’t really think I could be an eSports man in ten hours, did you? But while I’m not ready to take on Korea’s best players yet, I am apparently not a completely useless noob who should delete my account (something I’ll repeat over and over when the trash talk breaks out).

While my summoner level may be low, coach Tobi informs me that I’m a very good level eight, and am more knowledgeable about the game than people usually are at this stage. Several times in our final lessons he expressed interest at seeing what kind of player I’d be at level 30, the highest you can build an account to. He thinks I’d be pretty good. I think he’s wrong, but who’s the Diamond-ranked professional in this conversation? Not me.

What did you learn in ten hours?

League of Legends battle

With my term of League lessons over and done with, it’s time to look at what I’ve learnt. In ten hours I’ve progressed from knowing almost nothing about the world’s biggest game to understanding almost all the fundamentals required to play. Interestingly, there are a lot of fundamentals. Contrary to what detractors say, League of Legends is a deeply complex game requiring notable skill to play, and every one of my ten lessons added more and more layers to my knowledge. There are still many things I need to know in order to be a LoL master, but I feel I now understand enough to play with a solid level of competence.

So what is this knowledge of which I speak? Well, I understand the goals of the game, how to push lanes, how to efficiently farm gold, and how to develop my character over the course of a match. I know how to fight at a certain level of effectiveness with a handful of champions, and understand the threats posed by many more. I realise that keeping up with an enemy’s progress is vital to survival, and that knowing what’s going on in all corners of the map is a valuable and life-saving skill. I also know that doing all this at the same time is a task that only people with superhuman attention levels can achieve. That’ll explain all the doping, then.

It’s not all positive, though. When left to my own devices I forget tactics, make bad decisions, and die an awful lot. I fear being overwhelmed by enemies and so stand too far back from fights. I don’t know enough about enemy champions to tailor my equipment for optimum defence. But I am getting better, and that makes everything a little less frustrating.

In my mid-season report I discussed how I felt I’d plateaued and that it seemed impossible to get better. Five lessons later, I realise that those fears were unfounded. I have improved, albeit in very, very small increments. As the old saying goes: doing stuff you hate over and over again makes you a bit better at it. Or something like that.

How does coaching change as you improve?

League of Legends Rengar

The majority of my lessons involved playing games alongside my coach. While that framework applied to all Tobi’s lessons, things changed as I became a stronger player. For example, when playing as caster Annie, I was left to play in the middle lane on my own, rather than having back-up from Tobi. Typically casters are expected to deal with this lane solo, and so Tobi offered tips from a more hands-off level.

The more confident I became, the more Tobi applied the teaching techniques that he uses with his advanced students. Much of his method is based around replay study, and for my final lesson we watched back my performance from a recorded game and analysed what I was doing right and wrong. It’s really effective to watch your own movements and start to internalise your errors on an instinctive level. Becoming aware of things you didn’t realise you do is a massive help on the road to ironing out your performance kinks. It’s a technique I can imagine applying to the games I really care about doing well in.

Is coaching worth it?

League of Legends Jinx

The big question, eh? I’ve had $112.40/£86.90 worth of lessons with Tobi, which isn’t the kind of cash you find stuck under a sofa. Unless you have a really big sofa and never do any cleaning. So would I recommend coaching? May I please introduce a familiar cliche to the stage: yes and no.

You need to judge exactly what you want to get out of League of Legends before choosing to spend money on coaching. If you’re a casual player just looking to get better, then all you need is practice. You already understand the fundamentals, and simply grinding it out will get you where you want to be.

Not everyone’s a casual though, and that’s where coaching becomes interesting. You don’t need to be at global competition level to warrant a coach, you just need to want to achieve something. Think about how many people undergo tuition for regular sports. We all know someone who does golf lessons, has an archery tutor, or who is part of a five-a-side football team. These people pay coaches to help them improve for the pleasure of it, and there’s absolutely no reason why this shouldn’t apply to video games. So if you want to get better but feel you need a hand, then I can tell you with a degree of confidence that coaching can help.

