Monday, August 5, 2013

My Multiplayer Problem

I have always sucked at team sports. As far back as I can remember, this has been my curse.  Or one of my curses.  I'm sure I actually have plenty of curses.  But if I stop to think about that I won't write this post at all, and not writing blog posts is another one of my curses.

In any event, I was the worst team sports player I knew growing up.  Here's how bad I was.  I would not be the last person picked for teams when kids were divided up--I was the leftover after the last pick. That is, I'd always make it to the final two.  Me, and, say, Irving Needlebaum-- the blind kid with the wooden leg. The team captain would be looking us over with a pained look on his face, as if having to decide which piece of shit smelled less bad.  Eventually, inevitably, he'd say, "I guess I'll take Irving," at which point everyone would immediately disperse to the playing field without another look back.

"I guess I'm on the other team then?" I'd say to all the players' backs.  And then I'd take my gangly, redheaded, uncoordinated self out onto deep right field and then pray for an earthquake or plague of frogs or even spontaneous combustion  so that I would not have to field a ball or go up to bat.

Later, in the videogame world, I fared somewhat better, thank goodness.  Obviously physical prowess was not a factor, and the sheer amount of time I put into them (since I wasn't busy playing sports)  meant that I actually acquired some skill. Key word being "some."  Except for one game ever, Interstate '76, for which I had some kind of freak, natural ability, the best I could ever hope to be in a multiplayer match was Not Horrible.  Occasionally, if I was particularly inspired, or perhaps unplugged everyone else's mice, I might actually win a LAN match. But it would never last. I'd never get to experience the feeling of being great or dominant in a game.  And frankly, my childhood had prepared me for such inevitability, so I actually didn't (and still don't) have my ego tied into such things.  The difference between videogames and sports, however, was that in videogames I could at least compete.  I could at least score the occasional point.  And, of course, the anonymity of online meant that no one ever know that it was me who sucked. It was Tinkletrousers, or Mike Oxbig, who would endure the brunt of any humiliation.

Where it all began to fall apart for me online, however, was with the rise of team matches.  In solo deathmatches, I only had to worry about myself. I was liberated from having to prove myself to anyone. And my overall feeling would be one of triumph if I didn't suck. The fact that I knew that sometimes I could win, however rare, was enough to keep me going.

But once games like Counter-Strike started getting popular, where skill actually mattered, where players really needed other players to do their best, I was doomed. First, I was nowhere near good enough, from the start. By this time I was already older than the average player, and my reflexes were starting their slow deterioration to their current state of near total calcification. Second, there was the pressure. As in real-world sports, there was the expectation that you knew the rules, you knew how to play, and you were good enough to be on the field in the first place. Anything less, any sign of incompetency - like blowing yourself and your teammates up within the first second of the match by accidentally pressing the Grenade button -  was to be instantly shunned and scolded, and possibly booted from the team.

The problem of course, was and still is the barrier to entry. If all the players in a particular game are skilled and experienced, then it just makes it that much harder for a new player to find his or her footing, to gain any experience or confidence. And there is little to no tolerance by a lot (but not all) experienced players to put up with noobs on the team. Especially in games where everyone takes it totally seriously and winning is everything.

Sometime around 1996, when I knew my deathmatch days were numbered, I started getting all my online kicks in MMOs. In those games, I could hold my own much better. I could also either play by myself or with friends, where the pressure was minor at best.  Even if I played on PvP servers (like my main character in EverQuest), in the end it boiled down to one-on-one situations, where, again, I didn't feel beholden to other players, and thus did far better. Late in my Wow career, however, I had one experience with random players that has stuck with me ever since. I was playing my level 80 dwarf warlock, Eggbertt, a character I was quite proficient at. I was level 80. I'd invested hundreds of hours into the guy. I'd sacrificed a good deal of my life, ambition, and self-respect to build this guy up. Blizzard had rolled out the dungeon finder, which grouped random folks together looking to complete the same dungeon. Most of the time, this was awesome, and eliminated the need for begging.

