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.

My Own Loser Path

"If you're a Sym main, please exit the stream," was the description yesterday of one of the Overwatch Twitch streams I follow....