Okay, so maybe that title is a little misleading.
I’m far from a positive person. I suppose a therapist would argue that I mask my insecurities with over-the-top negativity as some sort of defence mechanism. Self-deprecation is a great way to own your flaws, right?
But, despite my penchant for the more sour things in life, I’ve found over the past few months that maintaining a positive outlook balanced with realistic expectations and achievable goals to be the perfect counter to all the problems I was having with tilt.
You might remember from my first article that I had a really hard time during the Store Championship season this year, and the leading up to Melbourne Regionals. The expectations I had put on myself, coupled with the tilt I was suffering, were resulting in an extremely negative approach to tournaments.
I’d often ‘joke’ about how I would get paired up against the same dude who always slays me in round one. When I got swept, I’d say something like ‘Why did I even bother getting out of bed today?’ to my team mate. Sometimes I would even drop from a tournament and go home because I was both angry and embarrassed at myself.
I’d even convinced myself that being overly negative was a good thing, and might even help me deal with the negative effect my depression was having on my game play.
Seriously though, read that last paragraph again.
I still have no idea why I thought overplaying the negativity would help me deal with the effects of negativity. I suppose I didn’t want to be one of those saps who had fooled themselves into thinking that the sky is pink and we all live in Marshmallow Land thanks to a book recommended to them by a daytime talk show.
To be honest, I still don’t want to be one of those people. But what I think I’ve found is a good middle ground where I can still be my pessimistic self without being willingly sucked into a society of care-bears and lollipops.
The first step to getting back my positive attitude was to give myself a realistic goal.
We had planned to attend the Regional Championship in Adelaide, and I figured it was my next chance to put up a decent result, especially after my dismal performance in Melbourne. While I wasn’t optimistic enough to try and shoot for the trophy, I wanted to make the top 8. If I did, I’d be happy. Not a whole lot had changed.
I’d been having trouble with my deck choices. It seemed every week I was changing back and forth from a Haas-Bioroid Midrange list, to an NBN Scorched list that flirted dangerously with janky cards.
After some deliberation, I went back to a deck that I hadn’t piloted since the Store Champs season. More on that in a moment.
I was one game off making the top 8 in Adelaide. It was a gosh-darned shame. Especially considering in the last round I was up a game, and was gagging for the win so badly I face-planted into a double Snare! off of a needlessly aggressive R&D run.
Thankfully, I was at the stage in my tilt development where I was able to not internalise my frustration or disappointment, and rather just identify the mistake I’d made, and learn from it.
Through that tournament, I only dropped a single game with my Corp deck. It was actually Kate who had let me down, only grabbing me a single victory the entire day. Upon reflection, I should have identified this issue then and there, and dealt with it.
Shortly after Adelaide Regionals, the date for the National Championship was announced.
I have an important relationship with the National Championship. In 2014, it was the first serious Netrunner tournament I played. After six weeks or so of testing with those who would become The Winning Agenda panellists, I entered the event and somehow managed to make the top 8. I was ecstatic, and for the first time in a long history of playing games, felt that the time and effort I’d put into testing hadn’t been for nothing.
If I’m being honest, it was Nationals 2015 that was always my goal. I already identified that despite my disappointment, the Store Champs season wasn’t for me. The Regionals were great and all, but I wasn’t as invested as I could have been. The whole time, whether I was testing for a Game Night or an interstate tournament, I was thinking about Nationals. I wanted to get there again, make that top 8 again.
I’ve been dealing with depression since I was a young teen. Even though my tilt and stress from Netrunner in the early part of the year had made it worse, I’d had it mostly in check.
A few months before Nationals, my girlfriend left me. I mean that in the most literal sense, too. As in, I arrived home one day to find all her and all her stuff gone.
As a result, I had a pretty bad relapse.
And this was hearty, bloated depression I hadn’t felt for years. It’s not sadness. It’s a numbness, a stillness that sits deep under your heart and doesn’t let you do anything.
I stopped cleaning my apartment. I stopped cooking. I started exclusively ordering in. I didn’t want to go home, because home was lonely. I didn’t want to stay out, because I had nowhere to go.
I’d often just lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling. That’s the brutality: It’s not the sadness. It’s this sick masochism. This dark feeling that loiters with you all the time to the point that you get so used to it that you almost miss it when it’s gone.
I wish I’d been able to cry. I just wasn’t. I needed to, I’m sure I still do. But I couldn’t. I was just numb, cold.
