248: Slave to the Overmind

Slave to the Overmind

Many gamers have aspirations of one day playing their game of choice at the professional level. But the reality of that undertaking is much less appealing than the dream. Jack Porter recounts his brief time spent playing StarCraft competitively and the heavy toll it took on his psyche.

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I learned this around when I was playing Battlefield 2142 and CoD4 in my "off-year", I became irritated if I didn't feel I didn't score enough each time I died. Then I asked myself almost the exact same thing as in the article; are you having fun?
Since then I'm trying not to get too serious about gaming, it's supposed to be fun/entertaining afterall.

Am I the only one that just laughs at "Professional gaming". I mean really? I've been to my share of Quake 3/UT tournaments, and I enjoyed them until I couldn't stand the pastey-faced people that just took the damn game way too seriously.

I used to piss people off because I didn't care as much as they did and didn't "practice" as much and yet I still beat them. Didn't win any tournaments mind you, but I got close a few times ;)

Anything that a computer has a chance of doing better I can't ever claim to be a "sport" or even "pro" at. If blizzard really tried I bet they could make an ultimate AI that would just be so cheap even making it follow the rules it would win most tournaments itself. It would micro faster, move faster, and space out the units faster. Script in some "pro-strats" and I'm sure it could win most of the time.

Meh to the whole thing I say! Now where's my copy of UT....

That's how I felt in 1 vs 1 in Warcraft 3. I was good to a degree, and won a good bit of matches, but when it came to losing it was the perfect example of the bigger they are the harder they fall. I became terrified of playing because I might lose and have nothing to show for it. I eventually stopped playing due to this fear and tried 4 vs 4 but foudn I wasn't as good at that.

I guess it is a sort of blessing that I usually make most of my time in the single player campaigns of the RTS. Like for Red Alert 2, I used to boost my defence, then I would ad troops and go rush the enemy base. I would do almost the same thing for RA3, and in both cases it would result with my games going from 12pm to 8pm in the summer, which I wouldn't call 'healthy' for me...
Nowadays, I try to keep my live gaming on a normal level (2-3 hours)

A very nice article, and in fact a lesson I could extrapolate to more general circumstances.

"Are you having fun playing this entertainment game RIGHT NOW?" Awkwardly-phrased question, but important to ask. I'm not asking "Are you having fun once this quest is finished and you have the Sword of Enlightenment" or "Will you have fun once you're good at the game and are killing noobs left and right". Just ask yourself whether this video game is currently fun.

And if not, why are you playing it? (In the author's case, it was a form of social recognition. For others, it could be addiction, indications of slow progress like levelling, you paid $50 for it, etc)

Comp Video Gaming can be fun with the right people...

But its all to easy to get the WRONG people. Ehh..

Still, I enjoy watching Starcraft 2 Commentarys with HDSTARCRAFT on youtube, and I look forward to trying competitive Starcraft 2 in the future.

Interesting read, I find that if a game is kicking my ass I usually take a break and play another game before coming back. You do surprisingly well if you take a break. You sort of...reset. Its strange.

You know what? This exact thing happened to me. I bought Starcraft the year it came out with my allowance money (I was still in middle school at the time). I used to think that competitive play was the only reason to play Starcraft. I clocked somewhere between 2000 and 3000 hours in total playing online. I was actually pretty good playing as Protoss. I played some official ladder matches, and I got pretty far up the leader boards. Then I realized I wasn't having fun anymore. I would win most of my matches, but it ceased to give me any feeling of accomplishment. Even then, I would sometimes play pros who had created new accounts to hide their win/loss records, I would get steamrolled and I would feel like crap afterwards.

But I didn't quit playing. Yeah sure, I quit playing competitively. I played to simply to have fun again. You see, I had heard about how the map editor could be used to alter the gameplay in major ways. I decided to go back online and see if people had come up with anything interesting. Holy crap, they sure had. It was then that I got my first exposure to turret/cannon/spore colony defense. Then came my favorite 4-way defense. I remember my thoughts after I played my first Dragonball Z themed map, "Oh my God, this is AWESOME!"

