Let me get this off my chest.
It’s the first Store Champs of the season, up at CanCon in our nation’s capital. The first few rounds have been okay, but I really want to slay my round four opponent 2-0, seeing as my good mate Liam ‘Shielsy’ Prasad had swept me in the previous round.
I’m playing a standard Kate Control list that goes for R&D lock, against a Harmony Medtech build. I’m ahead on economy. I’m ahead on board. My opponent has a few unrezzed remotes I hadn’t bothered to check because they’d been there since turn 0, doing nothing.
And besides, I was hitting R&D every turn for like, four cards. And I was bricking every time. I saw nothing hostile, or anything to suggest I’d be in trouble. Just more permissible ICE and Medical Research Fundraisers.
Each turn I’m slamming in for at least three fresh cards off the top of the deck, and hitting nothing. It’s getting late in the round, and I’m concerned about going to time for a measly single point.
I do a glory run with The Maker’s Eye, and hit all but the winning agenda. My opponent has five cards in hand. I hit up HQ. I break through, and before access he rezzes a Dedicated Response Team. Like, whatever. I’ve got four cards in hand, right?
I access a Snare and die.
My god, was I shitty. I’d been so ahead, and was hitting R&D with multi-access every turn. Things were going so well, and then I make the mistake of not checking those remotes to know what to look out for.
And then, my opponent decides to say ‘Wow man, there was only one snare in hand and I had two Medical Breakthroughs in there!’
I felt the crunching in my stomach. There was only one round left and I’d have to win the next two games of the tournament and still have good breakers to make it into the top 8.
That crunching feeling got worse and became a hot flush up my neck and around my ears. A friend of my opponent comes up to him, and they both start laughing about how he got me, and how strange his deck is.
I felt like lashing out, telling him that he pointed out how high the variance was. Hell, even as I sit here typing this I’m remembering how angry I was. What a douchebag I am, right? Who does that?
I packed up my stuff and went outside. It was hot in Canberra, even for January. I’d sat in the TWA-Mobile eight hours to be here, just to die to some Harmony Medtech pet deck that some scrub decided to bring along. How was that fair?
I hate-ate a beef and gravy roll from a food truck (I can still taste it in the back of my throat; it was rank), and then went back inside and proceeded to win the next three games and make it into the top 8 on breakers.
Reflecting on this that night, and many nights after, I realised that I’d let the tilt get the better of me. How was it fair that I’d somehow felt entitled to win the game? And therefore made the mistake of not checking or considering all possibilities, only to die? My opponent was a reasonable person. They’d set that DRT there since turn one. I hadn’t checked it. I’m sure they were just waiting for me to make a small mistake.
And I made one.
The tilt was strong in me. And I knew it had gotten to me deep, and affected my poor performance in double elimination.
Later, my teammates would tell me that in the top 8 I’d been playing awfully. Jesse Marshall told me that in the weeks leading up to the Store Champs season, my play (and Corp play in particular), had been super smooth. For some reason in the top 8 I’d made error after error, all the while inadvertently flashing HQ to my opponent whenever they accessed, as Shielsy pointed out to me.
But I wasn’t alone.
In the winner’s bracket of the top 8, Shielsy had had to wait around for a couple of rounds to finish before playing his match; something that often happens in double elimination. Then, after nearly an hour, he sat down with his opponent. He mulliganed into garbage. He copped a turn one Account Siphon. Then his opponent plucked all the agendas he needed in the first six turns of the game.
‘This is so obnoxious.’ He muttered bitterly to himself while shuffling a HQ full of Nisei Mk 2s for his opponent to access.
I could see Shielsy was tilting hard. I felt it because I was intimate with that horrid emotion that we let get the best of us from time to time.
The round ended.
‘Will I have time to get to Hades and back before the next round?’ Shielsy asked of the TO.
‘C’mon man. Let’s go get some air.’ I told him, a hand on his shoulder.
We went and walked past the food trucks and drank some water, and I let Shielsy vent his frustration to me. Then I vented mine to him. Then we mostly felt better.
Tilt is a huge issue for me. It was oddly comforting for me to know that a teammate, good friend, and someone who I still consider to be a far better player than myself still wasn’t immune to it.
So how does tilt come about?
I could be wrong, but I think it’s far more prevalent in competitive players. People who take the game seriously, want to test and play as often as they can to hone their abilities and best their opponent. They enjoy the challenge, and winning is their reward.
This isn’t to say casual players can’t be disappointed with loss. Nor is it an attempt to glorify the competitive scene. It’s just a symptom of the competitive bug, and unfortunately one of the reasons I think the notion of ‘competitive’ players sometimes has a nasty stink around it.