One night, however, I found myself randomly grouped with Serious Players. Equipment checks were being carried out before we began. Roles were assigned. A plan was made. There was no time for idle chatter and thus no one appreciated my joke about Jim Belushi being the end boss. So in we went. And within 2 minutes,  the "leader" was yelling at me. "WTF EGGBERTT MORE DPS!" "DO U FUCKIN NO HOW TO PLAY?" And so on. I assured him that I did in fact know how to play and that he could calm down because honestly it was just a videogame and not worth the aneurism and, plus, we were just starting. I'd get my game on in due time. Except my time was already up. By the time we'd hit the next group of trash mobs, I suddenly, without warning, found myself warped back outside of the dungeon. I'd been kicked.  He'd taken a quick vote with the rest of the team, and they agreed that I was out.  And I honestly was infuriated. It was an outrage. I felt wrongly accused. I knew how to play this game!  But, that was that, and due to the anonymity of the thing and the millions of players, I knew I'd never find them again to plead my case. But what stuck with me was how serious these players were. How there was no tolerance for error. How the slightest perception of weakness was enough to get booted. And while I blew it off and jumped right back in, because, really, who gives a shit, this is the stuff I try to avoid online. Playing with players who are more intent on winning than anything else - like being civil or tolerant of others - is of no appeal to me. None. Because once you're yelling at people online and getting a busted vein in your forehead because someone isn't tanking correctly, you are beginning to miss the whole point of this entire pastime. (Unless you are a pro, which is another story entirely.)

All of which is a humongous, rambling preamble to what I really wanted to talk about, which is my reluctance to dive into either of the super-popular MOBAs these days - DOTA 2 or League of Legends. I've played through the tutorial levels in both games, and they are super fun. I get it.  I totally see the appeal. As someone who also used to have a blast with real-time strategy, I can see that, in time, I might not completely suck.  The problem is the "in time" part. Because, from everything I've seen and read, from the little I've dabbled in it, I can see that these are hardcore, serious games. Obviously.  And stepping into one of these games unprepared is like stepping onto the track of a horse race right as the gates are being opened.  You are going to be trampled, spun around, and dumped in a ditch within two minutes if you don't know what you're doing, with your teammates yelling at you the whole time. These are deep, deep games requiring a tremendous amount of knowledge and skill -which is their appeal - but which make them near impossible for the curious to dabble in.  Dabbling isn't even really possible. You either commit for the long haul, or don't play.  Yesterday on Twitter I quoted from a Giant Bomb tutorial on DOTA 2: "The first initial 100 hours will be tough."  Is that an investment I'm willing to make? Do I want to slog through 100 hours of abuse and humiliation, just to get to the point where I can start competing?  Don't I have a novel to finish? Oh, right--and a family?

So, I don't know. Maybe the sad fact is that these games are for the young and unencumbered. Back in college, I easily could've devoted 100s of hours to a game, because that's what I did, one quarter at a time, in the arcades.

Or maybe I just have to care about winning more.

To me, the gameplay is the thing. Doing well, and getting better, and having fun doing it.  I've learned, slowly, over time, that once I hit a point of any frustration or anger, to stop a game immediately. Because I know, right then, that  I have lost the plot.  If I want to get frustrated or angry, there are a million other ways to do it rather than ruining an experience I otherwise enjoy.

Which is not to say that I've given up on the idea of DOTA or League of Legends. I have not.  I actively look forward to possibly being convinced to try. That's about as strong as a commitment you're gonna get from me. But I'm telling you now, once you start yelling at me, I'm out. And once you start yelling at me, you should maybe think twice about what you're doing in the first place.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff,

Don't think about winning and losing. These are just games to play with friends. You can find 4 other people you can play. You can even just play against bots and have a blast -- the bots in both games are pretty good now.

And if you do jump into real games your skill level doesn't actually matter. If the matchmaking system works, on average, every player will be in games where they are better than 50% of people, and worse than the other 50%.

