A while back I did a short video on When to Engage, which featured an idea that I find essential to solid play: Checklisting. Since then, I’ve made a few updates to the checklist to make it clearer, so I wanted to share it in written form.
What is Checklisting?
Checklisting is a common theme in all games. It’s essentially a deductive procedural list that allows you to make good decisions or play optimally because it allows you to organize a logic tree and multitask. In fact, checklisting is a natural way for the human brain to sort out tasks and keep things in order. Many people don’t even realize that they’re doing it in everyday life when they’re working at a drive-thru, skateboarding, or taking notes from a lecture, much less when they’re gaming. Not all games—or all tasks in life, for that matter—are the same, but we still create lists to deal with daily challenges that we face.
Example: an RTS checklist might be something akin to what’s typically referred to as a “macro cycle”. In this cycle, the player reminds his or herself to spend their money, move their units, and make sure they’re not supply blocked. It’s a simple cycle, but it allows the player to automate macro and focus on decision making and micro.
Some games will have wildly different checklists. One for a game like Chess would analyze the current positions, check the points of power on the board, and go over possible moves and strategies from the most dangerous to the least dangerous. Using this method would allow the player to separate good decisions from bad ones in a procedural way.
The Checklist for Heroes of the Storm
MOBAs sacrifice a lot of macro actions for micro and decision making, and Heroes of the Storm is probably one of the most decision-intensive MOBAs out there. On top of that, bad decisions can be punished hard due to the heavy emphasis on teamwork in the game. For these reasons, it’s very important to get some sort of checklist going so that you can constantly gauge whether it’s safe play aggressively or whether you need to pull back and retreat.
The rules I have laid out here can be used in both a macro and micro sense. Macro decisions are questions like: When does our team engage into a fight? Should we try to turn on the enemy team? Is fighting right now a good idea? Micro decisions typically involve knowing when to attack an enemy, take an objective, and when to retreat.
This may seem like a daunting amount of information to process if you’ve never thought about it before. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it as you internalize it. Like I said, people don’t even realize they’re doing these things; you might have a small checklist in your head that you follow already. Not everyone processes information the same way, but I highly recommend working your way through the checklist in the order presented here, as it will allow you to work from the largest, most important factors to the most minute details.
If any red flags pop up while doing this checklist, you probably need to reconsider your aggression and pull back. Of course, there are still complicated situations where taking a fight a talent down or with low health/mana isn’t necessarily a bad decision, but they are definitely risks. Risks are important to take in gaming, and only lots of practice and experience will allow you to accurately make those decisions. If you’re new to the game or unsure of your decisions, always take the safe route until you’re comfortable enough to start testing the limits and playing more aggressively.
Working as a Team
Checklisting is not just an individual thing. If everyone is doing it, the team will function better as a unit because everyone will be on the same page. Imagine a team where everyone is running through the same checklist and coming to the same conclusions. Even if a player is slower than the others at arriving to a conclusion, the team is more or less on the same page. You wouldn’t have that Illidan who jumps straight into the fight two levels down and starts yelling at the team for not supporting him. You wouldn’t have that one guy who’s sitting there doing the objective while the rest of the team is engaging and trying to force a teamfight. Everyone would think together, move together, and act together.
Of course, that’s an idealistic goal. Everyone thinks a little bit differently, but if we can all focus on our checklist a little harder and pay attention to our decision making, I’m certain that Hero League might clean itself up a bit. Just a bit.