Friday, July 1, 2011

Into the Spiral: Issues At Home and Abroad

Before picking up my Arena deck and heading into the duelists' lobby this weekend, there are some important PVP-related matters that I must address.  The first has been suspended in thought, probed thoroughly during my contemplative moments.  The latter is a separate problem, originally unrelated.  That is, it was, until the connection of these vertices (and all dots in between) became necessary for a solid point that needs to be made and touched on.  This point in question has become misrepresented and taken out of context recently, and while I introduce a personal and global issue, I hope to reconnect the dots to present the bigger, underlying picture.

Through countless observations of public reception, letters, and conversations inside and outside the Spiral, it seems that there are many players who misunderstand Perfect Catch, my PVP team.  Younger players look up to us as this "iron wall."  Our peers have jokingly and seriously viewed us as "unstoppable."  Almost every three or four days, I find a message in my inbox from some individuals, asking to challenge or fight Perfect Catch; most of these usually begin or end with some form of the statement of "I think we can beat you," where some are more or less troll-like.  Over the course of many months since the team's creation, we've had a pretty decent win-to-loss ratio, as evident with our videos on YouTube, but, inevitably, the illusion of us being unbeatable seemed to form somewhere within our audience.  We're perceived to be the "best" or "invincible."  As the leader and creator of the team, let me just say this:  "That's nonsense."

The fact of the matter is: we're just different.  Here's a great, hefty explanation here.  We're simply not the "best" out there (nor should any team be considered the "best," as an important side note), and we're obviously not invincible.  The key word here is "unique."  Teams may mimic or play in similar ways as us, but our strategies and thought processes are simply "outside of the box."  Guides cannot be written with specificity to what cards should be in decks because of our practice of adaptation and evolution; our cards (and ultimately, our decks) change every single game, much like how we play.  As explained in the Perfect Catch's Origin video, we try to be as flexible as possible so that we narrow down and shift around our weak point(s). 

We can't tell anyone how they should build their entire deck, though we can share the basics.  In fact, our cards (the 400~ spells between us) are chosen to specially synchronize Cassandra, Fallon, Ronan, and me in a virtually seamless way; unless you have people who think and react the exact same way we do, our deck builds will not do anyone much good!  Keep in mind: I'm not saying we're better; we're just in a different playground. 

Thus, when players meet us in the arena and outwardly express their fear or anxiety by shouting non-sequitur like "We've lost" or "Oh no, it's TPC," we flinch or grimace; and, when players outwardly express their confidence and arrogance by shouting other non-sequitur like "You're gonna lose" or "These guys are bad," we flinch and grimace, too.  I just want to point out that getting beat by TPC should NOT be expected (everyone has a chance to win against us) and that beating us should NOT be celebrated (again, everyone has that chance -- there's nothing special in it).  Matches -- especially when it's just one -- should NOT be used as a measurement of skill via the end result.  Bad luck in the form of fizzling, lag, and poor probability rates (i.e.  drawing "wrong" cards, going second, etc.) can be major factors for just one match, and thus, one fight should NOT determine who is better than who.  Instead, the focus should be on the long run; ask yourselves, "Can we win against other teams doing what we did just now?" and "Can we win against this team again and again?"  Hence, we don't care too much for teams that believe they've found a way to "defeat" TPC (in fact, TPC enemies should be looking for a way to break our friendships and bonds with one another if they're looking for our expiration date).  To understand our point of view, imagine if some random person ran up to you and yelled, "I know how to beat Malcolm Thunderstrider, Jenny Longstockings, Sebastian Gutentaag, and Tiny."  Big deal!  How about outplaying every other team out there, too?  That’s a feat that certainly deserves some recognition and applause.

But, let's not take this out of context.  There's a titanic difference between outplaying and defeating teams with simple, imbalanced strategies:  the former allows for a "dance" to play out, where players exchange spells against each other, while the latter is like stealing all the Monopoly money and preventing any transactions of actual strategy from being applied for true entertainment value.  Some people have suggested that if players don't like an aspect of the game, then they should not dwell on it or care about it.  Unfortunately, that's the equivalent to saying, "Don't play Monopoly if you don't like people ruining the game."  Monopoly's entertainment value has no correlation to how a few people play.  In this case, situations in PVP should not be treated like an umbrella for all aspects of PVP.

In Wizard101, the imbalanced strategies have transitioned from Chain-Stunning (where victims are not allowed to play anything) to Blade-stacking (where 5-7 stacked blades can do at least 4,000 resisted damage in one turn) to Chain-Stunning again, and is currently set on Tempest-Spamming (very similar to Chain-Stunning, where the victims are destroyed before they can play a card). 

