Recently, I’ve lost interest in Hearthstone. Partly because I finally have access to Starcraft again, but mainly it’s because the game is not enjoyable anymore. This leads me to evaluate my own thinking (meta-cognition), and my train of thoughts moves to Starcraft. This is about seeing Starcraft from a different perspective through attribution.
I am not a fan of games that uncontrollable factors have too much implications on the outcome, so obviously I’m no fan of poker. I prefer chess. I’m sure people are aware that Hearthstone has much randomness and luck involved. At the same time, there is a certain degree of skill required. However, given the relative low skill ceiling, it’s hard to differentiate the best players from the good players. Of course, you can argue that when you play numerous games, the statistics will show. Sure, I do not deny that, but it also means that there is a dilemma in the positioning of the game. At one end, it’s fun for casual. The game is really well done for what it sets off to accomplish. Ironically, at the other end, its success also leads the community to “esport-lise” it. In my opinion, it does not have the depth to fulfill the competitiveness aspect of an esports game. (At least not yet)
What about those in the middle? Those who bother to go a little bit further than just have fun, and research on the game to gain an edge over the opponent. They are in an awkward position, since most of these players may not have the time to grind the games to offset the luck factors and show case their relative skills. I think I fall in this category.
To put it in another way, once you’ve reached a certain understanding of Hearthstone, the luck factor affects the game too much that the marginal difference in skill does not matter. This is quite frustrating for me. In order for me to “make sense out of the game”, I’ve to either shift myself down to be a casual or up to really keep playing many games. The game doesn’t feel rewarding psychologically. When I win, I don’t feel that I’m better than the opponent. Vice versa.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Hearthstone is all luck and no skill. It is just that I don’t enjoy playing it because it is not rewarding for me given the above reasons.
Controllable and uncontrollable factors
I guess this is the part that I’m different from many people. Most people like to play games that involve controllable and uncontrollable factors, because that will give them room to attribute the victory or defeat accordingly. (In case you do not know, I’m a PhD student in marketing (consumer psychology), so these things always lead me to relate back to academic related content.) First of all, people approach pleasure and avoid pain. In this context, people want the pleasure of victory, and avoid the pain of defeat. At the same time, people need to retain sense of self by making themselves feel good about themselves. Therefore, putting these together, people attribute victory to controllable factors and defeat to uncontrollable factors. For example, “I won because I executed the build well” and “I lost because my teammates made mistakes”.
This fundamental psychological aspect of self makes games like Hearthstone and League of Legends more popular to general public. These games provide more room for attributions to either controllable or uncontrollable factors. This is also one of the key reasons why chess is never a social game in general. It hurts people. Same reason why people do not [want to] believe in meritocracy. It hurts most of the time, because there is usually only one winner (or at least the minority).
Luck is always being pointed at during the attribution process. “I lose because of luck”. I am going to put forward my view on the concept, “luck”, through argument based on logic.
Dictionary.com defines luck as
the force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person’s life,
as in shaping circumstances, events,or opportunities
Based on this, it means that there is valence in luck. That is, there is good luck or bad luck. Going back to what I mentioned about controllable and uncontrollable factors, luck is uncontrollable, obviously. To put this in the context of gaming, luck should then be referred to things that can not be within control of the involved competing parties.
Luck in Starcraft
Is there luck in Starcraft? Or, in other other words, are there factors not within the control of the competing parties?
Think about this for a while.
Ok, let’s exclude hardware or internet issues.
Spawning location is the only thing that is not controllable. Then, why people don’t attribute spawning location for the results (at least extremely rare)? Spawning location actually matters more than many think it does. For instance, it is harder to rally push on cross spawn in a four players map.
Now, trace back to what I said about attributing defeats to things, which the players cannot control. What do Starcraft players attribute their defeat to? Most of the time it is the race. Recently, there is a controversial piece on Team Liquid regarding how inferior Terran is compared to Zerg and Protoss. Although the tone of the writers may seem more biased than necessary, his arguments are well sounded. In fact, there are many key facts brought up that really warrant attention. With that being said, racial balance does not equate to uncontrollable factors.
Balance is the most talked about thing in any competitive game. In Starcraft, balance is often about the races. Race A is imbalance, Race B is overpowered, Race C does not need skill etc… Indeed, the racial balance is important in an asymmetrical game like Starcraft. But the thing is that we play the game, not the race.
We play the game, not the race.
Yes, that’s the one line you need to know. The choice of the race I use is completely within my control. If I pick the weakest race, and I lose. It is not the race that lost. It is me who lost.
“But the game is imbalance!”
Whether there is a good balance among the races is a different question altogether, it is about the fact that you lose because your opponent did better than you based on the controllable factors. If you lose a TvP and think that Terran is inferior to Protoss, then pick Protoss. How many can walk the walk like Scarlett?
Next time when you lose a Starcraft game, remember that it’s you who lost and not the race. This is something that I always remind myself, albeit it is hard to keep cool after several frustrating games. If you think that it is too painful for you, then maybe Starcraft is not for you.