Burst and Sustain

I spent six hours hacking together a preliminary game with my team today. It wasn’t much, and it isn’t done, but it’s a product we can show to our peers and get feedback. Unfortunately, for the last two or three hours of that time, I wasn’t really doing work, and I had to finally call it quits ahead of my teammates, who are (as far as I know) still hacking as I write this. It’s a pattern I’ve seen often in my life – I go hard and burn out fast – but it wasn’t until tonight that I realized the parallels to video games, and the way they can free me from the feeling of uselessness I get when I’m below my peak effectiveness. It’s a little concept I like to call team comp.

When you’re putting together a team in League of Legends, you’re concerned with a lot of different things. You need different types of damage, different skills like gap closers and crowd control, and different fighting styles to come out on top. If you try to run a team of all five of one kind of champion, it doesn’t tend to do very well. And out of this comes the concept of burst and sustain. Some heroes are naturally burstier than others, while others do more damage over time. If you have all burst heroes on your team, you’ll kill a few of the enemies almost immediately, but then the rest of them will finish you off while you wait for your cooldowns to reset. Likewise, if you’re all DPS heroes, you lose the ability to quickly burst down an opponent who jumps on top of you or gets caught in a bad position. So to be optimally effective, you need both. A good team has burst, sustain, someone to soak damage, a little bit of healing or regen for the really long fights, and a person to lock down the enemy team and break up their engage. Without any one of those things, your team will often struggle.

It’s the same in real life. Some people are naturally more inclined to do all their work at once, bursting through a ton of it in a very short time span, and then to recuperate while their teammates keep chugging at a slower pace. Other people are more inclined to do their work in a less panicked fashion, mixing in fun and leisure as they go along and outlasting their burstier teammates. It’s a good balance, and it works for many of the same reasons we find in games. If you have a sudden, urgent deadline, you need the people who can get astounding amounts of work done in incredibly short periods of time – the kind of people who perform amazingly under pressure. If your workload is less urgent – because, say, you just passed such a deadline – then you might find that you need the slower, steadier work style of the people who have more sustain.

For me, falling almost at the extreme on the high-burst end of the spectrum, it’s easy to feel like I’m letting down my team. I show up, get something done blindingly fast and with great precision, and then almost immediately feel like I’m not contributing. Once my energy is spent, my effectiveness dwindles, and I watch my teammates keep chugging on with feelings of embarrassment and inadequacy. I feel like my inability to keep up with them and my desire to duck out early and come back to it tomorrow somehow indicate that I am lazy and ineffective as a person. In reality, though, I’ve come to realize that the bigger mistake is staying – when I’m past my ability to contribute, it’s far wiser for me to duck out and come back to it when I have more energy. Just because my cooldowns are spent for tonight doesn’t mean I won’t be effective again tomorrow, and the time I spend trying to pretend otherwise isn’t helping anyone. If my team needs me, I’ll be there. I just can’t be there nonstop, and I really shouldn’t try to. Like an assassin in League of Legends, my job is to get in, do my job, and get out so that I have time to position and prepare for the next fight. I don’t do more and I don’t do less damage than an AD Carry – I just do it faster and with longer cooldowns in between.

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