I'll give you a little personal spoiler, in case assumptions arise with this seemingly volatile subject:  TPC is already developing an effective counter for Tempest-Spamming; we started a week ago, the night after the recording of the match I've released exclusively over Twitter.  It's working pretty well on our prototype pig, so the method (the "strategy" of Tempest-Spamming) is NOT what bothers us.  Period.

Instead, it's the social and technical effects that imbalanced strategies have on players and the community – that’s what bothers us.  Naturally, players tend to mistakenly treat a single win or loss as a measurement of skill or dominance.  “I’ve lost, so they’re better than me.”  That’s a dangerous fallacy to hold onto, because it enables cheap-tactic users to believe that they are a legitimately dominant force.  What’s the danger in that?

First, it discourages newer players or Arena participants from appreciating the true nature of PVP.  Just last night, someone on Twitter asked how PVP was appealing at all if there were so many concerns about imbalanced strategies.  The thing is, imbalanced strategies do not affect us or other advanced teams personally, but the internal aspects do tend to harm the na├»ve who use them.  These infamous playstyles require little thought, preparation, and coordination.  Accepting them as a legitimate norm would be misrepresenting what PVP is truly about: advanced play.  Most people PVP because they enjoy playing against human intelligence, rather than against a monster that exhibits boring patterns and incompetence.  It’s a totally different element when your enemies have the capability to anticipate and plan.  So, when cheap tactics are used (playing as if it’s a farm run rather than playing against humans), the lack of advanced play creates the illusion that PVP is generally about killing rather than outplaying.  Sounds like more grinding, honestly.

Secondly, to an audience of players who enjoy and understand what PVP is all about, imbalanced strategies are like trumpets calling out for verbal attacks, disapproval, and negative association.  Skilled players, with all their knowledge, wisdom, and experience, take appreciation in participating in the “dance” known as a “duel,” where an exchange of tactics fly from circle to circle.  Imbalanced strategies hinder and cut off that dance.  Imagine taking a salsa class, only to end up failing the course because the judges flipped a coin and determined they would grade you based on how it landed; you never got the chance to perform.  I don’t think anyone would just sit back and accept their fate silently, in that case.  Thus, cheap tactics create social pressure and tension.

Third, those who utilize such methods tend to stunt their ability to advance further in Rank once a direct or indirect counter is found.  Think of the Fisherman Metaphor.  “If you give a man a fish, he will last for a week.  If you teach that man how to fish, he will last for a lifetime.”  By letting imbalanced strategies exist as accepted styles of team play, the pool of incompetent players increases, and as a result, their reliance on a single tactic will require them to take advantage of lower ranks (via down-ranking).  Because there is no self-development available for using notorious plays, there is little room for change, innovation, and reform.  Therefore, when a team like TPC comes along and finds a way to counter (for example) Blade-stacking, some teams have dropped out of the Arena due to the inexperience of playing another way.  Once something “stops working” the way it used to, its overall longevity is truncated; in this case, when a cheap tactic “stops working,” the user’s PVP participation dies (or slows), too.

So, why is understanding TPC and understanding the nature of imbalanced strategies significant or important?

Most recently, words and actions of my teammates over Twitter were taken way out of context, to the point where the original issue was no longer addressed.  Well, how do we put things into context?  By exploring three important components: community history, culture, and the full story.   Don’t want to hear it?  Well, consider the argument against California’s Three Strikes’ Law, where opponents of this law took it out of context by pointing out that it was putting away people for 25 years-to-life for petty acts such as stealing a pizza.  Sure, it sounds absurd, but when you take it back into context, realize that stealing the pizza was the third act in a series of law-breaking (including felonies).  By absorbing and opening yourself to more information, the situation becomes clearer and more justified.

TPC’s mission, since birth, is aimed to restore the fun to PVP by showing (1) teams don’t have to play a certain way to reach Warlord, (2) teams don’t have to follow a specific roster of school combinations, and (3) friends can PVP together, regardless of how much experience each of them have.  Ever since Ronan Dawn and I met for the first time, we’ve noticed that PVP had dwindling popularity and players were losing interest.  Left and right, PVP players were being judged in a lump sum, and we were deemed to be arrogant, selfish, obnoxious, or rude, just because we enjoyed that part of the game; no one believed that good sportsmanship existed in this realm.  Imbalanced strategies at the time, which was solely Chain-Stunning, created the illusion of “power.”  Friends of these teams rooted and cheered for their mates, while they spat and put down the unprepared victims.  Pretty similar to kicking someone down and making fun of them for being pinned.  Even 1v1 had its own trolls (and Gobblers, Onis, etc.)

