I wrote a post back in July, titled “Is it always better to get better?“, in which I wondered why we try and improve even at meaningless things that don’t have actual value. In my case, the example in question was Starcraft 2, a real-time strategy game I spend far too much time playing. Despite the utter lack of value or meaning, I nonetheless set a personal goal of making it into Diamond league, which is approximately the top 20% of active 1v1 players. Being in the top 20% of anything you set your mind to really ought not to be that hard (well, unless you pick a goal around height or some other relatively immutable property), and there’s many thousands of Diamond 1v1 players in Starcraft 2; nonetheless, it took till tonight for me to finally make it.
It’s certainly been more difficult than I anticipated it to be. For a long time, I was really just playing the game, and not actively thinking about how I was playing, and what I needed to improve. I might go in with a plan, but once the actual back and forth combat phases started, I’d just focus on playing things out – and not on what I was trying to do better. The other challenge is that everyone still actively playing the game more than a year after it’s release was also pretty serious. Strategies evolved, things that used to work ceased to, and sometimes even when I felt I was playing near the peak of my ability, I’d take a string of losses.
As I wrote the prior blog post, hitting Diamond was the very last thing I expected. Starcraft 2 runs in seasons; at the end of each season, you’re locked into your current league, and when a new season begins, you’re slotted into a league for that season based on your cumulative performance to date. It should be harder to get promoted into Diamond than to be placed into Diamond at the start of a season, because there’s a threshold designed to prevent you from ping-ponging between adjacent leagues every few games. The last game I played yesterday wound up being treated as my first Season 5 match, and I was slotted back into Platinum. That really felt appropriate; I had been facing fewer diamond players in recent games, as I’ve been a little sick for about a week. And if there’s one place you really notice when you’re not at 100%, it’s playing something competitive and mentally intense.
Still, with today being the first day that I’ve felt mostly back to normal (after a really full night of sleep yesterday), I decided to play one last game before heading to bed. I’d won a reasonable string of games prior to the earlier blog post, perhaps on account of being back to normal, so I could still lose and not be too bothered about the day’s games as a whole. It’s harder to sleep after going 3-8! As it turns out, that final game earned a promotion to Diamond. It was a lucky win at that; a Protoss vs. Protoss where he was going for colossi off of one base; I’d anticipated a 4gate and didn’t expand either, but had no robotics support bay (i.e. far from having colossi of my own); I’d have died in a straight ground engagement, but just managed to get enough void rays to hold off the attack, retain my expansion, and win from there off of better momentum and economy.
I’m still by no means great at the game. There was an internal Google tournament (for fun, but I can’t enter due to timing with the kids), and about 20% of players were Masters level – that’s the top 10% of Diamond, i.e. the top 2% of all players; they’d likely beat me with one hand. But now that I’ve finally got to this entirely meaningless and pointless milestone, I’ll probably finally get to playing other equally pointless but high quality games, like Uncharted 3 and Zelda: Skyward Sword!
If you compare this image to the earlier post, you’ll see that it took me a ridiculous 740 wins – meaning roughly 1480 games (though some of that was 2v2, not 1v1) – between setting the goal and reaching it. That’s a lot of wasted time (probably 400-500 hours) and I’m sure I could have used it for something much more constructive. But at least I got a shiny icon!