So basically my response to this article is, "You should have stopped playing competitively and start trying to have fun." I gotta be honest, I'll be mildly interested in competitive play once Starcraft 2 comes out, but it won't be my main reason for getting it. My reason? The defense maps, the DoTA maps, the Gundam themed maps.

Xersues:

Anything that a computer has a chance of doing better I can't ever claim to be a "sport" or even "pro" at.

You must not have a lot of respect for chess :-/

And I doubt that the "perfect AI" could ever be made for an RTS. In FPS, maybe, since it wouldn't be hard to make the computer instantly snipe you in the head from across the map at any given time... but more often than not a player will still be able to find a hole in a computer's strategy.

And until you actually win some of those tournaments, you're always going to be an amateur. That some people are naturally better than those who practice isn't a phenomenon exclusive to video games - neither is the case of people who are good but will never be the best.

It reminds me of my time indulging in the world of competitive raiding in WoW. Self-doubt is a HUGE factor in what makes a great player, unfortunately, it can take you to the point where you don't know whether you are actually a good player anymore. Nobody around you will tell you that you're doing a good job since they are either your opponent and don't give a shit how you feel or they're your teammate and only focus on your imperfections.

Every night our raid leader would yell and scream at us on ventrilo saying that we're playing like shit, that we're not going to be able to meet our goals, pull our heads out of our asses, nobody cares, etc. And yet, nobody ever really acknowledges the fact that we were in the US top 10, world top 15, and that there are so many players out there that would kill to be in that position. Other players look up to us on how to play the game, they read our log parses, and the videos that I put up would get thousands and thousands of hits, but I would only see that other guilds' videos would get more hits. Competition becomes an obsession.

You're not allowed to "have a bad day" or "take it easy." It's full throttle all the time. Get on it or get lost.

And this, boys and girls, is the terrible side effect of being a "hardcore gamer". In my opinion, you should only get as good as you need to get to shame your friends who have never played the game before. Else, you end up like me and Mr. Porter here

Oh man. Nick Plott! I consider Starcraft to be one of the greatest games ever made, but I could manage to get even passably good at it. Total noobs were always beating me, even when I played it fairly regularly. And I never had much fun watching the pros play a game I wished I didn't perma-suck at. But I went to school with Tasteless's brother (who I believe is also a notable US Starcraft player), lived in the same dorm and everything :D. I think I did a project with him once, sophomore year. He was always bothering us to go watch his brother's videos. I watched the guy play SC once... I could barely see his fingers move.

Anyway, it's just fun running into names on the greater internets that you didn't really expect to. I knew he was important, but still.

Sean Plott, his brother, is a big commentator in his own right, now. He's known as Day9, and must spend at least 40 hours a week on Starcraft casting. I assume u went to Harvey Mudd then? :)

Most of his casts are linked to from here:
http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=104154

The very reason I put Starcraft back in the cd-case, the battle-chest, and the drawer.

Albeit I did all mentioned in the article, only I chose to specialize in Protoss stratagems.
The game and I needed to retire because it was no longer fun, just about winning; thanks for making an astoundingly real point Jack.

I started playing it since 2000 (thanks to my cousin), I enjoyed the single player campaign (and I still do), even some skirmishes with the pc controlled enemies, but then I started playing online and I felt the exactly same thing as you, I sucked back then and I still suck.
I wanted to win at least once and there was a time where I eated, slept and thinked only StarCraft... it was a nightmare and I even hated the game, and I still hate to play online, because I still suck.

D-Ship:

You must not have a lot of respect for chess :-/
[snip]
And I doubt that the "perfect AI" could ever be made for an RTS.
[snip]

No, I don't have a lot of respect for chess and neither did Bobby Fischer after a while. Its a memory game with finite number of moves.

