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Several friends and I have been playing more competitively in StarCraft 2. Unfortunately, we all have our issues, but in an effort to try to better ourselves, our MMR, and move up in the ladder, we're trying various things to help.

This has risen a big question which I have run into multiple times over the years. How best to criticize a teammate? There are obviously wrong ways and right ways, but it often seems that there are more wrong ways than right with some people. I know when I used to play Quake 3 and UT2k4 competitively many times the people I competed with would get downright offended at the slightest criticism.

What kind of tips and suggestions do you have concerning giving your fellow teammates advice?

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7  
You definitely want to avoid making them no longer want to play with you, or you'll end up like me. So alone... –  Mag Roader Mar 23 '11 at 5:12
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I don't think this is gaming-specific. I somehow doubt people have game-criticism-specific reactions. –  Matthew Read Mar 23 '11 at 16:02
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I disagree. Teamwork is essential to many gamers and games, and being able to give feedback effectively is part of being a team. I've also noticed that gamers tend to take criticism a little less well than others, hence why I'm asking my question. –  Weegee Mar 23 '11 at 18:37

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

After the match ends, the whole group should take a few minutes and talk about how it went. Things you might discuss could include:

  • What you expected to happen / what actually happened
  • What worked well / didn't work
  • Strategies that the other team used that might work for you
  • Things to be ready for if you play that team again

By keeping the focus on the discussion of the game itself, it should be easier to move into and out of a personal criticism at the appropriate time without making it seem like that person is particularly being targeted.

Besides, if you're playing competitively, you should be reviewing your matches afterwards anyway, right?

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+1 - make it a habit to talk about blunders, and it won't be difficult to bring it up anymore. –  tenfour Mar 23 '11 at 13:33
    
This is a great answer. We've been doing this in a small capacity but I think this would go a long way to help us. Thanks! –  Weegee Mar 24 '11 at 1:02
    
Yeah definitely watch the replays together –  Atav32 Jun 26 '12 at 15:24

So I'm going to speak from experience on this one and I think it behooves me to inform you what experience that is. Specific to playing video games I was a Raid Leader in World of Warcraft for over 4 years. During that time I was responsible for coordinating and assigning spots in a 40-25 man team for an activity which spanned 40 hours a week. While I have played games with friends of various skill levels my entire life (specifically at Starcraft and Starcraft 2), nothing has taught me how to deal with people like Raid Leading did.

In my experience, there is no good way to effectively criticize someone.

I have tried a large number of techniques from taking people aside, to reward structures, to compliment sandwiches, to public humiliation. I have found none of them to be effective in anything more than the short term (the next 30 minutes). It has been a frustrating experience as often times the people in question have been my friends and I only want to help them; but believe me when I say: I don't believe it can be done through criticism.

But Tzenes, people learn through criticism all the time, it's one of the basis for human learning.

Is it?

There is actually a large body of psychological work on the issue of reward vs punishment (in psychology, criticism is referred to as a punishment), and I've taken the time to go through it a couple of times. There have been a number of psychological studies which suggest that punishment is less effective (or ineffective) when compared to reward. Research has shown that punishment doesn't increase learning over time, but rather drives people away from the task altogether. Additionally, it also usually has the effect of increasing dependence and thus reducing self-directed learning.

To quote John Holt: The anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember

Holt was talking about children as there have been many more studies into child learning than adult. Duncan[2010], suggests that while punishments can be used to convey a point, they often have a far more detrimental effect than the message itself. Davis[2008] claims that both reward and punishment (while correlated with learning) have really nothing to do with the learning process itself, and that usage with either actually decreases a person's ability to learn. Gluck [2009] showed that the relationship between punishment and learning was the result of unusually high dopamine levels (Parkinsons) in the human subjects and that when these levels were reduced through dopamine agonists the effect disappeared.

Alright Tzenes, if I can't improve my friends through criticism what can I do?

At the risk of sounding like a Saturday Morning Cartoon wrap up: Nothing. These are your friends, not your disciples. Presumably you're playing with them because you enjoy their company, so forget about winning/losing, and just have fun with them. Blizzard's match making system is going to guarantee you lose half your games anyway, so who cares if your losses are to TeamLiquid's new 4s team, or some random bunch of buddies on the internet. Enjoy yourself a little.

If your friend wants to get better, you can point him this way (or to Day9, or the 8 million other resources on the internet for learning Starcraft), but that needs to come from within, not prompted by you pointing out his flaws. If they want to learn they'll be asking you what they did wrong, and give real weight to what you say; but if you're prompting it, then you're doing more harm than good.

