Pokésophical Investigations

Dealing with Loss in a Competitive Setting

AN INTRODUCTION

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Well isn’t this a treat? I’ve always wanted to join Adam’s Underground family but I never really expected to get the opportunity. Yet here I am, writing my first article for SixPrizes and I am incredibly thankful that Adam is giving me a shot; I couldn’t be more excited to share bundles of information and joy with each and every one of you. Before we get into the meat of my article, it might prove necessary to introduce myself.

Many of you might know me, but for those who don’t, I am Brit. If you’ve made it this far into the article then you probably already knew that, so what good is just telling you my name? My history with the Pokémon TCG began when I was but a child; when the universe was in its “fad” years and I was in love with the TV show. I had received a Game Boy Color and Pokémon Blue for my seventh birthday and soon after I found myself searching high and low for the cards.

Unfortunately, my income came exclusively from a tiny allowance (and the occasional birthday and Christmas gift from relatives) so I really could not afford much. My parents bought my sister and me the two-player starter set and maybe four or five booster packs, but that was it. I attended a League at Books-A-Million once but my interest in the cards quickly passed. However, I never really stopped playing the video games which always kept me up to date with the Pokémon world.

Fast forward this story to my junior year of high school and some of my friends and I received starter decks from the Stormfront set as gifts for a joke Christmas present exchange. We played for with these cards and quickly began adding our own cards into the mix and trying to craft Lightning/Grass and Water/Fire decks to the best of our ability.

After doing a little research, we found there was a League close by and after being completely demolished in our first visitation, I became fascinated with the competitive scene. My deck with two Supporters quickly became a competitive deck with Trainers and Uxies galore. I was hooked in the heat of competition and I’ve never really looked back.

My first event was a State Championship in 2009 and naturally I did not do very well there (or for much of that season). School and high school athletics prevented me from fully committing myself to that invite “grind” and so my 2010 season was not particularly noteworthy though I was able to win a few City Championships and cut some States and even Nationals.

Now I know I could regale (and bore) you for hours about my individual accomplishments so I’ll cut to the chase here. I received my first Worlds invite in the 2011 season and received two more invitations the following two years. I have yet to make it big and win an event larger than a Cities, but my placings have always been solid and consistent which means something (I hope).

Perhaps more notable than these menial accomplishments are my contributions to some fairly important decks. I am close friends with Colin (a former UG writer), Aaron Curry, and several other “notable” players who all enjoy trying to play something that is out of the box. Here is a brief list of the creations I played a part in creating or popularizing:

In addition to all this work, Colin and I started Celadon City Gym in the summer of 2012 and have been publishing our thoughts on the game (and personal life) in a bloggy-fashion ever since.

Outside of these decks, I have greatly enjoyed playing Dialga G/Garchomp C and Chandelure NVI/Vileplume UD. Both are probably my favorite decks that have existed since I’ve been playing (outside of a Rising Rivals Hippowdon deck that I used for League back in the day). Based on this and the decks I played a role in creating, you might be able to tell what “kind” of deck I prefer.

I adamantly believe that a concept like “playstyle” is a myth. That is, when someone tells me, “Well, I just didn’t do well. The deck really doesn’t fit my playstyle,” I generally find this to be some sort of excuse or misguided attempt to make a sheepish, umbrella statement about the format. I believe that an exemplary player will do well regardless of what kind of deck they are playing. However, preference is something that does exist and I certainly would say that I prefer the middle way between control and aggression.

Outside of Pokémon, my interests are largely academic. I am a philosophy student and have plans to continue on this career path for the rest of my life, but thankfully I have some normal interest to keep me grounded and relatable. I love sports of all kind – ranging from eSports, the NFL, NBA and NCAA Men’s Basketball. I dabble in video games here and there but generally lack the time or will to commit to such lengthy affairs. Like most human beings, I enjoy music and attending concerts, film and Netflix and so forth. Yes, I may be an oddity compared to someone “regular,” but I seem to fit in quite nicely with all you Pokémon people.