The only real problem people have is that it can hard to even understand what the lingo of the game means when you just start, and your first few games can be rough because the matchmaking doesn't have a bead on your skill yet.

Anyway I too suck at these games but I get matched with other people who suck now. It's fine. Sure some of them suck because they are 8 years old but I can deal with that... lol

Kami said...

Hey Jeff, you and are I cut from the same cloth, it seems. I love playing Starcraft 2, but I'm absolutely terrible at it. Over the past 50 or so hours of playing, though, I realize that it's okay! Most of my friends are pretty terrible too, and that makes the games much more fun.

Sure, there's a few bad apples that will take things too seriously, but thankfully those people are few and far between inside my circle of friends.

I feel the same way about the MOBA craze, as I see the appeal, but don't know if I should dedicate the time to really embrace a team-based multiplayer game, especially with a 16-month old to worry about.

This is basically just the longwinded way of saying that you're not alone, AND there should be legit 'Noobs Only' servers like back in the Quake days.

Leandro Foruria said...

Jeff, I understand that growing up with video games there was a time where solo deathmatch was the norm, so of course you'd get accustomed to jumping in to play solo. I did a lot of that myself before games like Modern Warfare and Halo started coming out to make team deathmatch the standard, but afterwards I had to readjust to play with friends.
Honestly I like to think I'm pretty good at the games I play regularly, but had similar problems to yours when I started getting into StarCraft and DOTA. I don't like the idea of letting my team down to the point where I just rather shun people all together if I think I'm going to be a burden to them. Thankfully the group of friends I played games with growing up, and still do til this day, are very understanding. They don't yell at you if you do something horrible, or haven't learned certain aspects of the game yet; as long as your having fun people understand that you'll get better over time, however long that may take.
I guess I'm wondering if there's some reason why you can't do something similar? The best advice I can give is to play on a team you're familiar with where the people don't mind your play style. I've heard DOTA is pretty popular with developers so I would assume you know some people you can play with. There's also Brad at Giant Bomb who does a daily DOTA stream and plays off the air as well; he always tries to play with a full group of people he knows/developers so I'm sure that he'd be willing to play.
Actually there are two reasons I would really recommend it. Brad has been trying to figure out a way to make daily DOTA into a more instructional segment and explain how the game works, so if you started playing with him it would probably also help the segment of the audience that has no idea what's going on. Second, while a large portion of the DOTA community is poisonous towards people who don't know how to play, if you do happen to have a team of five people you know, your inexperience shouldn't be too big of an issue to the team, you're just one person in a team of five after all.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, my advice is to only play LoL or Dota2 with your friends. Don't play with random players.

My second thought is that you're being somewhat intolerant of tryhards (people who want to win). If you can find time, check out these two interviews:

They are both about the professional Korean League of Legends scene in comparison to western pro gaming, with a lot of reference to Korean culture. Chobra and Monte Cristo explain the tryhard mentality and what lengths players/teams go to win.

Jeff Green said...

@comment above: You're right, my post comes off a bit intolerant of "tryhards." I think I meant to put a bit in there about "there's nothing wrong with that" but then forgot. Because of course people who get off on the competition should feel free to enjoy themselves. :) I just realized that if that's the ONLY people playing, I can't play with them...

Anonymous said...

Jeff you should just play ARAM in LoL. Much more laid back, and probably a lot more fun than Classic.

Michael said...


In my experience with playing League of Legends, I learned one thing: I don't really like MOBAs, or, at least, I don't like the time-requirement associated with being a "competent" player. I played strictly with friends, which was nice, because I never had to interact with "tryhards." My friends showed me the ropes slowly, explaining things like "AD carries" and "last hitting." Soon enough, I found a role I enjoyed, and then another, and another.

Eventually I realized that in order to stay on par with anyone of my friends, I needed to spend some money to get some XP boosts and maybe a cool skin (purely aesthetic, I know). I left the game a year ago with a level 20-something account and about 15 champions at my disposal. I don't think that was even enough for queuing up for ranked matches (which I stayed away from. They always seemed like "tryhard mode" to me and I wanted nothing to do with that).

