Friday, January 19, 2018

Origin Story

Several months ago, I fell in love with a woman. We pledged our hearts to each other. But she lives across the country, and has her own life. She must slowly, thoughtfully, and carefully prepare her life for my arrival. And when the time is right, she will call, and I will come, and we will be together, and life will be great. 

In the meantime, I wait. A few months ago, when I realized I must be patient and wait for my love, I knew I needed something to keep me distracted...something that will consume all my attention and focus and keep me from pining and aching and worrying about her. I needed something to obsess over.

That is the point of Overwatch. It's not about OWL. It's not about the Path to Git Gud. It's just a distraction until I can begin my real life, with my lady love.

Overwatch has done such a great job of filling that role that I occasionally forget that that is what it's job is. I get so caught up in wanting to be a great Overwatch player, in wanting to be a part of that community, that I forget that as soon as she calls, my life will change, and none of this is going to mean even half as much as it currently does.

Last night was a wake-up call. As I watched the same teams use the same compositions to beat the same opponents in the same matches, I despaired for the "top tier meta," how stifling it is to creativity, and how despite Overwatch's claims, the top level of competitive play doesn't look all that much different than any of the various Call of Duty or Halo or League of Legends Leagues or any of those inferior games. As I watched the mini-documentaries of OWL players and their lives in the league, I looked at the apartments they lived in and the hours of practice and I was instantly transported back to the Army, and I thought "Shit, that looks like a fucking job." I'm sure those kids are having the times of their lives there, but to me, it looks like summer camp with extra bullshit. In other words, I'm too old for that shit. 

The mechanical end of Overwatch was never a thing that bothered me. I've always believed that if I keep trying, work hard, and apply myself, I would have the skills to go wherever I wanted to in Overwatch. I still believe that. However, last night I saw what was at the end of the rainbow...and I was left feeling disappointed. I reserved judgement on OWL last week, but now as I watch Week 2, I realize that this league, in its current form, is not something I want to be a part of.

I'm not quitting Overwatch, not at all. In fact, I'm not even done with OWL. I will continue to watch it as a fan, and I might still be interested in being in it...just not as an active player on the roster. Maybe as a commentator. Or a blogger.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Get Off My Lawn

I've written about a few of the obstacles in my path to Git Gud at Overwatch. Another obstacle....perhaps the biggest one I face so far....is that I hate people.

I don't hate people, of course, not in an aggressive, hate-crime way. I don't mean anyone harm, and I don't really want to see anyone suffer. I just don't like talking to strangers, or seeing them, or hearing them speak, or being around them. I've always been like this...but in my older age, this tendency in me has become more and more insistent, now to the point where it shapes my personal decisions. I spend days upon days by myself. I like being alone. That's not to say I don't get lonely every once and awhile; just that when alone, I'm more often happy than not.

So how did I find myself obsessed with a multiplayer competitive shooter? I often joke that the worst part about Overwatch are the other people playing it. I've mentioned before that I often play with all comms muted. It's because of the gameplay. I love Overwatch because I think it is the closest thing I've ever played to a perfect game. Part of what makes it perfect is the chaos, the spontaneity, the unpredictability brought on by playing other humans, instead of AI. Every game of Overwatch is a raging storm of chaos, contained within a simple 10(ish) minute match. In that storm, the other players are helpful and harmful to me in my quest to stay on the heckin' payload and win the match. That's how I like it: looking at the other players not as human beings, but as sentient, self-aware allies and foes in my own, personal goal: to contribute meaningfully to a win (or a valiant effort in a loss).

This, I think, is another reason why I like Symmetra so much. Being the least-essential hero on the roster also makes her the easiest to ignore....which I like both as a person because I want to be left the hell alone, and as a player, as punishing those who ignore you is what Sym is all about.

I'm not sure how I feel about any of this. You see, I don't mind being a misanthrope. I kind of like it, in fact. It's like I'm owning my truth or whatever. But at the same time, it seems clear to me that the Path to Get Gud shall require a certain amount of not-hating people. I'm not sure if I'm ready to commit to that.

I'm writing about this because last night, as I watched the first matches of OWL, Week 2, I don't really see myself having any admiration or affection for anyone who's a part of it, currently. All of the players just seem like stereotypical hardcore videogame nerds. The commentators' analysis, to me, often just seems like an esports equivalent of seeing shapes in the clouds. I have respect for everyone up there; I'm not saying I don't. I'm just saying I'm not sure if I care about what anyone is doing, aside from actually playing Overwatch. 

That alone didn't trigger all of this, however. This morning, not feeling like jumping into it right away, I instead went to Twitch and followed a few pro streamers playing Overwatch. To my surprise (or not, perhaps), I found myself feeling the same way: I love watching the matches, but literally everything else around them had me sneering in disgust. The stupid comments in chat. The stupid quips from the streamers. The stupid suggestions from the streamers' teammates in chat. I thought of myself as a streamer, and how I would handle all of that. I'm not sure I'd last five minutes. And who would want to watch someone just silently playing a videogame?






Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday Morning Pity Party

My matches are going about the same as they always do...roughly 50/50. Win some, lose some. Some are close; others are not.

