Competitive gaming: teams and tantrums

Last month while I was browsing through the WordPress reader, I came across a post on the Lyte Bytes site entitled Fun vs. Competition: Can you enjoy gaming if you suck?. The author started by writing that he felt as though there was a limit to how much enjoyment could be had with a video game due to the presence of competition in certain types.

This got me thinking: is my dislike of first-person shooters (FPSs) and multiplayer online battle areas (MOBAs) more to do with competition than the genres themselves? It wasn’t something I’d considered before. But having never really been a competitive player, and owning hand-eye coordination of a level that would make that incredibly difficult anyway, it was a point that made sense.

I wrote recently about local multiplayers and how I miss the joy of such games. Battling it out in digital wars with family and friends in the same room created a shared social experience, a personal event which brought us together when I was a kid. The competition stayed friendly (most of the time) and regardless of who won and lost, it was something to laugh about and a way of making lovely memories.

EGX 2014, event, expo, convention, Call of Duty, video game, gamers, crowd, queue

Take it online however and it’s a whole different game. For example, titles like Call of Duty and League of Legends have the potential to inspire extreme competitiveness and there are some players who take winning incredibly seriously. Adult responsibilities mean that I don’t have enough time to improve my skills to an adequate levels to be able to compete; and I don’t want to spend the little free hours I do have being slated by my teammates for not being good enough.

In February last year, game analytics consulting practice Quantic Foundry published a report on how gaming motivations vary by age. This found that competition – that is, ‘the appeal of competing with other players in duels, matches or team-vs-team scenarios’– declines over time. There are many interesting comments on their blog post but this one left by James Lee stood out for me:

I wonder to what extent older players are put off competitive play simply because of the perception that it’s a young person’s arena. Many gamers who are 30+ may want competitive games but weigh up the ideal scenario of playing with peers against the perceived likelihood of playing against sweary teenagers.

Many of my friends and I could be placed in this bracket of ‘older gamers’ so I asked them what they thought about this. Most agreed, with Nathan saying that his ‘mum is filth’ according to some of the people he has played online with and Kevin describing the abuse he’d received. An entire post on the subject can be found over on The Mental Attic and here’s an excerpt:

As it tends to happen with Overwatch competitive, you sometimes have amazing matches, where even if you lose, it’s an intense fight from start to finish. And sometimes, you have a team filled with abuse-spewing nincompoops who focus on themselves and not the overall team effort yet find ways of making everything other people’s fault. I know I screw up, a lot, and I can accept that and move on, learning from my mistakes, but I’m continually shocked at how people refuse to accept their parts in a loss, opting for just vitriol to hide the fact.

So in answer to the question posed by Lyte Bytes: yes, you can have fun even if you suck at gaming; but in a competitive environment your teammates may make it extremely difficult. It’s not the games or the genres themselves that are the issue but the people we play with and our own attitudes when it comes to winning and losing.

There are so many wonderful things going on in the gaming world today. There are new experiences to suit everyone, regardless of their tastes; we have the opportunity to step into the shoes of a wide range of diverse characters; and strong female protagonists are now not such an uncommon occurrence. Yet there are things which still let us down and are a poor reflection on our community.

The next time you pick up the controller for an online match, try to remember that it’s not about winning or losing: it’s about enjoying a video game and having fun. And if you have the time to speak to the teammate who seems to be struggling, to offer a few words of encouragement or pass on some tips which might help them improve, then even better.

28 thoughts on “Competitive gaming: teams and tantrums

  1. Great piece. I’ve written about my various experiences in Online Games, and (on average) there’s definitely a recurring element of sweary teens throwing out “yo momma….” insults like there’s no tomorrow, and there’s also (sometimes) a considerable amount of abuse when your own “teammates” think you’re not good enough too.

    I think a lot of it depends on the game (as well as random chance), obviously – and some games either facilitate better cooperation, attract less “Alpha”, sweary types, or a combination of both. Quite surprisingly, I found Halo 5 to have a pretty great online community – and there tended to be a more helpful, co-operative playerbase.