My personal recommendation would be to invest in coaching when you feel like you’ve hit your peak. Let’s say you’re ranked at bronze in League’s tier system, but struggle to progress further. Set yourself the goal of silver and start taking lessons. You’ll be under instruction from players that know how to get there because they’ve done it themselves. Coaches can explain the finer points of the game and identify your weaknesses in a way that impersonal wiki guides can’t.

League of Legends minion wave

If you’re a noob that’s serious about getting somewhere with League, it may be an idea to use a coach as a milestone meter. Take two lessons to start your journey, and then practice as much as you can before taking another hour of tuition a month or so later. A coach will be able to judge the progress you’re making and point you in the right direction, but weekly lessons is probably a bit overkill at such an early stage. You’d end up in a similar situation to me: understanding much about the theory of battle, but unable to put it into action because you’re simply not seasoned enough.

It’s also important to recognise that coaching is worth only half its value if you’re unwilling or unable to put in the practice hours on your lonesome. My schedule over the past weeks has not allowed much time to practice in between lessons, meaning my current skill level is based on around ten hours of coaching and three hours of solo play. Just like playing guitar, the time you spend away from your coach is arguably more important than the minutes with them. If you’re going to part with the money, be prepared for the time sink too. If you’re willing to provide both, then I think that coaching can take your far.

And it’s with that exceptionally logical bombshell that our journey comes to a close. I started as a chump, and while I may not be a champion I am at least capable. Don’t ever expect to see me dealing out kills at the LCS finals, but you may find me on Summoner’s Rift again in the future. Probably when the Overwatch servers are down and Battlefield’s broken.

Coaching has been provided by yuwin.net.

Lesson 7

An important element of League of Legends is team fights, which is something my coach has been teaching me about through the use of ARAM matches against other players (no more bots!). I’ve quickly discovered I quite like this mode; it’s a single-lane game where all of your teammates run at the enemy and pound their face in, just like a good old magic bar fight. It’s often messy, but it’s great fun and doesn’t come with the pressure of the more tactical Summoner’s Rift 5v5 games.

Having four other players in lane with you means plenty of chances to combine abilities with your allies. On Summoner’s Rift I often play as Ashe, and so am frequently backed up by a support character. Understanding how to fight as a team is of paramount importance, so training on ARAM is really helpful.

It also exposes you to many new champions and forces you into close-quarters with them. ARAM stands for All-Random, All-Mid, and that refers to players using randomly selected champions as opposed to their preferred characters. In just a handful of ARAM matches I’ve both played as champions I’d never have picked, and gone against enemies I’ve never met before. In terms of champion research it’s great; every match helps increase your knowledge. It also forces you to think on your feet; you’ve only minutes to try and work out what you champion can do, otherwise you risk allowing the enemy an early lead.

League of Legends Volibear

My most recent lesson saw me use Volibear, an armoured polar bear that can shoot lightning from his paws (now you’re talking!). He’s a tank, which is a class I’ve really struggled with before, but I did remarkably well with him. With help from coach Tobi I quickly realised I could flip enemies over my head and throw them into the hands of my allies, before rounding back on them to utilise a punishing bite ability. By the end of the match I’d scored 13 kills and made nine assists, which while nothing to brag about at least means I’m finally starting to pull my weight. Our team also went onto win the game, and the scoring system graded my performance as A-. You won’t mind if I call that ‘progress’, I’m sure.

League is never about solo performance though; you need the rest of the team to play their parts. You’ll be able to see that in the video above, where I play an ARAM match without the help of Tobi. It was a challenge to myself: can I take the things I’ve learnt in my lessons and apply them to a champion I’ve never seen, let alone played as, before? Well… can I?? Have a watch to find out.

With just three lessons left to go, I’m almost at the end of my masterclass. Stay tuned for more musings on my progress towards becoming a League of Legends master.

Coaching has been provided by yuwin.net.