All of this really comes down to my noncompetitive spirit. I don't care much about winning a pickup game of football nor do I care if I loose a game of League of Legends. As long as I have fun playing, that's all that matters (though, consistently losing does get frustrating).

Online gaming has always been about playing with friends. When they go, I go. Though, with League of Legends it was a case of "I'm never going to be as good as them (my friends), so why bother?" If that sounds like you, then maybe skip along and maybe go back to writing that novel of yours. In any case, just remember to have fun and enjoy whatever it is you do. ;)

Jennifer said...

Jeff, I (female, mid-thirties) play LoL with some mid-twenties guys who I met back in Azeroth. I have my own gamer experiences to relate (but I'll do so on my own blog), but let me just say that I totally relate to your LoL dread. I play with friends but usually there's only three of us for the five-man team, and I have been subjected to some serious belittling. My friends tell me that I can't expect to be "good" until I'm at least level 30, but thanks to "smurf" accounts, the other players seem to think I should be some kind of pro. I don't think they realize I'm a girl (though in retrospect I could have picked my name a little better), they are just dreadfully hard on me. I can be having a great game and if I miss one little shot, it's "Ashe, you suck, why are you even playing?" and they accuse me of "feeding" etc. It really takes away the enjoyment of the game.


There are many games where the other players don't do that. There are some games where I know all five people on my team. Those are the best games. I wish sometimes they'd have a setting for "just fun" games (but inevitably someone would grief it).

My advice re: LoL is get a group of friends and play together once a week, have some fun, and don't worry about the yellers.

Or else the griefers win.

Anonymous said...

I'm single, and honestly, it's probably a good thing.

Because if something like the Eggbert incident had happened to me I would've raged.

And I mean raaaaaaged.

When stuff like that does happen, there's nobody here to see me striding about the house searching for something to smash my fist into. There's nobody to hear me cursing at the top of my lungs, or wondering aloud what the fuck is wrong with people these days.

What does one do when one's significant other is in the house? Go in and look for sympathy?

"Honey... you'll never guess what just happened..."

Maybe that's actually a good thing, now that I think about it? Talking the matter through with another person would likely make you realize how utterly foolish you were being.

Ah well, maybe one day I'll get a dog or something.

Jennifer said...

Sorry to go for the obvious, too, but any discussion of enraged gamers has to give a link to the Onyxia Wipe video. I still laugh at this, years later.

Unknown said...

Jeff, why don't you specifically just play with the crew Brad Shoemaker buddied up with (Brad Muir, Kessler, etc.)? I mean, they were all too willing to take Vinny on according to last week's Bombcast. You already have a pre-fab group of dudes who you know would be pretty rad to play with, I don't get the hesitation.

For the record, I don't play DOTA, but you seem to be in a unique position you could take advantage of :)

- mitch

Anonymous said...

Oh my god... LOL at the Onyxia wipe video.

Anonymous said...

LoL is way more fun when you have 4 friends playing with you and you are on voice chat while playing. They will help you and not give you a hard time. I hate playing with randoms and you eventually just learn to ignore it. They've tried implementing a "honor" system to punish players who curse at teammates and reward those that are helpful. Once you get the basics down, the game gets really enjoyable. I'd be happy to play some games with you and walk you through all the basics. It is a lot of fun if you are patient and willing to learn.

Feel free to add me: Belittles

Rod said...

I feel you Jeff. You've been kind of holding the mantle for us old guys for sometime. I started reading you back in Germany around 1992, we would get those magazines late, but I loved reading your stuff. I'm 44 now and still love to game. Problem is I now have the money but not the time. Anyhoo, I've been forced to become more selective with my gaming time and it seems as if the PS3/360 will be my last consoles. All this to say that I am completely in to League of Legends. Also I really don't care much if I win or lose games these days, I'm over that.

I started Lvl 1 in May 2013 and am now Lvl 30 and nowhere near decent. I can't carry a team, but I have fun and find that these games are better with players that are similar in age and temperament. I state upfront while queuing that I view these matches as "games". I want to have fun, blow off steam after work. I refuse to be trolled for not being a savant at a "game" that I'm not paid to play.