The grind in the ol' Win Factory is getting to me, today. It's getting to me on several levels. On one level, I am So. Fucking. Tired. Of getting on teams where clearly only me and one, maybe two other players are actually trying, and the rest of the team is either actively throwing or just plain terrible. I told a Hanzo to go fuck himself this morning after I discovered, at the end of the first round, that as a healer I had Silver (second highest) in eliminations on a team with four killers and a single tank. We won that match, but only because the other team somehow proved to be even more inept than us.

On another level, I'm also really tired of my own attitude. I told another human being to go fuck himself because he was having a bad round in a videogame I was playing. Every loss makes me salty about something; every win has me looking at the reasons we almost didn't win. I write whole blog entries navel-gazing at my salty tears when I go on a losing streak. I've often wondered if I'm obsessed with Overwatch. I'm not. I'm obsessed with failure.

I try to make myself care about winning, but my instinct is to merely care about not losing. I'd much rather be the worst member of a winning team than the MVP of a losing one. I think a lot of people may say that, but I mean it on an emotional level almost beyond my comprehension. It makes my brain (and my heart) ache, when I crawl so deep into that space in my head after a stinging loss, to try and work with the wires that are powering the signals everything sucks, you suck, you should quit, this isn't worth it. I want to rewire those signals to say who cares? Re-up! I do get there, eventually, but that impulse is a strong one. And the depression that follows is constant and highly effective.

I have several obstacles in my path to Git Gud. But the biggest one, by far, is depression. I'm not sure how athletes/professional competitors manage depression. I'm not sure if depression is a condition one can compete with. I have no natural talent or other advantages to aid me in this journey; just my love of Overwatch, which has been steadily waning over the past two weeks, in light of recent losing streaks and my tepid feelings about OWL.

Anyone in my own life that I'd bring these thoughts to would probably tell me it's time for a break from Overwatch. But I don't trust that reasoning at face value. As I wrote about in the last pity party, what if this is an obstacle that all competitors face? What if self-doubt is a part of the journey? What if I'm just trying to convince myself to quit and move onto something else, like I've done my entire life with nearly everything I like and try to get good at?

The other side of the coin, however, is "what if I'm just destined for failure?" That sounds like pathetic loser talk, but here's the thing: I've got a good life. I've got great family, people to love, freedom. The whole nine. What do I stand to gain out of playing Overwatch so competitively? Where am I looking to go with this? Do I have to obsess over and eventually turn my back on everything? Can't I just enjoy a thing and not let it consume me?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions. I trust virtually no one's advice on this topic, either. It is a lonely path.






Monday, January 15, 2018

Sausage Factory

Overwatch League (OWL) began its inaugural season last Wednesday. I watched every match. The potential is exciting...an entire league devoted to Overwatch, organized like the NBA or NFL. If my meager skills are ever up to the task, this is where I want to end up.

However, OWL still has a ways to go before it hits the mainstream appeal of most physical sports. I'll talk about some of the other issues I'm noticing with OWL later. This entry is about the main problem I have with OWL right now: where are the women???

I don't understand why an esport has to be all-male. Physical discrepancies or whatever reasons we don't let women and men tackle each other on a field do not apply to Overwatch. This lack of diversity also applies to the presentation: of the five or six commentators, only one is female. I'm aware that there are probably far more male professional cyber athletes than female, but I'm sure there are at least a few out there. I watched all 12 teams last week...nearly 150 different players...and I saw not one woman take the stage.

This is unacceptable. Overwatch is one of the most inclusive and diverse videogames ever created. OWL is a chance for esports to seriously compete for attention alongside traditional sports by exploiting advantages those sports don't have...like being able to let women compete alongside men. In a league that is trying to bring spectator sports to a new level, the lack of women in OWL's ranks is a serious anachronism. How is anyone supposed to take the league seriously when only half of the world's population is represented? OWL does not have the benefits of tradition and history, like conventional sports, so "where are the women?" is not a question it can afford to laugh off, like the NFL does. 

If there truly is a drought of female cyber athletes, to the point where not even one can be found for a starting spot on an OWL team roster, then I think it's extremely important for Blizzard to initiate some kind of program or policy initiative to cultivate more female professional gamers. Again, this doesn't have to be some social justice thing (not that there'd be anything wrong with that); it's just plain pragmatic that a videogame with its sights set on global recognition have representation by all genders. And if it means having to watch a slightly-less overall level of skill in the league itself, I still am all for it. "We only take the best, and the best happen to be all male" is an inexcusable rationale that just continues to prop up the patriarchy. Of course the best are all male; they're the only ones who are ever looked at. And if there is one videogame and game company on the planet who can change that mindset, it's Blizzard, with Overwatch.

It is clear to me now, in my older age, that a thing is at its best when its seen from as many different points of view as possible. A female point of view is a valid "different" point of view. To not have any women looking at a thing is to deny that point of view. And that is the issue we run into with OWL...we don't really know if we're seeing world-class Overwatch, because not everyone in the world is actually being represented. 

