Hero League Level-Ups, Part 2: Catching Missed Opportunities for Plays

In HotS, making plays and avoiding misplays are two sides of the same coin. Don't let free opportunities pass you by!


Greetings! k0nduit here, and today I've got a quick article for you on Catching Missed Opportunities for Plays, the second piece in my Hero League Level-Ups article series. If you haven't seen the first article, here it is: Hero League Level Ups, Part 1: Minimize Unforced Errors! I highly encourage you to check it out, because this piece will touch on many of the concepts discussed in the previous article! Without further ado, let's get right into it.

What Are Missed Opportunities for Plays?

Missed Opportunities for Plays, or MOPs as I'll refer to them from here on out, are in essence Unforced Errors viewed from the opposite perspective. When your opponents make an unforced error, an incorrect judgement call, or any kind of mistake that leaves them in a vulnerable position, it is your job to punish them for it! Simply put, MOPs happen when the opponents' unforced errors go unpunished. For the vast majority of Unforced Errors (for brevity I'll call them UFEs from here on), there will be an opportunity to punish that error and gain an advantage. To not do so would be... a missed opportunity for a play!

Below you'll find a few common examples of plays that can be made off of your opponents' UFEs. What I've done here is reverse a few of the examples of UFEs I gave in my previous article. For a lengthier list, refer to the Minimize Unforced Errors article, and check out the list of UFEs there; then, shift perspectives to the other team's and imagine yourself being on the other side when those errors happen, and capitalizing on them. In any case, here are a few examples:

- Finding an opponent overextended/splitpushing and away from his or her team and setting up a gank.

- Finding a teamfight opportunity on opponents who have a member splitpushing and forcing/hard engaging into a 5v4!

- Forcing a teamfight against the enemy team who's too far forward when you have a talent advantage.

- Flanking around and diving a fort when you have a boss pushing into it, allowing you to corner your opponents.

- Pushing up, being aggressive, and looking for kills around the objective because your opponents are low on health.

- Your opponents aren't respecting your threat potential as Zeratul and are clumping up - you then get a huge VP play!

- You see that the enemy Jaina has missed, or misused, Blizzard and Cone of Cold. Now you know that you're advantaged in a 1v1 against her, with her most important offensive skills on CD.

- The enemy Genji Swift Strikes into a sketchy position. Seeing that his mobility options are limited, you chase him down through Deflect and Cyber Agility.

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Here's a memorable example of punishing cooldown usage. Hanzo jumps in aggressively with Natural Agility, but with Cursed Bullet and Jaina's abilities off cooldown and realizing that Hanzo has no mobility options, we know that we can unload all of our burst damage for a quick kill. From there, we get a bit lucky in our duel with Kerrigan, but we go from being down a member, down a talent tier, and about to lose the altar cap to bringing the match back to parity on the back of seizing an engagement opportunity. Always keep in mind that you can turn and go aggressive if the opponent oversteps.

- Knowing that your important teamfighting ultimates are on a shorter cooldown than your opponents'. You can then use this 15-20 second window to step up, play aggressively, and look for a fight while your opponents' ultimates are still cooling down.

- The enemy team has just secured the Volskaya Protector in the lategame. However, you notice that one of your opponents still has 10 seconds left on their respawn timer, but the enemy team is still pushing up into your keep instead of waiting for their teammate to respawn. You take the opportunity to force a 5v4 teamfight and clean house.

In essence, MOPs are the result of not noticing or, in general, not capitalizing on the opportunities that your opponents will unintentionally give you. As you can see, finding these plays usually involves macro/decision-making insights into the game state, though there's a lot of micro/hero understanding that's at play here too, which I'll get into. It's important to note as well that MOPs can arise from misunderstanding your own capabilities (I have a clip for this later on)! In any case, the tricky thing about MOPs is that you don't ostensibly lose anything when you miss a play. Nobody on your team will die, you won't lose structures, nor will you give your opponents XP. Compared to a UFE, which you're more than likely going to be conscious of/has a tangible impact in the game, an MOP may not have any visible impact at all. However, while making a UFE can create a disadvantage, MOPs instead relinquish a potential advantage. Believe it or not, depending on the game state, this can be just as, if not more, damaging! Not seizing opportunities when they're given to you can make the game much closer than it should be, and sometimes can even allow your opponent to create advantages with plays that they normally shouldn't be able to employ without it costing them.

Catching MOPs Involves Strengthening Your Overall Game Understanding

In the same vein as minimizing UFEs, catching MOPs doesn't involve thinking, "I have to make sure to not miss any opportunities," or something or another. Again, it's best to focus on implementing new habits rather than trying to avoid messing up. The key to capitalizing on your opponents' Unforced Errors is to build strong game sense, have an understanding of all the different heroes' kits, and pay attention to what your opponents are doing. In general, Minimizing UFEs mostly involves looking at your own play patterns, while catching MOPs is a level-up that mostly involves looking at your opponent's play patterns.

