So I Got to the Semi-Finals of the CS:GO PAX Tournament

Last weekend I got to the semi-finals of a casual Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament at PAX Prime '12. While I would definitely do it again, it wasn't all fun. This post is mainly for me to look back on later, but if you've wondered what going to a PAX tournament is like, here's what happened.

My team was prepping for the 2nd round, changing keybindings, fixing audio, checking and re-checking mouse sensitivities. I was pretty nervous and so was my team, because only three of us knew each other in this 5v5 tournament, one had barely played any counter-strike at all, and none of us had played much Global Offensive.

I went 15-4 in the first round. Because of server resets, this was the only scoreboard I could get a picture of.

We were all a little frustrated that we'd been waiting around for 2.5 hours prior to this. We were told our brackets were available at 2:00pm, and the first round would start at 3:00pm. It ended up starting much later, and we were pushed to the second round because the 32 team bracket didn't completely fill up. None of that mattered once we finally got started though.

We decided to stick with our hastily put together plan for the first pistol round, and it turned out to work. We were counter-terrorists on de_nuke and had every path covered. If we played like this on a public server, we might've been called camping assholes, but here we were able to call out every person we saw and take them down quickly. Eight rounds later and we'd secured our first victory, sweeping them 9-0 and moving on to the third round, but not before another long wait for the organizers to get everything ready.

While we waited, we again hastily laid out the map and created a plan. I don't play or watch much competitive counter-strike, but apparently our next map, de_aztec was an unusual map to use in a tournament. A new batch of computers and re-doing all our bindings and sensitivities, and we were good to go. It turned out to be another easy sweep, and we quickly went 9-0 again and moved to the semi-finals.

Another long wait and we sat at a new set of computers: this time with fancy CS:GO mice and headsets, and heavy steelseries keyboards. We were up against the very classy "PussyMonster" team on de_inferno. I found out later that our match was being recorded and live-streamed out somewhere. Someone was sitting next to us announcing the entire match.

The match turned out to be the most even match-up of the entire tournament, and also the most unstable connection-wise. The servers crashed once (just before the above video started) and we had to wait ~15 minutes for them to come back up, and then the round-length was wrong after they came up, resulting in an early map-change (which occurs at the end of the above video) , both of these occurring after my team had won a round and gotten ahead on money.

Eventually we got to an 8-8 tie-breaker round. It was a chaotic knife-only round—the organizer was shouting to watch the players and make sure we only used knives, my friend who hardly played CS asked if knives do team-damage (they do), and a large crowd had formed behind us to watch this final round. I feel bad for the person announcing this ridiculous match, because while this was the closest a match could get, it was hardly the high-level play I'm sure people are used to, and certainly nothing worthy of being recorded

I ended up being the last person alive on my team, facing two others coming at me. I'd played knife-only rounds all the time back in the days of beta counter-strike, so I felt the responsibility of our win or loss in my hands as I backed away from the two players, lunging at the right time to get the first hit on one and taking him down to the screams of applause from people behind me. Now it was me versus one other player in the tie-breaking round, and I could barely hear the game over people making noise behind me. Again, I was backing away, as was my strategy for knife-fights, and the crowd was yelling each time we got close enough to swing at each other. I stopped moving at the right time to get the first hit in, but it wasn't enough to take down the other player who still had full health. Before the lunge would recharge, he hit me and took me out, and we lost the match.

(Don't bother, I already redeemed the code)

I was stunned. The last person alive, and I felt it was my fault. How could that player have still had full health? But I got the first hit in, what else could I do? It was now close to 8:00pm and I'd been there for 6 hours, an hour longer than the schedule said it would take, and apparently we still had one more match for 3rd place to go. After being so close to winning, feeling frustrated with the inopportune server disconnections, and disappointed in our performance, we hardly felt up for another match, and quickly lost again. I knew I could play better, but at this point I had trouble focusing. I was still thinking about that last knife kill.

Unwinding at the Guild Wars 2 launch party.