Now, for a disclaimer: I believe in Blizzard. I'm sure they're probably working on this as we speak, and were well-aware of the issue long before I wrote this. I'm sure, in the end, they decided to move forward in the current paradigm rather than wait several more years to have a sufficient female player base. I'm quite certain, as well, that Blizzard employs dozens, if not hundreds, of women, and it's probably as much an issue of simple staffing/logistics that so few of them were on screen for OWL's starting week. I do not think Blizzard is sexist. With millions of dollars on the line, I'm sure they literally just couldn't afford to draw that line in the sand. 

Fine. Whatever. Those are all valid reasons...but they're also excuses. I know Blizzard is probably working on this issue...and I expect to see results from that work very soon, if OWL is ever to really have a chance to fulfill its true potential. As it stands right now, every female fan in the stands is a gift Blizzard doesn't currently deserve. I'm not ready for Overwatch League, yet; however, I now question whether the league is ready for me.




Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thursday Night Pity Party

I'm on a devastating losing streak right now. I've lost hundreds of SR. Hundreds of hours of climbing is in danger of being completely laughed away.

This is not the first time things have looked this bleak. It will not be the last. But it sucks. It's a lonely, painful experience. You win with your team, but you lose alone. And as the losses add up, the insecurities follow. It gets harder and harder to logic your way out of the simple fact that you suck. 

Eventually, the streak will end. If nothing else, the Matchmaking Gods will eventually stop picking on you and put you on the other team. And the spiritual nourishment of a good win will erase the lonely, soul-sucking experience you just went through, and you'll all too eagerly re-queue. Thus another shift begins at the Win Factory.

The Matchmaking Gods of Overwatch are mighty, and real, though some would say otherwise. The Matchmaking Gods know the secret Number of Fun. That number is 50/50. The best games in the world have 50:50 odds of winning, if all other factors are balanced. When you queue up for an Overwatch match, whether ranked or unranked, The Matchmaking Gods look at your skills as a player, and matches you with other players of skills averaging out so that any six of the eleven other players you matched with will have a 50 percent chance to win the match.

In theory, this is a perfect system, and it does work well, often. But when the system is working, that means someone's gotta be in that losing 50 percent. And the Matchmaking Gods do not care who is in that bottom 50. They don't care if you keep ending up on the wrong side of that coin. It's all 50/50. The chances of your own personal hell happening to you are just as equal as they are to anyone else.
The problem is internal: Winning streaks feel like I'm getting away with something, but losing streaks? Losing streaks feel personal. Even when they're anything but.

(Side note: this is why the ten placement matches at the beginning of every season are so vital. With the Matchmaking Gods trying to keep games 50/50 at all times, movement from one league to the next can be very difficult, once you've been placed.)

The losing streak isn't all at the feet of the Matchmaking Gods, of course. I am stoned. I am tired. It is late. I've been playing some heroes I don't normally play, in desperate attempts to cover down on missing team components. It's times like this that I wish the answers were obvious. Like if the Matchmaking Gods were actually real, and whispered in my ear "Dude, we're not picking on you; you're just tired. Play something else for awhile." And then I'd go do that.

But what if that's not it? What if I've just been on the wrong side of a few plays, and the real answer is to play through it? Burn off the cold streak? I mean, as long as I'm having fun, right? I feel like this is one of those competitor's instincts that are left un-honed in me, weak from light use over the past 30 years or so I've been gaming. Knowing when to push, and when to back off. It's a vital skill in Overwatch matches, too...one that I could probably use some work on.

I've mentioned this before, but I'll mention again that unranked play is seldom an option. I'd rather just play something else. The majority of the fun for me in Overwatch is the skin in the game. This losing drought I go through right now...and all the shit it brings with it...is, fundamentally, a choice I have made for myself. That doesn't make it suck much less, but I do get a little stability from the realization that I am in ultimate control of my feelings.




Know Your Place

Of the many faults, flaws, and issues I may have in my continuing journey down the path of Gettin' Gud, perhaps the deepest and darkest fault of them all is this: I am a Symmetra main.

Symmetra is, perhaps, the most hated character on the roster. Even now, nearly two years into Overwatch's release, people still react with such vitriol towards her that I'm literally worried about writing this very blog entry, for fear that the pros or whatever will find out. I've had people accuse me of throwing games just for picking her. After a hard-fought win, I'll tune into the voice channel to congratulate my team, and you'd think we'd actually lost, so bitter and angry my "teammates" are for daring to choose her, even as my Play of the Game rolls across the screen and I receive a post-game card for eliminations.

The reasons Symmetra is hated are varied. The biggest, perhaps, is that she is the only Support hero on the roster who cannot actively heal other teammates. A lot of players think support equals heals. Symmetra, however, supports by inflicting damage in a variety of ways. She has miniature laser turrets that zap and cripple opponents. Her primary weapon is an auto-locking beam that ramps up in damage the longer it is active. And she has these chargeable power spheres that, when fully charged, moved slowly across the map and do devastating damage to anyone who doesn't get out of its path. So she can do point defense; she can do area of effect damage; and she can do intensive single target damage. Though there are several heroes on the roster who can do a couple of those, Symmetra is the only hero in the game who can effectively do all three.

