Overwatch Competitive and Philosophy

For anyone who has participated in Overwatch’s competitive mode, you know one thing: it can be very, very frustrating. Absurd, even, in the nature of its cut-throat struggle to rise up its ranks. There are plenty of debates regarding how much of your success even rests in your hands. Ideas have been floated about ELO Hell and the need for a reporting system. Arguments have flared between players over expectation and reality. Videos have flooded YouTube with tips, tricks, and guidance for the desperate. Meanwhile, many of us still stew in our ranks, pining for the coveted emblem’s of Diamond and above.

I bought Overwatch for PS4 perhaps a month or two after its official release. I’ve participated in every competitive season from the first to the current (which at this time, is the sixth). But my rank, despite my growing hero pool and attempts at good teamwork, just wouldn’t improve. I’ve floated between 1900–2600 SR for about four seasons now. Like many others, I blamed trolls, leavers, and crappy team comps. But unlike some, I could admit that my skill was not Diamond rank. I insisted, instead, that I was Platinum at least. Furthermore, I can say that not every game I participated in, I did my best. In fact, there were quite a few games where I did horrible.

Plato and Aristotle would have said that I lacked the Essential Property of a Plat player, and therefor, my Essence may not be that of a Plat player. Essence, as explained by Crash Course Philosophy on YouTube, is a certain set of core properties that are necessary, or essential for a thing to be what it is. Essential Property is whatever gives something its defining function.

What Essential Property am I referring to for Plat players, then? Mechanical skill. Does this mean that my lacking skill could be that I may not be a Plat player at all, but a Gold player? Yes. The idea goes that with time, hard work, and dedication, I could overcome this… but do I have that will to accomplish this? And even if I did, could I maintain such a ranking over time? If my Essence was to always be a Gold player, then no. I’d eventually fall in ranking, because I just didn’t have what it takes to elevate myself, and stay elevated.

But video games are seldom the thing that defines our destiny as human beings. (This is me admitting that I’m bastardizing Essentialism with e-sports) In fact, video games are specifically designed to be triumphed or beaten in some way. Developers want you to succeed. The parameters for success simply mutate from game to game. In Overwatch Competitive, the obvious goal is to have more wins than losses with a healthy gap between the two. For a lot of us, this is a true struggle.

Do I want to practice my aim and study advanced tactics and positioning so that I can improve as a player? Yes. But given that I’m a full-time mom with a little one who needs my constant attention, this is a difficult thing to do. Certainly not impossible, but difficult. I only have so much free time to really focus on improving my skills. But… do I want to do that? Instead of cutting into my free time with hardcore training, I could be having fun with Overwatch.

Which unfortunately leads me to the conundrum that I only seem to really enjoy Overwatch when I’m playing competitive. In competitive, the wins are immensely satisfying. Seeing my rank go up gives me a boost in confidence and an almost tangible sense of self-worth. But it’s devastating when I put in 2–4 hours of competitive matches only to be 150 SR lower than when I started.

I was having a conversation the other day with some guys I was grouped with about how reminiscent Overwatch was to Team Fortress 2. This, of course, led to us fondly remembering the days when we played TF2, not out of some desperate need to validate our skills with a ranking system, but just to have fun. It got me to thinking that, if I wasn’t having fun with Overwatch… then why was I playing it? Isn’t fun meant to be the Essential Property of this game? Or was I confusing its Essence? Maybe it’s not really entertainment, but just some sad reflection of today’s society? An artificial measurement system of where we stand as human beings?

So let’s switch gears here and talk about another school of thought…

Essentialism laid some of the foundation for what later became Existentialism. What do Existentialists believe that is related, but inherently different from Essentialists?

Existence precedes Essence.

Imagine that despite whatever beliefs or expectations Blizzard had for Overwatch prior to its release, the game itself lacked any true Essence. That was, until players got their hands on it and started to decide for themselves what it was. For some, yes, it’s just a form of entertainment. For others, it’s a passion that speaks volumes about who they are and what they are worth. Pro players, and those who wish to become Pro players, come to mind. At the end of the day, many will still say, “It’s just a game”, and I’m certainly not encouraging or even agreeing with the idea that one should live and die by Overwatch competitive. But like any expressive creation, it has the power to illustrate who we are as people and as a community: what we idealize, what we fear, and what we desire. Best of all, it does it in a way that is a perfect reflection of the Existentialist’s idea of Absurdity; the search for answers in an answerless world.

Think back to all those tip and hero guides you watched/read on the Internet. The debates people had about ELO hell, solo carry, and the epidemic of trolls and leavers in matches. Does it not feel like an endless hunt to explain the meaning of our ranks?

While this might paint a rather bleak view for many, Existentialism also believes that life is absolute freedom. After all, if existence is inherently without meaning or reason, then we are free to choose our own Essence. To exert our will and solidify our desires through hard work and perseverance. But we have to remember… we are still doing this in an absurd world. One where outside forces and the will of others have just as much power to screw us over as we have to turn the tide.

So by this thinking, it is absolutely correct and fair to say that Overwatch’s Competitive system is completely indifferent to your misfortunes, no matter how much they are or aren’t your fault. The fact is, we can still do all that we can to rise above the setbacks. The question is, do we have the will to? Or just more excuses? No one can give us the means to do this. Not Jeff Kaplan. Not those Overwatch YouTube tip channels. Not even your lucky gym sock.

Everyone has their own way to get up there in the ranks and it will be unique for each person. Some will solo-queue and claim to experience only resounding success. Others will queue up as a duo, trio, quad, or even a full six man team, and do well that way. Maybe it IS just your mechanical skill holding you back, and you work on that tirelessly. Or you get on only during certain times to queue up with (hopefully) more agreeable people.

Heck… maybe you even turn off your mic and one trick your way to Diamond despite the complaints of your teammates who are forced to comp around you.

However you do it, your fate is ultimately something you have to figure out for yourself. No amount of arguing or wishing can grant you that. The one thing you should concern yourself with is doing whatever you do Authentically. As Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre saw it: you have to accept the full weight of your freedom, in light of the absurd. Any attempts to turn to the paths set by so-called authorities (in this case, all of those who claim to know “how” to climb ranks reliably) is Bad Faith, or a refusal to accept the absurdity of our world (and by extension, the Overwatch competitive system).

I think what I’m ultimately trying to get at by trying to connect Existentialism to Overwatch competitive is that — your SR doesn’t have meaning until you give it meaning. You do this by the way you perceive it, by how much investment you put into it, and how you try to change it. If you think being a Plat, Gold, Silver, or Bronze player is sucky, then… yeah. It’s sucky. If you think it’s okay, then… yeah. It’s okay! But if ultimately Overwatch Competitive is making you miserable, and you are looking for a reason, any reason, to blame for your inability to climb in rank… maybe what you should really be concerning yourself with is Overwatch’s function in your life, and what it says about you as a person. It’s okay to be disappointed or even a little upset if you just got through a thirty minute brawl down to the wire with a troll on your team, but if it’s causing you to feel depressed, angry, or ashamed on a regular basis because you feel your SR is not where it should be, then that’s because you are looking for others to give your game meaning…

And that just sounds absurd, doesn’t it?