10 June, 2017

Day[9] & Being a Good Tutee

Note: You don’t need to know anything about DotA2 to read this.

I started playing an online game called DotA2 a few months ago and was having a lot of trouble being proficient at it (still am). My roommate suggested I watch a series of YouTube videos that follows a former professional StarCraft player, Day[9], as he learns how to play DotA from a former pro-DotA player, Purge.

I really enjoyed the videos because Day[9] is a glowing example of what it means to be a good tutee. I don’t think I seen enough tutoring sessions to figure out what it means to be a good tutee, so I really latched onto these videos when I saw them. I want to highlight a few snippets from the first two videos in the series, and point out what he’s doing right as a pupil.

We all praise good tutors, how about we praise some good tutees too?

Clip 1

“I have a sense that I have picked up slivers of information here and there so I might do some things really well, and some basic things horribly. I honestly have no idea, I sort of accumulated it at random.”

I enjoy this moment of self awareness from Day[9] in which he understands his own understanding, and he communicates it! Different tutors have different tutoring styles, and no one tutoring style is superior and no tutoring style is a one-size-fits-all. It could very well have been that Purge intended their sessions to be all about drills and fine-tuning precision. If they spent their tutoring session just doing drills, then Day[9] would have not received the education he really wanted.

Purge now has a better understanding of what Day[9]’s epistemology, and can adjust his lesson to suit Day[9]’s needs. Thankfully, the lesson plan lines up pretty well with Day[9] expectations.

Takeaway #1: A tutoring session is like a trip to the doctor’s. Your first job is to describe your informational needs. Their job is to prescribe a lesson plan that fills those gaps of knowledge.

Clip 2

Purge: “Go ahead and press play.”

Day[9]: “Before you do, I just want to say right now. Lina was the first character I ever played in DotA… then and even when I go back and play some games with Lina. I have the feeling that I’m really just trying to focus on my last hits, and I’m using my Q a lot to just get the last hits from the distance. Or try to hit two at once, because it’s just easy to get denied. So I wind up pushing the lane forward a lot, and it just feels bad. And like right now, this screen is where I am 80% of the time. So sometimes I would position myself up on this high ground, because I hate not having any vision.”

First, I really admire Day[9]’s straightforwardness to interrupt the flow of the lesson to ask questions that are on his mind. It sounds kind of obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to me when I was getting tutored because I felt like I was stupid for not understanding the lesson.

My stance has changed since then. If the lesson doesn’t follow your train of thoughts, then it’s the lessons that should adjust to your learning style and not the other way around. This is especially true in one-on-one private tutoring lessons. This moment was a point in which, had Day[9] not spoken up, he might have not connected what the clip he was being shown with the motivation and theory behind it.

Takeaway #2: Interrupt your tutor if the flow of the lessons strays away from your train of thoughts.

Secondly, I like how Day[9] traces his train of thoughts and how he experimented with different strategies to arrive at his current strategy and behavior. Let me translate what he said into a more common dialogue

“…. I have a feeling that I’m really just trying to focus on [sub-goal A], and I’m using [strategy B] a lot just to get [sub-goal A]. Or try [strategy B] because it’s just easy to [avoid C]. So I wind up in [a not ideal scenario D], and it just feels bad. And like right now, [scenario D] is where I am 80% of the time. Sometimes I would try [strategy E], because I hate [not ideal scenario F].”

Communicating his thoughts helps him and Purge better understand his beliefs so they can figure out if they are logical or lead to the desired result. At this point, Purge could say, “Ah, you tried strategy B, but that doesn’t accomplish goal A because of …” or “You could modify strategy B so that you achieve goal A and avoid scenario F”, or “Goal A’s not actually that important. You should be striving for Goal C instead.”

Takeaway #3: Speak openly about how you arrived at your current set of beliefs or conclusions. This will give your tutors some feedback on whether or not you’re absorbing the material.

Clip 3

“It’s so great to hear because I think that when I first got into DotA, I had this anticipation that I would need to know 5000 things before I could play the game. And what happened was within a game, I went ‘Oh, that it?’ Right? There’s very little to DotA at a basic level. It’s almost a question about ‘What am I supposed to ignore?’

‘Cuz I mean like in StarCraft it’s the same thing. Someone’s like “When should I get ghost?” I’m like “Just don’t build them in any of your games ever. Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t exist as a unit. Here are the only 6 units you should ever think exist. Period.” Um … so yeah, that’s great. As long as I don’t need to know like ‘subtle fairy fire timings…’ then great!”

Since Day[9] comes from the StarCraft scene, he has a few moments when he relates what he has just learned to previous experience and skills. Intuition often comes from prior lessons and experiences, but sometimes they can be wrong. Day[9] presenting where his intuition comes from gives Purge an opportunity to correct him if it turns out Day[9] is wrong.

