Thursday, February 14, 2008

the mental side of competitive counter strike source and 1.6

Most of the people I've come to know over the past five years of my life have all considered Counter-Strike to be completely based on skills, experience, and intelligence. There is a fourth element to the factor of a great player -- temperament. It seems fairly obvious to just state: "Don't play on a team with a Hot Head." but with this article, I hope to explain to everyone the importance of emotion in Competitive Gaming, the warning signs of a time bomb, and how to turn an attitude into a positive motion for your team.

Emotions, Attitudes, and Tempers: How does this affect Counter-Strike?

Every player currently playing Counter-Strike has a temperament related to the game. We most of all notice the hot heads, the angry, snarling, cursing maniacs who can't let a single head shot go. We know our, cool, calm collected players who seem to only care about one thing; not caring about Counter-Strike. You have the crusaders, the momentum junkies who will do anything to stop an argument, these guys live to win, especially with their teammates. The worst? The apathetic all-stars. Apathy is usually bundled with one major object in a player; an absolutely inhumane ability to frag in ways you barely knew existed. Apathetic players are usually slick, skilled players who can carry a team towards playoffs or finals without much more than a smile. This usually ends up with the team placing most of the weight on this player's shoulders, which he will promptly drop as soon as things get tough and consistency becomes an issue.

These are just a few of many archetypes in the player base; the ones I feel are most notable. How do these temperaments affect your team?

Momentum is just about everything in Counter-Strike. It dictates the money, it dictates the speed in which bomb sites are either setup or taken over, and it dictates the retakes. If a strategy is the brain of Counter-Strike, momentum is the heart. It’s built with picks, entry kills, and steam rolling bomb sites, forcing a defending team to rethink a setup in the middle of the round, which is usually a guaranteed way to see how well your teammates can retake the bomb site. Momentum is a double edged sword however; while it may be the way you can come back from a round deficit and win out, it’s also the way you can lose ten straight rounds when you only needed one.

Since my days with United5, I have been watching teams either flash or fold based on momentum. A team can be on top of the world, communicating, laughing, just riding out the momentum one minute, and two rounds later, they can look like a divorce in progress. Usually, watching the way teams shut down at tournaments is almost as accurate of a way to gauge player movements as a take home pregnancy test.

There is nothing more frustrating than watching a team shutdown after a single round. This is like rolling over and giving up -- the apathetic player I spoke about above as an epidemic. This is the nail in the coffin.

The same way a player in Hockey or Basketball is a locker room leader (someone who can pull everyone together, get on the same wave length, and grab back the momentum) players can take charge in game and promote communication and chemistry again. The problem is getting this person to actually do it.

These rounds where momentum has failed you are usually when your archetype players start to show their true colors. Either you will be surrounded by silence, or the hot heads will reach critical mass and you'll be thinking you've ended up on a RIVAL roster with all of the arguing going on around you.

Emotion is such a wild beast in every day application. A person can walk out of a job, leave a loved one, or even kill someone, based on emotions. Now you add in the fickle world of eSports, a variably contract-less community with a complete and utter lack of loyalty, and you are basically welcoming trouble. One single player’s single outburst of a single feeling could be the executioners axe on a team that you spent months building and practicing with.

A Player's Tells: What do I look for?

A much more significant question on this subject is; what do I ignore? Unless you just have a horrible judge of character and have walked the earth with little to no knowledge on social situations, you're going to be judging a players attitude every moment you're around them. Most of all, instead of looking for specific warnings, you have to weigh out the pros and cons of a player and the baggage he might bring with him.

While an outspoken teammate is always a great way to build a reputation, or even a following, these players can sometimes become the terror of the in game captain and practicing altogether. Pay attention when you are creating or explaining strategies, most importantly, when you are running them in scrims. If a single failed attempt at a rush sets a player off, you are losing another three rounds if not the entire scrimmage over a debate for a strategy that more than likely failed because of poor execution rather than poor planning.

Keep an eye out for the MM1 chatter. A player with a big mouth could be the fine line between you and a disqualification, or worse yet, an altercation at a LAN tournament. We all love watching fights, but what's worse than practicing with a teammate leading up to an event, just so he can get kicked out with a fat lip for his inability to swallow his pride? Hey, I love drama, but I hate playing 4vs5.

Also, look for the MM2 chatter. Teammate abuse is like ovarian cancer, it’s the silent killer of teams, long term without many warning signs. Believe it or not, sometimes even comments that might be seen as jokes are weighing a mental toll on players. A team is just like a relationship, it’s a partnership, and abusing your partner mentally has the same effect as it does in a relationship, it rots it out from the core. When you begin making comments about a teammate’s skill or abilities you are creating competition within the team. Compete with your opponents, not your teammates. When you create this inner competition, you are begging your players to show off people stop playing smart, and they only play for numbers, for scores.

