Ok, first off, welcome! (or maybe, hopefully, welcome back!)
Just a warning straight off the bat here, there’s no game to talk about this week. I feel that this means you’ll either stop here when you’d normally keep reading or (for those who aren’t interested in batreps (JARGON ALERT!!)) you’ll keep reading when you might usually stop. Either way, that’s ok.
This week’s blog is going to be a more reflective one that will hopefully help me to straighten out my somewhat jumbled thoughts. After all, that’s part of why I started writing in the first place, for my own development and to help me clarify my own head stuff.
I’ll also mention that I’ve written this in several sittings, edited bits in/out and shuffled parts around. I’ve read it through and it makes sense (to me, at least!) but I apologise if it seems a bit of a mess.
The…errr…..start of the main bit? (or intro Part II?!)
Last week’s blog covered the last of my games in season 2 of the Sith Takers league. It was a loss, my 7th in a row and, counting in person play along with online (and going back as far as the UK System Open in February), my 32nd in 42 games. That’s not a particularly great record.
Yes, several (quite a few, when I think about it) had been quite close and could have potentially gone either way.
But they didn’t.
Now, I can’t consider myself a new player. It’s just about 3 years since I first picked up some templates and started pushing plastic spaceships across a table.
I have known of people picking up the game since I started, improving quickly and doing well in (and even winning) tournaments. In fact, one of my opponents from the Sith Taker league a few weeks ago was a guest on the podcast last week (hey Matthias/Sad Toaster!) and mentioned that he picked up the game in January 2019, went 4-2 in a system open before he owned many/any ships and has won a few tournaments. And I’m just here hoping to break even in my wins/losses.
So I guess it’s time to reflect, which one of the things I started this blog up for in the first place.
Definitely the main bit…
Last week I had a comment on one of the Facebook posts where I spam out my link on a Tuesday from a certain David Sutcliffe. David runs a blog (the very excellent http://stayontheleader.blogspot.com/), has been a guest on the Sith Takers podcast and is a very good player to boot (though we have never played against each other). He was responding to a line from my post where I said ‘So I guess I’m saying that I’m not suited to competitive play?‘.
Among other things (which were nice things), he said this:
Last week you said something like “some people just aren’t good at this and I’m one of them” and it made me sad.David Sutcliffe
And that made me think about some stuff.
Is it sad that I’ve accepted I’m perhaps not suited to tournament play? Am I being a bit defeatist? Or am I just being honest/realistic with myself? What does it look like for me to get better at it? What’s the very best that I could be? What’s my ‘achievement ceiling’? What would it cost me (in terms of time/other commitments/money) to get to that place?
Lots of questions.
How will I get to the bottom of this? Well, hopefully by pouring my brain out onto my keyboard and see what coherent thoughts come out.
Now, I will start by saying this: everyone is different. Everyone.
Some people have similar personalities, similar experiences or similar ways of looking at things. But nobody (and I mean, NOBODY) is the same as anyone else.
There are (broadly speaking) types of people though. And, to (finally) start narrowing things down here, one of those types is being a competitive person. That’s probably not the best way to phrase that but you know what I mean. Some people are competitive, others, not so much.
Or maybe it’s better to view it as a graph like this:
Again, maybe not the best way to lay it out but I feel that it illustrates what I’m trying to say. Rather than class someone as competitive or not competitive, imagine their position on a graph. As you move from left to right the ‘competitiveness’ increases. It’s less of a ‘yes or no’ or ‘on or off’ and more ‘I’m at XX position on the graph’.
Now, historically, I’d have placed myself very low down (more to the left) on that graph. However, 3 years of playing X-Wing has shown me that I’m maybe slightly further to the right than I’d have thought.
You see, I’ve never been fantastic at your typical competitive stuff. For example I was, err, not exactly in peak physical condition as a child/young teen and while I really enjoyed playing football (soccer for those who consider football to be a game where you use your hands…), I wasn’t fit enough to play it well. I can say that I could really hit a good pass, I could cross accurately and read the game well. But my lack of fitness meant that I was normally put in defence where I struggled to try and tackle the faster, fitter kids on the other team. I also didn’t do well under pressure and while I could kick the ball in a goal accurately during a kick around, I rarely scored any goals in a ‘proper’ game. Over time this meant that, while I enjoyed the game in general, my experience of it wasn’t what I wanted it to be.
