I’ve been thinking about competitive gaming a lot recently. Ever since Wizards of the Coast stopped producing their Star Wars Miniatures (Minis) game back in 2010, I’ve been going through Minis tournament withdrawals. That, combined with reading some of Jon’s EA posts on Starcraft II, prompted me to join a Magic: The Gathering tournament last week, which brought on memories of the good old days when me and my best friend used to play Minis competitively. Unfortunately, I was also reminded about some of the bad times, when I had to play against some real jerks, especially when they were more skilled than I was.
Sportsmanship is a huge issue that I think is more prevalent in one-on-one games like Magic or Minis than in “real” sports like basketball or soccer. I used to play soccer, and there was nothing more infuriating than losing to a team with bad sportsmanship. Usually though, not everyone on the other team was a poor sport. The field was also big enough so that odds were good that I wouldn’t be in direct contact with that one obnoxious jerk that seems to plague every team. If you’re in a Magic tournament, that field just got a lot smaller and that opposing team consists of one person. If a person needs improvement on his sportsmanship skills, you can’t really ignore him, especially if he’s better than you. One thing I remembered was that sportsmanship played an integral role in shaping my gaming experience, especially in the first tournament that my friend and I ever attended.
I’ll never forget that first tournament. It was early on in our Minis collecting. I even had to borrow most of the miniatures for my squad from him because he had more than me. We were new to the game. I had found an unopened starter set in my friend’s basement and after questioning him intensively on how he could own a Star Wars game and not have even opened it, I sat back to read the rules. It wasn’t long before we started buying booster packs to build up our collection. Eventually we learned that we could enter official tournaments and win prizes. We had played enough games to where we thought we were pretty good and we were both pretty confident that we could beat anybody. However, we soon found that tournaments are a different experience altogether.
The biggest surprise was that we didn’t know all the rules. Did I ever feel like an idiot! I expected ridicule, I expected people to say, “what a noob!” What we got was understanding and patience. “It’s ok, it wasn’t in the rulebook.” That made me feel a whole lot better, especially since I’d scoured that darn little book to avoid the very situation we found ourselves in. These extra rules were actually pretty easy to grasp and they were designed to prevent players from being jerks. We did not, however, design our Minis teams with these rules in mind, so we were at a bit of a disadvantage. Our opponents were jovial and didn’t get irritated when we forgot a rule or two. Somehow I was able to make it to the final round of the tournament with a 2-0 record, which meant that I was guaranteed 2nd place and had a chance to win 1st! That final game was the most memorable and one of the most pivotal games of my life. It was also the shortest.
I didn’t even stand a chance; this guy’s skills were of a caliber that I had never seen before. Surprisingly, he was also one of the kindest, most helpful people I have ever had the honor of playing against. He knew that he was playing against a novice and he took advantage of my every mistake, but he pointed out those mistakes to me and told me things that he might have done instead. When I made a good move or got in a lucky roll, he would compliment me. He never mocked my inexperience nor did he boast when he won. I found out after the tournament that my final opponent was one of the top players in the world and my respect for him only increased with each tournament I played in. I’ve played against the best of the best and, unfortunately, not all of them carried themselves like he did. I hate to think what could have happened if I had played against one of the arrogant and mean players in that first tournament. Would I have continued to play Star Wars Miniatures? Would I have ever again played in a tournament of any kind? Honestly, after playing against some people, I don’t think that I would have.
I’ve had people knock over the board when they lost, gloat and insult me when they won, I’ve even had opponents accuse me of using a loaded d20 and not apologize when the referee told them that it wasn’t loaded. I’ve always been pretty good at ignoring people when they’re being ridiculous but what gets me the most is when I see new players (especially younger ones) being torn down by more experienced ones. I’ve seen kids called “morons” or “idiots” for making simple mistakes. I’ve also seen world class players become royally pissed off when a “newbie” gets in a few lucky rolls and are suddenly in danger of losing. On multiple occasions, I’ve watched high ranking players rage quit when losing to someone new and then drop out of the tournament. They do this to preserve their ranking but it also reduces the amount of points that the other player would receive, potentially ruining their chances of winning. It breaks my heart to know that some kids, after being treated this way, have been turned away from playing games that they could have come to love. Ever since that first tournament, and especially since I’ve played against some real jerks, I’ve always tried to be a considerate, helpful player. Leaving a game because you don’t like it is one thing, but no one should lose a potential passion for a game because they were treated poorly by gamers who only care about a winning record.