Content of the article: "Stop asking how to climb! (Also, here’s how to do it.)"
Scan this subreddit on any given day and you will see countless posts with pretty much the same question: "How do I climb out of silver?" or "I'm stuck in bronze, how do I climb??" Here's the answer: you're asking the wrong question. What you're looking for is some secret formula, some simple trick, some foolproof strategy so that your rank goes up. But here's a fact you must accept – it simply doesn't exist (and you shouldn't want it to).
The question you should be asking is "How can I improve?" Improvement should be your real goal. Climbing is simply a bi-product of improvement. If you don't improve, you won't climb…and you shouldn't climb. The purpose of ranks is to numerically represent skill relative to other players. If your skill isn't higher, then your rank shouldn't be either.
So, how do you improve? In a word, work. Improving in anything – be it math, cooking, taekwondo – requires hard work. The saying "practice, practice, practice" is almost accurate, but it kind of implies that simply spending time doing an activity is the secret. Time, however, is only part of the recipe for success. You have to practice in a way that is also productive. This is why there are players with hundreds of hours in the game that still aren't very skilled; they put in lots of time, but didn't do it in a way that's productive. (That is, for the purpose of improving. Naturally, some people don't care about improving and just find playing for the sake of playing to be good enough for them). That can also be the reason you are "hardstuck" (more on that later).
How, then, do you practice in a productive way? You may have heard the term "focused practice." This is the key to improving in anything in life. In a nutshell, this type of practice is active rather than passive. Instead of simply doing the thing, you are analyzing every aspect of what you're doing. You're practicing with a purpose. Following are some ways to apply this to Overwatch.
- Practice regularly (preferably daily). When you're learning anything, it's always better to practice a little each day rather than a ton on just one day. Your brain consolidates and cements what it learns during sleep and there is also a limit to how much you can take in at a time. Because of this, shorter but more frequent sessions will yield far better results than infrequent bursts.
- Begin with a VOD review each session. Choose a game you played the day before. By now, any emotion you felt about it will have faded away and you can look at it objectively. As you watch the review, constantly ask yourself questions. How was my positioning? Why did I die here? How could I have used this ability better? How much value was I contributing at this moment? What was my team doing? Etc. When you find key moments in the match, look at them from different angles and from different player's perspectives. You'll start to notice things you would never have noticed before. Maybe you'll see that that four-man grav failed because you didn't notice your team was already dead and couldn't capitalize.
- Take notes. As you do your VOD review you'll notice things you are consistently doing poorly. Write these things down. This serves several purposes. It will help you remember what you need to work on. It will help you to commit. And it will help you to see any patterns.
- Watch pro players, but do so actively. This means don't just watch a stream thinking, "wow that guy is so good." Instead, just like you did for your VOD review, ask questions while you're watching. Why did he position here? How does he use his abilities? Why did he engage here, but not there? Etc. You won't know all the answers, and that's ok. The goal here is awareness. Eventually, you will see patterns, or you'll hear explanations and suddenly you'll understand how the pro is thinking. This is helping you to develop a mental model of what good play looks like. Again, take notes.
- Play matches with specific goals in mind. The more you do points 2 – 4, the better you'll understand what is lacking in your own gameplay. Pick one or two things at a time and make it a goal to work on those things specifically each game. Don't expect to do this for a day and be done. Remember, practice is work. You may need to spend several weeks or longer on a specific point. That's ok.
- Use custom games to train specific things. Many skills are better learned in a less stressful environment so that you can focus better on what you're doing and concentrate on developing the needed muscle memory. For example, in the heat of the moment you might be wildly swinging your genji blade but hitting nothing. But in a custom game, you can train it calmly until you feel so confident that in a real game you do it accurately almost without thinking.
What do you do if you're "hardstuck?" First, have you followed the advice above? For how long? Realize that improvement often happens "below the surface." In other words, many times there are many subtle improvements happening in our brains but it takes time for everything to come together to see an actual jump in the results. This is normal. In fact, the learning process can be graphed as a steep slope that gets flatter and flatter until it finally plateaus. The more advanced you become, the longer the plateaus and the smaller the slopes. In other words, when you first start something, you get better really fast. Eventually, your improvement slows. And then finally, you plateau, where it seems for a long time there is no improvement. This is the same reason your rank stagnates – you aren't improving! The key is to continue actively practicing. If you aren't actively finding things to do better, you won't be better…and you won't climb. This is where a second set of eyes helps. Perhaps, you've reached a point where you just aren't seeing how you could do better after watching pro play and analyzing your own. Then have a coach or someone else review your VODs. They will find what you are currently blind to. Once you see it, you can begin improving again. But, again, don't assume because you haven't climbed in two months that no improvement is happening internally. Remember that learning happens in jumps.
