Here is the stirring text I wrote for the Evolution 2006 tournament program guide:
“Playing to win is the most important and most widely misunderstood concept in all of competitive games.”—Sirlin
These are the words I chose to start my very first article about “Playing to Win” over six years ago, and I’m sticking to my story. Since then, my articles have been passed around the internet and back, and are still linked to in gaming forums for lots of games I’ve never even heard of.
Here at the finals of Evolution 2006, I hope you will see first hand what I’ve been talking about all these years. The players who have reached this level of skill have long left behind the mental handicaps that hold other players back. You won’t find any complaining about throws being cheap, or characters being cheap, or doing one move over and over being cheap, or exploiting bugs being cheap. At this level of play, the word “cheap” even becomes a compliment.
Isn’t it bad to exploit bugs, though? The answer is a resounding “no.” The Evolution tournament does have hard rules that players must abide by such as no kicking each other in the shins, no pausing during a match, and no picking Akuma in SF2 Aniversary Edition. But beyond that, players cannot be expected to intuit the will of the game designer about what was or wasn’t intended, and the tournament organizers have no interest in stifling the players, either. Everything goes and every good competitor will use anything to his advantage. If competitive gamers don’t push the envelope of what the game allows, then they have abandoned one of the primary virtues of humanity itself: the quest to always improve one’s self. If that made you laugh, then I invite you to watch the tournament through the lens of continuous self-improvement and see that these players’ burning desire to improve is no joke.
You will see Sentinel’s unblockable in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. You will see Chun Li’s “stored” super in Street Fighter 2: Anniversary Edition. You will see long-distance “kara throws” in SF3:3rd strike. You will see invulnerable “roll canceling” in Capcom vs. SNK 2. You will even see “snaking” in Mario Kart. The game designers probably did not intend any of these things, but this is not their day. This day is for the players to demonstrate how far along the path the excellence they have traveled and tournament victories are how they measure this progress.
While you watch these competitors, remember that they are now facing their biggest tests. All the preparation they’ve had, all the practice, and all their cheap tricks may still not be enough given the incredible competition they face from all over the world. You might even catch a glimpse of a rising star who evolves his play to the next level right in front of your eyes. After all, this trial-by-fire is how players reach that next level.
If you’re interested in reading more about the mechanics and psychology of competitive play—which is applicable to nearly any game—I will humbly recommend my book, Playing to Win. After all the response from my articles over the years, I compiled, polished, and greatly expanded the material into book form. It contains many topics I’ve never written about before such as the concept of critical moments in a match, how to “see the moments” that go by in a flash, which qualities and personality types the top players tend to have, and what duty the best players do or do not have when it comes to teaching others.
If it makes you feel any better, my main motivation for writing the book wasn’t to make a buck (there are better ways to do that!). Instead, it was partly because too many people wildly misunderstand what competitive gaming is really all about, and mostly because I’m tired of saying this so many damn times, that I decided to write it all down.
On that note, enjoy the event!