Follow The Rules!

In fact, you probably never shouldn’t follow the rules… until you know why the rule exists and how it applies to you. This applies to something as simple as always build item X on a specific champion. Never just do something because it is written in a guide, but first try and understand the underlying principles hat govern the rule. Then slowly begin to reach a similar conclusion through your own experiences. It’s important to note that I am not here to tell you to go break the law and come back to blame me and Cloth 5! I am here to tell you that there are a few rules you should consider adopting into your life, and, no I won’t enforce them but you will… eventually.

Rule 1: The Snowball Effect

The first of these two rules is the snowball effect, appropriately named after the phenomenon observed when a snowball rolls down a hill. The rule states that many things are harmless until they are allowed to continue unimpeded, upon which they gain exponentially greater momentum and become increasingly difficult to stop. The snowball rule applies to two key parts of your life, your mental and physical well-being.

Most of you are already familiar with the term snowballing from League of Legends, so let’s start there. A lot of the season 4 changes are aimed at reducing the amount of snowballing in the game. Imagine you decided to play League, but instead of playing standard, you opted to go to your lane and give your opponent first blood every game and then play standard. Chances are that if you are even in skill with your opponent, you will probably lose. If you are much better than your opponent you can probably come back and win your lane. Now let’s assume two variables, one is your skill advantage over your opponent and the other is how many deaths you give up before playing seriously. For the purpose of this article, let’s pretend like we are playing with the 400 gold first blood and there are no diminishing returns making you worth less gold. If you look at the graph below, you can see that it doesn’t matter how high your skill level is, your chances of winning drop fast.

Deaths graph

This same graph can be applied to your health! If you keep effectively “first-blooding” yourself, it becomes really hard to return to a state of fitness. Several changes occur in your body: your metabolism slows down, your weight increases making it harder for you to be active, and your bad eating habits are so deeply ingrained that changing them becomes like dealing with a fed Kassadin. On the other hand your body can snowball like Kassadin too! The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism, the more calories you burn, the easier it is for you to work out. Basically, it’s easier for you to stay fit when you are fit. As discussed in a previous article, being fit gives you energy to play well. Your physical and mental wellbeing are essentially intertwined. Exercise helps you release stress, which is necessary if you are going at it hard on the ladder.

This all sounds great, like some frigging Oprah article or something, but let’s break it down more scientifically. How do we get to the point where something like this is feasible? Well, the important thing is not to rush it. It’s very similar to improving at League of Legends… it doesn’t happen overnight. The first goal is to establish consistency and do the small things that allow you to improve. To accomplish this, you need to build an environment conducive to such behavior. None of us have time for the gym or joining a yoga/martial arts class… or do we? * Author’s note: I think we do. Maybe a gym isn’t your style; it’s not mine. Go buy a pull up bar, an exercise mat, a Swiss ball, some weights, and put them in your room… somewhere…. Anywhere where they are staring you in the face while you are gaming. Blast out some exercises between games. Make this into a habit and the rest will come easy.

Above all else, it’s important to understand yourself; everyone has subconscious habits, good and bad, as well as specific preferences. You have to try things and discover your tendencies, just as you would find your own style of play in League. For example, you might copy Dyrus’s builds and tactics, but you will never be as good as Dyrus or better than him. You have to draw from him, adopt your own style, and refine it. The same goes for your life habits. I have been watching a lot of Hearthstone streams so I’ll point out a few things I noticed. Author’s note: Great game, ironically the article is named after it as well… bonus points to anyone in the comments who gets the reference. No life Kripp probably doesn’t get much exercise, but he always seems relaxed. I also noticed that he stretches A LOT. It’s a great habit to have, and he is probably completely unaware of it. His body just tells him he needs it and he does it. Over time, he has developed the habit of listening to his body. Your quest is to start developing good habits, and becoming aware of your bad habits. Don’t get too upset over your bad ones… we all have them. Just notice them and then subtly try and change them.

Rule 2: The 80/20 Rule

The second important rule I would like to discuss in this article is the 80/20 rule. This rule can have multiple applications. In business, it states that 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers. Also ironically, 80% of your problems come from 20% of your customers. There’s a great chapter in Nate Silver’s book “The Signal and the Noise” (I highly recommend the book if you are into statistics and analysis), that talks about the poker boom. The poker boom is a lot like many video game booms that have come and gone. People like me have ridden these booms through beta and early launch. If you look at the graph below, it represents the amount of effort necessary for you to be better than X% of people. In fact you can probably be better than 90% of players with a reasonable amount of effort, but once you get to the upper echelons of the game, it requires considerably more effort to improve. A lot of people at the higher levels of challenger and in the LCS will probably tell you that this is true. The take home is that you probably think you are hot shit if you hit diamond or something. The truth is you’re probably reasonably talented, but you are not going to make it to the higher levels without some serious work, so don’t delude yourself.


The 80/20 rule really helps when you zero in on your objective and how you want to reach it. You can apply this rule to your work, your LOL laddering, and your fitness. You don’t necessarily have to be the best at your job, but if you focus and put reasonable effort, it’s relatively easy to become good enough to be very successful. It starts with small steps to build the right habits to become adept at things quickly. Gamers are naturally good at improving quickly, but there are a few things you can do to help transfer those skills to real world situations. A few books I recommend are David Allen’s Getting Things Doneand “The Art Of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin. The key in all this is to develop a good bullshit detector that helps you methodically figure out what requires your attention and what doesn’t. Once you can see where the 80% is and where the 20% is, you can easily figure out how to improve quickly. For example, there comes a point in the LOL ladder where no matter how mechanically talented you are, if your game knowledge is close to zero, you will be unable to progress. For every 10 hours of mechanical practice you put in, your returns will be small, but 10 hours of game study will lead to huge gains. Of course, the opposite is true as well.


Approach rules scientifically and methodically. The last thing you want to be doing is obeying blindly or copying what others have done. Other people’s rules may work for them but not necessarily for you. In fact, this article is just my interpretation of several common rules that I believe essential for progress in any discipline. I have presented my views and examples that help validate my argument. You should do some research and reach your own conclusions to see if they are in alignment with mine. If you discover they are not (or they are), I would love to hear your thoughts and analyses in the comments!

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I have been playing competitive games at a high level for 10 years, 2 of those years were spent playing WOW for Fnatic. I dialed back the intensity to finish my PhD, and now extensively study human performance. My research focuses on understanding optimal performance in extreme environments ( think Mountains Climbers and Fighter Pilots), specifically cognitive performance. Follow me on twitter @Dr_Uthgar for regular physiologic insights on E-sports.

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