Another thing to remember when you're stuck is that sometimes the reason is that you're too comfortable. You need to push your limits and you need to try new things that don't come naturally. And the result could actually be you falling for a time. And that's ok…and necessary! For example, maybe you're gold and realize that you don't really pay attention to enemy ults. You make it a goal to try to predict ults from now on. Well, as your brain is now focused on this new task – which at first will feel very difficult and require a lot of concentration – you aren't noticing other things that you should be. You actually play worse. Was the problem paying attention to enemy ults? Should you stop doing that because you're losing SR? No! Your goals isn't climbing, it's improving. So, you keep doing it until it becomes easy. And guess what? Now, not only do you get the SR back, you actually end up ranked higher over time because you are a better player than you were before. So, don't be discouraged by a number!
Speaking of discouragement, practicing in this way will help you to feel better about yourself and others. You'll know that the number isn't the most important thing. Now that you're working on specific goals, and truly paying attention because you're analyzing your VODs you'll see how much better you're becoming. "Wow, I remember when I couldn't ever kill anyone with Primal and now I'm getting at least two kills every time!" "Wow, a few months ago I didn't realize I should be defending this corner, but now I was able to delay the payload an extra minute!" It will feel great.
On a related note, you won't get as "tilted" anymore. Why? Science has discovered that one of the greatest sources of stress is feeling like you aren't in control of your situation. So, when you feel your losses are because of your team, it's infuriating. It feels like an injustice has been done to you personally. They made you lose your game! But, your focused practice will help you reframe everything. You'll now be focused on what you did or didn't do to contribute to the loss. You'll realize that sometimes a situation was simply unlucky. You'll realize that certain things snowball and that a seemingly small mistake or lack of getting value out of an ability on your part could actually have cascaded into your team getting wiped 30 seconds later. You'll recognize – just as pros do – that certain team fights were actually just unwinnable, and not anyone's explicit fault. And even when you "know" that a fight being lost was definitely someone else's fault, you'll see it from a more analytical perspective, rather than an emotional one. You'll feel so much more in control when you calmly say to yourself, "Ah, ok, we lost that fight because Orisa positioned herself in the open instead of hugging the corner while we still had that space available to take before the enemy team came back from spawn." That's so much better than, "OMG why can't our damage kill anything???" Finally, even a lost game can feel like a win when you know that you actually did something better than you normally did. "I wasn't good enough to carry that game, but I made much better use of health packs than I usually do, which is what I've been working on!"
One more point to realize about "climbing" is this: you're not the only one getting better at the game. A ladder of any type is what in the education world would be called a "norm referenced assessment." That's a fancy way of saying, "We're evaluating your performance compared to other people, not specific standards." So, you don't reach diamond rank because you got 300 kills (that would be a "criterion referenced assessment"). You reach diamond rank because you're more skillful than a certain percentage of people. Because it depends on the skill level of other people and not a certain set of defined standards, what's "good" is always changing. A certain level of play may have been master level three years ago, but is only gold now that everyone has learned to play at that level. (If you've played fortnite, remember when Myth was considered amazing because he edited during build battles? Now, every 8-year-old edits like it's nothing.) So, you could also be failing to climb because everyone around you is getting better at the same rate you are. Again, the key is to put in more and better work than they are. Use the steps outlined above and you'll be doing something most people are too lazy to do. But it will pay off. You'll enjoy the game much more…and you'll climb!
TLDR: Don't focus on climbing. Do focus on improving. Improve through "focused practice." Practice regularly, review your own VODs daily, ask questions as you review, take notes, do the same thing when you watch pro players, play with one or two specific goals in mind, and isolate certain skills to practice in custom games. Don't blame others. Don't be discouraged at setbacks. And accept that a low rank generally means you aren't skilled enough to be at a higher rank…for now!
- Made it to diamond!
- A little motivation and direction for those trying to reach the next level… no matter what level you are currently.
- Should I give up on practicing competitive multiplayer? Is a growth mindset grounded in reality?
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