Ranked mode is a gauntlet that most gamers who play modern games take part in. It’s how you measure yourself against your contemporaries, how you justify bragging to your friends, and how you find yourself playing opponents who are a challenge to overcome.
A common misconception that I find in my work as a coach is thinking of ranking systems as a measurement of skill. Very rarely is a ranked system a measurement of skill. For starters, how do you measure skill? How do you define what you even mean when you say skill? Skill, according to the dictionary, is “the ability to do something well.” Being capable of doing something well is very different to doing something well every time you try to do it.
In Rocket League, there are a few content creators that are exceptional in the art of freestyling, using game physics and mechanics to score goals or make passes that are aesthetically pleasing. Winning the game is a distant second to successfully gathering good looking clips that will excite viewers in a montage. Freestyling is a skill, and it is one that somebody like JHZER can use to create the most fascinating and engaging content.
However, freestyling is useless to the aim of ranking up. Freestyling is often failing repeatedly, in search of that magic moment where it all comes together and a ten second gif can make it on to Reddit, or a clip can make it into a montage on YouTube. Ranked asks more of us. Ranked gameplay is (in the overwhelming majority of cases) a measurement of consistency. You rank up when you can perform at a higher level than those around you in every game.
In Hearthstone, you gain bonus stars for when you have a win streak of three or more. These stop at Rank 5 but they reward consistency. Those players who can utilise minor decisions, in either the construction of their deck or its execution, to gain advantages are able to overcome unfavourable match-ups to make use of the bonus stars to fly up the ladder.
Once again, consistency is rewarded. The ability to win over and over without dropping a game is key to performing in a ranked ladder. You can be capable of the most amazing plays, in Hearthstone you can have the vision to find a play that gives you a huge advantage, in Rocket League you can hit crazy double touches or mad angles, but that’s meaningless if you lose two games for every game you find those moments.
Consistency, consistency, consistency. There’s an old adage: “an expert practises until he can do something, a master practises until he can’t do it wrong.” That’s the difference between most of us and the true competitors. The people with the drive to refine and hone their skills until they appear incapable of making an error. Always playing around placement in Hearthstone, never whiffing an aerial in Rocket League. It takes concentration, constant repetition and practice to elevate yourself to these levels.
Training is a big part of this. In Rocket League, we have a custom training mode where you can practise your core skills. In Hearthstone, practice partners are great for drilling particular match-ups. The next time you are complaining about your inability to rank up and how you are better than the people in the rank above you, think to yourself; “What can I do to prove that? How can I make sure that I am always better than I was?” Don’t look to improve the things you can do. Look to perform them in the same way every time.
I have students who will train a shot in custom training over and over again. A lot of the time, they are just looking to score the shot. They are not looking to repeat the same set of mechanical actions over and over. Hitting it any old way towards the goal is great but you score goals by controlling how you hit it. Placement is essential. Get to Gold in Rocket League and you’ll just have your shots saved most of the time. If you can consistently place them in a defender’s blind spot, your shooting percentage will increase dramatically.
In Hearthstone, a common issue I see is people dismissing a particular match-up. “Oh, my deck is just weak to Quest Rogue.” It might well be, but there are nuances to every specific match-up and sure you might still lose more than you win to Quest Rogue but you can edge that win rate up. Once again, we come back to consistency, it’s our word of the day in fact.
Once you apply self-analysis to your performance, once you can identify the areas where inconsistency hurts you the most, you can improve and in most cases it will be a dramatic improvement. If you can crack this puzzle of how to tell where to focus your efforts… well congratulations, you’re a true competitor now. If you can’t… get a coach, a good one will help you learn how to do it.