I am interested in conducting an experiment involving learning & teaching gaming. I am recruiting either 6 or 12 participants to attempt to learn a video game intensively for around 2 weeks. This is not paid either way (I am not paying for volunteers, and you are not paying for coaching) and far from a professional academic thing; more of a bet between friends. It's getting published to Twitter, not published to a journal. We'll be learning Overwatch because that's my personal area of expertise.
Conventional wisdom is that gamers take months or years of practise to get good - and that unchangeable factors like in-built 'reaction times', 'natural talent' or 'instincts' are extremely important. This would suggest that, if I took 6-12 people who haven't previously played much FPS games and tried to teach them Overwatch for a couple of weeks, they wouldn't be able to reach a very high level. Perhaps at best they might be average at best by the end of it. My hypothesis is that a team built by a good coach could scrim 3500+ SR within a couple of weeks. (SR or Skill Rating is an ELO system.) For context, average is around 2500+, I currently work with players around 4300-4500, and pro players will typically peak around 4600+. I agree that this is very ambitious and a sort of daring hypothesis, which is why I should test it and lose Bayes points (and also coaching points) if I'm wrong. On the other hand, if I'm right, I totally deserve more Twitch followers.
(For the people going "video gamers have coaches???" - yes, the good ones do, and for team games there is a lot of theory and concepts to learn. Talking shop with high-level coaches and analysts involves just as much jargon and verbal chess as arguing with smart scientists.)
Some beliefs that are influencing my hypothesis here:
- I think recruiting smart people, and importantly people who know how to learn and have lots of techniques for thinking better, will make a huge difference. I notice that with my 3800 players I currently spend a lot of time repeating the same lessons before the players implement them, whereas with 4300 players I rarely have to do this. Is that because the 4300 player, having practised and studied more, is now able to understand concepts more easily and implement them faster? Or are people who implement concepts quickly just more likely to reach 4300 in the first place? This is the thinking behind recruiting some rationalists, specifically rationalists who haven't played very much FPS; if they do well, it shows that the ability to learn/think better is more important than experience or reaction times.
- Gamers tend to start casual, then a few of them turn out to be exceptionally good and start trying to go pro. This means that the semi-pro/serious-amateur scenes are full of people who have to unlearn a bunch of shitty habits from casual play before they can properly learn new habits. If you were just taught the game to a 4400 level in the first place, you could develop very strong fundamentals without any bad habits.
- I think the idea that gaming is all about reflexes is fundamentally wrong. Pro players aren't able to react more quickly because they are genetically endowed with great reaction times; they react presciently because they understand games well enough to predict what will happen. If LessWrongers are as good as you claim to be at predicting things, and if I am right that prediction is the relevant skill, then you should actually be very good at video games even if you think your reflexes are bad. There are some relevant genetic advantages, but I think it's mostly that you will struggle if you have any kind of sensory processing issues or if you just think slowly.
- I know lots of polymaths who are bad at video games, which is evidence against me. But I also think most of the polymaths I know have a work-ethic-ish aversion to playing video games and therefore just don't try very hard at them. Explicitly making this a Science Experiment about How People Learn will bring video games in line with other activities that smart people try hard at.
- Pros tend to have years and years of practice. But lots of young people put numerous, numerous hours into video games and still end up unfathomably atrocious at them. This suggests time is, at the very least, not sufficient to be good at video games. Of course, this doesn't prove that time isn't necessary.
- I think short bursts of focused practice (two weeks of intensively studying) are more valuable than long stretches of unfocused practice (gaming since you were six years old or whatever).
Some things that push against my beliefs:
- Smart coaches who I respect think that I am insane.
- If there was an easy way to make young people good at video games, wouldn't this be an industry or something? Wouldn't lots of people pay money for a chance at being a pro gamer if they thought a coach would make them good at games? People really want to be pro gamers, so surely this ought to be a well-explored space? (For what it's worth, I haven't seen that many people trying.)
- This is inherently a horribly complicated experiment with lots of not-very-scientific factors involved. There are lots of opportunities for things to go wrong. There are also lots of opportunities for me to fail, and then blame some other factor rather than falsifying my hypotheses - like, maybe one person drops out of the experiment and it ruins the synergy of my team, or maybe we blame failure on my students having insufficiently good computer hardware.
This is mostly aimed at people who are students, on holiday, not working, or on pandemic-related breaks from work. You will maybe be able to balance learning with a full-time job, but I don't think the experiment will work if you're getting insufficient sleep. I wouldn't be planning on beginning until after my team finishes some important tournaments, so we're looking at perhaps late March or early April. If I don't get enough interested people I will possibly not do the experiment at all, or possibly work with some individuals rather than a team of 6. If it becomes obvious that I'm wrong within a few days of starting (like if participants just can't even figure out how to pilot their characters at all), I can abort. I currently am not working due to the pandemic, but would have to cancel if that changed.
There will probably be a daily schedule involving 2-4 hours of team practice, 2-ish hours of theory, and an expectation of some individual or 1on1 work beyond that. As part of the whole data-recording-because-I-swear-this-is-for-science thing, I'd quite like if everyone involved kept some kind of journal/blog about what they're learning. This is overall a ~100-120 hour experiment, which I honestly wouldn't expect anyone to be interested in doing unpaid (self included), except that right now there's a decent contingent of people sitting at home bored due to COVID. If there's no interest in this, but interest in a more stretched-out 2-hours-a-day-for-8-weeks version, I might consider doing that instead.
You should not expect to get anything out of this other than ~80-100 hours of fun video game coaching. You will not be a pro player after this. You might not even be an average player after this. I am not a pro and I don't have an official certificate of Knowing How To Coach Video Games because those aren't a thing. All my gamer friends are kind of feminist communists, so I reserve the right to reject you if you don't get along well with the guest coaches and mentors I want to bring in. I cannot guarantee you will have fun. You should be able to use a mouse and keyboard. I might be able to help with acquiring a copy of Overwatch but you will need a computer that can run it with 30+ fps (frames per second).
I think this website has a private message feature? So just write me there if interested and I can put together a Discord server. This is super tentative so please don't like, promote it or anything, I don't really know how this site works, I was just told it'd be a good place to post. I hope I've set this up as a personal blog post correctly...
I am also happy to take questions about esports generally or Overwatch theory.