For our trouble, they gave us some dog-tags with keys for a free copy of CS:GO. I was able to catch the last hour of the Guild Wars 2 launch party happening across the street, and getting a few drinks with the developers there was exactly what I needed after being so strung-out from the tournament. It felt so good to crush in those first two rounds, and the semi-final was exciting as hell, but losing like that was so devastating. Even if we'd made it to the final round, the other team was actually a team that practiced together, so we really had no chance. They handily won every match and were absolutely the best players there.

Still, it was a great time, and I'd encourage anyone going to PAX to go to one tournament (and only one, because they do take a lot of time). This was my second PAX tournament, and they've both been great, if a little slip-shod in their set-up. The Battlefield 2 tournament I won a few years back had some server problems as well, with a lot of players disconnecting and getting angry at the organizers for not re-doing the match. Luckily everyone took the problems in stride this year, and it was the best time I had at the show.

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Why You're a "Lazy, Worthless Gamer" (Warning: Contains History)

We've all heard it in some form.   "Why are you wasting your time playing games?"   "Shouldn't you be working?"   "You're not hardworking and you'll never be successful" (ouch, that last one was rough).   How do people jump to these conclusions based solely on seeing us playing a game?   It has to do with modern day "workaholism" and goes back to the mid 1550's with a man named John Calvin.  (Note: This is history.  I'm not preaching :)

Calvin believed in "original sin," that each human is born morally corrupt.   Unlike some versions of Christianity, which say that one can be redeemed by good acts, Calvin believed that there was nothing a human could do to redeem his or herself.   According to him, God chose who was chosen to be saved, and who was to be damned, and that there was nothing one could do to sway God's judgment.   This belief in predestination is kind of depressing, so Calvinist ministers told their followers that one can find out if God has chosen them through their work.   One who is chosen is someone who devotes their life to unemotional good works and self-control, so if someone emulates a chosen one, and is chosen, they'll be rewarded for their good faith with economic wealth.   In contrast, if one works hard, but loses their farm to a drought, they must have been damned by God all along.   This created followers who are very devoted to their work.

(This is a very short description of Calvinism and focuses only on the part related to work ethic.   I left many things out because I'm not trying to recount an entire religious belief system.)

Fast forward to the late 1700's with Benjamin Franklin, whose father was a Calvinist.   Franklin himself was a "Deist," like many of the U.S.'s founding fathers*.   Despite this, the Calvinist influence did appear in his writing, the epitome of which is his famous quote, "time is money" **.   This refers to the economic view that time spent not working is actually lost money that you could've earned in that time.   This quote has been enormously influential on the people of the United States.   According to Max Weber, an influential sociologist, Franklin had a secularized Calvinist work ethic (secularized meaning removed from religion).

This leads to today's "Protestant work ethic" ideology.   An ideology is a belief that distorts the universe, and is often invisible to those who hold the belief to be true***.   If you've been to Mexico, South America, or Italy, you've probably noticed the huge difference in work ethic between them and those of us in the United States or the United Kingdom.   People in the U.S. seem to be compelled to work too hard, and often feel guilty for not working.   This work ethic is regarded as perfectly normal, and even part of human nature, when in fact it's very recent in terms of the history of humanity, only dating back to Calvinism.   This is the "Protestant work ethic" or "workaholic" ideology.

This "workaholic" ideology can be a good thing.   People working long hours, sometimes working overtime without pay, provide huge profits to businesses and create a booming economy.   Those who devote their lives to working for charitable organizations help the less fortunate with their strong work ethic.   There are many technological advances we can thank to people who were compelled to work late into the night.   However, there can also be a very destructive downside to this ideology.

"Workaholics" can be driven to work long hours in a job they don't enjoy, leading to a miserable existence where they deprive themselves of enjoyment.   They can believe that economic success is equal to moral superiority and create a judgmental attitude toward those who don't devote their life to their work.   They can believe that a hardworking, successful businessman is a better person than someone who doesn't work hard to get rich.

