As you continue down your eSports journey you are inevitably going to come to one of many forks in the road. On one side of the fork is having fun, being comfortable, expressing yourself, and most importantly not conforming. On the other side of the fork is Playing the Meta. The latter is most often perceived as slaving over the same character in every single game, running the same strategy in every single game, or abusing the tier list.
Using this analogy it’s of no surprise that people can struggle with this choice. Fortunately for us, our journey isn’t that black and white.
At this point in time “Meta” is a familiar concept with most, so I won’t spend too much time defining it. You can find many definitions all over the internet like this one. However, this quote from FeNriR is my favorite. “The way I’ve always known it, meta is just the out of game study of the most common AND most effective trends in a game. Literal definition is statistical analysis of those trends, but I treat it as the whole study, not just the numbers. E.g., Why certain routes or starts work in an FPS, or why champion picks or item builds work, etc.” He goes on to say, “Too literal application leads to people who play whatever’s meta because it’s meta, but never understand the fundamentals that drive it.”
Erasing the Stigma
If we use the definition from above, we can see that “Meta” as defined has depth and layers. It goes beyond just playing the perceived best character or best strategy. Mainly because it is always evolving. This is especially true of modern eSports titles, since developers actively make modifications to the games and their characters. Inevitably leading to changes in the Meta. That fact alone is enough to prove that you won’t slave over the same character or same strategy every game. Excluding a few games that no longer receive updates.
So this leads you to another fork in the road of your journey. On one side of the fork is reaching the goals you have set. Improving your performance in ranked or tournament play, or even finding a team. On the other side of the fork is fulfilling desires of being an underdog, and a specialist. Or it’s trying to avoid ridicule for being a “Try Hard”. Too often players will attempt to excuse their losses or shortcomings by undermining their opponents victory based on the character they are playing. Mainly if that character is Meta, or a high tier.
It’s also important to explain the difference in feedback loops that you put yourself in based on the approach that you take for your growth. If you give yourself the best chance to win by Playing the Meta, you also give yourself the best opportunity to learn. You have put yourself in a position to explore, gain and learn the specific information needed to improve. There is nothing that can hold you back besides the elements you need to improve upon. No excuses can be made. It ensures that you can focus on your goals, and reaching your next skill ceiling. Winning and losing become a part of the process.
However if you willingly play shorthanded, you add unnecessary obstacles to your journey. This can lead to having to work harder in aspects of the game, that don’t translate to high ranked match making or tournament play. You open the door to the idea that you’re losing based on something out of your control. But the fact is, it is in your control. Thus, winning and losing becomes something entirely different. The focus shifts from improvement to excuse making, ego buffing, and story telling. You create a barrier between yourself and your skill ceiling.
That barrier usually consists of different quotes that best describe the picture I am painting. “If I played X then I could have easily won.” “See I didn’t have to play X to win” “You think you’re good? Why because you play X every game? Try playing Y every once in a while.” Those are just a few examples that I’m sure you have heard. Sure enough, when you elevate to higher levels of play, you will stop hearing those things.
Our goal is put our best foot forward and the best way to do that is to be the most efficient. No matter the side you choose to take, I implore you to never shy from investing in yourself because of the perception of others. There are those who play to win, and those who find every excuse to lose.
Proof is in the Numbers
Nothing is guaranteed or 100%. Developers won’t let that happen anymore assuming the game receives updates. However, regardless of the game Playing the Meta will increase your win rate and efficiency. Of course we don’t want to just Play the Meta just based on statistics. We want to understand what makes up the best strategies and why the current trend is working. However, I will show you how the stats can support our claims.
The picture above shows stats from champion.gg for the current season, in platinum and higher ranking. Here we focus on the top lane position. Notice that the win rate % rarely goes over 50%. This is important to note because it supports the idea that just picking champions just based on statistical ranking doesn’t guarantee a huge win percentage. While also demonstrating the need to be efficient in a volatile environment. To further this point, out of the top 10 champions shown on this list, at least 7 of them were picked or banned during the LoL 2018 World Championship Finals.
There are many factors that go into why these champions are ranked in their positions. There are also a lot of factors as to why they were picked in the Finals of the World Championships, and it’s important to understand those reasons while playing. Here is another example using the support role.
When you look at these pictures, you can also see that the win rate % differences is fairly low from rank 1 to rank 15. It’s not to say that you can’t win with other champions or that those champions aren’t good in their own respects. But there is a reason based on the Meta, as to why champions are played in their place, and it typically always boils down to efficiency. They accomplish the same thing, but one does it better, easier, or with more impact to the team.
Okay, Play Good Characters. Simple enough!
In theory yes. But it’s not always that easy. I will be the first to tell you that it can be more complex than that. Seeing as how I played Dee Jay for the entirety of my Street Fighter 4 career. Gaming can sometimes boil down to a ‘feel’ thing. Some champions or characters just feel natural and some don’t. You may perform better with a lower tier character than a higher tier just out of comfort or familiarity. It happens, but you have to be willing to put in the same amount of practice and effort in learning the Meta characters as you did learning the game. You might lose before you win.
An example of this happened this year in professional League of Legends. Marksman players went from playing their usual roster, to playing characters that have never been in their lane. When Heimerdinger and Mordekaiser hit the bottom lane, there were plenty of players not only receiving coaching, but tanking their win percentage practicing these characters. They were willing to make the adjustment because it was right for the time.
Struggling to adjust can also be an indication that you don’t fully grasp the game’s meta. You may find that your fundamentals aren’t sound enough. You just might not be seeing the game clearly because you are uncomfortable. Alternatively, you may feel the strength and ease of the characters you’re playing, but you aren’t taking advantage of those strengths. Believe it or not, some players biggest struggles come from not pushing their advantage.
There is also the possibility that making the switch will sky rocket you to your goals and unlock your full potential in a short amount of time. That was the case with PG Plup of Super Smash Bros. Melee. Already being an incredible player, he went from consistent 9th place finishes with a mid tier character to top 8’s and 1st place victories after he switched to a higher tier. It came with it’s trials and errors, but now he is recognized as one of the best players in the world.
So, Fun is Out The Window?
Not at all! Winning is fun. Improving is fun. Gaming is still fun!
There will be times that it doesn’t feel that way. I can relate to that, but it wasn’t the meta’s fault. It was my fault for not understanding it fully. When I was competing in competitive League of Legends, there was a time that I played Riven top lane every single game, and no that was not fun. But I didn’t have too, she was just simply my best Meta character at the time. If I would have practiced other options, or broadened my perspective I could have avoided that.
Luckily for us, games have more depth than that. There is a situation for everything and that gives us the ability to play different characters at different times. We can even get insane moments where our favorite low tier character works perfectly in the match up. Like the famous moment where Infiltration pulled out his Hakan versus PR Balrog.
Understanding, Sticking too, and Playing the Meta is pivotal to improvement. It is one of the only mandatory things you must do on your journey. You will have fun with it, it is not some dreaded thing that you should avoid. There is no shame in wanting to win, and when you want to take a break from that and play your other characters you will find that they are more enjoyable because you’re not tied to them. You can enjoy the challenge of playing from behind as opposed to it being the only challenge you know.