However, that seems to be enough of an introduction for me. I hope that this will not be my only entry into the 6P Underground library, but if you have any questions about what I have explained so far, please feel free to voice your concerns and comments and I will do my best to respond. I can only talk about myself for so long! Let’s get into the content, shall we?

AN AUTHENTIC OBJECTIVE

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When I was trying to pitch myself to acquire an Underground spot, I claimed that I would land somewhere in the middle of Jay and Erik (you’ll find quickly that this “middle way” approach is a common theme in almost everything that I do). I am a less fit and decorated player than Jay but perhaps I can make up for that in succinct diction, careful wordplay and literary prowess while also demonstrating the same capacity for a strict testing regiment and an expectation for results. In regards to Erik, I can safely say that I lack the artistic oneness that he demonstrates (I still can’t color within lines properly) but both of us seem to be interested in or concerned with things in the Pokémon world that transcend explaining deck lists and talking about varying matchups.

Truly, it is a fear of mine that most of these Underground articles are skimmed through as a means to look at the lists of “good” players and then poof! You copy-paste these lists with a few adjustments and you’re off to your next event, but you’ve never considered the implications of such actions. Of course, if you are like that, then you’ve already scrolled this section and are scanning for lists (joke’s on you) and I really think that is a terrible way to approach SixPrizes’ literature.

To understand why someone makes the choice to include four copies of X but only two copies of Y, I think it is necessary to try to understand them on a deeper level. This does not necessarily mean that you have to be best friends with Adam’s writing staff, but the idea that you can just skim for lists and perform well with them at events doesn’t quite make sense to me.

In each of these articles, the writer delicately crafts much more than just a 60-card list. I believe that deck building is a very holistic process and is deeper than being able to count to 60 and compare to a few other summations of five dozen. It is my view (and the view of many others) that a proper understanding of the future can only be derived with an appropriate understanding of the past, and to do that you can’t just look at an article for a writer’s list or what techs they included into Plasma.

You need to understand these concepts on a deeper level to orient yourself toward a success-filled future and that requires more of the skim-and-go approach. There is a reason that certain players are always performing well or ahead of the curve and I think it is because they possess and demonstrate (whether they know it or not) some of these qualities that I am talking about. Does this make sense?

The concept of “authenticity” is something that I find myself encountering again and again in my philosophical endeavors and so it is not too surprising to see it turn up in my other hobbies. What does an authentic Pokémon player look like and how exactly would they go about creating a deck and dealing in a competitive setting?

This may sound laughable or silly to someone of you, but this is basically the mission statement for my writings here at SixPrizes. I want to go into detail on meta-concepts that you may never think of, but also show how this is directly related to deck lists and testing results. If you’re on board with this kind of approach then I think you will enjoy what I have in store for the future.

ON LOSS

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The content for today’s article has two purposes. One is introductory, but as you might have guessed, I also have something “different” to talk about today: loss. Loss is something that most of us probably know far too well, and it’s probably safe to say that if you play this game competitively, loss is something that we want to avoid. However, what is the right way to do this? This can be answered in a couple different ways and it is my hope that you leave this article with a new lease on the phenomenon. Hopefully what I have to say is satisfactory and informative enough to hold your attention.

In different circumstances, I would probably need to define my subject in greater detail in order to help one figure out what I intend my writing to accomplish, but “loss” is so general that I think we all understand what I’m talking about. Of course, there are many different ways to understand “loss,” but for sake of competitive Pokémon, I am only referring to it as what occurs when you do not win a game or event.

Additionally, I want to make it clear that I am only referring to losing at competitive events – losing pick-up games at your local League is similar, but not quite comparable enough to completely include it in my work here. In formal argumentation, here is basically what I am working behind:

  1. Competitive players want the best possible results whenever they enter into any given event.
  2. Winning games produces ideal results.
  3. Winning games is necessary, but not sufficient for the best possible results.
  4. Losing is not conducive and ultimately detracts from ideal and the best possible results.
  5. Thus losing will not produce the best possible results.
  6. Thus winning any given event produces the best possible results.

Note that the argument is to prove the best possible results (BPR) are achieved if and only if an event is won, and so we can understand the BPR only as a first place finish. An ideal result is when you win a match or a round, which helps work toward the BPR, but winning individual rounds is not enough to produce the best possible result.

