Some people foolishly think that playing a game is a simple affair. You look at a screen, click the mouse a few times, press a few buttons on a controller at the right time and that’s it. And while there’s some truth in that the core mechanics of playing a video game are executed through precisely those methods, it conveys a great deal of ignorance about the mental fortitude required.
It’s not overly difficult to get your mechanics to a competitive state, although there are certain limitations such as reaction times that are much more difficult to improve than say, not missing a supply depot. Decision making is really the difference at the top level, and often it’s only possible to improve through exposure to the world’s biggest events – or by being born with a prodigious level of talent.
But making the correct choices becomes demonstrably more difficult when you get thrown in front of rabid fans, bright lights, cameras and have to deal with, quite literally, what feels like a cavern of sound and eyeballs aimed at you.
So to that end, we’re going to walk a little bit back on time and go over some of the lessons Australians have learned when it comes to global competition.
Stick to the plan
If you were a Counter-Strike fan down under, there was this ritual every six months or so where you’d sit back, load up the game and jump into one of the many HLTV servers to watch Australia’s best and brightest strut their stuff on the global stage. But there was a period where, for a couple of years, being a fan was akin to torture.
It’d go something like this. You’d ignore the pistol round; if they won, hey, great start, but it wasn’t a big deal if they lost. You’d watch the first gun round, see what kind of strategy they whipped out. Most teams weren’t experienced with Australians and vice versa, so there was a lot of feeling out going on.
A couple of players might start to hit some good shots; one might choke. Not a big deal, still plenty of rounds. But as the match progressed, you’d increasingly tear your hair out at the way the Aussies would play, largely because it was so unrecognisable from how they won the flights to Germany/France/where-ever in the first place.
The phrase “if they played like that at home, they wouldn’t be going overseas in the first place” stuck for quite a few years.
Obviously, there are cases when you have to throw out the playbook. But the truth for any competitor is that the best card in your deck is always going to be the one you’re most familiar with: and that’s especially true for the StarCraft 2 boys competing this weekend.
Otis Duncan, one of the most consistent players in Counter-Strike 1.6 and Source, told me that he forms a siege-like mentality that keeps him on the edge. “I always just wanted to prove that the Aussies could take it with the best of them, which kept me level-headed and knowing that it could be your only chance means you have to make the most of it,” he said.
Don’t be afraid to lose
Nobody likes losing, of course, but it’s equally important to not be concerned about it. There’s a simple reason why: if you’re constantly fretting about making the wrong decision, you’ll be unable to consistently take the risks and knife-edge choices that are necessary to do well in a major tournament.
It’s a common refrain whenever people watch replays from a major tournament. MarineKingPrime attracts this kind of attention a lot. “I could never do that,” x player says. “That’s way too risky: if I tried that on ladder I’d just die.”
And that’s probably correct. If you take the kind of risks a player of that calibre does in a setting as even and as tumultuous as the ladder, chances are you’re going to have a bad time.
But live tournaments are fundamentally different. You can physically see your opponent. You might have even had the pleasure of watching his previous match – or the misfortune of having him watch yours. Perhaps you can see there’s something in particular that he’s struggling with, or maybe learn which builds to avoid.
Risk-taking doesn’t have to be reckless. Competitions is as much about information as it is execution and preparation. That doesn’t mean rolling the dice is the path to victory – sometimes playing safe will get you out of a lot of trouble – but not taking any chances at all is a sure-fire way to hamstring yourself.
Don’t show all your cards
While Australia’s not the completely unknown quantity in gaming that it used to be, our geography means that we’re still pretty isolated from a lot of the top professionals, particularly those in Europe. Now that’s not a big problem for them, provided that the Aussies don’t show any talent. But Australians have been using the “I’ll show ‘em” mentality as a psychological crutch for years to help their performances overseas – and that can lead to problems.
It manifests before the tournament, when players and teams get together for some friendly practice. Everyone gets a chance to warm up, familiarise themselves with the area (even if it’s at a local netcafe) and just relax a little.
But don’t kid yourself by thinking that the practices are friendly matches.
A few years ago, a group of Australians went on a little tour of Europe to play in some Counter-Strike: Source tournaments. Being a fresh face on the block, the Australians had their pick of the litter and played some games against some of the best Europeans to see where they stood.
It wasn’t even close: the Australians went to town with brutal scores in the range of 16-2 and 16-3. Word quickly spread among the top teams that the new kids weren’t mucking around, and the Europeans changed their tactics ASAP.
But when the Australians got savaged in the first round by a team from Italy, one of the teams they’d summarily executed in practice, something seemed amiss. How were the Europeans suddenly able to respond so effectively?
A reporter for the European eSports website Cadred said at the time that it was the worst counter-stratting he’d even seen – and he was right. After the match, the Australians were given the answer: some of the teams they’d thrashed in practice had gone around to their rivals and sold the demos of their practice games against the Australians.
It’s certainly not ethical behaviour, here or anywhere else, but bleating about it won’t change reality. The only way to combat it is to prepare beforehand, by using a set of strategies and builds that aren’t necessarily your trump card, but ones that are good enough that the practice can be worth your time without giving up the store.
Don’t lose heart
The last thing to remember is that no matter what the result, all the fans back home are immensely proud of you, provided you don’t give up. There’s nothing worse than getting disheartened and packing it in, because not only does that kill your chances of winning, but it also ruins your support back home.
Whether there’ll be any Australians left in the various tournaments at MLG and ESWC this weekend by the time you read this article is unknown. That’s not important though. What’s essential is that you give our boys their support. It makes a difference and it’s worth remembering: the better they do, the more chances they open up for Aussies back home.