Mechanical vs. Knowledge Skills; And how to improve both


     Hello everyone, Emeraldw here.  My goal today is to talk to you about the various kinds of skills in the game and how you might be able to improve upon them.  I am not mentioning all the different kind of skills there are out there for the game.  That would be an effort in futility and my hands would likely fall off from the typing.  So what I am going to do, is describe to you the two big types of skills I have come across, what separates them and how you can work on them.  Hopefully this will provide you with a new way to look at your game and improve. 

     As per the title, I believe there are two main categories of skills.  Mechanical and Knowledge.  I will go over definitions in each ones respective sections. 



     Mechanical skills are basic fundamental skills you need to perform.  These skills are largely physical and should not generally take up active brain power.  You should just "do it" and not have to think about doing them.  Examples from other games include aim in FPS, Execution in Fighting games and mouse actions per minute in RTS games.  These skills are very useful and powerful, but are not things that should consume brain power.  When you think about last hitting, you do not want to have to actively think about the timing of the animation and be double checking your range.  Your brain should already know these things so you can focus on the more important decisions we all make.  Like what we are going to have for dinner and whether or not we should gank for the whining Ezreal.  

I can do some of these!

     The above video showcases execution in a fighting game.  Thankfully nothing we do in LoL Is nearly as complex as those combos physically.  The longest any string of abilities gets is in the 5-6 range.  That said, there is plenty of room for error.  If you ever watch a high level tournament, you will see Alistar's miss the W>Q combo all the time.  The timing for it is relatively strict and in a high pressure situation, it can be easy to miss.  Leblanc's full combo is W(get in range)>1(DFG)>Q>R>E>W.  It is only six button presses, but it can be surprisingly easy to miss.  So mechanical skills are of great importance in our play and having them at high levels can dramatically improve your overall gameplay.  Even if your terrible with Vayne, if you out last hit the enemy by a lot of CS, you are effectively winning your lane just because you have better mechanical skills. 

     The good news about mechanical skills is that they are the easiest to work on!  These are things you can generally work on by yourself.  Now while LoL doesn't have a practice mode or last hitting challenges (*hint* *hint*), creating a custom game lets you practice them in a no pressure situation.  The very first thing I do with any champion I plan on playing is making a custom game to try out their abilities, last hitting and just generally getting associated with them.  And I do this again and again, till I can do simple things without thinking.  I should already have a general understanding of their range and attack animation so that I can then spend the rest of the game making other decisions.   

Examples of Mechanical Skills:

Last Hitting:

     Every champion has their own attack animation. You should be familiar with the animation and range. Some are very easy to last hit with (Leblanc) and some have quite a bit of wind-up (anivia), changing the timing needed. Practice this as much as you can, even with champions you know very well just to refresh your brain. These skills need to be practiced regularly to keep them up to date. The other reason to practice them in a stress free environment is so you can do them perfectly as you can. To quote my wrestling coach "If you do it 100% right in practice, you'll only do it 50% right in a match." Keep this in mind when deciding the things you need practice.

Attack Move while falling back:

     This is something I did not know till I watched Guardsman Bob (love him for these little things!) explain & demonstrate it.  Basically you right click, then attack move right behind it, then right click again when running away.  That way you move, then you will automatically attack the enemy behind you, then move ahead again.  He made the point about how it is a needed skill for high level AD play.  Obviously I filed this under "must practice" and made a custom game to work on it before an actual match. 

Tip for improvement:

     While we would probably like to think we are way beyond other animals in our psychology, the fact of the matter is that there is much less difference in our minds than you might think.  So you can modify your behavior using similar training methods used on animals.  Basically, you want to give yourself a small reward (like 1-2 M&M's) every time you perform the skill correctly.  After about 5 times doing it right, reduce the reward number to every 3rd time it is done correctly.  Then randomly reward.  This will help train your brain to do it correctly.  It is important to note that positive reinforcement for doing something correctly, is more beneficial to learning something than being punished for doing something incorrectly.  Punishment merely reinforces what NOT to do.  While positive reinforcement will encourage you to do it correctly.  Best part about this tip?  Applies to conditioning yourself for pretty much anything.  Even those combo's I listed above. 