Ronan and I knew we needed to shine the light on the other side of PVP, despite how difficult it was to make a case with all the unsportsmanlike conduct flying around in the Arena.  We just didn’t have a shared execution, nor did we develop one together.  But, we did agree that we needed to increase PVP’s popularity to add to the pool of players.  When the number of competitors grow, the number of inventions and strategies do as well.  It’s all explained here.

After TPC was created for the intent of friends having fun together, we realized that our peers around us didn’t agree or approve that we were moving from PVE to PVP.  Slowly, we took on active movements to reinstate the Arena’s good name through my Arena series, the PVP Party Forum, and PVP commentaries.

Thankfully, the Massive Fantasy Palace came out.  This enabled us to hold PVP Parties, where we encouraged players to renew their interest in the Arena by providing them an in-game site to innovate, test, individually measure their improvement, learn, and enjoy PVP, while discouraging and removing the badly behaved and bad sports.  Through this, the overall acceptance of PVP (from the Ravenwood Radio, Blogger, Twizard, and Diary of a Wizard end) increased tremendously.  Even our dear Paige Moonshade, who used to detest, dislike, and avert away from PVP after witnessing corruption amongst her friends in the past, rediscovered enjoyment in participation – she eventually overcame the dreaded anxiety, pressure, and tension she used to feel.

As you can see from my Arena series, it meant a lot for me if someone saw the light and benefits of PVP.  Paige and I had about two or three discussions last year, and I remember I was begging the question of whether or not she’d give PVP a chance again; she’d reply along the lines of “Never.”  But, as evident from the 2nd Annual Ravenwood Ball, that "never" wasn’t a promise, and I’m honored and happy that “the spell was broken.”  Paige is having fun again…and if you knew the Paige Moonshade from many months ago, you’d see this as some sort of miracle, too.  Cassandra Dragonheart was also a relatively new PVP prospect around the time – initially, she didn’t see or believe much in PVP (due to the negative environment and bad sportsmanship of other wizards).   It took time, and I’m glad she gave it a chance, because now she’s fighting around the 1300+ ranks and enjoying a new hobby.  Our very own Autumn Duskhunter from Homework in a Graveyard (a non-regular PvPer), after attending one of our parties, developed enough interest to stand around for a number of TPC Ranked matches,  ask for tips and tricks, and apply them.  Many people from Diary of a Wizard and YouTube thanked us for relighting their Arena candle.  

Each member of TPC is a strong advocate for being supportive and constructive for a player’s PVP development.  In other words, we’re critical of other players who accept, condone, or promote the methods that accelerated the Arena into the Dark Ages.  We don’t believe that the use of imbalanced strategies is ever a positive or constructive way to improve one self, or accurately represent what PVP really is about.

A few nights ago, there was a disturbance in our attempt to keep the PVP environment harmonious.  An imbalanced strategy, mainly Tempest-Spamming, was used by one of our regular PVP Party participants.  Don’t get me wrong, now – that wasn’t the main issue.  Instead, the problem was that a few players were teaching a young child that the imbalanced strategy was an acceptable learning tool for their PVP development.  When my teammates questioned their logic, one replied that “they will learn the hard way.”  Keep in mind that this is an adult encouraging a younger player to put himself (or herself) into a volatile situation, considering the three negative aspects of imbalanced teams explored above.  The counter-argument was that the child was going to be subject to insults anyway.  This is what threw some of us off.

Even when teams like TPC play fairly, it’s true that we’re still on the receiving end of insults and profanity.  This is from a default player base that will always exist, called “trolls,” which are players who have nothing but destructive comments, motives, and intentions, where their actions do not benefit or help anyone but themselves.  When players win or lose against trolls, it’s generally expected that there will be something said from the other side that doesn’t help anyone improve or leave dignified.

Thus, it seems cruel, if not negligent, to encourage a younger player to adapt a playstyle that will add another player base to sink the child down further into social and emotional pressure.  This player base is generally of the rest of the PVP community, where players play to have fun or improve their skills in the game.  When Tempest-Spammed, the fun is ruined for these players who want to give the Arena a fair chance and who want to learn and enjoy the game.  