But that's just on the offensive end. Defensively, Symmetra can project a photon barrier that slowly moves forward, absorbing all damage along the way. This photon barrier is the strongest shield in the game, stronger than Orisa's barrier or Reinhardt's shield, though, again, it automatically floats forward, and it's on a 10-second cooldown. Additionally, half of Symmetra's health is in shields, meaning she can regenerate more of her health than most heroes, and does not need to rely so much on healers or healthpacks on the map.

And then, there's her ultimate ability. Unlike every other hero in the game, Symmetra has two different ults. One is a teleporter that, when stepped through, brings a hero directly from the spawn room where the game starts to wherever the teleporter is placed. There are six charges for the teleporter; when it's out, it's destroyed, and Sym has to place another one. The other ultimate is a shield generator, which provides 75 points of shields to every hero in a wide radius around it.

All of this adds up to a hero that is super-versatile and a lot of fun to play. Specifically, what's fun about her to me is how playing the map and countering your opponent's plans is a huge part of what playing Symmetra is. Playing a straightforward attacker like Soldier: 76, for example, is oftentimes about sharp reflexes and good aim. Good Symmetra play is all about knowing where that Soldier is going to be and what he's going to do before he does it. It is one of the most gratifying experiences in Overwatch, to me, when I see a Tracer or Reaper flanking, I quickly put down some turrets around the hallways where I know they're going, and then melt them with my lasers as they run by. I've blasted entire teams like that. It's super-fun, and I'm pretty damn good at it.

Paradoxically, even though she has so many tools, it is the tools she doesn't have that catches her so much flack. As stated above, her lack of healing means a support slot on a team roster is going to a damage-dealing character. This shatters the brains of many players who swear by the "2/2/2" comp I mentioned earlier. Sym also has a hard time at long range; in a metagame where snipers like Widowmaker and Hanzo are among the most-chosen heroes, Sym is often perceived as a liability. Players unfamiliar with the vastness of Sym's arsenal sometimes hate her because they look at her most obvious tools, her deployable turrets, as her main tool, and so shun her in situations when turrets aren't useful, like Payload maps.

This all leads into one of Overwatch's most existential of considerations: the idea of the main. I recognize that Sym, like all heroes, isn't perfect for every scenario, and there are plenty of scenarios where, say, my average skills as a tank would be more useful than the additional damage I'm throwing around as her. If I'm playing to win, the most basic of questions to ask is: am I willing to play the hero who needs to be played to win the round? The answer, if you were to ask the designers of Overwatch, is to play whoever you have the most fun with. But the reality, the metagame, is quite different. Players are expecting other players to play certain positions, and if those positions aren't played, their own play will suffer. So if I care about winning, and I'm in a ranked competitive game, and the group wants a second healer and I've locked in Symmetra, do I change? Do I risk staying with my main at the cost of possibly tilting my team into a loss? Do I even want that?





Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Eddie's Guide to Overwatch

For those of you who are reading this but aren't entirely clear on what Overwatch is, following is a brief synopsis. I'll expand this entry over time to include more details pertinent to my continuing journey to Git Gud. Bear in mind that this is a work in progress.

What is Overwatch?

Overwatch is a competitive multiplayer team-based shooter; specifically, it's a 6-on-6 game, either consisting of strangers across the internet (known as "solo queue") or with a group of your friends working together (known as "pre-mades"). In an average Overwatch match, each team is running around a large area, shooting each other while they either protect or defend an objective.

There are three kinds of maps. On some maps, the matches are broken into two rounds, where each team takes a turn attacking and then defending the objective; whichever team does better wins. On other maps, there is no defending; the objective is in neutral space, and whichever team can hold it the longest wins. On the third kind of maps, the objective is a vehicle that only moves when the attacking team is near it. The vehicular objective (called a payload) moves down a path on the map, and if the attacking team gets it all the way to the end, they've completed the attack round. There is also a fourth kind of map that is a hybrid of the first and third; the objective is an open space, but once the attacking team takes it and holds it for a few seconds, a payload is released that then needs to be escorted across the map.

My favorite maps are the payload ones, because they are, in my opinion, the easiest to focus on. It's easy to get caught up in firefights and other distractions on the other kinds of maps, but the payload maps are simple: stay on the heckin' payload!

How does competitive Overwatch work?

The competitive mode of the game works like this: Once you've played enough rounds in the exhibition modes, you play ten placement matches. These are regular Overwatch games, but your wins and losses, as well as your own personal performance, are recorded. At the end of the ten games, you are given a Skill Rating (SR). After your receive your SR, whenever you play a ranked competitive game, your SR will go up with a win and down with a loss. How much your SR goes up or down depends on many factors, but the two biggest ones are your own personal performance in the game, and the gap in average SR between your team and your opponents'.

In addition to SR, Overwatch divides its competitive players into leagues: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master, and Grandmaster. Which league you're in depends on your SR. You only play competitive matches with people in your league; though if you're on the high or low end of the SR range for your league, you may see players of the next league in your matches.

The ten placement matches I listed earlier is the very first gatekeeper of competitive play. For an amateur solo queuer like myself, it is the equivalent of the playoffs. Many players only play the placement matches, because they're afraid of losing SR on losses and, once assigned, climbing can be a long, arduous path, especially if you're doing it alone and must rely on the competence of strangers to succeed.