Then I bought a pair of sneakers and started running in the park outside my apartment building. I started listening to podcasts while I did so. Not podcasts about the geek world or anything like that. I started listening to Jaime Walton of the Wayne Foundation. I started listening to the Diary of Jen Kirkman.
My stamina was shot. But I felt like I was doing something. I told myself that if I could continue to do something, be it running, or anything other than staying alone in my apartment, I had to do it.
I had to try and stay positive even if I couldn’t see beyond today. A therapist would probably call it Alternate Behavioural Therapy. I probably wasn’t implementing it correctly, but I wasn’t going to go back on antidepressants.
During this time, Netrunner was a welcome distraction. I was always eager to make sure that people were coming to the regular meetups in the city by incessantly posting each week on Facebook. I wanted an excuse to focus on something other than my self-loathing.
Looking forward to Nationals became a positive and welcome goal for me to focus on. I didn’t want to dwell on the negative because the negative had already cost me so much over the years.
Then, one day, I was taking a piss and a thought came to me from nowhere: I’d never been good enough at Magic or any other game to actually threaten to win anything substantial. But maybe, just maybe I was good enough to win Nationals. I mean, I had a better shot at it than others, right?
So, for a moment, I let myself into happy Marshmallow Land where the sky is pink and everyone smiles all the time. I let myself think optimistically about an aspect of my life. Maybe I had the capacity to take out Nationals if I revved up the S.S. Happy and took sail along the Smiley Sea.
But only love and positivity were gonna get a ride on my boat.
So, I wanted to channel this positive energy into something I was passionate about. I had a goal, I had the drive.
But first, I had to figure out just why the fuck I’d been losing so much lately.
I had to start with my decks.
It wasn’t until the Adelaide Regional that I thought Jesse Marshall had been on to something when he designed the Argus deck that I played.
I’d had a lot of practice with it, so started bringing it to Game Nights and testing sessions, and before long I was playing it exclusively.
And it was the most fun I’d had playing Netrunner in a really long time.
Whenever I played it, the strategy felt fragile. It felt like I had to put my head on the stump each turn and just hope my opponent couldn’t find the axe. Maybe that’s why some people who test with it can’t get the win in. Maybe they fear the reaper.
But if you put yourself upon the rack at the right time, and the Runner doesn’t bite? You just murder them. It was excellent, and I was doing it over and over again. I couldn’t seem to stop winning.
Which left the only problem I didn’t want to address: My Runner deck.
A good friend of mine from the States once told me the concept of ‘Camp Goggles’. He said that in the US, during the summer break, your parents would get sick of you and send you off to camp for six to eight weeks. While there, you might see someone who is super cute, but they’re not actually. They’re just the only kinda cute person you’ll see for the next two months, and your ‘Camp Goggles’ do the rest.
I think I was wearing a pair of Camp Goggles when it came to my Runner deck.
I didn’t have eyes for anyone except Kate. None of the other Runner’s appealed to me, and I wasn’t prepared to even give them a chance, as I’d convinced myself she was the way to go. And hell, I’m not saying she isn’t. It may be a problem I have in terms of my playstyle, or even the deck composition that was leading me to drop games with her more often than not.
Maybe the problem is that while I was murdering over and over with my Corp deck, my runner deck was slow, gentle, and won out only in the late game. But I didn’t want to go back to playing an 80/20 deck like the MaxX list I’d piloted shortly after Order and Chaos.
What I needed was a marriage of virtue and viciousness.
I’m in Sydney and it’s the night before the National Championship. I’m testing with the guys and I’m sitting there killing with Argus and losing games with Kate. My confidence was shot. I hadn’t told any of them what Nationals meant to me, or what it represented for me as a Netrunner player.
It was when Jesse Marshall told me he was going to switch to Noise that I got really worried. You see, up until then, I’d been falling back on the notion that if a stellar player like Jesse still had faith in the Kate list we were playing, then I should to. I just had to adjust my play style or something, surely.
At 10:30pm, I asked my good friend Sam if I could borrow cards for a Noise Deck. I’d never played Noise before. After three or four games, I went to bed, having made the decision to take the Anarch with me the next morning.
I’d never done anything like that before. I was so sure that I wasn’t a good enough player to switch decks at the last minute like Jesse and Liam had done in the past, especially not a list I’d never played before.
I lay down and stared at the off-white ceiling of my cheap motel room and told myself that the choice I was making was correct. I told myself that even if I did poorly, I wouldn’t let the tilt get to me. I wouldn’t let hindsight play me like a drum. I was going to stay positive.