If you think a "perfect" or insanely cheap AI couldn't be made for an RTS you are sorely mistaken. Many maps have a finite number of places to move, attack from, and work with. Some of the hardest parts of making an AI once the system is solid is to make a realistic AI, not some insane cheap thing that can outperform some one to frustration.

Think about it, two of the fastest people in the world at micro managing and making decisions play out their strategies 1:1 and whoever happened to start first will win. Many of these games are decided within minutes and a well balanced game always has a counter.

While I don't have anything against competitive gaming I try to avoid it myself. This because most of the times people forget that its a game, that you're supposed to have fun. And there is when you stop caring about anything except wining.

I have learned (or am trying to, depeninng how you look at it) step back and look at myself.

Am I getting angry? What for? Is this worth it?

I've found that if any of these three questions comes up as a negative, I.E. :
1) Yes./I'm just slightly irritated./WTF do you mean, "angry"!?
2) It was a cheap shot!/broken mechanic/LAG!/OP weapon!/I need moar skill!
3) It might get better, later./I don't understand the question./...no...

Then, take a step back, go for a walk. Rummage through your game collection for something else. A game is supposed to be entertaining. YES, there will be a competitive side to it. There will be times when you are not having fun/are working up the skillz, but if your overall gameplay becomes tedious... and grind-like...

Fun, you're doing it wrong.

if you're forcing yourself to enjoy a game, you're doing it wrong!

"What was once a "game" dissolved into a joyless frenzy of scrolling and clicking."

Yes, every RTS eventually turns into this in my experience. Turn-based strategy games, on the other hand, I find much more fulfilling.

Xersues:

Anything that a computer has a chance of doing better I can't ever claim to be a "sport" or even "pro" at.

What about a computer with a "body"? A computer with an engine and wheels could beat people at running, is it no longer a sport? Just because we can build something that can perform a task better than we ourselves could, shouldn't mean it isn't a sport any longer. Eventually, as technology progresses, we'll run out of things to call sport.

If you aren't learning, then your truly losing. In any game. I have been C- in iccup for forever, but at least i still have fun when i play (and currently 90th in my platinum division... so ya, not the best by far.) Also, if you really want to improve yourself, you need to see yourself more objectively. As in, have someone else help you see your faults and improve them. Just feel that you can always learn, and you can always improve, and don't let losing get to you.

Fighting games are my main competitive genre, but I do want to get better at rts because i respect the skills of the genre, and i think it makes me a better gamer in general.

I know playing competitively isn't for everyone, but I'm still having fun trying to do my best against the best my local community can bring against me, learning new things, meeting new people, challenging rivals, and bringing up new players. Thats what real competition means to me anyway.

He's dead right about one thing. Competitive Starcraft is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. When it comes to actually playing, I migrated off to DoW years ago.

"And when I finally uninstalled it, I had nothing to show for all my efforts."

Well, not entirely true. You'll have a much easier time picking up other RTS' now at least.

I had a similar problem with Wc3 until I realized it's a matter of perspective kind of. Relinquishing the thought of "goin' pro" makes these games a lot less stressful. Now, it's probably easier in Wc3 since it had a better matchmaking system and a much better UI so there was more focus on the fighting than on queuing up units to replace the ones you lost. A better game if you didn't have big ambitions I guess.

If you haven't you really should try SC2 when it comes out. It's much easier to pick up and play even if it's currently not exactly issue-free.

Wow, great article. Very much reminds me of my teenage years playing Counter-Strike, except I never seriously aspired to play competitively. I only ever got to play one scrim and the only kills I got were in one epic round where I hid behind a box and steam-rolled all five opponents with an MP5. ANYWAY, what I can relate to is the frustration and desire to achieve more in a game that I obviously had little talent in. Thankfully I eventually resigned to only playing CS for the enjoyment of surf maps and gun game, which actually improved my shooting skills. Now I play the hell out of TF2 and am pretty good at it, but I don't binge on it the way I used to binge on CS. Thanks for writing this article.