Please don’t be too sad for 11-14 year old me, I had other stuff I enjoyed and my childhood was good, honest!
What I’m trying to do here is draw parallels. You see, at any point during my teen/pre-teen years, I could have changed this. If I really wanted to be better at football, to try and get into the school team or join a local team for my age group, I could have done something about it. I could have changed my diet, lost some weight. I could have started running to improve my stamina and I could have dedicated time to practicing ball skills, dribbling, shot accuracy.
I could have. But I didn’t. I chose to do other stuff instead.
The other thing is, some people just seemed to be naturally really good at football. They were quick, ran well with the ball and normally put the ball in the goal when it mattered. 14 year old me would assume they’re simply better than I am and accepted my place at ‘left back’ (in the changing room…hahahahaaaaa….anybody else? No…?).
The thing is, I didn’t see how much preparation, time or effort was being put in by these people outside of what I saw. Maybe they ran home from school every day and picked up a ball for an hour before doing anything else. Perhaps their dad or an older sibling would challenge them to get better. Possibly they even played for a team and got coached at a high level. If any of that was the case, I didn’t see it and so, I just didn’t consider any of it as a possibility. They were just better than I was at football and that was that.
While it might feel slightly contrary to what I’ve just said, I also believe there are some players who have just got ‘it’, (whatever ‘it’ is). They can see the pass the nobody else can see, can dribble past 5 players like they’re not even there or score a wonder-goal from an impossible position. They are simply naturally gifted with skills that can’t be coached. These are the ones who, when they combine natural skill with hard work and dedication, make it to the very very top of their game.
And so we come back to X-Wing (finally I hear you cry!).
If I wanted (like REALLY wanted) to be more ‘successful’ (i.e. winning tournaments) at X-Wing then I could. I know I could. I could spend time studying cards to make sure I understand what all ship and pilot abilities do and how I could combat them. I could lay out ships and templates on a board and practice eyeballing distances, knowing the difference in end position between a 3 bank and a 4 straight followed by a boost (and knowing which would be better for me in different circumstances). I could watch the countless hours of ‘game tape’ on YouTube from the many streams that provide content for fans of the game to consume.
But I don’t.
And whether it feels like it or not, that’s a choice I’ve made.
I also believe that those naturally gifted footballers also have their counterparts in X-Wing. There are certain skills like judging distances, considering multiple decision trees and calculating dice probabilities, which people can just do, in their head adn without thinking too much about it, with little or no coaching. Of course these are things which someone can put the time and effort in to learn but if these come naturally to you then it certainly gives an advantage, at least when starting out. When you then add in the desire and capability to learn and improve, these are the attributes of the players who regularly make cuts and win tournaments.
And then there’s another factor. Playing the meta game (JARGON ALERT!!).
The other part of what David Sutcliffe said in his comment was this:
Your ability to pick yourself up after each game to go again is admirable! Your determination to keep trying with the same thing even though it keeps not working… a little less admirable…David Sutcliffe. Again
Here, (in the second part) he very probably (definitely) hits a quite sensitive nail right on it’s great big stubborn head.
I have my own personal preferences. We all do. Whether it’s a favoured faction, ship, pilot or archetype, we all have something that we prefer. Of course this doesn’t stop us from using other things, except sometimes it does.
Could I pick up a list that’s doing well in top level competitions and give it a go? Of course! Is there a problem with that? Heck no!
And yet, many (myself included), simply don’t.
Whether it’s because we don’t own the ships in question (which, in this Covid/online season isn’t an issue), because we don’t like the stigma of net-listing (JARGON ALERT!!), because we want to be the one to find ‘the thing’ that beats the current ‘big bad’ or just because we like what we like and that’s what we want to fly, it’s pretty much unheard of for all (or even most) players to turn up to an event with exactly the same list.
For me, I like Rebels. I know that it’s had it’s moment in the sun with Rebel Beef and, to some extend, Handbrake Han, but Rebels are in a bit of a tough place in the meta at the moment. There are a couple of exceptions of course but in general, there’s nothing that screams ‘pick me!!!’ when it comes to putting together a Rebel list.