     To summarize and conclude on mechanical.  They are powerful skills that affect our game, but are not things we generally need to put effort into thinking about.  But do require effort to get and keep.  While boring to work on, they are capable of being practiced without playing in an actual game.  Analyze your gameplan and see which of these skills you are weak in.  Then work to improve them.  Practice, practice, practice!


Knowledge Skills:

     I must admit to cheating somewhat with this definition.  The definition of these skills are things that are largely non-physical and things that are not mechanical skills.  So it is a catch-all broad type of skill set.  But these are the skills we focus on in high level discussion.  Leblanc isn't balanced around you only getting half her combo right, she's balanced around landing them all.  The ability to use the combo and other mechanical skills are already assumed.  While great players have superior mechanical skills, they also have fantastic knowledge skills.  They know every item in the game and adjust their builds to match the situation.  The knowledge about your champion and items to meet the circumstances is apart of knowledge skills. Lets go over some knowledge skills:

Mechanical Knowledge:

     Cheating with definitions again.  These are things you should know about your champion.  You should generally know their attack range, what skills do what, what you should be maxing and about how much damage you deal.  These are basic things that you should probably know about your champion.  I call them mechanical knowledge because they are things you shouldn't have to think too hard about, but you might if the situation comes up. 

     For example if you are trying to figure out how much your burst combo will do.  Assuming you deal 500 magic damage in your combo and your opponent has 50 MR, how much does he actually need to have to kill him? 

So if they have 50 MR 100/ 150 = 34% reduction.  Or for easier quick math 40% reduction ( because if you break out a calculator in a match, it isn't worth it.)  So they would actually need to be at 300 health for your combo to kill them (assuming you aren't changing their MR in any way).  General knowledge of this type is very helpful so you know if you can for sure get a kill or not. 

     Now for improving these skills is easy, it just involves you doing something you hate.  Studying.  That's right, the thing you have done for years in school is what it takes to get better at these.  At least when you do your homework here, it is to end someone's killing spree.  Try to study how much your skills do at various levels (like how much annie's burst is at 6, 11 and 16 with a general knowledge of her AP ratio's) then look at the formula above for various arm/mr levels.  And any other vital statistics you feel you need to know for your champion pool.  The more you know here, the better.

Situational Knowledge:

     This is sadly something that is not so easy to practice.  This is knowledge about what to do in any given situation and with the vast number of potential situations you can find yourself in League of Legends, you can find yourself having to learn something on the fly.  These usually come from experience and playing thousands of games give you a broad base of knowledge to figure out what you need to do in situations.  These are also what likely keep people from improving in the game.  The best way to illustrate this is an example.

    You see Sona alone warding.  You jump on her and she dies.  At your ELO, the support's team do not help them ward so they are usually alone.  You kill the support, you take baron, you win the game.  But as you go up in ELO, you start to run into situations where Sona is getting team back-up.  Suddenly everything you have learned before is actually detrimental because when you chase Sona, her team comes out, destroys you, takes baron and wins the game.  You now have new situational knowledge for the ELO you are now playing at. 

    The above kinds of experiences are what lead to bad habits.  These bad habits work great, till they do not work.  This is something many people do not understand when they start claiming something works or is viable.  If you win 10 games with AP Sivir (her Q actually has an AP ratio!), then you probably think it is an awesome build and that AP Sivir is viable.  Then you start to play against people who actually punish you for playing such a silly build and you become useless.  Sure AP Sivir is viable, till it isn't viable.  Nasus is not a kennen counter-pick (I'm serious, someone claimed this because they killed a Kennen top lane) because that is true at a play level that isn't the highest.  Viability is almost always about how well something works at the highest level of play.  So you need to recognize what are bad habits that you know you need to avoid unless you know in a situation you can get away with it.  If I am playing 500 ELO, I am pretty sure I can get away doing whatever I want.  If I am at 1800, I must be much more careful because they will punish bad play.  