When talking about SR and league placement, typically players only talk about their career best. For me, that's an SR of around 2100, putting me in Gold League. However, on average, I play more in the 1900 range, a lowly Silver League Scrub. Though there is no minimum required rating to be in Overwatch League, I doubt most scouts would even give the time of day to anyone less than Platinum, maybe even Diamond. So I've got some climbing to do.

How do you play Overwatch?

When a match begins, you choose a hero to play as, from a roster of over two dozen. The heroes are broken into four classes: Attackers, who specialize in killing on the move (OW uses the less-violent term "eliminate;" in chat, the more general pro-gamer lingo is "pick," as in "picking someone off"); Defenders, who specialize in killing in place, either from a distance like the sniper Widowmaker, or by locking down an area, like the grenade-shooting Junkrat; Tanks, tough, high-profile heroes meant to take a beating and draw enemy fire; and Supports, heroes whose specialty is helping other heroes, mostly through healing, but also with some firepower, as well. You can change heroes at any time during a match. Little helper tips like "not enough damage" will show up if a team looks like it might be missing something necessary for victory.

The heroes are hands-down the best part of Overwatch. Whole books could be written on each individual member of the roster. Some OW players "insta-lock" their favorite hero immediately and refuse to play anything else; others try to be a jack of all trades, being whatever the team needs. The general strategy favored by pros is to specialize in all the heroes of one class, and maybe have a secondary class, as well. In Overwatch League, players on a team are identified by the class they primarily play in-game, the same way basketball players are identified by their position.

I primarily play the support heroes, specifically Zenyatta, Lucio, and Symmetra, though I also play a lot of Mercy and Moira. I don't care much for Ana, because her ult requires too much teamwork for a solo queuer like myself.

An ult, short for "ultimate," is a hero's superpower, their most powerful ability. Each hero's ult is unique, and all of them have the power to tip a game from defeat to victory, when played at the right time. Each hero builds up towards their ult; once their ult-meter is at 100%, they're ready to go. Ult use is as much art as it is science; most of those books I mentioned two paragraphs ago would be devoted to the whens and ifs of ult usage for that hero.

The composition, or comp, of a team is the foundation of that team's strategy and can often determine winning or losing before the game even begins. For example, one of the most basic, fundamental comps is referred to as a "2/2/2," meaning the team consists of two attackers or defenders, two tanks, and two supports. Team composition is easy to geek out about, but in reality, it's primarily a concern for high-level play. At the shooting-around-in-the-driveway level, the primary concern should be on playing what you're comfortable with and enjoy playing as, even if that means, for example, the team doesn't have a healer (that's what the health packs located throughout the levels are for).

Comp is important because certain heroes, by their nature, can counter other heroes. Widowmaker, the sniper I mentioned earlier, doesn't have much in her toolkit to deal with direct, close range threats, which gives her a hard time against the shotgun-wielding, teleporting Reaper. Part of what makes OW play so much fun...and keeps it fair...is that the variables between the heroes involved in a conflict, and the personal skill of the players playing those heroes, can lead to wild results. The world's best Widowmaker can get taken down by an average Reaper, if that Reaper plays smart, works with his team, and knows how to use his abilities.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Discipline Daddy

Overwatch ranked play is broken into seasons that are several weeks long. There's a short (about two days) off season between. Season 7 just ended yesterday. Season 8 begins in two days. In the meantime, I'm playing Overwatch unranked.

It's interesting to me how the secret sauce that makes Overwatch so compelling to me is the competition. It's clear to me when I play the game unranked. I enjoy it, still, but my passion for it downgrades from quasi-obsession to normal "playing a fun videogame" status. I think it goes to what I said in yesterday's entry, about how a game is at its best when all players are trying their best to win. That is not the case in most unranked games; in any given game, I'd say at least half the players are "non-comps," players who enjoy the gameplay but aren't trying to be competitive, either because they don't want the pressure, or they lack the dedication or skill. 

I don't blame people for not wanting the pressure. That's where I normally am, too. We are always so quick to talk about the glory of victory, but we don't talk much about how dark a loss can get. It can be quite the opposite of reaffirming when you enter a match, play your damndest, and still come up short. This is especially crushing when you suspect/know your teammates don't share your dedication. 

I can follow the depression in me when a loss looms. I can feel how it can originate from the game, and I can feel it spreading to other parts of my brain. "Why can't someone shoot down that Pharah?" turns into "Why are my teammates idiots?" to "Society is garbage," to "I just want to go back to bed." I think this is natural in all people, competitors or not, but I think it's especially pronounced in those who suffer from depression, like myself. Those dark thoughts are more potent, easier to reproduce, and spread faster, I believe, than someone who isn't depressed.

It's taken me years, and I'm not 100% at it, but the most effective tool I've learned at dealing with this is to focus. I've never been one to espouse the virtues of discipline, but I absolutely see its worth now. When the thoughts start spiraling out of control, when "I hate Junkrat" turns into "I don't think I have what it takes to be a pro Overwatch player," I try to rally that discipline within me. There is no Junkrat, I'll tell myself. There is no pro Overwatch. There is only the situation right in front of you. Focus on the situation right in front of you. 

