Teasing

At training tonight, Kancho was explaining about blood pressure, and how you don’t want to live a sedentary life where some small exertion causes you to have a stroke (all of which was solid advice). During this, he mimed holding a controller and, casting around for a game reference, locked eyes with me and asked “Xin, what games do you play?”

I started laughing and said “Kancho please…”
Because as it so happens, I’ve had an anxious day and spent most of it playing Overwatch, Breath of the Wild and Postknight. And I find it strangely delightful that Kancho and I have this enduring joke where he keeps teasing me about video games instead of spending more time enjoying the real world. We can’t really see eye-to-eye on it, but it’s all in good fun and I don’t mind being ribbed.

But it also kinda sucks being teased about something important to me, especially in a world where the average age for a gamer is in their 30’s. I guess it’s true that most people I encounter in person probably wouldn’t describe themselves as gamers, but it’s a super important part of who I am, and if I go for more than a few days without playing something I lose touch with my sense of self.

Video games have always been super important to me, not only because it’s who I am, but as survival mechanisms during challenging times in my life. I’ve made several attepmts at writing a blog post about it, but it’s taking much longer than I anticipated; every time I start to go down the rabbit hole of that dark place I used to be in, it takes me days to crawl back out. It gives me chills to think about – I hate dwelling in and on those times.

But I do want to write that post, because I want to create the counter message that video games aren’t just silly virtual experiences. I know they have the capacity to save people, and I want to write about it. It’s just a little hard.

Not really sure where this blogpost is going. Consider it a placeholder, I guess?

My thoughts on A Way Out

*spoiler-free review*

A Way Out took me by surprise – I had expected it to be a long campaign full of meticulous planning and perilous execution. Instead it turned out to have quite simple and very forgiving mechanics as one character would distract a guard and the other would casually and easily get away with whatever mischief they were doing. It was still pretty fun though, and on this mechanic alone I would have given it a 3/5 review. However in the final few chapters of the game, they really started shaking things up, introducing multiple approaches to solving the same problems, and then including some bold cinematography as the camera did some very memorable wizardry during an escape section of the game.

What really stood out for me though was the mini-games scattered around the world. I didn’t find any of the characters particularly notable, nor did I feel particularly compelled to explore every corner of the game. I played this with my best friend, and so first time he found a mini-game where you could spam X to do dips, a sudden and fierce rivalry erupted between us. Throughout the rest of the game, we kept score of who could get more points in darts, baseball, pong, Connect-4 and a variety of other contests the game included. Greatest of all, we found ourselves in a virtual arm-wrestle, perfectly matched for 15 minutes straight as we both desperately spammed X until we were exhausted. Back and forth our contest went: he’d pull ahead, I’d close the gap. It looked like we were going to have to end the campaign on a tie.

 

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And then, blessing of all blessings, the story threw us one last contest in a twist ending that brought the whole thing together. (I don’t want to brag, but I can’t resist taking this opportunity to tell you I came out on top, making me the Ultimate King of Gaming.)

A Way Out is a pretty simple game. The characters barely have any depth or motivation, the world is pretty bland and uninteresting, and the combat isn’t remarkable in any way. But for bringing two people together and generating a game-long rivalry? What a masterpiece. 4/5 from me.

God of War (2018) Review

First, a note about spoilers: I will do my best not to give away any of the major plot points or exciting discoveries in this review. Apart from talking about plot points you discover in the first few minutes of the game, I hope it remains spoiler-free.


I played the hell out of the original God of War trilogy on the PS2/PS3, and I thought the games were equal parts challenging and enjoyable. But when I first saw the trailer for God of War (2018), I knew this game was on a whole other level. It’s a perfectly logical progression for the series: having dissassembled the entire Greek pantheon of Gods, Kratos escapes to far-away lands. There he finds something he never hoped to know again: love. He settles down with a woman and they share many happy years together. They start a family, and Kratos names his son Atreus.

Things never last forever though, and the game starts with preparing Faye’s funeral pyre, and then gathering her ashes for her final request: to spread them on the highest peak in the realms. Kratos and Atreus set out on their quest, uncertain how to get along together, but trying in respect of Faye’s memory. The Norse gods don’t take too kindly to an outsider on their turf, and our protagonists get into all kinds of trouble with them.