Below I've compiled some of my own general thoughts and observations on how to develop the skills needed to seize opportunities when they're presented to you:

Game Sense

In general, here are the core principles that will lead you to capitalize on free opportunities the opponents will sometimes give you: take fights where you're up in numbers, and where you're up in talents. Are your opponents not respecting these advantages? Punish them!

By building up your map awareness, you will be better able to recognize where you can strike and what teamfights you can take. When you can quickly identify that your opponents are mispositioned or split from each other, punishing these kinds of errors becomes much more consistent.

There are tons of situations and contexts to consider of course, so be thinking critically in each situation about what to do - it's not always super simple. For example, what if you're up in numbers but down in talents? And vice versa? Sometimes, you can still take these fights and even actively want them. These situations are a bit less clear, so carefully consider the game state, what heroes are on each side, etc.

Hero Knowledge

- Mastery over your hero is critical, for two reasons. The first is that, when you know your hero's ins and outs, you have a greater 'range' of situations where you know you can step up and play aggressive, look for opportunities, etc. You'll know your own limits better, how far you can go, what your kill pressure is, and what you can punish. If you're inexperienced on a hero, you're more likely to play passive and not seize opportunities that players who are more experienced on the hero can see and go for.

The second reason is that when you've got your character down pat, it frees up your mental headspace to focus on what your opponents are doing. The less you're concerned with getting your mechanics and ability rotations down, worrying about hitting your skillshots, or ascertaining your damage potential on a kill target, the more attention you have to dedicate to reading the map and observing your opponents. When you've built the "muscle memory" of playing your hero, you can better broaden your awareness to reading the current game state - and are better able to apply your hero's strengths to influence the game state.

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Here's a memorable example from my gameplay where a lack of mastery on a hero can result in an MOP. Luckily, Ana cleans up a kill at the end with some sharpshooting, but I made a pretty big misjudgment on Valla that could've led to getting more. If you'll notice, the clip begins with me at low health and playing cautiously. However, I had forgotten that my lvl 13 talent Siphoning Arrow provides a ton of burst heals (especially since I'm Q Build Valla) and so, I let loose a full Q->Vault->Q sequence, but I'm still moving backward and Vaulting backward, when I could've confidently Vaulted forward knowing I would get healing from my Q. Consequently, I somewhat comically leave the fight at full health and the opponents barely alive, playing too cautiously and not being aware of my own hero's capabilities. While we didn't lose anything, we could've gotten a lot more! Giving up advantages can be detrimental as well - developing a strong mastery/understanding of your hero will help you capitalize on those chances.

- A major facet of capitalizing on your opponents' mistakes is understanding not only your own hero's kit, but the entire hero rosters'. You should have, at minimum, a general understanding of every hero's important cooldown timings, talents, etc. If an opponent carelessly uses a key defensive skill, you should immediately realize that you have a great chance to punish them.

I wrote a piece a little while ago on this subject, which you can check out here. To briefly discuss a few examples from the article, when Muradin uses Dwarf Toss or when ETC has Powerslide on cooldown, they're often going to be very focusable. Alarm bells should go off in your head when these key defensive cooldowns are expended - it's a sense that will come with experience and practice. Even the most durable and/or slippery heroes in the game (yes, Genji and Zeratul included) can become prime focus targets when their defensive options have been expended. Deeply understanding their kits will clue you in as to whether you can look for a kill.

Seizing opportunities is often about recognizing what your hero can do, and what the enemy team can do. It is about having mastery over your character, and deep knowledge of the game and ability interplay.

Mentality Tips

It's important to understand that no opponent will play perfectly. Give your opponents respect, but know that sometimes misplays happen and that you will get free opportunities. The situation where it's most critical to remember this is when the opponent has a lead and you're playing from behind. It's easy to get caught up in the thought pattern of "we're behind, we shouldn't fight, have to play passive." However, even if the opponents are ahead, they can still give you opportunities to make a play in the same way as if the game was at parity! Don't blind yourself to opportunities just because you're behind; in fact, it's when you're behind that you should be most hungry to take opportunities that look even decently reasonable! This depends on how the game looks, of course - if you're not that far behind, you don't have to take huge risks. But, do take some calculated risks, and get back into the game.

You can play in such a way so as to already be in a position to "catch" unforced errors. Think about what your opponents are looking to do and you can position your team so that you're already prepared to punish them. For example, let's say a tribute is spawning on Cursed Hollow. If your team is set up earlier, you can place your tank on the common/expected/fastest rotation path and look to punish opponents who are trying to get to the tribute as quick as possible. A Garrosh waiting in a bush where people are rotating to the objective can be truly terrifying and you can get almost effortless picks. Having your tank anchor is often the right play, which is perhaps why it's even more of a good idea to do this: if your opponents take a safe rotation path, you haven't lost anything, and if they take the greedy rotation you can get a free pick served to you on a silver platter.

I want to emphasize again that it's not like you're CONSTANTLY on the lookout for unforced errors, as that will be tiring and might hinder you from playing your own game normally. Instead, it's about developing good gameplay habits and building up your overall skill and game sense. You'll reach a point where, while playing a match, you'll suddenly spot an opponent who's too far forward and say something along the lines of, "Yo, what the heck is this guy doing! He's out too far, we get a kill here, go go go!"