Xersues:

No, I don't have a lot of respect for chess and neither did Bobby Fischer after a while. Its a memory game with finite number of moves.

If you think a "perfect" or insanely cheap AI couldn't be made for an RTS you are sorely mistaken. Many maps have a finite number of places to move, attack from, and work with. Some of the hardest parts of making an AI once the system is solid is to make a realistic AI, not some insane cheap thing that can outperform some one to frustration.

Think about it, two of the fastest people in the world at micro managing and making decisions play out their strategies 1:1 and whoever happened to start first will win. Many of these games are decided within minutes and a well balanced game always has a counter.

That's a fair point, but I still think progamers should get their due. Not being able to beat a computer is becoming less and less a mark of shame at the rate tech is improving. Sports in general (not the e-variety), aside from creative endeavors, are probably farthest away from seeing the impact of improved AI/robotics, but that won't always be the case.

There are still modern analogs - take players and enhancement drugs in pro sports. It's becoming more and more the case that taking steroids or whatnot will disqualify you from playing. Why? Aside from health risks and legality, it's an unfair advantage. The whole "gun to the knife fight" scenario. We want to see players competing with raw and naturally refined talent. The same could be said of cyber games. Yes, an AI will beat them, but that's the same artificial VS natural argument of juicing in sports. Whether or not artificially improved players are better is not the issue - it's who performs best on their own.

The argument is kind of a stretch, but I can't help but think the underlying theme is similar.

This article is so incredibly close to home, I don't even know where to start a comment.

Considering I played Starcraft, Warcraft 3, Unreal Tournament 2004, Quake Live competitively, and even had a team sponsorship (no, not a clan, a TEAM) for Starcraft and Quake Live, I don't even know what to say.

The Starcraft feeling is beyond true.

There were days where I would "play" Starcraft for 6 hours, which basically consisted of me going on PGT (before iCCup) or a TL hamachi and observing more games than I played.
There would be the days where I'd head back on US East and idle in a couple clan channels hoping I could find someone to practice TvP with, when it ended up being a giant pissing contest in a battle.net chat room.
There would be days where I just go on and couldn't even arrange a map because no one would play Gaia or Paranoid Android and just refused to play anything but Lost Temple and Luna. Or no one wanted to play against a Terran. And 45 minutes would go by with me just dicking around wishing I could practice and couldn't.

When I actually did get to practice, most of the time everyone was incredibly rude.

If I won, we'd have like 6 people in obs who would insult and ridicule the other player after the game, who would be angry and bitter at me, complaining that my strategy was stupid or cheap or I'm "all hands" and "no brain."

If I lost, it'd be the reverse, except I'd be more gracious about it, and be labeled a pussy in their clique.

It got even more terrible once I had a team, because it seemed like I was the only one who wanted to play and get better without any drama. My best friend there was German and he and I got along great because we played with each other often. There was never an ill time, a bad word, just simple, polite, professional gameplay, with not much speaking other than a "gg" and "glhf." If everyone in the community was like that, I probably would have continued on.

However, any loss was a 30 minute bitchfest in chat before the next match started, and any win was echoed throughout the tubes of the internet until someone "heard you beat up my friend/clan-man/teammate. you think you're good? play THIS GUY, and have your skill be judged off one game on one map you don't like in a matchup that isn't your best."

For me, the community was the PROBLEM. I wasn't interested in winning, losing, or being accepted. I was interested in playing the game with good people in a good environment to better myself and improve my skills.