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For the first time in the series, Angry Dude Kratos is travelling with someone he cares about, and his slowly unfolding relationship with Atreus brought me to tears and laughter many times. There were so many pivotal moments in their quest together where they experienced great vulnerability with one another, and there was nothing more rewarding than seeing them learn what it means to love.

One of the central themes of GoW is the war (forgive me) that wages inside of Kratos. Though he’s travelled far to escape his past, he has never truly forgotten it. In fact, as wonderful as his new life is, he sees it as a self-imposed exile where he can live out his days without doing any more harm to anyone. As their quest takes unexpected turns, Kratos is forced to face the life he tried to leave behind, the life that never really left him. The weight of his godhood shifted the balance of things in Midgard, and the consequences lead Kratos to contemplate whether he’ll ever be more than just a monster whose only skill is death. He longs desperately to break the cycle, and through Atreus he begins to believe that he might.

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Despite only having one real weapon, the combat in God of War was by far the best it’s ever been. Using the Leviathan Axe was incredibly satisfying, and it was surprisingly versatile as I learned to switch between than many unlockable skills that it came with. Even bare-handed, Kratos’ attacks had a weight to them, where each punch, each thud of the axe really felt like it had some heft. It was exquisite mastering the combat, chaining together combinations, runic attacks, summons, stuns and finishers in a bloody and intricate dance. I really enjoyed the combat challenges that I accessed by unlocking other realms, and my favourite moments in the game (apart from the poignant story-telling) were encountering bosses and spending up to an hour learning to fight them until I could sufficiently read their attacks and respond appropriately. In these fights, the game punished me for just spamming the attack button, and required me to truly master the arts of dodging, parrying and knowing when to press the attack and when to retreat.

Those fights were a lot tougher than they needed to be though. The game has a curious levelling system that increases your level depending on what gear you have equipped. Despite being able to access high-level combat challenges quite early in the game, they were ridiculously hard until I’d progressed the story enough to start finding higher-level enchantments from chests and enemies. Neither could I upgrade my existing equipment any further: I didn’t have access to the resources I needed until I’d progressed further in the world. While I can see the benefits of getting players to go back and forth between story missions and side quests, it clashed with my completionist mind-set, and I wish they hadn’t made such challenges available so early if they would be impossible to complete.

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Couldn’t resist a selfie

Speaking of completionism, there was so much to discover and enjoy; chests, artifacts, rare resources, buried treasure, and so much lore. I poured over every nook and cranny of the world, and I loved every second of it. Midgard had so many secrets, and many of them were so cleverly hidden that it brought a great sense of achievement to uncover them. Somehow the puzzle-solving continued to impress me with its freshness and originality, despite this being the eighth game in the series.

Something else that must be mentioned is the incredible score. Ever since that first announcement at E3, it’s been abundantly clear how passionate the developers are in taking the music seriously, and they did an outstanding job. In particular, hearing the classic God of War theme weave its way into pivotal story moments gave me chills. (That, and hearing the thunderous voice of a certain giant was inexpressibly awesome. I am so glad that I found PS Gold Wireless Headset in an op shop, because the special sound mode the devs created for God of War made the aural experience 10x better.)

God of War (2018) is one of the greatest games I have ever played. I couldn’t believe how much I came to care for the characters – I even rewatched my favourite cutscenes on YouTube just to relive the thrilling elation and the depths of despair. And (I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this yet), it’s an absolutely gorgeous game, with a brilliantly cinematic camera style and transitions so smooth I sometimes didn’t realise that I was in control again. I felt compelled to pause the game just to take in the breathtaking vistas, and I’ve never taken so many screenshots of a PlayStation game in all my life. This game deserves every accolade and award it’s received, and I hope many more people get to experience this incredible piece of interactive art. 10/10.

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I might have tweaked the facial-expression mode for this one.

