Life Lessons Learned From eSports 10/19/2016

When I graduated high school in 2006 the job was pretty grim. I had accumulated a plethora of interests and skills throughout my adolescence (the least profitable being fish husbandry and the most profitable being graphic design). One unlikely source of cash, during these dark days, was video games. Like many folks my age, I grew up gaming and will forever have fond memories of playing SNES with my siblings on Saturday mornings. Competitive gaming was something that came later. It scratched a different itch than losing yourself in a fantasy world - it matched your determination, mental aptitude, and dexterity against another person, anywhere in the world, in about an hour or so. Although I didn’t make a fortune from participating in Quake tournaments or training folks in Warcraft 3, there are trends I still see while observing high impact people in my life (both professionally and personally) that I continue to relate to these early days in competitive gaming.

1. Failure is golden

When Starcraft 2 beta came out I wasn’t as invested in the progaming scene as I once was, but was excited nonetheless and gave it a shot. I made some friends, had a ton of fun, and was highly ranked those first few seasons. As Starcraft 2 was a new game, there was a one behavior that made people good, and did it quickly.

The thing about Starcraft is that when you lose, it’s because you did something wrong and they did something right. This means when you win, you didn’t win because your parents had more money or because you got lucky — you won because you did more right things than the person on the other end.

As a result, the clarity behind a loss was stark, and the really great players (the ones that improved at lightning speed) sought out failure. These players were constantly looking for those that would beat them by wide margins because as great as winning feels, you often don’t learn much from it.

2. Life Isn’t Fair

In competitive gaming scenes, talks often crop up around game mechanic 'balance' (or fairness), and how to adjust your technique to account for the current tactics and strategies. Every competitive game I’ve played has some level of randomness incorporated in it (and despite that, it’s still a far fairer system than the world we live in). High growth players would not attribute these random elements to failure, where other players often would. If you think you lost because of something outside of your control, your motivation to improve diminishes. Great players would instead accept that they could only improve in areas they did control, and they’d optimize for those.

3. Performance is Relative

In addition to only having a finite amount of control, you actually didn’t have to play perfect to do well — you just had to be better than most.

Like many areas of life, the best is not defined by the system itself, but is determined by the participants of that system — as soon as someone found a new way of doing things, the definition of the best changed. This happens at such a rapid pace during a competitive game’s lifecycle that the mindset from the best players had to be flexible. If you got too attached to one way of doing things, you were left behind.

4. Motivation is your most valuable resource

eSports has steadily been gaining momentum in the west for many years, but in other parts of the world it’s a much more accepted part of collective culture. As a result, I met people from all over the globe (mostly online), and was exposed to the sharp contrast between the western idea of ‘God given talents’ and the ‘eastern’ philosophy that time spent on a craft is directly correlated with performance/success. Although I think this eastern viewpoint is typically more correct, I think time is misidentified as the source of success, when it should be motivation.

Through my time in gaming, I continually saw players come late to the scene, and improve at incredible rates, simply because it’s something they really wanted. Traditional belief would tell you that they were behind the curve - that they were simply too far behind to be competitive, but those that rose to the top either ignored this completely, or had enough ignorance and/or arrogance to persevere.

Of course, we’ve all seen examples of ourselves (and others) wanting to do something for weeks/months/years and not actually following through. In these cases, rarely is it resources that hold us back, it’s just the sheer willpower and motivation.