I hired a coach – two different ones, actually – to help me become a better Apex Legends player. And, at least based on the limited sampling of data I have available to me, it’s helped. I win more fights that I used to always lose. And I have a greater understanding of why I lose fights now when I do, allowing me to try something different the next time I find myself in a similar situation. And, as a result, I’m having more fun. If you care about something enough to dedicate any meaningful part of your life to it, then I believe that doing it as well as possible just makes sense. And as a designer on the Apex team, I believe it’s imperative to play the game I help to make. I also don’t really do anything casually. That’s just not who I am. To quote the inimitable Conan The Barbarian. “What is best in life?” “To crush your enemies. To see them driven before you. To hear the lamentations of their women.” There are very few things that this cannot be applied to.
(N.B. after 11 years of marriage, I can say that familial relations is one area where this philosophy falls short. Conan wasn’t married. And he didn’t have kids. Probably for the best. And it’s good to remember that too…)
I’m a huge believer in coaching and expert instruction; I’d actually classify getting my masters in computer science as a form of “coaching.” The only time I’ve ever wanted to become better at something and didn’t hire a coach was after college, when I was hoping to make the US National Team for rowing. This was a colossal mistake, and it’s a lesson that I’ve never forgotten. I’d spent four years rowing. And mostly I just worried about pulling as hard as possible. To me – naively – the coaching aspect of rowing was around boat composition and tactics. Because we didn’t do much in the way of tracking metrics – aside from 2K and 6K tests, and because I was so naïve to elite sport, I misunderstood the innate and unspoken wisdom of my longtime rowing coaches. Looking back now with two decades of elite endurance sport, I see the rhythm and pacing of the macrocycles and microcycles, the management of different personalities, and all those other intangibles that go into great coaching. I now see the incredible value of their coaching – even more impressive when you consider the sheer number of athletes of varying abilities and degrees of commitment. I had truly extraordinary coaches as a rower (and, really, for almost every sport I’ve ever done seriously; I’ve been very lucky in that way), which is why I improved so much as a collegiate rower and floundered so massively once I was no longer under their supervision. This is why, from the very start, I always had a coach for triathlon. I made many mistakes as a professional triathlete – in some cases, deferring to a coach too much, but I think one thing that I did well – the thing, in fact that I did best and to which I attribute the majority of my successes – was that I was very deliberate in my practice. And an enormous amount of that deliberateness came from the guidance of my coach.
Much has been made of the so-called “10,000 Hour Rule.” A lot of the misunderstanding of this “rule” I will lay at the feet of Malcolm Gladwell (the actual researchers he cites do so as well), whose books I generally love but who also, in my opinion, carelessly misrepresents complex ideas either to suit his narrative or to make them palatable and digestible for the casual reader. The 10,000 Hour “rule” does not exist. And it’s also not at all what K. Anders Ericsson’s research showed. To combat this misconception, he actually wrote another book called Peak, which focuses on the actual substance of his research, which is the importance of deliberate practice. I didn’t fully appreciate the difference between practice and deliberate practice when I graduated from college and tried to improve as a rower. And maybe it was only through such a harsh lesson that I was able to actually learn it. But I’ve made deliberate practice a guiding principle of my life ever since. And there’s no better way, in my experience, that to understand what makes practice truly deliberate than to hire a coach. To me, that is what makes a real coach. A coach is someone who understands how to impart the wisdom required to make practice deliberate, purposeful, and effective. A coach is a teacher – a teacher of how to practice.
I never really played FPS (First Person Shooter) games before Apex. And while – like most modern video games, there’s certainly a bit of luck involved, there’s also a tremendous skill component. Battle Royale games are definitely not pure skill games – the best pure skill game I can think of is Chess, but BR games are also not pure luck either. The balance of luck and skill is one of the most challenging parts of building a great game (and could definitely be a huge tangent post in and of itself, especially in regards to Elo systems for such games). At the start of my Apex journey this summer, the more I played, the better I became. But I eventually stalled out. I plateaued. And, what I found particularly frustrating, I didn’t know why. I wasn’t getting better. And I also didn’t really know how to get better.
I tried watching YouTube videos on aiming drills. I even tried some aim trainers (I don’t have a favorite; they’re aren’t really any great ones for controller players yet). But it didn’t help. I was practicing. But it was not at all deliberate. And then I saw a YouTube video from an Apex content creator about hiring a coach on Fiverr. Fiverr is basically a gig website. You can find freelancers who do pretty much anything on there. I ended up hiring two coaches. One was the coach – Shulkn (gamer tag) – highlighted in the video I stumbled across, who I chose because he does a lot of work analyzing footage of your gameplay to help you get better. And because the video reviewing him as a coach (made by a pretty competitive Apex player who was basically doing a kind of “undercover” review) was pretty compelling. I’d say Shulkn mostly focuses on the strategy of the game. The other guy – Tyliir – I hired because he was the highest reviewed Apex coach on Fiverr (130+ reviews with an almost perfect 5-star rating); Tyliir is a bit more of “let’s play together” type of coach. We played a bunch of matches together, then went to the firing range, and then played some more matches. We reviewed my controller settings – and he made an immediate change that has dramatically improved my target acquisition, but mostly we just played and talked. Tyliir is a bit more focused on tactics of the game.
While there’s a ton of overlap between strategy and tactics – and both coaches focus on both aspects of gameplay, that’s my own rough assessment of the difference between the two. Both are important. Both are necessary. I don’t think either approach is better or worse. I enjoyed both and found both valuable, but you may prefer one or the other. Knowing what kind of coach is right for you – or, more specifically, right for you at a given time in your journey – is another important skill to develop (and a topic for another day). To the extent that there are questions about what I did with either coach, I am happy to answer questions.
Is it weird to hire a video game coach? Maybe. To me, enjoyment comes from mastery. (Yes, I love Robert Greene…) And is it any weirder than hiring a triathlon coach? Or a golf coach? Or a cooking coach? Things that take skill are hard. When I did improv comedy in college, people always thought it was weird that we rehearsed. We did 3hrs+ every Saturday, all year. People would say, “so it’s not really improv? You’re just re-using stuff you came up with during rehearsal?” And we’d have to say, “No. Improvisation is a skill. And skills take practice.” Deliberate practice…