How To Pick the Best Card in the Keg

With the new update to Gwent, many of the games fundamental mechanics have dramatically changed. I recently wrote a guide on The Slightly Better Way to Open Kegs which is now completed outdated, so I thought I’d take a look at writing a new one. Due to playing the beta a fair bit, I had unlocked enough achievements to buy around 100 kegs straight out of the gates, which allowed me to do a fair bit of experimentation so that you don’t have to. If you’ve felt anxious about making the wrong choice when picking that fifth card, read this guide and hopefully it will help you make those decisions a little easier.

Note that if you played the beta and have hundreds of thousands of scraps lying around, this guide doesn’t really apply to you – just buy any cards you want and save your ore for a special event.

 

So first things first: everything’s different. There are no more silver cards, just bronze and gold. You can have as many gold cards as you want in a deck (so long as you have at least 25 cards total and the rest of your cards fit within the capacity limit), and you can only have two bronze duplicates in your starting deck at any one time.
Why does this matter? Because it changes which cards are a priority, and informs how many of each card to get.

Let’s talk about the mechanics of kegs. Here’s an example of one I opened recently:

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See the brown and green indicators underneath the cards? Those refer to the number of standard (non-animated) and premium (animated) cards I already possess in my collection respectively. So in this case, including the cards I’ve just received I now have 3 standard Temerian Drummers, 2 premium Brokvar Hunters, 3 standard and 1 animated Trebuchets, and 3 standard Venedal Elites.

Here’s the all important next screen: picking the 5th card.

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You can see the same indicators underneath. The green diamond with the “!” indicates it’s a card I don’t yet have in my collection.

So which card do you prioritise? Here’s what I’d recommend.

 

1. Any premium card.

Surprisingly, the answer is not to immediately choose the card you don’t have yet. Premium cards are worth way more when you mill them than standard cards, so if your long term goal is to be able to access extra meteorite powder and scraps to craft your perfect deck I would pick the premium cards first. Note that unlike the beta, you can’t tell if any of the cards are animated until you move the cursor over them, so make sure to manually check each one before making your decision.

2. Cards that belong to the faction that you’re currently focusing on.

The new Gwent is absolutely huge; there are half a dozen viable strategies for any given faction. To minimise brain overload, I recommend picking one faction and focusing on building one working deck at a time. If you’ve only got one copy of a bronze card in your preferred faction (including neutral), go ahead and snatch up that duplicate.

3. Cards that you don’t have yet.

Assuming that one day you might want to have a large enough collection to build several decks from different factions, having every card in the game is not a bad starting point. Even if a card doesn’t seem like anything special on face value, maybe in combination with other cards it might just lead to some mindblowing strategies that no one else has thought of. I like to think that every card is useful in the right situation. And besides, if a card really is useless, there’s a good chance the devs will alter it in future updates to make it more viable.

4. The standard version of a premium card.

If you’ve got one premium version of a card, grab its standard counterpart. That way you’ll have one of each, and will be able to add two cards to your deck if you want to use them both as part of your strategy.

5. Cards you only have one copy of.

Snap up those bronze duplicates. You can have a maximum of two premium and two standard copies of each bronze card in your collection, or one of each for gold (though to be clear, you can still only USE two copies of a bronze card or one copy of a gold card in a deck).

6. Any other card.

Anything else is just going to get milled anyway, so don’t worry about what you pick. Rest assured that when you’re being shown three cards, they’re all equally valuable (rare or higher) so you can’t really make a wrong choice.

 

And that’s it! Doubtless they’ll release some major update in a few months that will make all of this outdated, but for the moment these are my best tips for making the smartest selections. May goodest cards you get, ‘uman deserve it!

Homecoming

Welp, it’s the end of an era. In about 24 hours, the Gwent beta as I know it will be ending, and all of the cards will be completely reworked and the gameplay mechanics majorly adjusted. I’ve played Gwent somewhat regularly over the past year or so, often playing every day between 30-60 minutes, and I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge what this game has meant to me. It’s been both an important coping mechanism, and a source of immense frustration as I’ve yoyo’d between winning and losing. As I’ve often told my wife, “The highs are highs and the lows are low.” I’m feeling bitter sweet about the new update that will change everything that I love about the game currently.

