One question I’ve always asked, until I understood more about strategy, was, “why don’t they just do X, it seems so obvious”, or “why didn’t they do X instead?” From a non-professional viewpoint, often times it seems like there are alternate options that would be highly successful that professionals simply do not use. The reason for this is derived from statistics. There are actions and reactions that are most successful because of assumptions we can make about our opponent. If both teams know that certain actions are more statistically likely than others, than they assume that both teams will do them. So then intuitively you might think, well why don’t they just do the opposite to surprise the enemy team and win. Well this is only slightly true. Surprise maneuvers that are statistically less likely to succeed can work, but the problem is a trade-off of increased risk. In retrospect there are always alternative options that could have worked better, including a wide range of offbeat and risky choices, but the problem is that players must work in the moment and make decisions based off tried and true successful choices. Going off the beaten professional path means taking a higher risk by employing a generally less successful strategy, and while it may work once or even twice, the opposing team will simply adjust to counter your tactics. Once they adjust, they employ the most successful tactic to counter it. Imagine there are all these different routes you can take on any given map. You and the enemy team make choices and each route dynamically adjusts to a percentage success chance based on current positions, HP, etc. As a player you are trying to determine, based on the current situation (current moment), what is the highest percentage path to take. If I choose the left path I have a known 65% percentage chance of success while the right path is 75%. Choose the right because statistically you will perform better over the course of a tournament. Successful teams are those that exploit successful choices more often than their opponents. Another way to imagine this is that if you played a computer bot that could calculate everything at real time, you could never (or at least almost never) win against it because it would always choose the highest path towards success (this assuming it’s not cheating). Since humans are imperfect and generally bad at calculating, strategy exists for that reason. If we all had the data and a way to interpret it, we couldn’t really compete against one another because the outcomes would be known (we’d tie every match). That or we would find some sort of “ultra subtle super calculation strategy” that would be entertaining, but fruitless. Basically the point is, strategy exists because of numbers and our inability to calculate them accurately and/or quickly.

Try and imagine what your opponent knows. For example, a 1-on-1 scenario, you see him moving to the right and percentages pop into your head saying: 85% he continues on his trajectory, 15% he reverses direction. Based on current round time, and 85% path, he must choose only 2 of 3 routes because route 3 is too dangerous and too time consuming. If he reverses direction, 1 of 3 routes are viable due to round timer restriction. If he reverses direction, he must do so within 5 seconds otherwise that path is no longer viable. If he does reverse direction and I don’t notice, he gains a positioning advantage over me. If I wait 5 seconds to see if he reverses, he can safely choose all 3 previously mentioned routes because the danger of you being there is gone, however he doesn’t know that, so 2 of 3 routes are still likely. But because of that 5 second window, he gains 5 seconds more of unimpeded progress which puts you at a positioning and timing disadvantage. The reason being that you would now be entering an area that he is defending. You must now make a decision, do you wait the 5 seconds to see if he reverses direction (which was a 15% chance with a possible positioning disadvantage) or do you continue to the 85% target area where you can gain a positioning advantage over 2 routes? The obvious answer would be to take the 85% path with positioning advantage because it puts you in a more powerful position. This is an example of what I mentioned above where professionals make this sort of calculation and choose the best path. But when the opponent decides to reverse direction at a 15% probability, it’s easy for fans to say “oh c’mon, that was obvious! Why didn’t he check there?” It’s because as a player you cannot do everything, so you must make decisions based on data. Choosing the best possible probabilistic decision, while it does not guarantee a win, will over time increase your odds of winning. Or, it could be said, if you are making good decisions 85% of the time, then you should win a majority of matches against opponents who are making good decisions less than 85% of the time, and vice versa.

For more information you can also read “Hindsight Bias” on Less Wrong.