My question is, why not advocate for the child to play in a productive way, so that, instead of the burden of negative recognition, they are known positively?  On top of peer pressure and the innate desire to want to belong, children do not need another reason for other players to talk down to them.  Blade-stacking, chain-stunning, and Tempest-spamming may earn them some easy rank points and tickets, but PVP will lose its fun if the player (1) is constantly bashed and flamed, (2) realizes that a game update will quench their winning streak, (3) sees everyone else rooting for the other side, (4) becomes bored with the repetitive playstyle, (5) loses friends and gains enemies, (6) and/or runs into a counter.  Teach them how to PVP, and they will find windows upon windows of opportunity to improve.  Also, if they are respected, they may find their own self-respect, opposed to degenerating out of spite.

It’s understood that Twitter recently exploded with a lot of misconceptions as the issue was taken so heavily out of context that most Twizards failed to learn of the actual problem.  Instead, it sounded as if small battles were trying to be won through blunt, singular points that did not contribute to solving the actual problem.  The wrong people were being called “trolls.”  Players of skill were being told to discontinue their hobby if others used cheap tactics to win.  Active, trusted, and credible community members did not have their voices heard.  I originally wanted to discuss and defend these issues, but I think most of them will be spoken for in the near future.  Those of you who’ve made it this far into reading and understanding (some friends and I thank you, deeply) will see what I mean...for example, sharing the counter against Tempest-Spammers, debunking the idea that TPC and friends were "complainers."

Before making judgments based off of actions, get to know each person involved and get to know the issue at hand.  Take into account all stories, not just one, lest there comes another monumental misunderstanding within our community.  Self-victimization is not a long-term buoyant.  If involved in a conflict, understand that within due time, when all these multiple stories and puzzle pieces have aligned, the act of gambling a friend's alliance and omitting key information will come back to bite someone in the end.  When you write, voice, work, play, or act with a positive and constructive attitude, and maintain integrity, we all win.

Thank you for your time.

4 comments:

  1. I do not just applaud this post, I STAND and applaud it! In one fell swoop, I believe you've driven the nail home.

    As you had stated, I was one of those Pvp "Nevers", mostly because of the Trolls, Oni's, Gobblers, and other purveyors of cheap tactics.

    Only, (and ONLY) after being able to witness True PvP, at your gatherings, was I able to truly appreciate the draw of PvP. The jovial camaraderie of opposing players appreciating the running thought process of a fellow enthusiast, regardless of who was on what "side".

    "The Dance", so poetic a descriptor, is appropriate: it's like watching a Chess game of Thought played out in the Digital Maelstrom of random uncertainty.

    It isn't about "rank", it is about "winning", it's about the experience itself. Much like riding a motorcycle: Often, you go far out of your way, just to make the journey last longer.

    True, KI has some adjustments to make to their adjustments, but that does not stop the True PvP enthuisiast. A fluid, and harmonious Team Ethic will overcome adversity, more often than not.

    I respect a "losing" PvP Team that displays thought and strategy a THOUSANDFOLD over arrogant "winning" players that use Cheap Exploits to satiate their apparent insecurities.
    Just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD.

    Thank you, very much, for this post!

    Be Well.

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  2. Err, what exactly IS tempest spamming? I think completely PvE, so I can see no way Tempest will completely demolish opponents in PvP...can you elaborate on what exactly Tempest Spamming IS?

    -Quinn

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  3. I agree. I hate those PvP trolls. They think that trash talking will win them the match. As for tempest/4pip AoE spamming, I'm currently aiming for a LifeBat w/S. Proof, MC Tower, MC Storm Shield, MC Weakness.

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  4. Wow, honored. Yes I was completely not wanting to ever PvP. I have seen so many troubles and it changes people. Trolls, drama and the abuse of spells became a fahion among players. I just got to hate the whole scene.

    Since then I have started to PvP again in players houses it has become fun again. Yeah there has been a few oops but in all it has been fun.

    The first year I started playing Wizard101 I use to teach people how to PvP. There was no ranked or nonranked there was only the arena. Everyone would just run in, everyone had fun.

    When rank came the abuse of spells and trolls became a fashion with players so they could get that nifty gear and status. This does not make you a great PvPer when you abuse spells it makes you just a PvPer. Status and gear means nothing if you did not earn it right.

    Kevin you ,Fallon, Cassandra,Angel ,Ronan and many others I have met are great PvPers, you take the time to teach players. To teach kids how to become good Pvpers.

    You all show the Wizard101 Community how to be great community leaders.

    Keep up the great work

    P.S. Maybe one day I'll go back to ranked but nope not yet.

    Paige MoonShade

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