At the moment, I have a video project queued up regarding deliberate practice and the importance of stakes in competitive video games to incentivize performance improvement. Perhaps I’ll actually finish that video one of these days, but I felt like I should post something about what Overwatch had got me thinking as of this writing. As I delve more into topics related to competitive gaming, I hope to dig deeper into the attitudes and behaviors I’ve been observing first hand in games so far.
Submitted for your approval, this piece has a lot to do with how some of my friends react to games, how seriously they take it as opposed to what they actually get out of it, and how they react to toxic people in the game who they most likely will never encounter again. While certain people did inspire me to write this, the following is not directed at anyone in particular and is meant to explain ideas I’ve come upon along the way.
Persistent Tilting and Understanding Salt
Tilting is a persistent problem in online competitive gaming, and I find myself going through it every now and then. However, the level of tilting I tend to experience is relatively mild due to my years of having seriously played StarCraft II 1v1 ladder. Not having teammates to blame losses on can be a surprisingly effective for character building.
On the other hand, those who aren’t as experienced in the daily grind can be seen going haywire when they get so much as a tiny bit of resistance from teammates in Overwatch. Never mind the opponents going “gg ez”; the real challenge is in dealing with random teammates who think they can order you around.
When egos collide, it doesn’t matter if people are actually hundreds or thousands of miles apart. However, I also figured that while the negative feeling exacerbated by the pressures of online competitive gaming—colloquially known as salt—is always a factor.
But what I realized as another factor in all this is how quickly being able to rectify mistakes and recoup losses in a game relates to how much salt accumulates before actually reaching the point of no return—tilting uncontrollably, having to call it a night, and go to bed somewhat angry.
I realized how game length can be correlated to that accumulation of salt. I then came upon the concept of “sodium allowance” in games. Let me explain in detail.
Short Game Length = Higher Sodium Allowance
Shorter games mean quicker turnaround, more runbacks, and more chances to avenge losses over a shorter period of time. Fighting games are the best example of this, with newer titles including rematch features in their online ladders to facilitate more practice and a more up-tempo competitive atmosphere.
First-person shooters may be the next in line here. Depending on the title, games can go pretty quick. They’re reasonably short in CounterStrike, but can go longer in Overwatch due to the overtime feature. I’m not sure about other titles like Halo, Call of Duty, and so on, but they can range from short to unreasonably long, depending on game settings.
There’s also Heroes of the Storm, but fuck that game.
Then there’s real-strategy games like StarCraft and StarCraft II next in line as game length varies from just a couple of minutes due to a cheese or as long as over an hour due to a stalemate situation that neither player wishes to back down from. The latter would definitely make for more salt, but losing to a cheese can sting quite a bit.
Another big factor to salt is how much a player puts stock in playing skill and how a game is “supposed to be played”. I’m still not sure how that works in Overwatch since I’d switch to Bastion at the drop of a hat when push comes to shove, but this is very characteristic of StarCraft. Nothing hurts a stickler in that game more than being beaten by someone who just all-ins all the time and doesn’t seem to play smart most of the time.
Therefore, the significance of shorter rounds letting players try again sooner means being able to purge salt more quickly, thus hypothetically leading to less tilting overall. However, it’s not to say gamers don’t get salty in these types of games—the term “salt” may have originated from the fighting game community.
Here’s an example of a fighting game player who gets salty. Don’t be like this guy.
Longer Game Length = Higher Tilting Probability
The longer a game goes with a sense of foreboding leading to a loss, the more salt accumulates and the more likely it leads to a tilt. Longer games mean more stakes, slower turnaround, and less chances to avenge losses throughout a session. MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2 are prime examples of this, with each game potentially being 40-minute sessions with teammates with whom you may disagree with, especially if it’s a solo queue.
At least with League of Legends, there’s a surrender feature. There are advantages and disadvantages with that—you can leave earlier and queue up for another game sooner if everyone agrees to surrender, but it can breed lack of resilience in the community and makes way for games lost simply due to salt and not actual gameplay disadvantage.
Imagine something like classical chess, wherein you have to sit there for 4 to 6 hours, having to stew on every move, and knowing that being even just a pawn behind can lose you the game. That’s a lot of time to be salty, and you lose focus even more as you get even saltier by the day.
Perhaps some would think either losing streaks or just playing too many games with too many things going badly is what leads to tilting, but the truth is one bad game is enough to turn even the most stoic of gamers into screeching banshees throwing out every expletive known to man in chat or even just by themselves in Internet cafe stations or their own rooms.
This video includes games from both categories, so my hypothesis is made to look rather flimsy here.
