The nature of shot-calling appears to be changing — at least in part — in professional League of Legends.
League of Legends is a game with five people on the same team each doing their own role, with their own input of information that is crucial when winning a match. Traditionally, one player — usually the team captain –compiles all the information of his teammates and instructs them what to do next. Names such as Hai “Hai” Du Lam, Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong, and Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg are widely known as good shot-callers and receive credit for their team’s coordination.
Shot-calling reflects the infrastructure of traditional sports, as team captains in soccer and quarterbacks in American football are usually recognized as command towers. But League of Legends is unique in the sense that teammates communicate more with one another in real time in order to paint the clearest picture to find out what to do next. With five sources of input, perhaps only having one person be in total control would be inefficient, and more teams seem to be coming to the same conclusion.
“Well it’s just when you have, say, five people working on a problem,” Hai told Slingshot after the North American League Championship Series quarterfinals, “you’re probably gonna do that problem a lot faster and better than a single person telling other people what to do, as far as coming to an answer.”
Famous for his role in previous incarnations of Cloud9’s League of Legends team, and now with FlyQuest, Hai said that the shift to a more democratic system is underway, where all players contribute to what the team should do next. Hai argued that such a system was better for the players to gaining a deeper understanding, and increases the team’s synchronization as teammates no longer “have to tell a person” to do something specifically. More thinking means fewer mistakes, better plays and a better player, according to Hai. That sentiment is especially interesting coming from Hai, whose singular shot-calling for years was credited for much of Cloud9’s success.
Mata, KT Rolster’s support, is also known globally for his active shot-calling, a skill many say attributed heavily to Samsung White’s and Royal Never Give Up’s domestic and international success. But as he moved back home from China to Korea to much fanfare, Mata admitted that KT was also moving away from his traditional methods of shot-calling to one that involves the whole team.
“Recently our style of shot-calling became tiring for my teammates, so we’re in the process of making more team based shot-calling,” he said in a post-match interview.
Mata’s troubles highlight another problem with one seemingly obvious flaw of having a single shot-caller: what if the other players don’t listen? KT’s current roster has three very strong personalities in Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho, Go “Score” Dong-bin, the centerpiece of this season’s KT rebuild, and Mata, the de-facto leader of the team he joined. When such strong players should clash in a match due to conflicting calls, the team would come to a screeching halt.
KT head coach Lee Ji-hoon made multiple mentions of the difficulties in wrangling his team “to be on the same page,” during the spring League Champions Korea split, and the fact that each player’s already impressive career has actually been in the way of such efforts. KT under-performed at times compared to the expectations, perhaps demonstrating that more so than individual prowess, the team with the better coordination and shot-calling will likely take the victory.
Phnoenix1’s mid laner Yu “Ryu” Sang-wook also fits the bill of a leader perfectly. With veteran experience in Korea and Europe, he admits that he makes many of the shot-calls for the team. For Ryu, a player with an ability to “read the map well” is usually best at making calls, but he also said that he thinks “it’s better for the whole team to be involved, as opposed to just one person making the calls.” Despite the problems that may arise in lesser experienced teammates, Ryu also seems to defer to the belief that group shot-calling trumps individual reads of the map.
A more democratic process isn’t without it’s flaws, though, as Hai does point out the risk of “messy communication,” but it’s more in vein of growing pains from kicking an old habit. Ideally, being able to understand your teammates without having to expressly tell them what to do would be the best way of playing a team game. It’s also worth noting that the language barrier that exists among teams importing players from multiple regions can also inhibit group shot-calling. But it’ll be interesting to see if more teams slowly change their manner of shot-calling, and whether or not players who are willing to communicate will become easier to find as a new standard arises.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games