So since I have been without internet the past week due to moving house, I’ve invested a lot of time into reading about practice, basically how people become experts in their chosen skill/craft/sport. As you may or may not know, I’m trying to improve enough to compete at an high international level so research into this subject is obviously very beneficial towards that, especially when I’m without internet or a computer good enough to run SC2 to directly practice and improve at the game. I decided I’m going to write a bit about what is still very fresh on my mind, how research on deliberate practice may allow for more effective improvement and how we may be practice in the future of StarCraft.
So first off, for the people who have never done any research on this subject. There is a concept of deliberate practice which has been highly researched over a wide range of skills/sports, even improving at proficiency with a musical instrument. What has been researched is basically that only practice where you’re pushing yourself, getting feedback (From a coach/teacher), with full 100% focus and concentration and a learning strategy specifically targeting your weaknesses that can be improved on the most is beneficial to improvement.
Now the most interesting part of this research to me is that all of the studies on expert/professional/the best people in certain expertise only commit themselves for a maximum of 5 hours deliberate practice a day – However usually only 4 hours and it is shown that any practice after 2 hours is a lot less effective simply because we can’t keep our focus up to 100% for that length of time. Also it shows that we cannot keep up our focus for over 90 minutes in 1 single session before a rest. Practice after the time where focus is lost for the day is even considered to be detrimental to learning due to ingraining bad habits into your mind, increasing the risk of injury due to over practice and simply burning out from too much of the same.
When you relate this to SC2, it’s very interesting and makes practice from the top players in SC2 look extremely inefficient. Right now the overall accepted mindset towards practice is more = better. If you want to be the best you should just simply practice 16 hours a day and you will achieve what you want. All research in other expertise shows that the best become the best via less practice that is of much higher intensity. If you read this article about deliberate practice regarding swimming, you will see that 10 hours of deliberate intense practice gives improvement results equal to 2000 hours of regular casual swimming. That is fucking insane. It’s also very similar for all other areas of expertise that have been researched.
So with all the reading I’ve done it seems that intense focused practice is faaaaaaaaaar superior to regular practice. Currently I’m practising SC2 8 hours a day and have seen very little improvement for a long time, once I get my computer and decent internet I will for sure be trying to devise better deliberate improvement strategies to try and increase my skill at the game. The problem is that SC2 is young, practice isn’t figured out and currently there aren’t many people practising in a similar manner. I would assume the most commonly accepted way of practice currently is to find a weakness, find a practice partner (preferably better than yourself) then grind that specific concept. But even doing that, you’re investing a lot of your precious focus time (around 4 hours a day) into things you’re not even trying to focus on. For example lets say I want to practice late game Infestor Brood vs Protoss, to practice that I would have to, every game, spend about 10-15 minutes of my time getting to that point. That is going to be at least half or more of the time you’re burning your focus on, making everything extremely inefficient.
Now I don’t know how to practice intensely yet, I have ideas, but nothing tried and tested. One idea is that Mechanics are an extremely important part to playing high level SC2, therefore like other expertise areas, isolating that and practising it specifically should be the best way to improve. You could break it down even further, let’s say I noticed my Overlord spread is bad. I wake up in the morning and use my first session of practice purely to improve at spreading every overlord via rally point as I build them, in singleplayer so that my practice is not inefficient due to silly strategies on ladder or whatever.
I’m mostly just throwing some thoughts out there from reading a lot about deliberate practice recently. I think the future of practice in SC2 will look extremely different, I think we will see core skills broken down and then intense drills to work on those core skills – as it happens with most other areas of expertise like the violin. Deliberate practice for a violinist may include just noticing that the first note or phrase doesn’t sound right, then analysing what’s wrong with and adjusting what is needed just to make that note or phrase sound great. Eventually it all comes together as one – practising full songs is extremely inefficient and is what separates the professionals from the amateurs, even if they’re committing similar amounts of time. You can compare this to laddering, laddering is similar to playing a full song, whereas working on something specific on repeat for an hour of intensity would yield much bigger results in improvement – Ling Bane micro in ZvZ for example (HotS will help massively with this type of practice). If the research on the violinists interested you, definitely check out this study http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/blogs/freakonomics/pdf/DeliberatePractice(PsychologicalReview).pdf it’s a heavy read, but extremely interesting.
There is one other thing though, mass laddering after you’ve up you focus for the day may be beneficial in the way that you can identify your weaknesses (allowing you devise better deliberate practice plans for the next days round of focus) and also you can see how your deliberate practising is paying off. If the research is correct, you shouldn’t really be improving whilst casually mass laddering at least in comparison to specifics practice.
So yeah. Deliberate practice is pretty good.
I also think this is a great topic for discussion. I mean how far can you break up specifics in SC2? You have Macro, Micro, decision making and strategy but you can split them up even further…
Micro: Mouse precision, reaction times etc.
Macro: Spending money, supply blocks, injects etc.
Decision Making and Strategy: These are harder to make specific deliberate practice scenarios for but I imagine a similar approach that chess players take would be good – Analyzing pro games from their POV and trying to guess what their next move is, if you’re wrong, then you figure out why they took that move.
You could break each area down massively, there are also probably more areas that I’m overlooking. I think deliberate practice with full focus in these broken down specific areas is the best way to improve however it is all untested and hard to get feedback on from a better player – there also needs to be a way of measuring improvement. I’m excited to see how the future of practicing SC2 pans out, especially with the replay resume features in HotS I think we will see a massive rise in skill and a bigger difference in skill between the top players.
So lets recap: Deliberate practice research basically shows that we have a limited amount of focus a day, so we should devise practice strategies to make use of this small amount of focus we have rather than grind out 16 hours of ladder games a day. The issues are that we have a lack of coaches with practice strategies to give us feedback and a lack of ways to measure improvement in very specific areas.
If you want to know anything else about deliberate practice, throw a google search out, there is a wealth of information and research on the subject. If you’re too lazy to Google, check out the Violinist study linked further up or check out these books: “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle or “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell.