On Tilt – A look at loss streaks, why it happens, and recommendations

The Definition

Tilt is a term first popularized in the game of poker. Now if you don’t know what poker is, and no, it’s not an object you use to poke people – poker is a card game, and a truly fascinating one. There are many variations of the game, but most of them have the common theme of money being involved. Players can bet money on the chance that their combination of cards is better than their opponents (won’t go into specifics here), and how confident they are in that they can win, which in turn reflect the amount of money they’re willing to bet.


Figure 1 – A poker tournament

How does this apply to the League system? Well, let’s take your MMR for example and convert it into money for the sake of this scenario. Every time you queue up, you’re betting a small portion of your pool of money each time, and you’re hedging that your hand (team in this case) is better than the opponent. If you lose, you lose that small portion, and if you win, you add a small portion to your pool.

So this is essentially very good in terms of stress levels – you never lose very much in one go, and if you do, you can always win it back later, right? But here’s when the concept of tilt comes into play in the League system.

You as an individual have about as much impact on a team as every other individual. You can of course point out stuff like: “Support doesn’t have as much impact”, or “Jungler is most important because they can snowball all the lanes” – but at the end of the day, if one of these roles are severely hampered for whatever reason, your team will be overall weaker, so all roles have an equal amount of impact in terms of your team losing. In terms of winning, that debate could go on for centuries so I’m not going to touch it, but let’s talk a little about tilt and how you just might be the reason your team is losing and how you can go about fixing it.

The Tilt

Specifically in poker, going on tilt usually only occurs after you lose with a very strong combination of cards. In League, this is no different – everyone is trying to climb. For the people that I see with the most trouble climbing, they all believe that they should be in a higher league. Let’s say that they are a higher caliber player than their opponent – they then believe that their hand (team) is better, because after all, they are stronger and so they should win. So when they lose, especially after performing well in lane, the concept of tilt kicks in. Note that this is only true if you are indeed better than your opponent. You do not go on tilt if you’re worse than your opponent on a consistent basis, that’s just the League system doing its job of placing you at your actual skill level. But if you were indeed better, then there are two major effects that could potentially occur when going on tilt: anger or defeat, which in turn causes you to lose more games that you maybe wouldn’t have if you weren’t on tilt.

The first potential effect of tilt is anger. You are now angry. You feel cheated; after all, you had the better hand because you were part of it, so why couldn’t you win? You defeated your opponent in lane, or outperformed the enemy at jungling, but after all that you still lost the game because someone threw by trying to 1v5 on a constant basis – a factor outside of your control.


Figure 2 – Yeah, we all hate losing because of ‘those’ kinds of teammates.

The danger of this is you are effectively crippled by your emotion the next game you go in. The effects of this can vary from person to person. You might start verbally abusing teammates that die (causing them to reply in kind), or play overly aggressive and erratically, which in turn causes you to die. Since you are already angry, you start attributing blame to teammates on why you died, because of various cognitive bias.

Defeat – Defeat is the emotion you feel when you lose confidence. You’re no longer happy, you lost that drive to win, but you queue up anyway because, again, you feel cheated out of your points, and you want to win them back.

The danger of this is you’re also impaired by your emotions. You play unnecessarily safe in lane, not trading with your opponent, recognizing opponent mistakes, or make any plays from the Jungle. You become a neutral factor on your team, resulting in the game becoming a complete toss in the air on whether you win or not. Most likely this will result in a loss because you are above the average skill level in that game, and so if you’re not carrying from your role, you’re not doing all that you can towards winning.

The Result

Either one of these two scenarios will lead to the dreaded loss streak, a long set of games that you lose in a row, and you have suddenly maybe dropped a tier and are now both frustrated with the League system, and at all the “stupid teammates” you’ve had the misfortune of having on your team, a sentiment that’s a byproduct of going on tilt.

On tilt - loss streaks

Figure 3 – A representation of what we feel when going on a losing streak. Credits to Sapphire69 of DeviantArt for the image. Bonus points for figuring out the reference.

Let’s do a quick recap. You queue up for a game, you feel positive and confident. You perform well in lane, but still lose the game. You immediately queue up again because you want to make up for the loss, but don’t realize that there are other emotions that are affecting your play. You lose the next game, and the next. You’re now on tilt.

Now you might think, okay, there are no such things as “win streaks” or “loss streaks,” because in the long run, it will be balanced with a win streak in the future. This is true, but remember, when playing on the ranked ladder you want to be performing in your optimal state, so that you’re guaranteeing that the time that you spend is “worth it.” Now if you have ample amounts of time on your hand, and have already adapted the “I don’t give a f—” attitude towards ranked queue, then it’s not my place to tell you what to do with your time. However, for those of us that are playing with other things in our lives, be it work, school, whatever – it’s important to play with a neutral or positive state of mind.