The tricky part is doing it when I'm distracted in a good way. Coming off of a decisive victory, feeling every bit the champion gladiator I want to be. On top of the world. Then, I gotta bring the discipline in. After I let myself linger in that glow for just a minute, daddy discipline has to talk me down. There is no victory, it'll tell me. There is no dominance. There is only the next match, the next moment, the next firefight. Letting the good shit stain my brain will lead to hubris, which will make the inevitable loss all the more devastating, making it that much easier for the depression to bite back.

This is yet another reason why I love Overwatch. In the contemplations of win versus loss, I learn new things about myself. Develop new skills to use in the arena, which I can bring with me for the rest of my life. That's how I know doing this, even if I come up short and never play in the League, will still be a worthy endeavor for me.



Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Art of Silence

The Path to Git Gud is a silent one. For now, at least.

In Overwatch, an online competitive team game played in real time, voice chat is a big deal. My fellow Try Hards are all over the comms, reporting all kinds of information, call-outs, etc. "Move, shoot, communicate" is the old Army adage. My colleagues are nuts for this shit. I am not. Here is why:

1. Voice Chat is distracting. More often than not, in my experience, voice chat is usually at least 50% non-game-related. I count "Oh My God I'm DYING!" as non-game-related, because, well, it ain't related to my game. Any tactical advantage I get from voice comms is nullified by the distractions caused by voice comms. 

2. Voice Chat is triggering. When someone makes a bad play when I'm all muted, I can write it off as "mistakes happen." But when that same someone makes a bad play and then tries to say something pithy to cover it up, or, worse, straight-up deny it, then it becomes a distraction. I may get angry, I may want to argue with them, etc. Because the truth of the matter is, bad plays just happen, and often the blame isn't even completely yours. I don't need any color commentary on it, and if you try and offer some and your commentary sucks, now TWO mistakes have been made. 

3. Many players are idiots. As part of my budding Overwatch Honor Code, I'm trying to call my fellow players names less often. But, let's face it, some of them are just complete morons! And perhaps something almost as bad as when morons aren't trying, is when morons are Trying Hard. They'll insist, for example, on a particular comp without having any insight into the enemy team or the map. Or they'll try to get the whole team to stack into that narrow second floor room on Numbani, just so the enemy team's Junkrat can nuke all of us without even looking. I've mentioned before that Overwatch at its best to me feels like playing Capture the Flag and 4-Square as a kid. Remember when the stupid kids used to ruin those games, too?

4. Voice chat is redundant, usually. Virtually every event in Overwatch has some kind of clear audio or visual queue. Enemy footsteps are louder than your team's, so you can hear when enemies are trying to flank you. Heroes in game will say things like "behind you!" if someone's trying to flank. Every hero has separate voice lines for when they're on your team and use their ult, or on the opposing team and use their ult. You can clearly see the health bars above the heads of any heroes you've hit, so you'll have a general idea of your enemy team's health. Hell; the heroes even BANTER on their own, so you don't even have to miss the charming wit of your fellow humans. So some kid's crackly voice screaming "PHARAH LOW! PHARAH LOW!" into my ear does NOT really help me.

Now, don't get me wrong: I DO think voice chat is important. At a certain point. But not where I'm at, not at my level. I'm at horsing around in the driveway level; effective voice comms is NCAA/NBA level shit. And that is my typical line of attack on any who would argue with me: 9 times out 10, the people doing the most chat, from my experience, need to focus on fundamentals instead of trying to act like they're in the pros. And that cuts both ways, too: I don't see anything effective I can add to the channel until I'm strong enough to at least partially carry a team. Otherwise, I'm just another voice in the void, saying what I think is the right move but not actually knowing. 

That last point, in general, is one of the greatest challenges I face when I play competitive Overwatch. I have never done anything even remotely close to this in my life before. I never played on any organized teams in school. I have very little practical experience in competitive sports, or playing on a team. I'm not sure if I'm "doing this right," and I don't trust virtually any of my fellow players for advice, or even sympathy. 

Ironically, this makes my Path to Git Gud both silent and lonely. I'm not against making friends in-game and having a crew to play ranked with; however, finding people who can match my frequency is extremely difficult, made moreso by the fact that communicating with me in game is virtually impossible, if you weren't already my friend going in.

But, as I said before, I don't think I'm there yet, anyway. I'll worry about calling plays once I can hit a free throw.










Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Failing Forward II: Try Hard - Eddie Gibbs and the Endless Quest to Git Gud

It's been over a year since my last entry. Here we go again.

Things are different now. I am pseudo-retired from tabletop gaming, partially because I moved to Denver, Colorado and have few local friends; partially because my misanthropy has gone to new levels and, by and large, I'd MUCH rather be alone than with people, these days. There are exceptions. They know who they are.

My gaming world has mostly gone inward, to the digital realm. And within that digital realm, one game stands head and shoulders above all the others. It is My Game. It is precious to me. That game is Overwatch. At this point, I have probably played Overwatch more than any other game at any other point in my life. My infatuation with this game has reached obsession levels; I see it in my sleep. I make inside jokes with myself. I have deep, personal feelings on certain heroes within the game.

