Competitive gaming: When it stops becoming just a game
I’ll go out and say it. This isn’t a public service announcement urging people to stop playing video games competitively, nor am I taking a focused stance against competitive gaming. I’m just purely speaking my mind on this topic which has grown in prevalence in my life within the past few months.
I will admit, however, that I’ve been a skeptic of “competitive” gaming most of my life. That isn’t to say I haven’t done competitive gaming myself; I’ve done my fair share recently in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and in the past with Star Wars: Battlefront II. But the idea of only playing video games just to compete and get better, instead of merely having fun… just sounds really unappealing. I play video games for fun, and to relax, so when I feel beads of sweat dripping down my forehead as I watch the “B” bombsite in a competitive match on Dust 2 in CS:GO, and my college roommate shouting in frustration about his untimely in-game death, I begin to wonder why this seems like such a big deal.
I could write a whole article on my past gaming history (which I probably will later on, thanks to 3kliksphilip’s retrospective clips of his earlier gaming history in his Going Low in CS:GO YouTube series), but as far as my competitive gaming history is concerned, it began with Star Wars: Battlefront II. This was no Call of Duty or Halo. Battlefront II’s fanbase was most likely made up of younger gamers, given the familiarity and less violent nature of the Star Wars universe (and its “T” ESRB rating over Halo and Call of Duty’s “M”). However, there were competitive players, and numerous clans and teams in the community during the game’s heyday. I didn’t own Battlefront II for PC until summer 2008, right in the midst of middle school. This was when my ADHD (another issue for another article) was unmedicated, and my grades, amongst other things in my life, suffered.
The game itself came out in 2005 around the time of the film Revenge of the Sith, and was still popular online on PC for several years afterwards. The online community for Battlefront II was well established upon my arrival onto the scene, and was my first real taste of online gaming. It was a true, undiscovered realm for me, with a seemingly endless amount of things to do and people to play with. I began to notice certain players and servers having prefixes such as [IGF] or (DDC). These were clan tags, and the idea of being in a clan amongst other fellow gamers really intrigued me at the time. I forget most of the ones I was in at the time, but I do remember competing in one of them: the 428th Ground Legion.
The 428th was my own attempt to start a Battlefront II clan that could compete in “clan wars” and put me at the top of my own constructed hierarchy. I will admit I had very little experience with the whole clan thing at this point, as according to the old Xfire page (http://classic.xfire.com/communities/428th/) I made it late in the summer of 2008. This would have meant that I would have only had the game for a couple months — yet I most likely had logged over one hundred hours online in-game by that point. I ran 428th under my old and slightly embarrassing alias “pizzaboy17” (later changing it to “RATM” and finally “Revan174” by the clan’s end), and the clan lasted for most of my seventh grade year. The Battlefront II community was starting to thin out by this point, with gamers moving to newer and more popular titles, so members were hard to come by. But we did compete in one clan war.
Of course, with our little experience, we lost. And, given my adolescent immaturity, I was pissed about it. I don’t remember when the clan war happened, as I can’t find any online evidence about it anymore, but I think it was near the end of the clan’s tenure. I’m also certain that the match wasn’t close. I thought at the time we had a good team — and I still think we did, even if I was the worst player on our team (which I probably was). But in retrospect, it was better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.
Whenever I see my roommate (or myself) getting really into a competitive online game like Counter-Strike, I can’t help but have flashbacks to my own past. It’s something that I feel I’ve mostly outgrown. I’m a competitive person by nature, and I love winning as much as the next guy, but I like to channel my focus on winning into more practical things than video games. Maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve become obsessed with tennis ever since freshman year of high school, or why I’ve become a high-GPA student since sophomore year. Being on a working type and dosage of ADHD medication most likely sparked both of those, and allowed me to continue prioritizing those two things in my life today.
In all honesty, when anything — not just video games — starts becoming more frustrating than fun, it’s an obvious sign that you need to take a break. Walk away, breathe, relax. Unless you’re playing for your mother’s life (or if you’re a pro gamer, but then again that’s not for me to judge), putting all that negative energy into your gaming won’t help. If anything, you’ll become so obsessed with winning that you’ll most likely lose focus on the actual game at hand, and enter a vicious cycle of frustration since you don’t know why you’re losing.
I believe this sense of control and calmness really comes from experience. My roommate didn’t start playing computer games or online games until he saw me playing Team Fortress 2 early in the fall semester last year; his first impressions were skeptical and unimpressed. However, he soon started a Steam account and amassed a rather large collection of games in just a few months, with one of these games being CS:GO. A group of friends, including my roommate and I, started playing CS:GO competitively together on a regular basis around the beginning of the past spring semester. At first we didn’t take it too seriously, but as we played more matches, our ranks slowly went up and I could feel that a couple of my friends (my roommate being one of them) were starting to focus more on the matches and on improving their skill. In particular, my roommate spent about $100 this past semester on a gaming mouse, mousepad, and headset for CS:GO, and began watching twitch.tv streams of people and pros playing CS:GO during much of his free time.
I’m not criticizing his decisions. People do similar actions all the time in order to get better at… well, anything. I’ve bought high-end tennis racquets and I watch pros play on TV and in person whenever I can. It’s all driven by one’s passion to be their best, yet sometimes this can be confused with being the best. If I’m trying to get really good at Counter-Strike, but I start losing the “fun” factor that piqued my interest in improving in the first place, I’ll have no real motivation to continue. There’s much more productive ways to use your time if you’re not having fun.
The most important thing with any game is to have fun. Otherwise, it isn’t a game. Sure, you can have fun and improve; a lot of that is done by gaining experience. And obviously it won’t always be fun, even if you’re not taking it too seriously. Surrounding yourself with a group of friends that pretty much all have the same demeanor about the game can make things easier, whether you want to improve and/or have fun. Ultimately, though, the decision on whether to continue through the unpleasantries or walk away from them is your decision alone. Just make sure that the ends justifies the means. And that you’re not getting noise complaints from the neighbors.