The Remedy

While there is no cure for the seemingly lack of teammates that actually are using both sides of their brain, understand this, you’re not playing a game so that others will win the game for you, but you’re winning the game for them. That’s the very first adjustment to attitude you must be willing to accept. Granted, this should already be the case. You believe that you are better than the players on the other team. That’s good, we’ll continue down this path of belief.

Also, a quick disclaimer, these are in no way scientifically proven, but are sound in that they are all very logical steps to take, despite not being the immediate reaction most of us may have after losing a game. We are tempted to queue again, or maybe just completely stop and refuse to touch ranked ever, but neither of these are the right way to approach the problem. Here are some steps, all geared towards making you as relaxed as possible, that you can take if you find yourself going on loss streaks.

1)      Find the time of the day when you can play most relaxed. This option could be very limited for many of us, whether it be school, work, social relationships and such – yes, it’s true that the amount of time we have dedicated to gaming is very strict. However, try to find a time when you’re the least emotionally impaired, be it on a weekend morning, when you’re refreshed after a full nights rest, or with a nice relaxing shower after work, relieving all the stress and tension you’ve accumulated during the day.

2)      Play less overall. If you’re reading this, chances are you aren’t Challenger. You aren’t in a race to accumulate enough points before you get booted by the next pretender – so don’t spam ranked games like it’s your job (unless it is your job, then… I can’t help you). League of Legends isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon, and most human beings just simply aren’t designed to sit in front of a monitor for 14 hours a day all the while intensely concentrating on last hitting – it’s mentally exhausting. Take breaks, be it opening the window and just walking around your room if you don’t feeling like going outside.

3)      Balance fun and focus. Again, this is for you fellows that grind ranked. You need to ask yourself if you’re having fun after every game. If at any point the answer is ‘no’, it’s time to switch queues. Maybe play an ARAM, or even play another game. As soon as the sense of fun is completely out the window and all you’re doing is playing the game while not having fun – it builds the amount of stress you feel, which becomes a slippery slope after you lose one game.

4)      Be aware. Know when the tilt is coming. If you lost two games in a row and you think that the third game will break that cycle, before clicking on ‘Play Again’, try to figure out if there are some unchecked emotions in play. If you feel any sort of agitation or if you’re thinking about how that game was such an easy win but you guys lost, take a deep breath and take the time to relax. Go into a custom game and just hit a few waves of creeps without anyone around you. It will allow you to keep your focus but will also relax you a bit before you queue up again.

5)      Stop thinking about it. In the game of golf, I strongly believe that the proper way of thinking is to always forget about the previous bad shot and focus on the next one. This isn’t any different. Forget about the previous game, that loss is a loss; you can’t go back in time to fix it, as much as you want to. Move on and think about the next game and how you’re going to win it.

6)      Avoid sugar/caffeine if possible. We know some pro players have been built on the foundation of products like Red Bull, but it might actually not be a good idea to consume these while playing ranked. If you’re tired, chances are you’re not going to perform at your best anyway, so it might be a better idea to take some time and relax instead of throwing yourself into ranked queue. If you use energy drinks, you’re effectively masking that tiredness with an artificial state of energy, so you’ll be effectively going from over-energized to horribly under-energized, making the effects of tilt even more dramatic than they need to be. If you’re desperately squeezing some games in for whatever reason on a special occasion, go ahead, but try not to make a habit out of it.

7)      Stop playing completely. If you find yourself still going on tilt over and over, then this is the last and most dramatic step you can follow. You need to stop playing the game completely. I’m not saying just quit ranked for the day and play a bunch of unranked games, I’m saying to just stop playing. This is very hard to accomplish, because League of Legends is so accessible and easy to start a game, especially if you have friends that want to play, but if you just quit the game, take a long break, maybe a few days, or even a week, and then come back to it, I guarantee you will be able to tackle the game with a fresh mind set. If you are losing multiple games in a row even after all that, then that isn’t tilt – it could be indicating that your skill level wasn’t as high as you thought it was. A good indication of this is if you go even with your lane every single game – or you’re only on par with the opponent jungler.

Hopefully these tips can help you relieve some of that stress you’ve been having, and help you on your way to becoming a better player.

And as always, good luck!

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IAmA Diamond ranked player from Canada, and love the mental aspect of League of Legends. If I'm not playing NA SoloQ, I'll be either at work, writing blogs, or watching anime. If you have any questions, please shoot me a pm on reddit under the same name.

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