The dream, I will freely admit, is a spot on a roster with an Overwatch League team. I want to go pro.  I want to play Overwatch for a living. The path will be long, and ardous, and chock-full of doubt (it has been already). I may not make it. But I do it with a powerful resource: love. I want to go pro, but even if there wasn't such a thing as Overwatch League, I'd still play this game as much as I could, whenever I could, forever.

The many reasons I love Overwatch will be elaborated upon throughout the subsequent entries here. In this particular entry, I want to talk about just one of those reasons: my desire to explore my own competitive spirit.

I have never been a competitor. When I was six years old, I played a game of checkers with my dad. I thought I had him. He was smug the entire time, knowing I was falling into a trap. I fell into the trap and promptly lost. My dad mouthed "sorry" to me when he saw the look on my face as I ran to the bathroom to collapse on the floor in a bundle of childish, immature tears. Since then, I've spent most of my life actively avoiding competitive situations. I am a sore loser, and I let losses make unfair leaps to judgement in my mind, about my competence, about my worth!  Been doing it since I was a child, in fact. I think ego is a fragile thing for almost all of us, and I think that fragility can inform the way we look at and love things. I have been a cooperative, chill-ass gamer my whole life, because I have always been a terrible competitor.

I tried, once before, to become a competitor. The game then was Magic: The Gathering. That was back around 2002, I believe. I attended tournaments and shit. Lost constantly. My strategy that time was to just steel myself; to ignore all the losing and just keep playing, keep pushing, keep trying to win. I don't think it worked, in the end, because of the missing ingredient: love. I don't love Magic. I never did. I think it's a great game and all, but I had no passion for it. I only wanted to play it because I thought I had what it took to win. My experiment failed shortly after it began. I haven't seriously played Magic since.

Overwatch, however, is different. That missing ingredient is there. I love Overwatch. As I said before, I'd be playing it even if there was no chance of a future in it for me. If God himself came down and said "This ain't in the cards for you, Ed," I'd be like "Well, you're God; DEAL ME ANOTHER FUCKING HAND!"

It's that irrational, crazy love that has fostered this new curiosity about my competitive spirit. Can I actually be a competitor? Do I have what it takes? Is it possible to hack my own personality, to go through decades of habits and learned lessons and acquired behaviors and change the emphasis just slightly enough to be a contender?

It's actually another game that provoked all those questions: the legendary two-player board game Twilight Struggle. In years past, I had thrown out TS as a game automatically because of the two-player thing. A competitive game that's JUST me and my opponent, with no zany politics or interpersonal shit to blame for a loss? Fuck THAT!

However, Twilight Struggle is a phenomenal game. And its at its absolute best when your opponent is trying as hard as you are to win; it's what turns the game into the Cold War showdown that the box advertises. Win or lose, it's an epic struggle. So whenever I sit down to play TS, I play to win, not because I actually care about winning, but because that's how TS is at it's most fun.

But as good as TS is, I don't love it. I LOVE Overwatch. And Overwatch is another competitive game, like Twilight Struggle, where the game is at its best when all 12 players are trying to win. So combine my love for Overwatch with the rekindled spirit of competition from Twilight Struggle, and there's the beginning of the Endless Quest to Git Gud.

Why be competitive? Why even try? There are several reasons. As a gamer, however, I cling to this one: the best games are competitive. It's absolutely true. There are very, very few games that are non-competitive that offer the level of pure joy that a competitive game with a worthy competitor can provide. This is absolutely true; a fact so easily lost on non-competitive gamers like myself it's ridiculous. You can throw exceptions to the rule out there: Skyrim immediately comes to mind. Most Mario games are fundamentally single-player experiences, as are most Zeldas. But those games are just that: exceptions to the rule. They're special because they defy the common logic. And the common logic is this: all games are at their best when everyone is trying their hardest. The easiest way to assure that is if the game is competitive, so that effort meets effort and motivates more effort. Like two soldiers leaning on each other to sleep in a trench in World War I.

And so, here I am, trying SUPER hard, at the beginning of a long path, a quest to Git Gud.




Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Ramp-Up Phase

My gaming life moves in phases. So far, the predominant phase has gone something like this:
  1. "The One Shot Phase." Where I host numerous one-shots for various systems throughout the year.
  2. "The Ramp-Up Phase." I eventually get tired of rotating casts and learning new systems, so I try to get a steady group together with an epic, long-term campaign.
  3. "The Failure Phase." The campaign starts, but usually stops soon after. Reasons are numerous, but it almost always comes back to me. I no longer like the system; the group falls apart and I can't put it back together; something happens in my personal/professional life and I no longer have enough time or the proper mindset to run. Whatever; it all falls apart.
  4. "The Regroup Phase." I usually leave RPGs for a couple of weeks/months, moving to board games or video games. The lack of human contact slowly creates a depressive front in me. I respond to this by returning to RPGs, even if it's just "one-shots so I can socialize." Then we start over again at "The One Shot Phase."
This has been the pattern of my gaming life for at least the past three years. Just looking back at all the entries in this blog, that pattern is crystal clear to me now. I want to change it, but I don't know how. I don't even know if I can.

