Monday, May 4, 2015

The Missing Middle Rung

Back in the day I used to play a lot of PvP games. FPS, RTS, whatever. I caught both Counterstrike and Starcraft during their golden ages. However the basic twitch-heavy routine got old fast and I moved on to MMOs, expecting a more grandiose form of PvP - which of course never materialized (world PvP in WoW lasted about six months, give or take a "working as intended") and other multiplayer games which could have delivered complex team mechanics (Savage, etc.) either vaporized or never materialized. So only in recent years, getting into the new fad for idiotically simplified AoS games like League of Legends or Smite, have I encountered multiplayer rankings again and noticed this recurring trend in every one of them.

Say you've got your rating based on win/loss accumulation weighted by match difficulties, pretty standard routine played out on some kind of Elo scale. Presumably the worst players would be at the bottom and they'd get continually better as you go up but that hasn't been my experience. See, the basic concept of the Elo scale was designed to work for one-on-one match-ups between involved, motivated participants, so it doesn't quite capture the poetry of team multiplayer in an anonymous medium devoid of repercussions.

Sure, some of the people at the bottom of the list are just utter mental deficients who have no business trying to puzzle out their left mouse button from their right, but many are simply stuck in "Elo hell", unable to move up for being stuck babysitting the others. Often, they simply have bad computers or connections and rack up losses for dropping out of the game. More interestingly, once you move out of the "novice and accident" category, players get increasingly worse. You heard me. Oh, sure, here we're getting into the realm of those who have learned the mechanics so a certain degree of competence smooths out the overall gameplay experience. However, you also have to deal with the fact that these idiots are invested in their own self-image and not the game itself.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire. You've left the level of those who simply go afk in the middle of a match because they don't give a damn and entered the much more crowded realm of those who go afk in the middle of a match because they're more invested in their k/d ratio than an actual win, putting blame assignation over success.
This is where you get the cretins who refuse to do anything but grind up their stats the entire game because unless they can play the hero for the team, the game simply isn't worth playing to them.
This is where you'll see teammates sitting in one corner of the map leaving you outnumbered because as long as they don't actually take part in fights they can't be blamed for losing them, right?
This is where you'll never see anyone playing support roles or taking a hit for the team, where every match has the maximum number of parasitic assassin classes and they'll pout and deliberately sabotage an entire game because you accidentally "stole" a killing blow from them.
This is where you'll be retreating from a fight slowly getting worn down by enemies while your teammates run just a step ahead of you with full health while doing nothing to cover your retreat. So long as they stay one step ahead of you, they get to call you a "noob" for actually getting into combat.
Here's where as soon as your team has less than a 50% k/d ratio, players will immediately begin spamming the surrender button instead of trying to turn things around, playing the numbers, gaming the system, trying to get as many matches in to count on the law of averages to keep them afloat since they can't actually understand what wins team games.
This is the realm of both expertise and griefing, of those who have accumulated enough information about the game to out-play complete novices but lack the metal capacity to actually keep track of the flow of all the elements in a team game. Their only understanding is of simpleminded, algorithmic procedures. Diverge from those by thoughtfully analyzing and adapting to the situation at hand and they will throw the game rather than admit their inability to do the same.

At low levels, players lose team games because they react slowly. Above that, they lose because they do not react at all.
New players lose because they don't know how to use their abilities. Experienced players lose because they all wait to use their abilities for a killing blow.
Newbies lose because they don't know where to go. Experts lose by knowing exactly where the fight is and running in the opposite direction.

Elo hell is not the bottom rung, but actually the domain of those who think knowing the game means they know how to play and are willing to sabotage you to prove that you'll lose if you don't follow their one-track idiocy. In real-world sports or other team activities, such stupidity gets policed by various authorities. Coaches may be knuckledragging muscleheads but even they won't stand for that nonsense. Random match-ups cover it up by forcing intelligent team players to carry such morons.

 Of course above this level are the competitive players who have learned the hard way that in order to secure a win they may have to sacrifice their own personal glory, but unless you've got a full team in your pocket, good luck climbing there before going insane screaming at your monitor to get those little randomly-matched deadheads on your side to actually cooperate.

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