This is distinction between necessary and sufficient – it is necessary because one cannot achieve the best possible results without winning some games, but not sufficient because a player can easily win several rounds throughout any given event, but not succeed in winning the event itself.

ON WINNING EVERYTHING

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Before we can go further, there are some potential counter-points that need to be addressed. That is, I can see someone attempting to disagree with my argument. But first, let us briefly tack on some extra information in order to aid this discussion:

1: I should remind you that this is not a Faustian bargain – the person who chooses to win every event does not have to give up anything in return and that is what makes this thought experiment so powerful (at least I think).

2: The person who “accepts” this hypothetical opportunity to win every event will not have knowledge of the decision. They can weigh in personal and environmental factors before accepting, but a memory wipe needs to occur in order to avoid such headlines as “Man Wins Worlds with Theme Deck. Ness outraged. Pooka: ‘I’m honestly not too surprised by this.'” and so forth.

3: It is also important to point out that this is of course a hypothetical. In a reality grounded in magicless logic, something would surely not occur and while I am attempting to be succinct in my argumentation, I’m sure you could lob other hypotheticals at me for hours and eventually I may not have an answer. At the base level though, I think you’ll see that my work is largely grounded in reality and using unrealistic hypotheticals may only devalue your own claims.

THE COUNTER-ARGUMENTS

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1: Some players are not focused on winning but instead have loftier ambitions.

Take someone attempting to qualify for Worlds. The 500 Championship Point threshold may supervene actually winning the event and so someone may aim to just make Top 8 rather than win the event. If this is the case then it may seem like winning is not part of the best possible results.

However, I think that this sort of objection can be readily defeated by asking whether or not this Worlds hopeful would not win every single event if they were guaranteed. I think the answer to such a hypothetical is obviously “yes” (I certainly wish I could be guaranteed a win at every event I attend; to disagree with such a notion seems illogical and silly to me).

So, in this case, I think that “trying to make Worlds” and “trying to produce the best possible results” are separate cases where the former is sometimes relevant but the latter is always. Certainly there are many that are not chasing Worlds Points, but would like to win a Regionals in order to help earn byes for Nationals and make a profit off the prizing.

2: Some players are exclusively casual. The play fun, weirder decks because they are not obsessed with winning and so their best possible results may be unrelated to a first place finish.

I think this objection may be defeated in a similar fashion. That is, I do believe that there are players who do not care about their performances and may be a “focused on fun” player or a parent merely playing to support their child. However, even in these scenarios, I believe that if I asked them if they were guaranteed to win every event they played in, would they be upset or dissatisfied? Frankly, the answer ought to be no.

If this is the case, then my conclusion remains the same. How exactly do I deal with someone who doesn’t want to win? Can such a player possibly exist? If so I would need strong, logical argumentation for why someone would willingly not win every single event if they were given the capacity to do so.

3: Winning every event may eventually become boring and so perhaps after a while, someone may grow tired of always winning and desire a less satisfactory performance.

My issue with this is that it is not an objection against why one would not choose to win every event, but rather a potential outcome of making the choice. In formal argumentation, we see that disputing an effect of the conclusion to be a more effective and respectable way to argue (rather than attacking the premises), but I think this complaint may be too engaged in a hypothetical “what if” and so simply positing “well what if you never got tired of winning” would accomplish something similar and ultimately lead to a regression of hypotheticals and so clearly neither position can end sensibly.

Instead, I believe that this can be addressed by accepting it as a possibility, but if it does occur, I would argue that one would simply stop playing the game or move onto something different rather than desiring ideal outcome. I do not believe that becoming bored from winning would force us to reformulate our definition for the best possible result.

Furthermore, I think not knowing that you are going to win every event would largely defeat this boredom objection.

4: If an individual does start to win every event, people will likely resort to saying that they MUST be cheating because certainly such a feat is impossible.

While I agree with the latter portion of this claim (as voiced above), this counter-argument resembles the third since is a loftier claim about what happens after the decision rather than why one would (or would not) make the decision in the first place.