There was nowhere for me, as I couldn't be above people who called anyone who beat them scrubs and made excuses for every loss, since, as you know, WINNING is what mattered to them.

~~~~~~~~

In the end, the accounts expired, 2000+ games are all erased from record, the forum accounts deactivated, my personality not missed, except for one person I met in real life who had watched a VOD of a tournament game I played in and recognized me in real life from admiring me as being an up-and-coming Terran.

That made me feel pretty great, but I had felt like I failed, it was nigh-impossible to achieve any goal of playing 'professionally,' and to be honest, it wasn't even very fun when I WAS playing.

The social implications ruined it for me, because no one was as clean and simple and professional that I could find unless they were much, much better than me, and I couldn't gauge my progress against them, since I'd pretty much win or lose in the first 5 minutes.

You really know how to put me off Starcraft 2.

This reminds me of when I was playing Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance competitively. The whole playing a game just to win thing kinda takes the whole point of having a fun experience away, but for a while, the ranking system and win-loss records did make it more exhilarating. The fact that each match has a consequence in your rank makes it seem like more is on the line and seemed to make the close matches just that much more intense due to each player's drive to win. I eventually reached rank 27, which was awesome for me. To be ranked in the top 30 people in the world at something was a huge sense of accomplishment. And when you do a random match with someone and they're like "Oh shoot. I know your name, I saw you in a game replay I watched, you're good!" it makes you feel awesome.

Then I went on a vacation with my family and didn't play any ranked matches for almost a week, come back and see my rank has gone down nearly 10 places. That's when I caught myself thinking, "Man! Now I'm gonna have to play like 5 extra matches a day to catch up to where I used to be!" I stopped right then and there. I knew that if I had done that it would have taken over my life, and all over some game that even most gamers haven't really heard of.

That being said, those ranked matches were some of the most challenging, and fun experiences I've had. I remember one day I was randomly matched up with the #2 seed. It was an epic, awesome battle that I lost with honor, then right after that we were randomly matched up again on the exact same map only switching starting points, had an even more awesome, epic battle and I pulled some crazy plan out of my butt and won! Those were the two best games I ever played, and we were both very polite in our victories and honorable in our defeats. Also probably why I had as much fun as I did, most people who played that game had more "gaming honor" than I've seen in other games. Very few people complained or bitched about losing or lorded victories over their opponents. I encountered a couple, but not many, and most were helpful, and many experienced player, including my self would offer advice, even during the game if they were clearly noobs.

Its too bad that you didn't have fun getting competitive.

I think the reason getting competitive at Starcraft (C- on ICCUP, not amazing of course)was so fun for me was because I did it with 3-4 friends and we all kept on 1uping each other. Competitive Starcraft, far from being stressful, was mostly relaxing ;) Yes it requires constant attention and adrenaline during the match, but that's something I liked and it was very stimulating.

Weird... I've been playing Starcraft for maybe 5 years now and I've never had these problems. I quickly picked up on the strategy and enjoy the game to this day. And maybe if you didn't play on a private network, you'd realize that there are more types of games than the standard FFA or Melee map. Try playing Use Map Settings games if you suck that badly.

Eh, I beat damn near everyone around me in Starcraft, but you're a fool if you want to tango with the big boys, no matter how good you are they'll likely dwarf you within minutes of the match.

P.S. WTF is with that stupid APM thing? Oh cool you can do 300-400 APM all match! What are you doing with those actions? Going over things you know aren't done or ready with hotkeys, going really fast to seem like you're doing something important. Seriously, if someone could give me a valid reason to care about APM or why it's not utterly stupid, please explain.

HaraDaya:
I learned this around when I was playing Battlefield 2142 and CoD4 in my "off-year", I became irritated if I didn't feel I didn't score enough each time I died. Then I asked myself almost the exact same thing as in the article; are you having fun?
Since then I'm trying not to get too serious about gaming, it's supposed to be fun/entertaining afterall.

Amen, same happens for me and Gears of War 2, I had to devote nights to remain in the top 100 Guardian players until I asked myself "IS this fun? No" and I take it less seriously. Mind you, I still aim to win every round and remain the top two players in every match, but I don't rant or cuss my teammates out. Just say Good Game and move on with the others.

This is why I'm pro/casual. I certainly like to win and will try my best to win, but I put having fun above all else. That's the point of video games. Entertainment.

 

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