In traditional sports, leadership roles are well-defined — the quarterback sets the play, and the team listens up. In competitive gaming, the need is just as strong for someone who can make choices under pressure, who can quickly size up an opponent’s weakness and leverage his team’s strong points against them: a shot-caller.
No matter what game you play, lack of coordination can be deadly. If your allies don’t pursue the same targets and objectives, the highest KDA ratio ever won’t save you from a loss. Leadership can make all the difference. It’s why you see strong shot-callers on most successful pro teams.
Everyone wants to be in charge, but if you want to step up to the role of shot-caller, you have to be able to deliver a win. What follows is a summation of the skills necessary to be a shot-caller, how to apply them, and how to get your team on your side.
See the Big Picture
Every good competitive gamer should have map awareness, but it’s an absolutely essential skill for the shot-caller. You have to be able to play your own role while keeping a running tab on what the bad guys are up to. The fog of war can make this difficult, but a good shot-caller will pick up on enemy play patterns and begin to make educated guesses about what they are doing even when they can’t be seen. He will also develop his team into a well-oiled intelligence network that communicates enemy positions constantly.
This allows the shot-caller to protect his allies from getting penned in or outflanked — and to decide just when the opposing team has made itself most vulnerable to attack.
Know When to Go All-In
As Sun Tzu wrote, “The opportunity for defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” It’s the shot-caller’s job to sense the opposing team’s weaknesses and exploit them mercilessly.
A good shot-caller will have a strong instinct for when the opposing team is out of position, and will be ready to make the split-second choice to attack. Numerical and strategic advantages are often fleeting in competitive gaming, and a team that dithers often misses a chance that won’t come again.
Stay on Target
Target selection is probably the most well-known role for the shot-caller (in fact it’s where the name comes from). Whether it’s reminding your team to focus the ADC rather than the tank in LoL, or making sure they take out Mercy before Roadhog in Overwatch, disciplined targeting is perhaps the single most decisive element in competitive play. If one team has it and another doesn’t, it’s GG, period.
Know When to Back Off
You can’t win them all, and orchestrating proper disengagement is one of the chief responsibilities for a shot-caller. It’s easy to get carried away in the heat of battle, so it’s up to the shot-caller to force a retreat if necessary. Sure, you may have to cede an objective — a dragon in LoL, a checkpoint in payload Overwatch — but you will survive to fight another battle when circumstances are more advantageous.
Know How to Pivot
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. Unfortunately, this is the default setting for many leaderless teams. A diplomatic shot-caller can disrupt a downward spiral, and flip to a winning strategy even when opponents seem to have the upper hand. This can take many forms: ambushes, traps, a backdoor strategy, smart hero swaps in Overwatch or a surprise Baron play in League. Adaptivity is the only way to consistently win despite differing enemy strategies. Nothing works all the time.
A Little Love Makes All the Difference
Game knowledge, lightning-quick target selection, strategic brilliance — all of these are important for a shot-caller, but they don’t amount to anything if your team isn’t listening. Competitive gaming is a high-pressure hobby, and a shot-caller who berates his teammates, or who doesn’t sympathize with the challenges of their roles, will soon lose their loyalty or even make them tilt. (And, he or she might win fewer games: According to Riot, players with a record of positive behavior win 10% more games.)
Treat your teammates with respect, and don’t criticize them too much after a mistake. This will encourage them to trust you when you ask them to take a risk. It will also push them to make decisions based on what’s good for the team, rather than padding their personal score. (Diplomacy is all the more important when playing with random allies.)
And remember — team morale begins in the game lobby, and tilting does too. Whether it’s League, Dota, or Overwatch, it’s all too common for random allies to try and force their teammates to play a hero or champion according to their personal view of the meta. A good shot-caller will let his teammates play to their strengths and adapt accordingly, filling empty roles himself if necessary.
Every team has the capacity to win — it’s up to the shot-caller to bring out their best. It’s a role that requires discipline, creativity, and precise observation. Let us know in the comments how you approach being (or being directed by) your team’s shot-caller.
Asher Ross covers arts and culture for a variety of publications. He has also proudly mained Xin Zhao in bronze for five seasons.