Frozen Endzone, Ladder Paralysis, And The Importance Of The Metagame

Have you ever been unable to play a game you love?

Overall, my competitive nature is a good thing. It compels me to gain a deep understanding of games, and I feel that I enjoy them more. If I can find a good regular opponent, either in real life or online, those matches can be some of my best gaming experiences.

But I recently came into conflict with my own competitive spirit when I reached the top of Frozen Endzone’s ladder. I got there in the beta, which then carried over into the Early Access period. And I was happy, for a time. But after playing a few more games, it rapidly became apparent that due to the ladder’s elo system, a win got me next to no points. A loss, however, would send me tumbling.

It was a weird feeling. With five minutes to spare, I would at once feel both the desire to play, and a hesitant pang of caution. Those matches I did play were very tense, knowing that everything was on the line, and nothing could be gained. I enjoyed the intensity, but hated the futility. I had drawn the ladder’s previous champion, and beaten the up-and-comer (who now sits at #1) with a scoreline that betrayed how extremely tight it was. I had confidence in myself, but no confidence in the system.

To be fair, this also coincided with a very busy time work-wise, when I spent most of my waking hours on a Dark Souls 2 video, and a few other contracts. I also spent a fair bit of time on my Dark Souls 2 Onebro run. But it was hard to not feel a smidge of ladder paralysis, knowing full well that I could just sit at the top. This was made even worse by the monumental penalties for losing. In fact, scratch losing; even a draw would lose me an unacceptable amount of points.

It was a small problem in the last game, too. The most frozen thing about Frozen Synapse was its ladder, the top 50 being barely mobile, making it impossible for a player like me to penetrate it. It was an achievement to just get around 35th or so. Everyone had Ladderitis.

Now, I’ve experienced it from the other end. The above screenshot was taken 14 wins and 2 losses after the previous one. Yikes. I’m pretty sure at one point, I even lost points after barely winning a match, which suggests that I could only gain points if I won by a decent enough margin. In a game about whether or not to take the conservative option or go for the risky points, if even winning can lose me points, the conservative option is to just not play.

You can’t blame the players for playing to win, and it highlights the value of a decent metagame. Because even though the game should be enough by itself, and one should be able to just not worry about the ladder, it does matter. A certain amount of rating decay would help in this situation -- but Endzone’s already-planned custom league feature should allow players to get their competitive fix amongst friends.

But I guess, like Frozen Endzone’s gameplay, it involves self-analysis. This is a game about constantly doubting yourself and whether or not you have the best plan -- should the metagame be any different? Instead of maneuvering to get a clutch interception, this time I was deciding whether or not it was more important to be the best, or look the best. In the end, after work calmed down, I kept playing. I was bored not playing it. Not exploring its new systems.

I now sit at #2, after a fairly run-of-the-mill loss against a good player, and I’ll be rectifying that ASAP. Here’s hoping the new champ will give me a game, because it’s within his ability to exclusively smack down the new level 1 players brought in by the Early Access period, further gaming the metagame. The good news is, my ladder paralysis is temporarily cured. Magic!

I’ve never really had this problem before, as most competitive ladder games I’ve been serious about have had either rating decay or a system that forces players to accept challenges within a period of time. Beyond time constraints or the disapproving eye of a parent or partner, have you ever felt compelled to avoid the game you love?


Comments

    On the plus side, stress over how to maintain being THE NUMBER ONE PLAYER IN THE WORLD at something is only ever going to affect a very small handful of people. :)

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