 

Overall, I didn’t do too badly on the competitive scene even though I would describe my dedication as “somewhere between casual and passionate”. I was never exceptional, but in those months where I was playing regularly, I ranked as highly as #281 in Oceania and Australia.

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From the very beginning, I decided that I would only play Scoiatael decks, and for the most part I kept to that – about 95% of my games have been from the one faction. I actively avoided following the META, and I put huge amounts of thought into the composition of decks with unique strategies. More importantly though, I created meaningful names for every deck I ever made, and I remember each of them fondly. There were the Sons of Earth, the River of Gold and Aen Seidhe. During my brief stint playing as Skellige, I called upon The Undying. When I went through my Monster phase, my decks were named Winter Knights, Champion, and Om Nommy Nomface.

In practice though, I only really used three decks.

There was Ambuscade, that focussed almost exclusively on ambush cards, traps and keeping my opponent guessing. I would lay down two or three cards face-down, and they would never know which of them would flip over and put them at a disadvantage.

Then there was the Commando deck, constantly moving units from row to row, never being where the opponent expected and punishing them for both staying where they were or trying to escape.

Among them, my prized deck was called Use the Boost to Get Through. I would layer several rows with Golden Frothed ale, and my Mahakam Marauders would drink it all. Due to some strategic wizardry, I could get up to nine Marauders on the board at once, each worth 40+ points while my Farseers laughed and laughed. I once won a game with a final score of over 400 points in the third round.

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Over the time I’ve played, I’ve gotten almost all of the cards in the game. This was knowledge hard-won, involving much trial and error as I learned the best way to open Kegs. I’d opened hundreds of them over time and was curious to see how many cards I had in total, so I manually counted them all, not distinguishing between premium and standard (animated or still). The final tallies were:
Bronze – 200/200
Silver – 133/150
Gold – 104/131

Even though I was missing more than I’d expected, I’m pretty proud of that effort! I’ve already got about 10000 scraps from previous mills, so when Homecoming launches and all of my current cards are converted to scrap I think I’ll have enough to buy the maximum playable number of every card in the game (thanks to all those duplicates). I wonder what kind of strategies I’ll create next.

 

I’ll miss the old Gwent, but I’m excited for Thronebreaker and the Homecoming rework. I’ve avoided learning anything about Homecoming because I want to experience it fresh, poring over each new card and putting together my ultimate deck without being influenced by other people’s ideas of what works. December 4th has been a long time coming.

The Slightly Smarter Way to Open Kegs in Gwent

I’ve been enjoying Gwent since the Beta went public. Apart from the $7.55 starter special, I haven’t spent any money on kegs, and I usually only play it once or twice a week. Yet despite my casual approach, I’ve collected the maximum amount of nearly every card. How? These hard-won lessons, which I freely share.

1. Don’t open kegs or spend ore until there’s a Premium Card Weekend

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Every couple of months CD Projekt Red has some kind of special event where for a few days only every keg will contain a Rare (uncommon bronze), Premium (animated) or Epic (silver) card. At first I found it hard to resist the temptation to open my kegs as soon as I got them (especially after a Season End), but unlike many other games, the contents of the kegs are not determined when they’re awarded to you, but when they’re opened. This weekend is the Epic Card Week, meaning every keg contains at least one silver card, and you better believe I just cashed in all my ore to open 50 kegs in a row.

2. Stop playing once you’ve won six rounds per day

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Winning six rounds every day is the most efficient way to earn those sweet, sweet glitter rocks that Shupe loves so much (read: ore to buy kegs). Curiously, CD Projekt Red doesn’t reward people for playing longer; 6 rounds nets 100 ore, but an additional 12 rounds (18 in total) rewards only 75 more. Personally I think that the rewards should exponentially increase the more you win to encourage you to keep playing, but hey, I’m not a dev. The daily rewards reset at 2am CEST (if that means anything to anyone), so unless you’re really enjoying long stretches of the game I’d say stopping at six per day is the most efficient use of your time.

3. Ever wondered what those numbers mean when you’re opening the 5th card in the keg?

To be honest, this is the real reason I’m writing this. I scoured the internet and couldn’t find an answer to this question until I figured it out tonight. Behold.