    There was one incident* that had me welling up because it demonstrated just how much of a difference the type of encouragement you suggested can actually make and, whilst anecdotal, it highlighted what we might just be missing out on when games do cross into the uber-competetive, antagonistic arena that puts so many people off.

    *if you’re interested, the piece is here:

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s such a shame that situations like that in your anecdote don’t happen more often – if they did, I’d be far more likely to play online. I don’t have a lot of time to game at the moment so when I do, I want to be able to enjoy myself rather than feeling under pressure in case my teammates turn on me.

      It’s also a shame that I missed out on the freestyle rap about the cat, because I bet that was AWESOME.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I think it’s a genuine shame it’s not more of a thing, particularly because there’s a vicious circle whereby you’re less likely to stick around and “git gud” if you’re constantly being screamed at for not being good.

        In that respect, all the aggro’s self-defeating, because a few hints etc instead would make people stick around long enough to improve, *and* help them improve quicker.

        As for the rap, it was, erm, interesting, I guess. I mean, there was potential there, for sure, but it was a bit rough around the edges. Also, it’s something of a niche subject really….. 😉


        • Niche? I thought everybody liked cats – that guy was on to a sure-fire hit!

          Following on from Will’s comments below, I might give Overwatch a try and see what happens. It’ll be an interesting experiment.

          Liked by 1 person

          • True. I forgot about, like, the whole Internet being dedicated to cats. 😉

            And I’ve never played Overwatch, but I agree with the whole “group of friends” thing, for sure.

            As a general rule, Games that have objectives etc (as opposed to just Team Deathmatch type shenanigans) tend to facilitate more cooperation and support too, I find.

            Finding your niche can pay massive dividends also. In Battlefield 1, for example, realising I wasn’t super great at the Shooting stuff, I played as a Medic and got pretty good at reviving players as we tried to hold (or take) an objective. Not only did I help the team way more than my rubbish shooting would’ve, but people tend to be a lot less critical if you’ve just saved their ass too.


            • I recall once playing Street Fighter 3rd Strike online with randoms. I usually play fighting games just for the kicks and never really go into frame links or anything else like that (in fact I’m not really sure what a frame link even is). I ended up getting paired against a French fella who proceeded to batter me over two round with me only really laying one punch on him.

              But I pressed rematch anyway.

              The same thing happened again, then a third time, then a fourth. I kept coming back for more. My opponent had been really quiet on the headset until about his tenth win. He uttered the words “You English usually quit by now”.

              To which I replied “I’m actually Scottish”.

              He suddenly became far more talkative and there followed a two hour training session in which we played more matches but with him offering tips as to where I was going wrong. It was like being taught the ways of the warrior by Eric Cantona.

              Liked by 2 people

  2. I think it’s such a shame that what could be the camaraderie that could form, as does with co-op multiplayer games, in these team based games quickly devolves to name calling and a witch hunts to found who on their team has caused them the loss, and such. If, instead, I was playing as part of a team that was supportive and communicated I feel like I would enjoy the experience of competitive gaming more and, regardless of whether I won or lost, would want to play more.

    Sadly, after hammering the nails in the coffin of my League addiction I think I’ll never truly enjoy the competitive nature of games – and maybe that is because I’m just getting older and more mature?


    • There are a lot of interesting findings in the Quantic Foundry report. Competition as a gaming motivation declines sharply between the ages of 13 and 35 – so maybe it’s a case of feeling as if we no longer have to ‘prove ourselves’ as gamers as we get older?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The secret is getting a ‘stack’ of friends to all play. I play a lot of competitive games, Overwatch, CSGO, Rocket League and others, but apart from Overwatch I will pretty much always play with a group of friends, that eliminates or seriously reduces encountering angry people.

    But then I still get the buzz from competitive games, so maybe that helps.

    What’s weird though, is that I very rarely find people who get super angry and even if I do it just washes over me, maybe I’m just too laid back to notice it that much. Although I did have one guy start to get pretty salty the other day in Overwatch when we were losing, he started to rage a bit at the team, I told him to shut up and we got that he was angry, he chilled after that and we went on to win. He then later apologised.