Knowing Your True Stakes and Incentives
That’s what salt does—it makes you lose focus, which then makes you lose more. It’s a snowball effect that gets worse as it goes on longer until the inevitable tilt actually happens. The most important thing you can do to prevent excessive sodium intake is to know what you really have on the line and what you stand to get every time you play.
Let’s take Overwatch as example here since that’s what inspired me to write this in the first place. Playing competitive mode brings out some pretty bad things out of people, even though it’s for the pursuit of increasing an arbitrary number on the screen. MOBA players have been dealing with this for years, and even chess players are measured based on their ELO score. Life gets weird when your worth is based on a number and how it stacks up to others’ numbers.
You know it’s a virtual pissing contest, so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Some choose to not engage, while others get talked into it by friends. As you play more competitive games, you encounter people who take it too seriously and antagonize other players at every turn. Some feel the need to taunt their opponents like it’s an itch needing to be scratched, while others feel they have to give instructions on what hero you should pick, why you’re losing, and how bad you are.
EDIT (26APR2018@12:40AM): If you have deep-seeded insecurities, the things you take (somewhat) seriously will reflect that. Gaming isn’t just not an exception to this—it tends to be a strong proof of concept.
If these things ruin your night and you leave the game sulking or fuming, then what does the 40 to 60 dollars you spent buying the game really mean? You bought it because you wanted to have fun, but you ended up feeling bad about it. But why is that? It’s because you want to get good at it.
If you’re playing the game with the mindset of deliberately practicing what you’re not good at yet, you’ll definitely have a hard time since your efforts won’t be immediately rewarded. If you’re aware of that beforehand, it shouldn’t be a problem since you know what you’re getting yourself into.
On the other hand, if you go into it wanting to both get better and win your matches, you may be in for a world of hurt. You should stay in quick play until you have a set of heroes you can consistently rely on and people to consistently play with who you can depend on. Team games are a lot harder to rank up in due to the stars and planets having to align in order to win games against superior opponents.
You and your teammates have to be on the same page, you have to pull off the right strategy, you have to counter whatever the enemy team has, and you have to play the map to a T. If you ask me, 1v1 is a hundred times easier than even something as “casual” as Overwatch.
I’m still at bronze in Overwatch, while I had reached gold in StarCraft II within two years. Yes, I suck that bad, but at least I improved in a game I sucked at in the first place.
Going into each game, you should remind yourself why you’re playing in the first place and keep that in focus. You should then develop the right attitude towards everything you may encounter in the game, including bad beats, toxic teammates, and trash-talking opponents. Everyone is bound to react differently to each, and that’s fine. What matters most here is the way it’s done should be healthy and not take away from everyone else’s experience.
Report toxic players whenever possible, but you should reassess your priorities if you find yourself doing it in anger. Unfortunately, Blizzard is constantly wrestling with toxic players who are attracted to their casual-friendly games. They chose to go with this direction, and they then have to deal with toxic players who use slurs and grief on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, Ubisoft hit gold with Rainbow Six: Siege, which has one of the most proactively helpful and non-toxic player communities in online gaming today. However, it did start becoming a bit more toxic when it got more players due to its recent rise in popularity.
I’d like to look into how a steep learning curve makes way for a healthier player community in a future blog post, so keep an eye out for it.
The Weird But Healthy Way to Tilt
You know how people sometimes can’t help but laugh when everything else is falling apart around them? That’s how I tilt.
We would be doing so well, and then everything starts falling apart due to something either beyond our own control or our current understanding. It’s either we’re not good enough or we weren’t able to see what was wrong soon enough.
My usual reaction to this is one of self-deprecation. I would think it’s mostly due to my own gameplay inadequacies, either it’s playing the wrong hero or not fulfilling my role well enough. There are also times when it’s obviously due to a random teammate who’s not doing a good enough job.
In any case, I’d either be really quiet, suggest a hero switch, or start making fun of how badly we’re fucking up. That last one doesn’t help with performance, but it does help me not tilt too badly. I think what helps people to not tilt is to not take things too seriously.
While the game does have stakes and you should do your best to play well, it doesn’t mean you should ruin the game for other people just because you’re feeling bad. Tilting is never a good thing, no matter how much you love the game.
EDIT (26APR2018@12:30AM): I realized as I discussed this with friends I play Overwatch with, the takeaway here may be that as long as you’re able to make it funny and not too mean-spirited, you can make your tilting less of a big deal. What really makes tilting bad is if it actually negatively affects the people you’re playing with. It’s doubly worse if you both tilt and play really badly.
If you tend to tilt, that’s something that can’t be fixed overnight. But what you can try to do is to subvert that behavior and make it positive by either making it funny (if you have a good sense of humor) or at least try to be less angry and more helpful with it.
After all, it’s just your SR, not your credit score.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have on the comment section below.
Also published on Medium.