This leads to them calling people out who aren't working.   Their belief that time=money and accumulation of money is the goal in life causes them to believe that time spent playing video games is a worthless endeavor.   This is why they call you a lazy, worthless gamer.

Of course, believing gamers are lazy, worthless human beings is only small part of it.   It also leads to harmful racist beliefs.   In the past, an example is the "drunken, lazy Irishman".   Some believed that because they weren't hard working, self-disciplined people like them, the Irish didn't really matter and could be mistreated.   A more recent example is the "lazy Mexican" who is a lesser person for working less hours than Americans.   This is a particularly dumb belief because many of the same people also hold the wider belief that these lesser, "lazy Mexicans" are coming to America to steal their jobs.

So how does one reconcile the good parts of workaholism with the bad, judgmental parts?   Through self-consciousness.   You can realize you're a workaholic and "own" it without passing judgment on others for not holding the same belief in a strong work ethic.   Someone who enjoys their leisure time gaming is not a lesser person than the businessman working late into the night.

* This controversial statement is contrary to many who claim the U.S. was based on Christianity, which is historically incorrect.   Deism differs from Christianity in that Deists did not believe that Jesus was a savior, nor did they believe in divinely inspired scriptures, the trinity, or the Catholic Church.   Instead they focused on a belief in God without the need for organized religion, emphasizing rationality.

**Note that this quote was written under one of Franklin's pseudonyms: Poor Richard.   It's not clear if Franklin was writing his actual beliefs or a satire. 

***This is using the normative (value-laden) definition of Ideology instead of the broader, descriptive definition in which an ideology is simply a "belief".    

Thanks to Professor Barbara Goodrich.   A much deeper recounting of the "Protestant/Calvinist Work Ethic" can be found at her website here.

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Forgetting About a Major Part of Gaming

 I've been noticing a strange trend in the way we talk about video games recently.  It seems like people are focusing more on a game as it stands on its own, and not on how they interact with the game.  I shouldn't have to remind you that games are an interactive medium.  You can't experience the whole of a game without pressing a button, moving a stick, or waving your arms around.  If you could, then it's just a movie.

This really came to light for me on the October 15th Weekend Confirmed podcast.  Jeff Cannata expressed his outrage at people who skip cutscenes; going as far as to call them "selfish and impatient" (* 1:29:00) for not getting into the story.  I'm not attacking him for the language he used since he sounded very frustrated at the time and probably was being a little melodramatic, but I think this really illustrated how one can get caught up in their own way of playing games.

I'm going to make up my own jargon here.  I'm really only using it to illustrate the difference.

Passive Gaming

Passive gaming is where you let sit back and experience the game.  This is the most prevalent way that reviewers talk about games.  This is about what the game does for you and not about what you're doing to the game.  There's a big focus on story, since passive game is just a few steps removed from movies.  Your interaction with the game helps you feel more connected to the story, but that interaction is secondary to what the game presents you.  An extreme example would be something like Call of Duty's single player.  There is a very specific experience that you can have with the game, and that experience is the main focus.

Active Gaming

Active gaming is where the player is the focus.  You're actively taking a role in the experience. You're not relying on the game to present you with the experience; instead, what you do to interact with the game is the experience.  An example of this the multiplayer mode of nearly any game.  You're controlling your own experience.  This is extremely fulfilling to a lot of people, because when something amazing happens, it's a direct result of their actions, of their ability to pull off that combo or that killstreak.  The game didn't set up that experience on a platter for them, they took it into their own hands.

When people game, they fall somewhere between these two extremes.  They watch cut-scenes (passive) or they build their own levels and have an amazing match inside it (active).  You can't make a value judgment about which of these is "better", that's defined by the player's taste. Someone could prefer the passive enjoyment of watching a game more than playing it, or they could prefer to skip those passive cut-scenes and jump into the active interaction of the game. They're both equally valid ways to play the game and one shouldn't forget about either of them.

*Weekend Confirmed Episode 30, October 15th. http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/66047

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