Bonus Discussion: If No One Makes UFEs, And There Aren't Any MOPs, What Happens?

As I mentioned, no player will play perfectly - there will always be some mistakes or unforced errors in any given game. But at the highest level of play, it's most certainly the case that these kinds of errors are made much more infrequently, and even when they are made, they're usually small in terms of impact (though sometimes even the smallest errors can be pounced on by other pros!). Pro players can make mistakes, but they are professionals because they are by and large quite consistent. They have practiced and trained to perform at a high level game in and game out.

So at a meta level, what happens in game where UFEs are rare - and correspondingly, free opportunities for plays become few and far between? While I was writing this article and the previous one on UFEs, this question occurred to me, so I did a little brainstorming. Here's how I see the nature of the game when UFEs are minimized (and thus there are relatively few MOPs):

1. The draft becomes much more valuable and important. When everyone is playing their hero to near-optimal output and coordinating with their teammates to near-optimal efficiency, the actual hero picks themselves, compositional strategies, and matchups become more pronounced in importance. Pros use their drafts wisely and play to their composition's strengths in-game, while playing around the enemy's team's own strengths.

2. Because everyone is playing near-optimally, there is a much tighter margin for making completely game-changing plays. These plays can still be made, but the windows of opportunity are not wide, the openings are very slight. But, when pros find those windows, they can break them wide open.

3. Creative thinking, mindgaming/sending misinformation, and execution are what come out on top.

4. The final, and perhaps most important theory I have is that things, at the pro level moreso than anywhere else, are often taken in terms of percentages. When very few "free" opportunities are given, decisions are considered less often in terms of "this is a clear fight for us to win," but rather in terms of probability and who's favored.

You cannot win a game in Heroes of the Storm without taking some kind of risks. Now, teams will try to take fights that are better for them of course, and that's where we get into percentages. A particular engagement, due to compositional traits/powerspikes/terrain advantage/positional advantage/etc., might be 60-40 in favor of a particular team, and that team might opt to take that fight. When a team says "this is a good fight for us," it's not necessarily the case that it's a sure win; rather, it's simply that they are favored in the fight. For example, choosing to go for a camp invade because you believe your comp is favored on the fight over the mercenary camp objective.

Now you can certainly still lose the fight, but you're taking that risk knowing that you're favored in theory and should come out on top if the play goes as you've visualized. If it goes wrong, sometimes it's good to question whether taking that fight was the right call. But nonetheless, the call may have in fact been correct, and the result came down to execution. And while I've discussed this in the context of pro play, this same concept holds true for your everyday HL games as well.

A team can push their opponents into a fight that's unfavorable for them percentage-wise, but when both teams take a fight and believe it to be the play they need to make, it all comes down to percentages/who's favored, and the execution of the fight itself. No teamfight is truly determined in advance, teams have fought and won while down a talent tier many times!

Mopping Up Our Discussion on MOPs

As I mentioned, catching MOPs is often going to be more difficult than minimizing unforced errors. MOPs are often more subtle and are harder to identify. You'll often have to go back, review a replay, or even get a friend or coach to put a fresh pair of eyes on the replay to see where you might've been able to have more impact. The key is not to get into the mentality of "I didn't make any notable errors, so it's unfair that I lost this game!" While it may be true that you minimized UFEs and didn't cost your team anything, instead there may have been opportunities for you to create advantages for your team that you didn't capitalize on. Try and reflect back on games and see where you could've done more.

In a way, you can consider a missed opportunity for a play as an unforced error: not seizing chances you're given can sort of be thought of as making a misplay! Don't be too hard on yourself, and don't beat yourself up for making UFEs or MOPs of course; but, I mention this perspective to emphasize that you should be in the mentality of always looking for things to improve. Don't be satisfied with your performance simply because you didn't make any obvious mistakes; instead, look to improve by seeking out ways you could've created advantages when you at parity, or even bigger advantages than what you already created.

As we know, UFEs, and concordantly free opportunities for plays, will arise every game - even all the way up to professional play (albeit at a lower and lower frequency as your level of play rises). Just as minimizing UFEs requires paying attention to your own gameplay more closely, catching MOPs will require looking at what your opponents are doing more closely. There are elements of both in both level-ups, but those are the general guidelines. I think you can get very far in Heroes of the Storm by minimizing the number of UFEs you make and catching your MOPs in replay review so you can make the right move next time. It is the mark of a thoughtful and skilled player to understand what your capabilities are, when your opponents are overstepping their bounds, and pouncing on them - keep honing your game sense and hero knowledge. Understand what your team composition does well and figure out when you can be aggressive.

That's all for today, I hope you enjoyed the article. If you'd like to discuss anything HotS, have comments/feedback on this article, or just want to say hi, feel free to tweet me @k0nduit and I'll get back to you.

Hero League Level-Ups, Part 2: Catching Missed Opportunities for Plays
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