‘Competitive players ruin the game,’ is a phrase I’ve heard more than once. While I disagree with it, I can see where it’s coming from.
Thankfully, my tilt isn’t vocal. I’ve known players both in Magic and Netrunner to really let their opponent have it when they’re tilting. I’m going on record right now: That kind of behaviour is unacceptable, and should be rewarded with a DQ.
Tilt is harmful not just for your personal health and relationship with the game, but to the community as well. Netrunner is still a fledgling game, and it’s important to make sure everyone in the community feels welcome and happy, especially in the tournament scene.
‘This is bullshit!’ Came the cry of one of our local players here in Melbourne when he lost to someone playing their first tournament. ‘Absolute bullshit!’ He stood up so quickly his chair knocked over, and then he stormed out of the store.
We had to console the new player, and let them know they’d done nothing wrong. Thankfully, this player is still around and still regularly attends tournaments.
Can I understand the frustration of the tilting player that caused him to lash out in the way he did? Of course. If I sat down opposite someone who told me they own the core set and half a data pack, and that this is their first tournament, I would, unfortunately, expect to win.
Such is my entitlement as a competitive player. And this is a bad thing. It’s what leads to tilt in the first place.
Now, can I condone the behaviour that was a result of his tilt? Absolutely not.
This kind of behaviour is why it is sometimes so hard to celebrate competitive play. Anyone who has been in the tournament scene for any game long enough has a story to tell you about a time they’ve witnessed the result of an especially bad tilt.
But the effect tilt has on your opponents and community at large is also only a by-product of what it can do to you, the tilted, if you don’t learn to keep it in check.
My good friend Nick Watson wrote an article about how he believes depression to be prevalent among magic players. I personally believe it to be the case in Netrunner, and geek/gaming communities at large.
If you, like me, have battled depression, then let me tell you: Tilt can really exacerbate it.
Competitive players put pressure on themselves to perform. I’m no exception. Christ, I host a podcast called The Winning Agenda, with some of the best players in the country. It’s not called The I Go to Tournaments and Always Go 0-2 Drop Agenda, (even though I know the panelists would still love me).
The point is, the pressure we put on ourselves, coupled with depression, anger, or other issues we may have can make tilt extra sour. Most of us prioritise Netrunner highly, choosing to play tournaments or test over, say, doing something else with friends, or our partners. Maybe you, like me, have taken days off work, maybe spent money to travel to tournaments interstate.
When you’re making that kind of investment (annual leave, travel expenses, not to mention your most important resource; time), and putting pressure on yourself, you expect to do well. Hell, you need to do well. You need to justify the time and energy you’ve put into this, and winning is the only way you feel you can do it.
During the 2015 Store Champs Season, I had an awful time.
I attended all of the Store Champs in our state, plus the one in Canberra (some seven or eight tournaments), and didn’t win any. I made two top 8s and one top 4. I told myself that if I’d just make top 8, then I’d be okay. That was worth my time. I wouldn’t be a failure. But even then, it’s wasn’t good enough.
So, while I was mostly happy with three of the nine performances, the other six left me abysmally flat. Thinking about Netrunner became a chore. Dwelling on my losses, all those mistakes I’d made took up the time I’d usually spend testing.
My tilt had gotten to the point where it was affecting my personal life, and the enjoyment of my favourite hobby. It also made it harder to deal with the ‘anonymous’ internet trolls posting smear campaigns against our podcast; something I spend many hours each week working on.
I even envied the opponents I beat, who were just able to laugh and say, ‘well, that was some classic Netrunner, hey?’
What a way to be.
The Store Champs season paved the way for Regionals. I wasn’t feeling any better.
In the weeks leading up to the Melbourne Regionals, I was really feeling the pressure. And that pressure was coming from nowhere but me: I wanted to do well.
I convinced myself that maybe I’d let the sheer number of Store Champs events make me complacent. Perhaps the fact that there were so many of them lead me to think something along the lines of; ‘Well, it’s okay, I’ll do better at the next one.’ But the Regionals event wouldn’t afford me that courtesy.
Tilt comes in waves. Learning to deal with it occurs in three stages:
The first stage is when you’re a fresh faced competitive demon: Anyone who beats you is a filthy scrub; a try-hard; a neck-bearded GamerGator of the highest order. Their deck was jank and they got lucky. Your deck just wasn’t performing. You drew all your agendas or you drew none of your economy.
In the first stage, every possible element of the game, bar you and the skill of your opponent, is the reason you lost. And your opponent never truly ‘earned’ their win in your eyes. By tilting, you try to rob them of the validity of their victory, but really only end up looking like what you are: an entitled jerk.
The second stage of tilt only really occurs once you’ve been called out about it. It happened to me a long time ago, when a friend told me that whenever I lose I always seemed to have something bad to say about my opponent.