Mid-season report

With half of my lessons now complete, I’m able to judge both my achievements and my failures, as well as how I feel about professional coaching. So let’s start there, because while you’ll certainly know what it’s like to play League of Legends, being coached one-on-one at a videogame is a more unusual experience.

What do you do in a lesson?

League of Legends coaching Ashe volley

While this is pretty much PCGamesN’s equivalent of a Top Gear challenge, League of Legends coaching is something that’s real and not just a bit of a laugh for us. It’s a casual affair compared to the likes of university lectures, but there’s certainly a process that the coach runs through.

Each lesson lasts an hour, which at newbie stage is enough for two games, and later on allows time for one longer match and a period of discussion. During games the coach plays in lane with you, not dominating the arena like a champion with the LCS trophy for a head, but smashing enemies into the dirt just enough to help you out. By keeping an eye on your stats and progress they’re able to provide you with useful indicators for what to do next.

If you start coaching believing that Annie is an adorable/annoying ginger orphan and not a fireball-slinging voodoo child, lessons revolve around learning the key responsibilities of the main champion roles and finding which one suits you. For example, I very quickly discovered that I’m terrible in a straight-up fist fight, so need to play a champion that can stand back (and easily run away). Thus marksmen and casters are my preferred roles.

League of Legends coaching Annie fire cone

With your position and goals established, lessons quickly help you learn what tactics best suit these champions. While playing, the coach instructs you on the items to purchase to build your stats, what abilities you should be levelling up, and how to combine skills together for quick takedowns. Hopefully you’ll be able to remember all this, unlike me who constantly has to ask what sword to buy next and which murder ability is useful, like an amnesiac child being trained for The Hunger Games.

These ‘practical’ workshops generally take place on Summoner’s Rift in a proper 5v5 battle, but occasionally a custom 1v1 game will be used, which is great for learning the finer control points in a lower-stress environment. (It’s also the place where your coach could really embarrass you with their l33t gamer skillz, but so far Tobi has been a gentle and kind teacher.)

Aside from actually playing League, there are discussion sessions in which the coach shows YouTube videos of professional players using your chosen champions. With a coach providing commentary applicable to your ability level, this is quite a useful exercise. It allows you to visualise what you should be attempting to do in your own games, such as clicking like a lunatic. Seriously, if you’re not clicking 11 times a second, you’re doing it wrong (I’m still doing it wrong).

League of Legends coaching minion farming

Not every coach will work in the same way as Tobi. There’s no international syllabus for teaching League of Legends. But there’s certainly an element of school about the system. Yuwin, the website I use to book lessons with Tobi, requires coaches to provide pupils with a written summary after each lesson. Yeah, they’re report cards, but at least you don’t have to show these to your mum and see the disappointment on her face when she realises you’re dragging your feet when it comes to Summoner Spell deployment.

Are the lessons working?

League of Legends coaching jungle

When I started all this my LoL knowledge amounted to understanding that there were lanes and lots of characters with four spells. Now I feel I’ve got a solid grasp on the fundamentals of the game. Tobi has taught me a great amount in five hours: positioning, attack-moving, the importance of items, the strengths of skills, and what dangers lurk on Summoner’s Rift.

The theory is mostly stuff I could have learnt by studying the pages of the League of Legends wiki, but I feel I’ve probably hit basic milestones much faster with a coach than I would have on my own. That in itself isn’t worth the price of coaching (Tobi charges £8.46/$11.22 per hour), but it’ll be interesting to see if my skills at the end of the ten lessons justify the cost.

So far the majority of my lessons have been taught in the safe confines of bot matches, which is broadly equivalent to the army training with Nerf guns in a children’s ball pit. While Tobi has gradually increased the difficulty of the enemy AI, there’s a comforting amount of predictability in the way bots fight.

League of Legends coaching ultimate

The only PvP game I’ve played proceeded a little like this: I took a leisurely walk from the spawn point to bottom lane, where two champions burst from some long grass and sliced me into spaghetti quicker than you can laugh at this anecdote. Minions hadn’t even spawned! It was a very quick lesson in the dog-eat-dog ways of LoL’s public arenas.