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Sorry for the blurry picture, but it will suffice for this example.

Here I was choosing between three standard (non-animated) cards.

For numbers without a fraction, that shows how many of that exact copy of the card you have. In this case, I had 3 standard copies of White Frost.
For fractions, the number on top shows how many copies of that exact card you have, and the number on the bottom shows how many copies of that card you have in total. In this example, because the card being offered is non-animated, I have 1 standard copy of Braenn, and 2 copies in total (the inference meaning that I have 1 premium copy of her as well). For Morkvarg, I have 0 standard copies of the card, and 1 in total (meaning I have 1 premium copy already).

If these cards offered were all premium, it would mean I have 3x premium copies of White Frost and x0 standard copies, 1x premium copy of Braenn and 1x standard copy, and 0x premium copies of Morkvarg and 1x standard copy.

Also note that these numbers reflect your current number of cards, and will change once you make a selection. Because I already had standard copies of White Frost and Braenn, I chose Morkvarg. This would have updated the fraction to say x1/x2. (One standard copy of the card, two copies in total.)

4. When choosing between cards, pick the animated cards first!

Unless there’s an incredibly useful standard card you don’t have yet and can’t afford to buy, pick the premium (animated) card every time. Premium cards are WAY more expensive if you’re considering purchase them with scrap. And if you choose to mill them, not only do you get the standard amount of scrap, you also get meteorite powder (which can be used to transmute cards from their standard to animated forms)!

Incidentally if you’re looking at milling premium cards, this is how much meteor powder you’ll get depending on the rarity:
20 for Common (bronze)
50 for Rare (uncommon bronze)
80 for Epic (silver)
120 for Legendary (gold)

5. Don’t mill your cards unless you need the scraps!

Much to my regret, I only just learned this one mere minutes after milling 30 Epic cards.

Unless you need the scraps to build a new deck that you want to play with right away, try not to buy cards in general. If you open enough kegs, you’ll get the cards you want, as well as a hefty pile of duplicates too. Apparently it’s useful to hang onto these, because according to this reddit post the next major update (Homecoming) will completely reset everyone’s collections and refund their full card values. This means if you’ve got three copies of White Frost like I did, hanging onto them will be worth 200 scraps each (rather than 200+50+50 like I’ll get because I just milled my duplicates like the fool of a Took I am).


And that’s it! Hopefully these tips help you make more informed decisions about what cards you want to choose. Now that you know how to open kegs like a pro, I hope you rake in those legendaries!

How to Master Lucioball

Last year I wrote out these Protips for Lucioball, which are kind of aimed at helping people get from gold to diamond. This season, I set my sights even higher and worked my way into Master rank, with my goal for next year to hit GM. Hopefully these tips are gonna help you do great!


 

General tips

-At the start of the match, establish if everyone feels confident playing as a goalkeeper. If anyone says they can’t keep, make sure they switch with someone who can.

-Communicate before you ult. Unless you’re deliberately overwhelming the opposition defence with two simultaneously ults, it’s generally better to use them one at a time.

-When ulting, shooting directly at the goals is rarely successful (especially at the start of a round). Setting up rebounds is much more likely to cause the defenders to overextend and create gaps to shoot through.

-Passing along the ground may sometimes be preferable to passing through the air; for a short distance the ball moves faster as it travels in a straight line, even if it has more resistance over a long distance. Therefore, short passes along the ground may disorient the defenders and allow you to get around them.

-When the ball comes to you and there’s no one else in striking distance, take your time. Walk the ball up the field – it’s surprisingly easy to dribble. When your opponents get impatient and try and take the ball off you, boop it over the heads or punch it into a wall and skate right on past them.

-If you and an opponent are racing towards a ball and they’re slightly ahead of you, booping it at the wall (instead of towards their goal) is not a bad way to neutralise their advantage, especially if you were further back and then you suddenly turn around and are in the lead.

-It’s possible to set up goals that are impossible to block, the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. One time when I was striking, the ball came to me while I was at the peak of my jump besides the opposite goal and I saw the goalie waiting to block me. In that moment if the goalie had jumped I would have shot it past him to the left. If he had predicted this unlikely shot and moved left, I would have taken the easier shot to the right. These moments are rare, because you have to be far enough away that the goalie can’t take the ball off you, but close enough so that they don’t have time to respond at the last moment.

