Medge back again, this time with my take on competitive gaming.
Competitive gaming is an interesting topic as, arguably, every single game we play against other players could be considered competitive. If there's a clear winner, and clear losers, then players will be thrown directly into competition for the title of 'winner', and all the associated bragging rights.
Even narrative games, which I talked about in my last two posts, have a competitive element motivated by everyone's desire to win. In my 10 years of playing tabletop games, board games and video games I think I've only had 3 or 4 games where I've been genuinely happy to lose to another player, and even that was because I was playing the miscellaneous bad guys in a narrative campaign.
For the purposes of this blog, however, I'm going to define competitive gaming as those games in which players come together having agreed to play to win, rather than play for a story/ to use a new model, etc. I would typically associate this style of game with tournament/ league games, but it could also include any game in which two players agree to play in this style.
At this point I want to share my opinion on this style of competitive play; I don't like it. It's not because I think it's the 'wrong' way of hobbying, or against the spirit of the game, but for a far simpler, and slightly childish, reason. I am a very competitive person, I hate to lose, which is unfortunate because I'm truly woeful at competitive gaming!
I know a number of people in my gaming community who have this innate ability to look at a rules set for a game and go "Yep, that's got the best strength-to-points ratio, I'll take six of these" or go "hmm, nope. These are far too expensive in points for the return I'll get. Best leave them to the side", whilst I just stand there picking things that look cool, or planning an army that matches the fluff, or even just using the models I own because they came with the starter box and I somewhat naively think they'll work in my army. This inevitably leads to me getting my backside thoroughly beaten in the game, which turns me into a frustrated and stroppy 8-year old boy (incredibly embarrassing, believe me!)
Now, I'm going to stop this rant-in-the-making and give it a positive spin, because that's what this blog is all about!
In recent months I've taken strides to improve both my child-like attitude to competitive gaming, and also my general ineptness. As a newer game, with a fairly low model requirement, I've tried to make Warzone: Resurrection my competitive game of choice, with Brotherhood being my preferred army for anyone that's interested.
I have found that when I sit down to play a competitive game knowing that the game will be just that, I get far greater enjoyment out of the game. I can definitely understand the thrill of playing a serious competitive game; that feeling of matching wits and skill with your opponent with only the strongest commander coming out on top.
I think the biggest factor deciding these games, and it's something I've learned the hard way, is knowledge and preparation.
Magic: The Gathering (http://magic.wizards.com/) is a good example of of this. When I first started playing Magic I sucked. Magic it's a hyper-competitive game that requires not only a good understanding of the rules, but also a good knowledge of the cards and how they interact; I had none of the above. After a few months of gaming my knowledge pool expanded to the point that I could begin to compete, but only in the limited format that I knew.
I've moved away from Magic recently, but I have a few friends that are very interested, and their Magic knowledge is outstanding! They turn up to events knowing most, if not all, cards in the set and how they interact with one another, including the best synergy between cards game-winning combos.
It's this level of preparation that's to be expected of top-tier competitive players, and it's what I believe separates not only the casual from the competitive, but also the narrative from the competitive. Preparation for a narrative campaign/ game still happens, but it's less about number-crunching and rule-memorising, and more about learning the story and identifying how the characters interact. In competitive play you need everything working in harmony to win, to the point that you've tested, played with and optimised your deck/ character/ army to the point that you know every quirk of the rules.
If we consider the online game League of Legends (http://euw.leagueoflegends.com/), another favourite game of mine, there are hundreds of web pages dedicated to "How To" guides for character builds (who they work well with, who they counter/ are countered by, item choices and so on and so forth) in order to help players who are less well versed in the competitive side and get them the information they need to quickly climb the ranks in the Rift.
Of course, preparation isn't everything. The nature of gaming means that a quirk of fate can undo the best of your plans and cost you the game. Magic: The Gathering players will tell you stories of that lucky top-deck that turned a game, and veteran war gamers will tell of you of that unbelievable dice rolling that saw them win their local derby. Even top tier League players will tell you about that poorly timed play that saw a summoners spell or ultimate come of cool-down at just the right moment, or the chance team-fight that opened up a game changing Baron/ Dragon kill.
Beating all the odds to win is far easier with a little luck on your side and that what makes these games exciting, as well as insanely infuriating.
It takes a special kind of person to play these games competitively. Not just the kind of person that can mathematically dissect a game to calculate the perfect winning 'thing', but also the kind of person that can smile at a loss, shrug off that latest defeat and say "Hey, good game. Good luck in the next round". That is the hardest part of competitive gaming, and those players that can do it have my utmost respect!
Maybe I'll be you one day, but till then I'll be that guy flipping tables and swearing in the corner.
That'll do for now.
Next post I'll go back to my preferred format, Narrative gaming, and offer up some info on how to best craft your own Narrative Campaign.
I'll also look at finishing off what I like to call the "Hobby-triad" and talk a little about the modelling aspect of the tabletop hobby.
Till then, happy hobby everybody.