However, I think that tournament organizers could just stick you under a camera every round, have a judge with you at every table and so on and eventually it would become absolutely clear that you are not cheating. People who do cheat obviously do not win every event and some of our most successful players are not cheaters, so I believe that this argument falters as well.

5: Finally, there may be a small, ethical objection to why someone might want to win everything and while I could write several pages on this objection alone, I don’t think it is necessary for this article (please refer to my Celadon piece on pack-weighing for a base look at ethical quandaries).

At the end of the day, I think that everyone “wants to be the very best” and so winning or not winning, the goal remains the same. The best possible results can be produced if, and only if, one wins the event.

Again, this is a thought experiment and thus I am forced to operate largely in hypotheticals. The more we examine it further, the more it seems like I am talking to you about an episode of the Twilight Zone, but I do not believe that invalidates my position. My goal here is not to implement magical-realism in order to make a point, but rather walk through how and why we have an aversion to losing and how a player should deal with it.

I have much more to say on this topic, so I will continue this article as if the argument was valid and sound. If you have any objections to my premises or conclusions, please raise them in the comments and I would be more than happy to consider what you have to say and potentially reconsider my position. For now though, let’s move on.

BEING-TOWARD-LOSS

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I remember in the past, any kind of loss would put me on tilt. It could have been a good game, but if things didn’t go exactly my way, I would be internally and externally very upset. I would shake and make snarky comments like “Well, that really wasn’t a good game, was it?” and other such behaviors that honestly make me question how I was able to make friends in the game (#blessed). I really regret how I used to act, but I think it does a good job in personifying struggling with loss and also showing my own progression as individual.

So herein lies the problem. How do we orient ourselves to a tournament structure where dissatisfaction is created by anything short of perfection? Losses occur in varying severity and so it is harder to quantify the amount of dissatisfaction that may (or may not) be created by not winning? People can go about this in varying different ways but ultimately, I think there is one definitive way to go about this.

To examine this further, let’s refer back to my own case. Why exactly was I so upset by not being able to win? I wanted to win AND I didn’t want to lose, but even this proposition can be reduced further. Not only did I want to win, but I also felt like I was entitled to win.

My peak of my aversion toward losing can probably be traced to my 2011 season where I was consistently ranked first in North America and so part of me felt entitled to win my games because I had “proven” that I was superior to the majority of my opponents. I deserved to win because I was better. This may sound very silly and ridiculous to you, and that’s because it is! Coming down from this kind of orientation has been a very humbling experience for me, but I think it can also be used to illustrate one of the key points to my argument today.

No one and I mean no one, is more entitled to a win or loss. You may want to say something like “Well my opponent misplayed here and here and so I did deserve to win because they were not playing in an exemplary manner.” That is a valid concern, but not really what I’m talking about. Deserving to win for something that happens in game (and on a game-by-game, player-by-player basis) versus being intrinsically more deserving to win than your opponent are entirely different concepts.

I think we can make this kind of position make more sense if we delve into some deeper issues. Does a loss change who you are as a person? Does winning? Based on the tangible and observable, this answer may appear to be “yes”: when you win, it may seem like you’re a different person. You experience success, reap its benefits, and you become known as “a better player.”

Despite all of this, I would argue that winning and losing is fundamentally unchanging to one’s being. What does change from a win or a loss is impermanent while “you” remain the same. Obviously we want to win for the external changes and having such an orientation is unavoidable based on the world and environment that we live in, but I think we can quickly see that if someone only wants to win, then their lives will be full of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Just look at how I used to be! I remember being so stressed last year after States because I probably wasn’t getting my invite. I was upset, I didn’t want to play and I think I came off as a rather rude individual during most of my games. I lucked out and ending up placing 4th at Georgia Regionals which finished off my invite, but that was only after I slipped out of the “invite or die” mindset.

Certainly, I am not saying someone shouldn’t try to win. Becoming a good player is a pursuit of excellence that I think is a very worth aspiration. What I am saying is that winning or losing does not change who you are and thus you also shouldn’t change how it makes you act.

