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What TeamFight Tactics Can Teach You About Decision-Making

Learning how cognitive biases affect your decisions

Teamfight Tactics allows an isolated experience to reveal how we make decisions

Like many people, I’ve always tried to ensure I’m making the best possible decision. Amongst the daily choices ranging from “What to have for breakfast?” to “What career do I want?” to “What is my life’s purpose?”, decision fatigue is a very real facet of existing in this lifetime. An anxiety ridden brain, second guessing, data scrambling and thoroughly fact checking seemed to be tied to my decision making process.

So where does the popular MOBA spinoff auto-battler game Teamfight Tactics from Riot Games come into all this? Sometimes gameplay allows human behavior to surface in a way that allows for a different perspective on the self.

Teamfight Tactics (TFT for short), as described from the League of Legends site itself is “a round-based strategy game that pits you against seven opponents in a free-for-all race to build a powerful team that fights on your behalf. Your goal: Be the last person standing.”

This brings to light how the player (YOU) goes about making decisions each round to achieve the goal, beating the other players and becoming number 1.

Sometimes gameplay allows human behavior to surface in a way that allows for a different perspective on the self.

Breaking Down The Components

Decision making is a selection based on some criteria from several possible alternatives and can be broken down into these seven steps:

  1. Identify the decision
  2. Gather information
  3. Identify alternatives
  4. Weigh the evidence
  5. Choose among alternatives
  6. Take action
  7. Review your decision

The complexity of the decision will factor in how difficult the process is but there are other factors as well. I’ll be focusing on the cognitive biases and behavioral aspects that impact decision making, which I’ll be going into in a bit.

TFT can be broken down into these key aspects:

  • Gold and Leveling up: each round you get gold. you spend the gold on champions or leveling up.
  • Champion: you start the game with one champion that has one item. you then buy more champions from a randomized assortment each round to build your team.
  • Powering Up: you can also buy more of the same champion to power up that champion
  • Champion Types: champions come in different types. champions of the same type will power each other up in different ways. (Type examples: chrono, space pirate, the newly added battlecast, blademaster, vanguard etc)
  • Items: you also can get items that can be combined to make your champions stronger

There is more to it but these make up the base of it all. As the individual player you make decisions each round based on the gold you received and the assortment of champions provided that round. Did I mention this was timed? I didn’t? Well it’s also timed.

So what do we get when we combine timed based decision making where you are trying to decide the best way to spend your gold and strengthen your team of fighters within roughly 60 seconds? A lot of anxiety.

When I was first learning to play this game I had no context going in. As an anxious person, it took multiple tries to get a hang of the gameplay and strategies. However, it also showed me where I struggled in the decision making process.

The champion pool is randomized and may not always work in your favor

Encountering Cognitive Biases

In the beginning you have one champion and around 2–3 gold. I didn’t know all the available compositions at first (again I went in blind) and failed the second step of the decision making process: Gather information. I had one of each like a buffet and struggled at last place. I received friendly advice to pick a team composition (one of those afore mentioned types) and stick to it. On group calls, my friends spoke the names of team comps like a foreign language. What the hell is space pirates? I asked myself.

Sometimes step 2 informs step 1 — identify the decision to be made. And the tricky side of decision making is that you can go through the first 5 steps many times before finally reaching 6 and taking action.

While you take steps to make a decision, the process itself is not linear.

Once you start being able to pick your first champions from that first selection of options you might run into another decision making problem: Anchoring Bias. Anchoring bias is when you are tied to the initial information received and apply that judgement towards future decisions.

What many people do is they stick with one particular champion, or decision, and have adverse feelings towards switching to different compositional setups. This can be seen in the famous Monty Hall problem where individuals were reluctant to switch from their first door even though their probability of winning increased if they switched from their initial decision.

Problems that can occur from this? Since champion selections per round are randomized you may not get the champions you need to strengthen your composition. You might also miss the opportunity to switch out champions for a stronger variation.

I also ran into into the Choice Overload Bias. Before being able to hone in on each aspect of the game ( champion types, team compositions, gold strategy, leveling, items), I was overloaded by all the possible actions and had trouble making a decision in time. I would end up clicking random things when I saw the timer bar running out due to panic.

Then there came the Bandwagon Bias — preference of popular options with the belief that the more popular an option the more trustworthy it was as well.

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

As a new player trying to get a hold of working strategies, I ended up looking up team setups that others touted to work. This helped initially to give myself knowledge on the depth of the option pool, but again because of the randomization factor I found that often pre-deciding a team composition rarely worked for me. In the end I had to rely on what options the game provided each round and adapt. Sticking to the popular setup was not reliable and I experienced heavy losses. The key issue here was relying on a popular option instead of reacting to the information readily provided to me within game.

Now after playing a few games (as in many many games), I had finally gotten a hang of my favorite champions and some team compositions I liked. Through experience I had honed steps 3,4, and 5. I identified the alternatives from the games I played and which champions could work together. I also weighed the evidence which was measured by how many times this combination had worked for me in the past and won me rounds. This ran me into the problem of the Commitment Bias — being tied to a decision even though I was proven wrong via evidence.

Still a great pick to have in my opinion

For example, from past experiences I had good results with the champion Xayah. However, I kept picking her even in some combinations that did not work well. I also had a hard time switching her out for another champion that would fit my whole team better. This was because I was basing my decision on faulty logic.

Just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it will always work. Just because she was great in other compositions didn’t mean she will always work in my future compositions and will always come up enough times in the champion selection to be leveled up. I ended up losing games because of this.

Finding Our Personal Biases

So what does all of this tell us? Did I really just make you read 5 minutes of my sad experience struggling through various means to play a video game? Well, assuming you made it this far, yes. And also that this experience provides us some great questions to ask ourselves about how we make decisions. Where do you find yourself falling into these bias traps when you make decisions?

Do you find yourself falling into that Anchoring Bias, clinging to that first decision you made? Do you maybe base you decisions on what you’ve heard that many others have decided for themselves in the Bandwagon Bias thinking it’d be also good for you? Maybe you get overwhelmed from the possibilities like in the Choice Overload Bias and find yourself making less than desirable decisions for yourself. Lastly, maybe all of these apply and more in a Bounded Rationality Bias where the ability to mentally process all options, all alternatives, all prior experience within a limited timeframe leaves you with anxiety and a decision that was okay for the moment but not the best one for you.

It is important to note that it is okay to make decisions that are not great. We learn through experience and each decision we decide to make can always teach us something for the next one, making us more informed and more confident each round. Hopefully this helped reveal to you more about your own decision making process and that we can also learn more about ourselves through gameplay.

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Sophia Calderone

Sophia Calderone

Creative + Technologist, I like to find correlations and perspectives between Stuff.

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