Sometimes the game is immediately disbanded, but oh well, it's better than me getting in game and being yelled at and called noob for not doing some of the wild strategies and tactics the kids follow.

Your best experience will be to play with some of your industry friends. If you get in to LOL or DOTA add me afrocigar.

DWAnderson said...

Great and very funny column.

I feel the same way, but the the predicament we find ourselves in seems like a failure of multiplayer matching systems. Why not match us all up together?

Luciano Tassis said...

Hey Jeff,

I'm a 34 years old married lawyer from a small province in Brazil, called Bahia (sorry for my mistakes in English grammar). I have gathered a buch of friends and we started to play DotA 2 in the last couple of months. I don't have enough time do play it regularly. In fact, I have made a decision to play only one match each day, when I have the free time to do it.

We win sometimes, we lose sometimes, bur we are always having fun together, and sharing experiences to improve our combined and individual skills. We don't have a "closed" team too: each day, the people who are online are playing, so there is always room for one more guy like you.

If you wanna play with us, add me on steam: "lmtassis" (the first letter is an L) or "Luciano Tassis". My e-mail is "". It will be a pleasure to enjoy some matches with you, pal! :)



MonkeyKing1969 said...

I wish I knew what to say to make you feel better Jeff. But I can't think of anything except to relate my own story.

I was always last picked in 5th thru 8th grade. It always seems to happen in middle school that the 'everyone plays for fun' attitude leaves children. It must be are Darwinian 'fight or flight' instincts being stretched for later life.

But, in 9th grade I joined the Track & Field Team. I stank at first, even some really fat kids ran faster than I did. But, I worked at it and by 12th grade I could consistently come in 4th place. The point is it WAS humiliating (at some level) the whole time, but I stuck to it. I had good friends and hey clapped the few time I came in 3rd, so it was well worth it.

In college, I rowed on the UConn Men's Crew Rowing club. Again, I stuck to it at first, yet I actually was one of the top people on the team eventually. However, to achieve that I worked HARDER than everyone else too.

They don't teach you that working hard pays off in schools anymore. In myths, books our movies it is shown that the guy who works stupidly hard achieves a goal; but they don't teach it as a reality of life anymore. (Probably because working INCREDIBLY hard seems silly in the modern world of instant access and time saving devices.)

If you are an average guy you can achieve just below REAL talent with hard-work -i.e. stupid, relentless, and often merely just self satisfying hard work.

Thatsame concept, working stupidly hard to win, goes for games too. I got into Call of Duty late, I only started playing when CoD BLOPs 1 came out. I stunk at all aspects of play - of course. And, despite playing the game for years almost daily, I have only STARTED playing well in teh past few months. I now kill more than I die, and capture more flags than most people on my team. It took three games and about four years of weekly play to even become just slightly above average that means. I guess my point is everything takes work. Everything takes failures. Everything worth doing or achieving is going to be work until you are go good it becomes simple.

Some might say, "Games are not worth the effort to play well." To that I say, "A guitar is just a wooden box with strings, so why learn to play that well either?" A marathon is a running trip you take that would have been faster on a bike from a certain perspective.

But, what I would say to others especially young people is DO IT. Yoda was right, 'trying' is the pussy way out. Life is about DOING. And, let me tell ay something else... everything is dumb & useless. By that I mean, being good at video games is just as dumb as playing guitar well. Running around a circle in highschool or putting a ball in a hoop is just as dumb as being the best low level executive at your job. We are apes from trees everything we do that isn't eating, sleeping, and f_cking is dumb. But, being really good at 'something' is more satisfying than anything else except people you love or who love you back...that is pretty good too.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend you play Chivalry: Medieval Warfare.
The players there are extremely nice, especially the skilled players.
You'll find the most of them in Duel servers, where you play one-on-one swordfights. The majority of players will give you tips if you ask for them.
At least, that was my experience when I played.

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