   So how can you improve on these skills?  Well the answer is easy in theory on what to do, but the lesson is hard.  You play a lot of games, preferably at the highest level you can practice at.  You really want to try to avoid bad habits, even if they work at your ELO, if only because you do not want to have to unlearn something.  Unlearning lessons can be a very difficult thing to do, so it is better if you try to establish good habits early.  Examples of good habits is not overextending without vision or going for duels whenever you can.  These lessons are as vague as it can possibly be for a reason.  it is hard to tell what you how or what you need to do to really establish these skills.  Some good ideas to start are:


     Keep a notebook next to your computer.  Whenever you see something you really think you should remember, right it down.  Forget to buy a ward and get ganked?  Jot down to buy wards and watch your mini-map.  I write down "watch your mini-map you numbskull" and "buy wards when you go back if you can" whenever I finish a game.  The mini-map especially has proven hard to really sink in and check it often.  Thankfully, with the amount of AD I have been playing lately, my supports assist me with this so I have not had as many issues knowing where the enemy is.  But that is no excuse for bad play on my part.  So I will write it down over and over till it sinks in.  Same thing applies when watching a stream and you see them do something you want to make note of.  Review your notes before and after a game to see what you forgot to add or keep in mind.  It will help you grow as a player so you do not have to learn all your lessons from the school of hard knocks. 


     This is a good way to get a view of really high level play but it is important that you want to emulate their play, not copy it.  See if you can figure out WHY they are doing each thing.  I have seen SK Ocelote play Cassiopeia lately and he pushes almost recklessly with her.  But he has two wards on the most common ways he can be ganked and the other lanes have warded their rivers giving him great vision of the map.  Now that pushing makes a lot more sense.  One of the best people i have seen that does this for his viewers is Scarra.  He outlines his actions and why he is doing each thing, making it a great stream to learn from.  Guardsman Bob also deserves a shout-out due to the tidbits/rants he will toss out during his stream.  Seeing what they do, you can get an idea about what you should do but always remember to adjust what you learn from them to your game and ELO.  Remember however that they play against the top 1% of players and in tournaments.  If you pick a champion to synergize with your team but have a bad lane match-up at low ELO, you probably made a mistake as you are unlikely to get ganks to offset that disadvantage.  While they are more likely to get help from their teammates.   

What did I learn?:

     After each game, ask yourself what you learned.  For example after a recent game I learned two lessons:

  • If the enemy support is missing and your sure they are around.  They might be in their brush or the river brush.  Trend closer to your support so they can assist faster and hedge your bets if you are not sure where.
  • Inferior supports (though this could also be read as players) don't understand how match-ups work.  They start early wars of aggression when even if played correctly do not ensure kills.  If I choose Caitlyn as my AD, Leona should not be diving onto targets till I poke them down.  I do not have the early burst or ability to proc her passive like some other AD's.  As such I need to recognize how my Support likes to play and try to match with what they want to do. 

     A replay system of some kind can help you take notes about what you can work on.  Mistakes during games can be hard to miss, but rewatching makes them very clear.  Further, DO NOT focus on your teammates mistakes.  This is a mistake in itself.  You cannot control other people, no matter how hard you try, people will not be controlled.  Therefore, focus on what YOU can do.  Only look at your playing as you can control your own actions.  The real key to high ELO isn't going 20-0-10 every game.  It is consistent, high level play over many games and improving yourself to reach that level.

     If it hasn't been clear by now, I like fighting games.  This is a recent article by Viscant, a very well known and very good player in the fighting game community.  While his advice is about fighting games, it does sound familiar...


     I think it is safe to say that mostly everyone who visits this site wants to improve their game.  We all read the guides on pro websites, look through posts filled with more math than stat classes and pour over opinions on which champion is better in X situation.  While these all can help improve our games, sometimes the fundamentals are lost.  Fighting game players see it all the time as players master combo after combo, but fail to realize that combos are only the most basic part of the game.  I fell into this trap and learned this lesson the hard way in another genre.  Practice your mechanical skills and recognize the knowledge ones.  Review your game carefully with open criticism and be willing to admit to yourself your failings but also acknowledge what you do well.  Think meaningfully about what you do and why you do it.  Plan and practice ahead of time so you can focus on those.  Doing these things continually over time you will see improvement in your play.  The absolute best part?  You can apply this process to get better at anything. 

     And I do mean anything. 





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