Right now, I'm deep into The Ramp-Up Phase. I'm emailing and hosting meetups, scouting for people to get together for a couple of possible campaigns I'd like to run. I really, really want it to work this time. Of course, I said that last time. But I mean it this time! Of course, I meant it last time, too...

But sometimes it's the struggle and not the victory (or defeat) that matters. So I will keep trying to break out of my pattern, to skip The Failure Phase and go to the Regroup Phase only when the campaign I start is complete, and I inevitably want a break before doing it again. So for this year, here are some of my new strategies:
  1. I want to play a proven, established game. Typically, I get googley-eyed over whatever RPG has enthralled me at the moment, and I run with it, and only discover just a couple of weeks later that I'm no longer interested. This time, I'm only considering games that have been around for a long time, stuff that I've played, run, or read for several years now, so that even if "I'm not feeling the system anymore," I can at least rote my way through sessions.
  2. I'd like the campaign to be largely improvisational. I constantly talk about the importance of prep, and the reliance on improv only when necessary. I still believe that, but as it applies to me and this Ramp-Up Phase, I want a game/campaign where little to no prep is part of the game, so any prep I do end up doing is a bonus, rather than a necessity. Even in the case of running published adventures/campaigns, I'd like to be familiar enough with the game and my players that I can freestyle when I want to, then tie it back into the published material later.
  3. I want to play with my friends. The vast majority of my games are in public, and typically feature at least a few new faces every session. I love this, but for a long-term campaign, I want dedicated, motivated players who are as interested in seeing where the campaign goes as I am. I'll need their energy to keep motivated, myself.
  4. This is going to be the hardest one, but I want the campaign to be weekly. It's too easy to lose track of things in a biweekly campaign, too easy to lose momentum. By contrast, with a weekly game, a missed session here and there isn't that big of a deal. I know a lot of players...players I'd love to have at my table...cannot commit to that. I understand, and that pains me, but I need this to work, and this, I feel, is how it will work. It doesn't have to be the same time or the same place every week. It doesn't even need to be during the weekend. But it's gotta be weekly.  
So here's to hoping I'll avoid The Failure Phase this year!


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Thoughts on Anarchy

Last week, I wrote a review of Shadowrun: Anarchy, publisher Catalyst's new "alternate ruleset" for Shadowrun. This is a blog addendum to that review based on my first playthough with the game, this last Sunday. My review of Anarchy can be found here.

For Sunday's game, I had four players. All four used the pregens: one was a shaman, one was a decker, one was a street samurai, the fourth was an "action archaeologist." The pregens for Anarchy are awesome, and do a really good job of both being playable and approachable while also providing precious hints about the world of Shadowrun, and material for player narrations. I highly recommend using pre-gens for one-shots in Anarchy, despite how straight-forward the character creation rules seem.

The run itself was more or less made up on the fly, by me. Inspired by one player's choice of the action archaeologist, I tasked him with creating an artifact to be the target of this session's run. Once he had something, I asked the decker player, an avid Shadowrun fan, to give me a megacorp that would conceivably be holding the artifact. We ended up with the legendary fragment of a wall in China being held by Aztechnology on display in a corporate museum. Coping the contract brief structure as presented in the corebook, I created three scenes, jotted down a quick list of tags, bookmarked the NPC entries for security guards and a couple of drones, and went to work.

I really appreciated how fast and easy run design was for Anarchy. To be fair, Shadowrun is a fairly easy game to make adventures for, anyway...a couple of rolls on the random tables in the back of the corebook, some bookmarks for relevant NPCs, and you're good to go...but the devil is always in the details, and many a Shadowrun adventure that I've ran (or attempted to run), have fallen apart under the many and varied systems and sub-systems that comprise SR's fifth edition rules. Anarchy had my back from the start, with a straight-forward, narrative-based system that empowered me to just keep the game moving rather than sweating the small stuff. That endorsement alone may be enough to convince any fence-sitters to take the plunge into Anarchy. 

Coming from a more-traditional RPG background, I was openly skeptical of Anarchy's shared narrative, the so-called "Cue System," but I did see potential. In practice, my assessment was spot-on. The player-run scenes were often awkward and sketchy, but when it worked, it worked really well. My main focus for the next time I run Anarchy will be to help direct the shared narratives better. For this session, I pretty much cut the players loose after describing the scene. Next time, I may make the players fully aware of a scene's tags, perhaps have some suggested ideas for narrations built on those tags, and maybe have some consequences (good and bad) ready to deploy, based on the player's narrations and their failures/successes on the dice. Like many "story-based" RPGs such as Fate Core, the cohesiveness of the narrative and the overall strength of the game lies in the players' hands as much as it does the GM (perhaps more so). This can be great if your group is up to the task, but if there are players at your table who'd rather BE in a story than TELL one, that can lead to problems. Nothing a good group can't overcome, mind you, but problems, nevertheless.

I have more thoughts on this, but I'm going to leave it here, for now. I look forward to my next game of Shadowrun: Anarchy!




Origin Story

Several months ago, I fell in love with a woman. We pledged our hearts to each other. But she lives across the country, and has her own life...