For example, it’s very possible that the statement “There’s very little to DotA at a basic level” is actually a false statement, and the fact that Purge has visibility into Day[9]’s thought process gives Purge a great opportunity to correct Day[9]’s intuition.

For example:

“Actually, even in DotA, there are quite a few mechanics at play. For example, in StarCraft, there is only one type of damage, but in DotA, there are four. Not only that, there are other mechanics, like vision, item mechanics, power curves, team builds, that if you get any of them wrong, it’s very possible for someone to exploit that one mechanic and win the game.”

Takeaway #4: Relate your your understanding with your experiences, and present your understanding to give your tutor an opportunity to correct you.

Clip 4

“So… I’m going to go back to this de-aggro example. So… in this clip, like let’s pretend this is a Nyx Assassin that this Lich is… you know… aggro’ing attacking. I played a lot of Nyx in offlane, and … he could do so much with no gold and just a lot of experience…. And if this Lich doesn’t need those levels early. That’s why it’s okay to zone him out and to just trade no XP for no XP because Nyx kind of needs it but the support doesn’t?”

Day[9] has a consistent habit of taking one lesson and extracting 5 separate takeaways from it. This is a clip where some intuition clicked for him, and the first thing he does with this feeling is to review all the previous experiences he’s been presented with. Here, he remembers an old clip presented earlier in the lesson and asks to go back to review that clip. He then says, “if what you said is true [that it’s okay for support players to be underleveled], then in a hypothetical scenario [“let’s pretend”], I expect this [“it’s okay to trade no XP for no XP”] to be true. Is that correct?”

That is really cool. The first part is the trigger. Prior to this lesson Day[9] had the intuition that was the opposite of what his tutor said, but because he evaluated his previous experiences with this new understanding and came up with an opposite conclusion, he knows to bring up this contrast to his tutor and present his findings.

Extracting more lessons out an experience are meta-skills that well worth learning at some point. If the lesson is “coffee is good for you”, it’s the tutee’s job to check to see if the specifics are true (e.g. is decaf coffee also good for you?), if the general is true (e.g. is caffeine in general good for you?), if a similar claim is true (e.g. is tea good for you?), or a conditional is true (e.g. is coffee at night good for you?).

Takeaway #5: Learning a new lesson is like acquiring a new hammer. You have to go around smashing all sorts of nails. Anything that looks remotely like a nail, you smash. You’ll miss some nails, you’ll smash some nails out of shape, you might find limited success smashing screws, but when you hit a nail on the head, and you drive that lesson home, it’s quite an amazing feeling.

Clip 5

Day[9]: “So I’m going to be hopping in and playing some games right now. Here are some of the things I’m going to be thinking about. One, obviously, just selecting them and looking at what their abilities are and judge what I need.”

Purge: “That might be a bit overwhelming, but…”

Day[9]: “Yeah, no. Abilities, pfffttt. I don’t know nobody’s abilities. It’s cool.

I’m going to be clicking on their items and try to identify what potential weaknesses they have, and even though it likely won’t change hugely in matchups because they’re just going to vomit on people who are out of position, I’m still going to be as thoughtful as I can about that. Just try. I’m also going to go for some early regen with Viperman, I’m going to keep playing Viper….

Oh yeah, is there characters that you recommend me playing next week as homework over the next week other than Viper to be practicing some of these things?”

This is something I do as well. Right before I jump into practices or drills, I tell my tutor/mentor what I’m going to be paying attention to. This is really important because human attention is finite, and it’s important to prioritize what to focus on. Giving a student a long list of things to pay attention to will only overwhelm them and give them a poor practice experience. For example, when teaching new players how to throw a frisbee, I tell them, “ignore the grip, ignore your foot placement. For your first 100 throws, just pretend you’re revving a chainsaw and pay attention to that feeling in your arm.” I would never pay attention or tell someone to pay attention to more than 2-3 things in any given practice session.

Day[9] does a similar thing, and he should be glad he did. He said he would pay attention to the opponent’s’ abilities, but it turns out not to be as important in drilling home the lesson, as it would be too overwhelming for a new DotA player. Declaring his intentions in mind help him really capture what skills the practice and drill intends on honing.

Takeaway #6: Declare what your feedback loop looks like before jumping into practice.

The rest of the video series are an informative watch as an outside observer of this quirky MOBA game, just to watch Day[9]. There are lots of small nuggets of meta-learning skills that Day[9] throws in there that are not related to tutorship  which are equally valuable. I’ve been finding myself practicing his dialogue style of problem solving and learning. If you guys have other examples of glowing tutees, I would love to know about it.

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