    • My previous dabbles in the world of online gaming have made me feel as if I’m going to get hit twice: once for not being able to keep up with my teammates, and once again for ‘being a girl’. Maybe that’s not the case any longer but it’s certainly something which is a bit of a mental obstacle.

      Perhaps it’s time to try again – by starting off with a group of friends, as you say. We’ll see. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Unfortunately the whole ‘gamer girl’ thing still exists somewhat, although it does seem like it’s got better, but still a long way to go. I just wish people would really grow up with it!

        I’m pretty terrible at CSGO, but most of my friends are good so they just carry me through it, lol. But we just have a laugh when playing and don’t take it too seriously.

        Playing solo can be tough at times for many reasons, so if you can find people to play with then it will always become more enjoyable and the more you relax the better you will become – at least in my experience anyway.


  4. Your point on not having enough time to get good enough to compete is spot on for me. Playing with randoms online is no fun when you’re going to get beaten by people who have the time to practice.
    Put simple, losing repeatedly is rarely fun, especially online. The genres may be fun to play though which is why I’d like to see the return of bots. I appreciate DOTA and co having offline modes to enjoy at least.


    • Based on the comments above, I think I’m going to give Overwatch a try at some point and see how I get on. But I’m a bit worried about how much time I’ll be able to put into it – whether I’ll be able to get to any sort of level that would make me ‘useful’ to a team.

      It’s a challenge of getting older and having more responsibilities, I guess!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I actually got really into Halo 3 about ten years ago because a friend of mine started to play online with me. He’d actually spent some time getting really serious about Halo and had joined an American based team online. With the time difference he was logging into practice sessions at 4am. This had, for obvious reasons, taken the toll and around the time I bought my own 360 he said he was trying to leave (which made it sound like some kind of arm of the Mafia). Apparently, whilst it was good to be part of such an organised squad of really good players, he actually enjoyed playing Halo far more when all the pressure was off.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember that article. I’m 30+ and I still enjoy competitive games actually.

    I mute everybody other than my one real life friend who I play with online. That’s sort of a lie about mutitng everybody, because every once in awhile we unmute lobbies just to see what kind of screeching vitriol is out there.Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised, but mostly not.

    I grew up playing fighting games competitively in arcades. We were intensely competitive and had a relatively engaged community, but there’s a big difference between playing online and playing in arcades. Well there’s a few big differences, but one difference in particular stands out: you can see each other, and each other’s reactions. A person who blows their top and gets angry for losing doesn’t have the veil of anonymity to hide behind. Nor can they complain of hacking or cheating. The only real diss that sticks is when we called each other “cheap”.

    All players go through a pride-breaking experience in competitive gaming and for us it happened early and in arcades and it is connected to actually feeling ashamed. After this point, if and when pride is set aside, this where the real skill growth happens. No such feelings of shame exists online because nobody knows who xGitReKtScrublord04xX . Arrested development in sportsmanship is what happens if people aren’t put in their place and kept there by a non-anonymous community.


    • This reminds me of a post I wrote a long time ago… *rummages around in the archives*… ah yes: it’s called the ‘online disinhibition effect’. It basically explains why people behave online in ways they typically wouldn’t in person.

      I’ve noticed that when my stepson plays games online (supervised of course!), he’s far more ‘aggressive’ in his talk than he would be when he plays with others in the same room. It’s something we’ve started pulling him up on and we remind him that he’s a member of a team – so that means supporting his teammates and congratulating them when they’ve done something well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Online disinhibition effect, nice, I’ll tuck that away into ‘concepts to look up’. Arcades are actually interesting and unique places with their own cultures and values that they’ve promoted. Yesterday, just after I posted my reply to you I noticed a video on that exact topic in my youtubue queue. It’s a game developers conference video by the guy who created Evo (a big fighting game tourney that happens in the states). He explains what I was trying to say about arcades in a much more organized way. Check it out if you’re interested 🙂


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