I mentioned earlier how I felt that a proper orientation for the future can only arise when you have the correct understand of its possibilities and when we apply this to Pokémon, we see that losing is an inevitable possibility. If we ignore this, we become complacent toward are games and begin to view loss as something unrelated to the game when in actuality it is an integral and necessary component.

It seems like the game should become arbitrary and devoid of meaning if you can’t orient yourself to the possibility of not achieving the best possible results (as denoted by the boredom objection). Meaning is derived when we can properly understand these possibilities and to further make this point, I don’t think that any of us play this game because we want to win or lose. Rather, we form relationships and commit ourselves to spending time with others from this wonderful, niche community and that is where the game has its purposes (and not because you win a League Challenge or 1-4 drop Nationals every year).

The best possible results are our concern when we are at an event, but I think that our interrelation with one another transcends all of that and we should keep that in mind when we are engaged in competition.

ON EVAN BAKER

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While I do apologize for perhaps (and unintentionally) smuggling in some of my metaphysical and quasi-religious beliefs into this piece, I would like to end my discussion of loss with a quote from another Pokémon player. During the finals of St. Louis Regionals this year, Aaron Tarbell was playing Blastoise against Evan Baker’s Plasma deck and eventually made a mistake (on an Ultra Ball discard, I believe) and he asked Evan if he could take it back.

Ordinarily, I think it would be safe to say that most players would refuse to let their opponent take something back, especially in something as important as a Regionals Final, but Evan was very willing to let Aaron correct his play. He said something along the lines of “I want to win. I want to beat you. But I don’t want you to beat you.” And I haven’t been able to forget this quote since I heard it.

Aaron ended up winning Game 3 and the event in a very close series, and while I am unsure if this Ultra Ball directly affected the outcome, I do believe that Evan exemplified the correct mentality for a competitive player. He understood what losing this series would mean for him and his season, but I believe he also understood the deeper conceptualizations of the win and the loss. To win on someone else’s terms or mistakes seems like it would undermine the excellence that the authentic player is likely aiming toward. I may be overcomplicating something that seemed very simple to Evan when he made the decision, but I think he does a great job of making my point.

The way I see it, you have to get pretty lucky to do well at Pokémon. Even the top players will admit some of their biggest finishes were topdecks away from making or breaking. If this is indeed the case, then I think it is important to use this kind of perspective when dealing with loss. If you have to get lucky on your path to victory, then it is probably best not to burn any bridges along the way, and treat your opponents in a way similar to Evan.

Everyone wants the best possible results, but I think this is only meaningful if you can familiarize yourself to loss and losing and look beyond the game to see how you are affected by relationships and interactions. I have borrowed a lot of my logic from existentialist thoughts on death, but I think it is wonderfully applicable to our silly little card game.

TL;DR

Now I know I made a big deal about skimming these articles for our own purposes rather than truly trying to understand the authorial intent, but it never hurts to to try to summarize your argument before finally presenting.

Today, it has been my intention to show how the goal of any given player is to be the very best (like no one ever was) and this can only be accomplished through the winning of events. Unfortunately, it is simply not possible for someone to win every event, and so we have to be able to properly orient ourselves toward loss and accept it as an inevitable part of the game we play.

Naturally, there are varying degrees to “dealing” with loss – ranging from anger and going “on tilt” to humble acceptance. Of course, it is my belief that a meaningful relationship with the game and those who play it can only be derived when one sees loss as a permanent fixture and to forgo any aversion to the phenomenon. Win or lose, we remain fundamentally unchanged as individuals and so I think it would be silly and poor to let this continually affect our moods, attitudes, and goals for the future.

CONCLUSION

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Well, I think that’s all I have for today guys. If you are turned off by this writing, I’m not sorry, but I will promise in the future that some of my writings will be more normative and list-heavy.

Currently I am uncertain if I will produce another Underground piece, but either way, I want to wish you all good luck at your State Championships. I will be attending Arkansas and Kansas, but I am unsure of the second weekend. Afterward, I will be in Kansas for their first Regionals and maybe a few other places depending on my Championship Point situation is looking.

Please lease any comments or concerns in the forum thread for this article and I will address them when I can!

Brit


…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

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