Understanding Competition

It’s funny, I would consider myself a nerd, gamer, and hobbyist, but during the normal course of a day I do not consider myself a competitor. That was never a strong drive within me, I’m much more of an amateur and an enthusiast.

I’ve been reading a plethora of late regarding the differing trends within my games and the importance of understanding the “meta” – the game within the game. For those who wish to know, the games I specifically referring to are:

The interesting thing is that each article is referring to the same concept, but in their own language.

Which is better: rock, paper, or scissors?

In this post on competitive Warhammer 40K, the poster Z cries foul on the merits of actual play versus the work done at the planning table long before anyone sits down to play a game. If anyone with a firm grasp of the rules and strategies shows up with the “correct” army list, they can win a competitive tournament over the likes of a “better” tactician wielding a different army. I believe the trend now revolves around Space Wolf armies with roaming packs of Razorback-mounted Grey Hunters and small units of Long Fang heavy weapon teams. Gone are the likes of “fun” armies and lists that have any hint of originality, you must have the correct formula in your force composition to have any sort of competitive success.

The same goes for Magic: the Gathering. In a scenario where you have 20 years of cards printed and 1000 new cards introduced each year, a competitive deck of 60 cards has to be fine-tuned and consistent. With the internet and the proliferation of ideas & information, the metagame of Magic changes each week. Sometimes aggressive decks with cheap creatures like zombies, elves, or varying colors of humans rule the meta. It usually takes some time, but eventually a meta gets ruled by control decks that specialize in countermagic, card advantage, and playing a slow and methodical pace that evaluates each and every choice. Other weeks are ruled by the correct combo that no one expected which fits exactly in the meta for its time and event, then gets imitated for weeks. Typically, a competitive Magic deck costs in the neighborhood of $400-500 for 75 pieces of cardboard! (the Warhammer players scoff, “$500, eh? I got all my minis from ForgeWorld…”)

Then there’s League of Legends, a game that’s completely free to play, should you choose to do so. I’ve already lamented my own travails in this cyber den of scum and villainy (one week later, the guys @ Penny Arcade did the same), but there is a strong professional circuit already there with cutthroat play. The drive to get to play games professionally makes playing these “games” no more or less competitive than our already bloated past time of professional sports.

Leading to the NBA, of course. The NBA is a game just like Chess and Rock, Paper, Scissors. How you ask? Every team in the NBA right now is asking themselves the same question: how do you stop a 6’8″, 260-lb superfreak with eagle-eyes and pogo-legs by the name of LeBron James? Although no one except for the 30 coaches in the league have to consider the merits of small-ball lineups versus a killer post-up strategy with your tallest players, the nation is still enthralled with these discussions. It’s all the same.

Whether you’re looking at Fire Dragon aspect warriors to burn down tanks, finding a spot for Rest in Peace to shut down graveyard combos, jungling with Amumu because his build has been buffed by the latest patch, or drafting a corner-3 shooter with long arms that can defend 3 positions, it’s all rock, paper, scissors. It’s all about getting an edge on your competition. It’s all about …   fun?

The nature of all of these is still in the context of a game and I think ALOT of people are forgetting this. After all, the professional basketball business is a billion dollar industry and inflated way over its practical or even pragmatic service to society. But we embrace it. Call it love of the game, call it city or team pride, call it entertainment.

Over in League of Legends, there’s a mixed bag of accounts from the positive play experiences to the negative. People are jerks when given the anonymity of the internet, but not always. I had really great fun in a game recently where I was laning with a whiny team mate (in a bot game!) who called me a n00b for not playing Maokai “correctly,” but I then proceeded to complete my build, farm our lane, and pull off a nice ambush and triple-kill of our enemy bots. It was one of my best games ever and I even got to say to the guy whining at me, “Do you have any constructive advice instead of name-calling?”  I was never answered. It felt great! In the competitive arenas, its both much better and much worse, the extremes are way out to either side with very helpful people with actual input and suggestions on one end and the scum of the (w)hole of the internet on the other.

The game is a game is a game. Gamers and nerds are strangely competitive people. It might be something residual from high school, but how strong that trend towards friendly competition versus rudeness is up to the participants. I know a long time that the major Warhammer tournaments started giving out trophies not only for best painted army and overall winner, but also to the best sport/most fun to play. That attitude is the goal, I believe.

If you’ve fallen in love with a game, you know what I’m talking about when I say there was a golden era for you when you started playing it. For Warhammer, it was in the 8th grade playing in my friend’s basement. For Magic, it was only a few years ago right after I learned how to play and hosted multi-player games in my home. For basketball, it was my sophomore year in college when we had a regular rotation of 8-12 guys who played pickup twice a week.

No one likes to lose, but the simple joy of playing a game should reach people more often. Yes, if you want to take a game more seriously, start to learn your meta. Know the ins, outs, and match-ups. For a professional athlete, that is as much of the job as the actual performance. Read Sun Tzu and learn strategies that apply to warfare, politics, and personal interactions. Hell, watch Kevin Spacey in House of Cards.

Just have some fun, too.

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About recalcitrant041

Andrew Babcock has manifest destiny on his mind. The road west is paved with basketball, psychic dreams, passable egg-toast, Dungeons & Dragons, and haiku.

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