This doesn’t stop me from bringing Rebel lists to games though. Even though, objectively, if I want to win, it maybe should.
Particularly when it comes to flying lists with Dash Rendar in the YT-2400 (my favourite ship/pilot) who, until recently (and even then, not really) has been somewhat over-costed and not really all that great, I can get a little annoyed when things don’t go my way.
But why should they? There’s a reason why Dash isn’t a popular ship in the meta at the moment. So why should I be upset at not being able to ‘be good’ (meaning win games) with him? Especially when you factor in what I was saying earlier about putting in the work to be better at the game in general.
It’s like I’m basically ‘expecting’ myself to do well while at the same time putting myself at a disadvantage with little preparation and sub-par ‘tools’ to do the job with.
It doesn’t make sense, does it?
I have to come back to a simple question that I have asked myself before (several times) – why do I play the game?
Am I in this hobby to play competitively, to do as well as I can and feel a sense of achievement?
You see, when a tournament is announced, I don’t sign up with the express goal or even desire to win it. I just want to play the game I love and spend time with other people (whether friends or strangers, in person or over voice chat online)
But when I get to the point of setting up the game, I’m not setting up to lose. There is of course a part of me that wants to win and will (hopefully, but rarely) make choices to put me in a position to do so. And during that tournament if things aren’t going especially well (which, is the case quite often), then I can feel disappointed. Anyone would (right? right?!)
I feel that sometimes I probably put too much pressure or expectation on myself. Like I could be doing better in games and then when I don’t, that I should be doing better than I am. After all, I’ve been playing this game for around 3 years now. I listen to podcasts and read blogs. Heck, I even write a blog! Obviously I should be good considering all this.
This is clearly nonsense.
I think that maybe I also have my perspective on my expectations skewed by the X-Wing content that I consume.
I listen to several podcasts which talk about high performing lists/ships/players as well as new content, rules updates, etc. I think that perhaps I feel quite well versed in what’s going on, what’s current in the game. I’m up to date with the current meta, what new ships are on the horizon and which players are at the top of the game.
Maybe having all this in my head makes me feel like just having this information should put me at a certain level.
Going back to the earlier story about football in my youth, it’s like expecting to score the winning goal and being the hero of the team when I’ve put absolutely no preparation in to the game. Having that expectation is just totally unrealistic.
Now let me go back to the story from my childhood. I actually stopped playing football. For quite a while. At around 17 I had a group of friends who enjoyed kicking a ball around at school and I started to enjoy it too. At around the age of 24ish a group of friends wanted to get back into playing and so we grouped together and joined a local 6-a-side league that ran on a Monday night.
We actually played in that league for 3 or 4 years and had some great times. We won some, lost some and won a cup final. But more than that, what I remember is the good times we had. The journeys to the school AstroTurf together, singing songs in the car. The celebrations when someone who doesn’t score many smashes a beautiful shot into the bottom corner.
No, I wasn’t great at the game. Yes, other players were better than I was. (and yes, I still wasn’t exactly in peak physical condition).
But this time around my focus was different. We came together as a team to play for fun. We played each game trying to win (and we did pretty well) but winning wasn’t the ultimate goal. We were playing for fun, for the pure enjoyment of getting that game winning goal or pulling off the last ditch tackle to prevent the other team from scoring. It wasn’t the winning, it was the experience that mattered.
And that’s how it’s been for X-Wing. I’ve played a fair number of games in my time but there are some games where I could tell you (even without looking back at my older posts!) of some amazing move that I pulled off or when I rolled mathematically improbable dice to win/lose the game.
THOSE are the moments I’m in this for. The memories that capture my feelings, that shared experiences with old friends and new.
It’s just that sometimes it seems that I forget.
So let’s remember.
Let’s play for the fun, for the thrill of the dice rolls and how close we were to hitting that rock, win or lose.
Let’s play for the chance to meet new people, whether in person from down the road or over the internet from across the world.
Let’s play for the camaraderie of watching your mate pull out an unlikely win against all the odds and cheering them like it’s a cup final at Wembley.
Let’s play because in this crazy messed up world, sometimes we need to be distracted and think about something else, even if it’s just for a few minutes.