I used to be a pretty competitive dude. I wanted to be among the best in every game I played, and – importantly to this discussion – I wanted to show my skill off. Over time, that desire to show off has diminished, but not my urge to be the best player of a game I can possibly be. My friends have traditionally not felt this same urge – regardless of game, and people coming and going as the years have gone on. They often just want to play a game the way they want to play a game, and value that freedom over other definitions of “being good.” Many of them stay away from any sort of competition at all, seeking out only cooperative play, or preferring any player vs. player scenario to be a purely casual one. I understand. I like to win and I grow frustrated when my losses or getting outplayed seems to stem from my inability to perform. It would be easy for me to look externally for the reasons I lost. It couldn’t possibly be due to my poor play. My teammates were awful, they are all trolls, they didn’t know how to play, and were such potatoes that their disappearance from Ireland might lead to another famine. Of course, this is simply not true. The older I have gotten, the more I understood something that seems so obvious to me now – but was a mystery to me when I was younger. The fact is – people want to get better if they are queuing for ranked games.
I can already hear the anger as people are telling me I am wrong, but I don’t think it is. However, it is a lot more complicated than people seem to think it is. The biggest complaints about ranked are actually linked. First, people talk about the awful quality of the matchmaking. Diamond players are getting matched with Silver players. Obviously there is a skill differential there, but it’s indicative of a larger problem. The second problem is people complain about the matchmaking times. There are those who firmly believed timed queues would be the answer, but it’s likely masking the root cause. There simply aren’t enough people playing ranked at any given time to cause the queues to pop faster. In order to build games, those Silver players are getting matched with Diamond players because there aren’t enough Silver, Bronze, or Gold players queuing at any given moment to populate all of the people wishing to start games. The options around this are either allow queues to take longer so the matchmaking is better – something people say they would be willing to do, but data usually suggests otherwise – or to just start the game. That would lead to games rarely having full rosters. No one would want that to occur, either. There is really only one solution that solves these problems and allows for a sustainable future – get more people involved in ranked play. Of course, there are myriad reasons why people don’t want to play ranked conquest.
Ranked Conquest is Scary
To a lot of people, ranked is scary. Conquest is already overwhelming for some, and the availability of other game modes allows people to not interact with it if they don’t have to do so. Ranked conquest has a reputation for people raging, berating their teammates, and judging everyone else’s play. I believe we can agree that competition doesn’t always bring out the best in people. Which is unfortunate, as everyone playing ranked really wants the same thing – to improve their rank. Whether people admit it or not, this also means they possess the desire to get better.
There is a lot of crowing about how a team game can’t possibly predict their “true elo,” because it’s too dependent on others. If it wasn’t for their teammates, they would all be grandmasters. Obviously. While this is an exaggeration, there is a kernel of truth. People want to win because winning can reflect on how good they are. Their byline doesn’t matter because they can look at the outcome of the game and say all of their moves were correct because they won. This swings wildly the other way in a loss, and can result in Blame-a-palooza. No matter which way it turns out, people just invest a lot of themselves in the binary outcome of the game. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the idea that your placement defines you, or that it has nothing to do with you at all.
Even those people in lower brackets are seeking to prove they belong in a higher bracket. They more acutely feel the pressure of their placement. There is a stigma attached to the lower rankings. Hell, there is a stigma attached to the middle rankings. This stigma is perpetrated by Hi-Rez employees and professional figures. You see these public figures say things like “gold trash” or “bronze shitters” or other insults to the player base. If the pro players and the company are doing it, why wouldn’t the casual player emulate that behavior? The community figures that receive accolades are calling people bots, potatoes, garbage, and telling them they should uninstall – on streams. I am not here to tell people they should or shouldn’t behave in a certain way, but to act ignorant of the repercussions is a disservice to what is going on.
“Toxic behavior” is tossed around as a phrase quite a bit, but “silence is consent” is a very real thing in communities. If the high profile people continue to act a certain way without any blow-back, why wouldn’t everyone else? I honestly think the SMITE community is a lot better than a lot of other online communities, but it has a lot of the same issues that any competitive game faces. Since most PC SMITE players come from other games with these issues, it’s baggage already packed and awaiting pickup.
I am not a great player. I am average, right now. I understand why the decisions are made, how to make them, and a lot of the finer points of the game – it just doesn’t mean I can execute them when I play. This sort of honesty is needed if you want to get better, but it doesn’t feel good to admit you are bad at a thing. It is also easy to spiral out of control. This is exacerbated when you start putting pressure on the people who are under-performing or, at the very least, failing to rise above an average performance. Some people thrive under that sort of scrutiny, and some people shrivel like an onion left outside. For me, there is no greater pressure when I am the only dude left alive and I know all my teammates are seeing my screw-ups firsthand.
However, I do try to perform. I just fail at it. It’s not through malice or intent. I just crack. I am trying to get better about it, but it’s a slow process. While I don’t have empirical evidence, anecdotally I know others have this same issue. We want to get better, but it’s just a long process, and people have varying learning curves. I only get to play like one or two games a night during the week, so it’s tough for me to keep momentum going. This is particularly true early in the season when the items and gods are going through rapid iterations. I think this is a good thing, but it’s still a challenge.
The easiest way to get better is to just play more games. Preferably against people that are better than you or are equal to you in skill, and in an environment to cut down on a number of factors – trolling, goofy picks, pre-made groups, and so on. You will still run into this, but with the competitive environment it occurs less frequently. You are likely to remember the times it does happen – that’s just being human – but it is a less frequent occurrence. The problem is with so few players, a silver player is going up against that diamond player and the skill differential is so big as to not really allow for a good learning experience on either side. Still, both people want to improve.
What You Can Do About It
I know it can be hard, but there are ways to make ranked a better experience for yourself and others.
- Be Honest. If you don’t know something, are unsure about something, or think you did something wrong – ask. Just say you want to get better and could use some help.
- Don’t Blame Others. If something goes wrong, don’t seek blame. Offer suggestions or encouragement.
- Speak Up for Other. If people are bashing the lower ranked players, let them know it’s not acceptable. Everyone wants to get better, and you only get better through putting foot to pavement. Practice might not make perfect, but it makes better.
- Be Friendly. Say hi, compliment people on their plays, and just make the game a positive place.
- If You Are Getting Mad, Take a Break. For real, just step away after a bad game. Erase the ass from your mind.
- Report. I know – snitches get stitches, but only you can make the community the way you want it. If something bothers you, say something about it. If you don’t, you can’t guarantee anyone will.
- Spread the Joy. In places you talk about SMITE, talk about the positive aspects of your games, your experiences, and what you are doing to improve. Don’t trash talk or harp on the negative. It sound silly, but it helps.
Ranked can be frustrating, but it’s important to take a look at what is going on. People really do want to get better. People want to have competitive games. People want more people to play with. The only way to do that is to change the way you play, and to help try and change the way people play around you. It’s not easy, but it’s something everyone can do.