I know Jake wrote his “On Cooperative” treatise just recently, and I even responded in turn, but I’ve wanted to delve deeper into competitive games and why so many of us hold that little gold, platinum, diamond, or in my case bronze emblem a little too close to our hearts.
Okay, first disclaimer: I’m a silver. In every game I’ve ever played with a rank system, I almost systematically fall into the silver bracket, i.e. I’m bad. I have the basic hand-eye coordination and teamwork skills to get me out of bronze, but only rarely that to land me in gold, and only then if I play a lot. And as is the case for many silver’s, I find myself wanting more. I want to climb out of the depths of potatoes and into the arms of my diamond angels. Gaming consumes a nontrivial portion of my free time, and I want to be able to show that to the world at large. But…is rank really tangible? IRL I can go to a party, meet some cool dudes, and instantly bond over talk of Overwatch, but once they find out I’m a silver, interest wanes. It’s palpable. I can know the game inside and out (which I do), but it’s often not enough if I can’t produce a diamond or master sticker to prove it. It’s almost a page out of Ready Player One, all of us spending too much time in the game world where our virtual achievements are displayed proudly over our heads for all to see, making judgments based on them alone.
I’m a silver in Overwatch, Rocket League, Rainbow Six: Siege, Heroes, Destiny, and if Battlefield had ranks, I’d probably be silver there too (second disclaimer: I’m actually good at Battlefield and might even be gold!). I have friends I literally can’t play with due to rank. One, who we’ll call by his Bnet tag, CHack, is a great Overwatch player stable at high diamond and verging on master. Well, Overwatch implements a “within 1000” policy, and with CHack up around 3400 and myself down toward 1600, I can’t even hope. Another friend, iKickK, is better at Destiny’s Trials of Osiris than all of us and all of you, currently sitting at #177 on guardian.gg. We can still play together, but not without some frustration on his end as we match up against players much better than me who I couldn’t hit with a sneeze. Luckily he’s a good friend and usually let’s it slide. The fact that he’s thrown 2 copies of Destiny into the lake is another story.
So, what’s the point of ranked? You play a set of placement matches (usually 10), get assigned a rank value, and then subsequent wins/losses will gain/lose you rank points respectively. If you’ve played a ranked mode in any game ever, then you know how much more real the salt can be. Let’s take Rocket League. Solo Standard, in my opinion, is the butthole of Rocket League in terms of player interaction. If you’re bad, or even if you’re good and having an off-day, your teammates are going to let you know. Frankly, they’ll do anything to avoid blame for a loss and let you know it’s players like you are the reason they’re stuck in “ELO hell”. There’s no such thing as ELO hell. If you’re good, you’ll climb.
Overwatch – same deal. No one wants to take blame for a loss, and further, everyone seems to want to make sure you know the blame is yours. They have to pin it on someone – something – as long as it’s not themselves. In fact, you’ll find the good players are the ones who own up to their mistakes and think “okay, that didn’t work, how can I do better next time?” I wish there were more of these, and I consistently try to adopt this mentality.
When I come home after a long day mentally tired from work, physically tired from the gym, I want to relax and have fun. That’s why I play games. That’s why I play with my friends, and as long as I am, I don’t care what my rank is as long as we can still play together. In fact, we enjoy de-ranking to bronze in Siege just so we can finally play some noobs and get a few easy wins in. We don’t de-rank on purpose of course, just the result of a bad night, but when we play at the game’s lowest level, we have more fun. Well of course we do, you’re thinking, we’re winning. But that’s exactly it. It shouldn’t be about just winning. We should be playing like that all the time without regards to our rank playing what we find the most fun.
Ranked modes in competitive games don’t have to be a slog if you’re bad. If someone’s being toxic, mute them, report them, and continue on your day. If you’re an 800 SR Overwatch scrub, embrace it! Apply the steps above, then just jump in there and play the game you bought. It’s your game. And if you’re getting mad at any part of it, take a break. Go outside, take a walk, play an instrument, adopt a dog, whatever! Because rank doesn’t matter, AND NEITHER DO YOU.
Jk we love you,