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These have been my experiences in gaming as well, but as someone who's also been involved with sports, I know criticism is essential to becoming better as a team. I think gamers are more resistant to criticism, hence me asking what the best way is. –  Weegee Mar 23 '11 at 18:31
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@Weegee there was a study I forgot to mention which showed that punishment is effective on simple tasks or with motor skills (this is why Coaches and Drill Sergeants seem to yell a lot). However, on complex tasks we see the reverse (punishment decreases learning). I've played enough Starcraft to know it is the latter. –  tzenes Mar 23 '11 at 20:29
    
+1, and if I could do +2, I would... And to answer @Weegee - I suspect it's a question of motivation. A professional athlete is highly motivated to improve, for many reasons, and is more likely to actually pay attention to a critical analysis of his performance. –  Cyclops Mar 24 '11 at 0:41
    
For someone who doesn't want to improve, I know this is true, but in this case all of us want to improve our skills as a team. I still disagree with the fundamental point that there is no good way to criticize someone, especially someone who wants to improve. –  Weegee Mar 24 '11 at 1:07
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@Weegee If someone wants to improve, criticism can't hurt. For someone who doesn't want to improve, it can't help. The issue here is that criticism isn't a good way to teach human beings. If you really want to help him improve you need to direct your efforts in more effective means, and ones that won't potentially hurt your relationship. Remember a criticism is very depressing for a person, it has about the weight of 100 complements. –  tzenes Mar 24 '11 at 1:20

Just try to set an example. Be the first guy to ask for feedback. Ask them

  • what you can do to improve yourself
  • what the deciding moment of the game was
  • if they knew what you were doing (proper scouting)
  • how to counter their strategy
  • ...

After all if you cannot accept criticism, why should they? And if you are way better than them, just tell them that you could give them some advice if they ask.

No one likes someone that acts all mighty and tells people what to do, especially after they have lost.

Another way to deescalate the situation is to play against others. Instead of playing 1v1 against your buddy either watch him play as a spectator or sit right next to him and watch how he plays. As you are not his opponent anymore and you have more information than him he will tend to trust your judgement.

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You could use the very simple HR model of constructive criticism:

  1. Open with a complement on something they do very well.
  2. Insert your criticism as something they need to "improve".
  3. Close with a compliment of something you saw them do recently, not just a general compliment but something particular, if possible try and point out how that thing helped the group, "I like how you handled X situation, that quick thinking helped us perform Y."

I find that even the most difficult individuals respond well to this method. In fact I bet most people who work in an office environment have been exposed to this without even realizing it, including myself.

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If possible start in as privately as possible. Preferably one-on-one. Try avoid critiquing people in public.

Please consider start by asking for advice. It is easy to point out the flaws of someone else. Please don't forget that part of the problem may be yourself. Perhaps start by asking your team what you can do better. If you start by opening yourself up to advice your teammates might realize that they should also be open to advice.

When possible ask for permission to give advice. As in 'Hey Dave, we didn't do very good in that last match, can we discuss it and see if we can improve'?

  • Don't nag. Once you have addressed an issue, give them a chance to actually apply the advice.
  • Be specific, don't just tell someone they are doing something wrong. Offer advice about how to perform the task correctly. If you can't offer specific advice on how to do better, then just telling someone they did something wrong isn't going to be very useful.
  • Be sure to ask questions. Maybe they where actually doing what they intended to do.

Here are some links:

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I've actually had extremely poor results with the above. While people are often receptive to private one-on-one, rarely do they apply the things we've talked about. –  tzenes Mar 23 '11 at 16:00
    
@tzenes, The above does assume a lot of willingness to actually improve as a team and the ability to improve. If they are unable or unwilling then I agree with you, there is nothing that you can do. –  Zoredache Mar 23 '11 at 19:28
    
This is also a great answer. If I could choose two answers as "accepted" I would. Thanks! –  Weegee Mar 24 '11 at 1:04
  1. Always ask if they want advice before hand.
  2. Always give positive feedback on things they did well.
  3. If the advice is allowed (see q.1) then make sure that it is met with tact, and use more neutral statements: which is better [dear {deity} your stalker kiting sucks] or [I really think you should look into working on your micro more]

As a general thought, your positive feedback should always outweigh your negitive, and encourage them to give you feedback if you FUBAR horribly at any point in time, especially if you know it. Questions like "I know I really sucked on my scouting there, how do you think I could improve it?"

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+1 for point 1. There's no point trying to help somebody improve if they don't want to, and if they do want to improve they'll know that you have everybody's best interests in mind when you give advice. –  kotekzot May 30 '12 at 14:31

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