The problem is, this kind of thing didn’t stop. One of the champions – Master Yi, a ninja that appears to have stolen Sam Fisher’s night vision goggles (not that the map has a day/night cycle, jeez Master Yi, what are you thinking?) – constantly tore my HP bar to shreds, bouncing around the lane like a basketball decorated with kitchen knives.

Dying once to something like this is kinda funny. Twice is a lesson. Eight times before you’ve even taken down a tower is just plain tear-your-hair-out frustrating.

League of Legends coaching jungle

This was my first experience of ‘smurfing’; a practice where high-level, experienced players create new accounts and play at low-level. While there are numerous reasons for doing this, it’s the LoL equivalent of wolves in sheep’s clothing: they can devour rookie players in a heartbeat for quick victories. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun if you’re an internet bully, but as someone trying to learn the game it’s incredibly frustrating. I can see why so many people drop LoL early on.

Tough opponents aren’t my only adversaries, though. Most of my problems come from mistakes I make. I’m finding situational awareness incredibly difficult, and that’s down to the way I’ve trained myself in other games. The only competitive games I play are shooters, which means you’re always aware of what’s happening to your avatar because you embody them. With League of Legends your champion could be in the top right corner of the screen and your target in the bottom left, and I find myself focusing so much on my targets that I don’t notice my character being swamped by minions or ganked by enemies from another lane. It leads to upsettingly quick deaths.

Often I understand exactly what I’m doing wrong, but it’s difficult to learn new habits. Reading a mini-map at the same time as pushing a lane is hard when you’ve spent your entire life not doing it. That’s where Tobi helps though; having a coach with you at every second of the match means he can quickly redirect me when he sees I’m going astray. At the moment this feels like driving with satellite navigation, but with any luck I’ll find I’m able to cope without it when those routines are buried into my brain.

League of Legends coaching Annie dash blast

With five more lessons to go, I feel this is the time when I’ll be able to see if coaching is worth it. At the moment I feel like I’ve plateaued; I’ve hit a point where I feel stuck and unable to improve. I’m starting to find the game laborious and unenjoyable, and in any other situation this would be the point I’d drop it. But professional coaching could help me push through this. If Tobi can help me hone my skills so I can achieve more on the battlefield, then I’ll start to find it fun. And if I find it fun, I’ll have the drive to progress. And with a Diamond-rank player teaching me the secrets, I’ll be a League of Legends master in no time.

That’s how this works, right? Right?

That’s us halfway there, but we’re not living on a prayer yet. Stay tuned for more musings on my progress towards becoming a League of Legends master as I complete my final five lessons.

Coaching has been provided by yuwin.net.

Lesson 1

Going into my first lesson, I expected nothing but disaster. Astonishingly that didn’t happen, so thanks to whoever sacrificed a lamb/their firstborn/other beloved possession in order to make me so lucky.

I played as Ashe, who seems a great character to use when learning the hallowed traditions of ‘positioning’ and ‘last hitting’. As a ranged marksman champion she’s good at keeping out of the dangerous melee and causing damage from afar. The extra distance also means it’s far easier to run away when things get hairy/you lose all your courage.

Coach Tobi seemed impressed with my basic character control abilities, but I think this is mostly down to understanding similar roles from other class-based games rather than any natural talent. The fact that I’ve been fighting against AI bots almost certainly contributes, too. I look forward to greatly upsetting and disappointing him when we eventually go up against human opponents. I hope he understands that I won’t pay for a new keyboard when he breaks his out of frustration with me.

You can watch my first solo match in the video above, where I venture back to Summoner’s Rift without Tobi to try and put what I’ve learnt into action. Watch me defeat enemy bots, buy all the recommended items from the store, and complain about only being allowed to fight in one lane. I played as Ashe once again because I’m ok at her. You don’t want to see me attempt Garen. Let’s just say I’m not cut out for tanking…

That was just lesson one. With nine more to go, I’ll be sure to keep you updated on my progress towards becoming a League of Legends master.

Coaching has been provided by yuwin.net.