And you realise that what you’re doing isn’t fair. You’re trying to justify all those things I talked about earlier (time, resources, priorities), by saying that you shouldn’t have lost. But here’s the truth bomb: You did lose. You lost because of actions you took, that didn’t coincide with the actions your opponents took. At least not in a favourable way. For you.
Once you’re aware of this, you can start to try and remove the anger/distress you feel from your tilt, and use it as an exercise to get better at the game.
You can easily separate the human being sitting on the other side of the table from the fact that you lost, and instead analyse why you lost, and turn that into information on how you could have won. This is part of the process of becoming a better player, and some people manage to skip stage one and go right to this.
The third stage, I think (I’m not quite there yet), is when you’re at the point where losing doesn’t feel bad. It doesn’t feel good, but you’re aware that it’s just something that happened. Maybe you’re a good enough player to know that there wasn’t a whole lot you could have done, maybe you can very safely say that you had a choice that was 50/50, but you had to make it and you lost.
Netrunner is a game with a bit of luck, and sometimes you just cop it to the face. And that’s fine. But it’s nobody’s fault, and you shouldn’t let it make you angry at your opponent, or yourself.
This is the stage everyone should aspire to.
I placed thirtieth at the 2015 Melbourne Regional. It took me nearly a full minute to decide if I was going to commit to writing that just now. But here we are.
I was doing well, but in the penultimate round of Swiss, I had two very tight games with another very good player in the Melbourne scene. I feel like both of these games came down to those 50/50 situations, and in each, I made the wrong call. I’ve thought back and dwelled on those games, and I’ve learnt from that.
However, my transitioning from stage two to stage three of dealing with tilt still isn’t complete.
As such, in the last round, I was barely paying attention. I played sloppy, and I knew it: I was tired. I was depressed. I was tilted. I honestly can tell you far more about round five on the bubble than I can tell you about round six. I can barely remember what my opponent was playing.
I went downstairs and helped with the video coverage and waited to see Wilfy make it all the way to the finals.
Then I went home and lay on my bed, stared at the ceiling and felt like a piece of shit for the rest of the night.
A few days later, I confided in Jesse Marshall about how down I was on my performance.
He told me he knew that I was determined to succeed. He expressed his support and his concern. He put things in perspective: If I’d won the penultimate match, I would have been top 16. If I’d won both the last rounds I would have made top 8. But the fact of the matter was I’d let my tilt get to me for that last round, and didn’t even strive to be the best I could be. I played just because I was there, because my goal was already dashed away.
We make a lot of jokes about tilt, about being ‘salty’ or ‘sour.’ But as I’ve said above, a lot of people tilting need to be told to pull their head in, to put things in perspective, especially if they’re being rude or abusive to other people.
But othertimes, people on tilt need support. I’d never advise attending a big tournament as a competitive player without a buddy. You need someone there to share bad beats with. You need someone to grab you on the shoulder and suggest you take a walk together so you’ll calm down.
You need a teammate. You need a friend.
Russell Cutting, a mate of mine from South Australia, has a deck box where he keeps his sleeves for Magic tournaments. On the inside of the lid, he has written: ‘Keep calm and enjoy this children’s card game. You look good.’ I think more of us need to echo this sentiment.
While I host a podcast with some of my best friends that is about celebrating competitive play, encouraging our listeners to challenge themselves, and being the best we can be, sometimes you need to remember that winning isn’t everything. Even though if you remove the drive to compete from the equation, the hobby seems far stranger.
Winning is the reward for all your hard work. It’s not something you ‘get’ because you’ve been testing a lot. It’s the reward at the end of the road, and for most us, that road is still stretching all the way to the horizon.
Over the past few months, tilt over various tournaments was stimulating my depression. This was really bad not only for me, but my girlfriend and my relationships with my friends. Keeping it in check is really important, and something I am continuing to work on.
For those of our readers and listeners who think we’re big, bad, tilt-fiend competitive players, I hope me sharing my personal experience has helped you see that it’s not the case.
We love the game. We love competing. But above all else we want to stimulate a community, and you can’t do that if you’re a salty, sour tilter. Nobody will want to spend any time with you.
To those of you who might know someone who has trouble dealing with their tilt, I hope some of my suggestions allow you to speak with them about it, and help them out.
For those of you who are reading who might suffer from bad tilt, I hope I’ve given you some insight to continue to learn from your mistakes.
Because that’s honestly what we’re really all about.
Brian Holland, (affectionately known as The Big Bad Wolf), is the host of The Winning Agenda Podcast. He may one day be a published author, but until then, he’ll wallow around, complaining about card rulings. But that probably won’t change even if he does get published. You can check out more of his inane ramblings on twitter @bwholland