-The best goal I ever scored was from suddenly redirecting the ball without letting it lose any momentum. My teammate shot for the goals at the right jump pad and the goalie moved to block. Jumping and meeting the ball side on, I shot it into the left corner and it moved so quickly it was impossible to meet.

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Striker tips

-Once you have established good ball skills and you can place it exactly where you want it to, the game takes on another level. It’s no longer about making the best shot (the most direct line to the middle of the target) but about making a shot that is least likely to get blocked. This means anticipating whether the defender will move high or low to block you, but more often it means not shooting straight at the goals but shooting at the wall and catching it (or letting your well-placed teammate catch it).

-A simple combination of a punch (onto the wall) and boop into the goals seems to work better than boop onto the wall and then punch into the goals, but it’ll depend on your distancing and the placement of the defenders.

-Learn to rely on your teammates a lot. A single striker is less likely to score a goal than two strikers who understand each other’s intentions and help set up assists and rebounds.

-Learn to cross the ball (and if you’re striking, assume your teammate will pass it to you and position yourself to receive the cross). That is to say, pass it across the field (rather than towards the goal) to get around defenders.

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Goalie tips

-Always take note of where your teammates are, and where the opposing strikers are. Make sure to set up useful passes to your teammates, but if the opposition’s is closing in it is preferable to pass to an empty corner/space than try and pass it to your teammate.

-In a desperate situation, sometimes you can’t just shoot down the field to clear the ball because there will be two opposing strikers closing off the angle and waiting to return the shot. In these instances, passing up the wall, or even along the wall may roll it past them.

-Furthermore, if the ball is slowly rolling towards you, don’t just shoot it up the field for the sake of getting it away from your goals. If you pass it straight to the opposing goalie or defender, you’ve wasted your boop and may not have time to wait for it before another shot is coming.

-As the goalkeeper, a good option for clearing the ball while setting up for a shot is shoot the ball directly to the opposite wall on either side of the goal so that it rebounds to a waiting teammate. However, this has a higher chance of being repelled by the opposing goalkeeper.

-Another excellent place to pass the ball is to aim for the wall next to the jump pad, so that the ball will slow down and let your striker control the rebound.

-Best of all, shoot into the air above the jump pad so that a skilled striker can spike it over the waiting defenders or put it in the farthest corner.

-There may come moments when your boop is on cooldown and the split-second timing of the punch may be too perilous to use. In moments like these, blocking the ball with your body may be preferable because the ball will stop quite dead if it hits you, enabling you to set up a shot to clear it out.

-You know how last year I said if the ball’s not going to get into your goals, don’t worry about blocking it? Yeah forget that. At advanced levels, waiting until the last second to try and boop the ball out of there gets increasingly dangerous. Sometimes it’s important to leave the goal and get to the ball early so that you can clear it the hell out of there before any of the opposing strikers close in. If the strikers are very good, blocking it once won’t be enough: they’ll catch the rebound, and your boop will be on cooldown as you try and block the next shot.

-This doesn’t necessarily mean skating towards a defender and trying to jam their shot. While it’s true that the closer you get to them the narrower their angle of shooting becomes, a clever striker won’t shoot directly for the goals but will just pop it over or around you and then follow up with the rebound. Or worse, they’ll pass it back or across the field to a waiting teammate who will shoot it past you. In other words if there’s no one near the ball feel free to get it, but if someone’s coming at you try and react at the last second so you don’t overextend.

 


After several hundred games, I can summarise all of these tips thus: try and get the ball into their goal, and try and stop them from getting it into yours. At the end of the day, no amount of advice will make up for the intuition and rapid response that comes from sheer repetition. Play enough games and you’ll automatically calculate timing, distancing and positioning, and more importantly develop appropriate responses based on where you, the ball and the other players are. There’s no easy formula for that, and it’s the simplicity that makes Lucioball a work of genius.

Good luck, have fun, and don’t forget to endorse your team.