Ideally, if a player can have a crappy ratio, but can still manage to defend a rush or delay a bomb plant, I'd rather play with him than someone who can drop twenty frags simply because he chases and peaks. Promoting competition between your players is basically asking them to peak, chase down kills, and throw away money in game that will probably be crucial down the line. Furthermore, you could create a self fulfilling prophecy. If you have a player that had a few bad runs on LAN, or on a specific map, and you make even light jokes about it, it sticks. It becomes a terror, or a curse, as the community likes to call it. You set your team up to fail.

With all of that said, the biggest and most important tell of all, is a players attitude while losing. This is where the real character comes forth, in dire moments when things aren't going everyone’s way. It’s here that you can access how to apply the right pressure to recapture the momentum, or bench a player indefinitely. This isn't Stuart Smiley's "Love yourself, Be happy!" class, but negativity is a vacuum in competition. Don't get sucked in.

The Benefits: What’s in it for me?

Momentum could become your secret weapon. Sometimes even the worst teams can rally up and pull off some pretty unbelievable stuff, and its all from that adrenaline. Keeping your teammates pumped up could quite possibly be the difference between your team, and the opponents.

When you're dealing with the issues of morale and momentum, it’s really a situation of leading by example. You have to stay positive, you have to stay active. Momentum promotes stronger and much more consistent communication. Keep your players talking. A trick that my old team had put into use was a set of rules. No complaining over the microphone, period. You cannot accuse anyone of hacking, cheating, ghosting, anything. You just focus on your team and your game. It makes a world of difference. Having a teammate accuse an opponent of hacking is the worst thing since the bird flu. Let’s say that my teammate, Player A, calls the opponent on defense, Player B, a hacker because of a wall shot, heading ramp room on de_nuke. Now, every time that I, or my teammates for that matter, move into ramp room, we have it in the back of our minds that Player A had thought for some reason that Player B was a hacker, this causes players to become unnaturally cautious to a level of fear. Fear creates sloppy playing. You aren't going to grab the momentum with a spineless teammate watching your back; the only thing you're getting is baited.

Create a set of rules that benefits your teammates specifically. If you have a teammate who whines after each death, then outlaw him from microphone chatter. If a player continues to break these rules, bench him, immediately. Let them know that there is zero tolerance for a princess on your squad. You'd be surprised how quickly these players will break.

If you have a teammate that waits for everyone to go ahead of him, bench him and tell him to come and talk when he grows a pair. Your teammates will eventually realize that this player is the last man standing every round, and if there is one thing competitive gamers absolutely despise, its getting baited against their will.

Any speed bump in the road to steam rolling your opponent is just not worth the trouble. Look at winning rounds as a machine. You have to grease this thing up to make sure that the machine works properly and consistently, that means busting some skulls, which in reality, is the best way to make sure that your players listen when you talk.

If you are a team leader calling strategies, and you just don't have the charisma to keep the blood pumping, pass the torch. No one wants to follow Ben Stein up catwalk on an eco round. Make your teammates believe it when you call a rush. Putting your players to sleep is a great way to showcase a player’s down graded reaction time.

In Closing: The thick and thin of it?

What’s the point in playing on a competitive level if you're not playing to win? Take this a little seriously. A positive attitude works in gaming the same way it does in the real world -- it’s attractive and it shows others that you are a leader. Take charge, be loud, and be excited. You're not going to put up the frags sitting in your solo low rider position, sit up, communicate, and let every entry frag, let every eco cobra, let every mid peak run your team. A team needs a leader, but don't be afraid to get lost in the momentum if it comes your way.

Make sure that you know your players better than they know you. Don't be afraid to sit someone on the pine if it means making a long term investment in their attitude. Players don't have to look up to you as a leader, but they have to be aware that you are a leader, and that they will hear your voice especially when the flashes are littering their bomb site.

Keep a tight grip on the speed and flow of the match. Don't let your opponent hang on to it forever; there is no greater victory in mid round of a Counter-Strike match than ripping the momentum from their hands.

Pay attention to the attitudes. Make sure that you're manipulating your roster to emotionally feed each other towards a Viking-like hysteria. Ride the adrenaline as long as possible, and when that leaves you, smile at the fact that all five players on your team have $8000 still.

Have fun. There is nothing more fun than winning, especially when it’s a high octane match. Play everything like it matters. Enjoy the flow of the match when it’s being controlled by you, your communication, and your ability to keep your teammates interested. If you or a teammate is getting bored of Counter-Strike, it’s time to take a break. Make sure your teammate goes out on good terms; if you stretch it until you have an emotionally draining game that ends in a brutal loss, you can guarantee your teammate will never return.

Most of all, make sure to keep on winning

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