I would remain calm and think out all of my plays. I would smile, and direct no hate or negativity toward my opponent. I would laugh, I would make jokes. I would treat the game like the game it was.
But I also wanted to win. Winning is so fucking gas.
The next day, I found myself 6th of 74 going into the final round.
As suspected, Argus had not let me down. The Murdering had been strong. And to my surprise, I’d managed to only drop one game with Noise. Remarkably, I’d seem to be following my own advice.
My breakers were very good, and I only needed to win one game in the last round to be a lock for top 16. I told myself I had to be elated despite what would happen. So far, this was my best performance at a competitive tournament all year. Suddenly, all those times I got crushed at Store Championships seemed pretty damned meaningless.
The only tournament worth winning was the one that flew you out of the country, right?
And, of course, my only sweep of the day is the last round. Another strong player from Melbourne knocked me out 2-0.
But my team mates were there for me. I hope nobody has forgotten the advice I gave in the last article, about keeping your friends close, and having them nearby during highly competitive events when the tensions run high.
It wasn’t just the other Winning Agenda guys this time, though. Plenty of my lovely pals from Melbourne were always there for a hug and some reassuring positivity between rounds, even when we were all doing well.
Shortly after the final round, standings were posted, and I ended up 19th.
I went into the bathroom and washed my hands while the top 16 were congratulated. I looked up at myself in the mirror.
For a moment, I was happy. I was happy with my performance, with the fact that I’d stuck to my guns. I was happy that I’d done something like bring a deck I’d never played before and gone well with it.
For the first time in many months, I was looking at my reflection, and I realised that I didn’t hate myself.
It’s important to manage your expectations in any tournament, but especially the higher profile ones. You need to give yourself a realistic yet achievable goal, and you need to work toward it.
If you haven’t been playing long, and maybe you’re attending your first Regionals, aim for something fair, but respectable. For example, tell yourself that you want to win as many of your Corp games as you can, and if you win some Runner ones too, then that’s just gravy.
Maybe you’re more creative, and you want the deck you’ve come up with to do well. So aim to win every game with that deck, and in the time leading up to the tournament, test the hell out of that list whenever you get the chance!
If you have designs on making the top cut, make sure you’re confident in your lists. Identify the problems you’re having, and speak to people to get feedback and thoughts on what could change. Remember to consider each game of each round in a vacuum.
I used to wait until I was on the bubble, and then silently tell myself, ‘If I lose this, I’m out. If I lose this, I’m out.’ This was awful. Not only was I waiting until it was nearly too late to motivate myself, I was trying to motivate myself with negativity.
It can be hard to stay in the individual game and not think about the next match, or the previous match, or the rotten luck you had, or how if you lose this match, you’re a zero percent chance for the top cut.
As Shielsy would say, ‘the tournament is the thing you came to play, and Netrunner happens in the tournament.’ This is true, and it’s important to focus on these things separately. When you’re playing, stay positive and think about Netrunner. Don’t dwell on anything negative like how you’d been paired up, or how you’re really feeling pressured because you and your opponent are both on a high number of points.
Between rounds? That’s when you focus on the tournament. Talk it out with your team mates about where you are on the standings, figure out the points needed to make the top cut, and remaining positive and realistic about how many more games you’re going to win to get there.
Despite how it may sound, I really enjoyed myself at the National Championship this year.
Did I reach my goal? Well, in the strictest sense, I did not. I wanted to make the top cut. But the goal I did reach was not letting the negativity get the better of me.
I am proud of my achievements, and I’m proud of where I am. I’m a better player than I was nearly a year ago when I started, and this game and the community has had a profound impact on my life.
Later that night, we were back at the pub adjoining the motel where we were staying. The rest of the guys were having some drinks and playing some tabletop games. I retired to the corner to be on my phone for a bit.
Being an introvert and being around people for two days straight, however lovely they might be, really does wear on you.
I took some downtime, and was delighted to see a friend request from one of the players from Adelaide I’d never met, but had spoken to online a bunch. She added me into a group chat on Facebook and offered a lot of kind words about my performance, as well as sympathy for my loss in the last round. It was really lovely, and I’m ever an advocate for the kindness of strangers.
Separately, my friends at the nearby table came to check on me. They wanted to know if I was doing okay. And I was doing okay. I was happy with how I went, I was happy with the decisions I’d made and the fact that I’d remained positive.
But each time one of them came over to see how I was, I looked up at them, smiled, and tried as hard as I could not to cry.
These friends I’d made because at some point, I’d decided to go and play a stupid children’s card game competitively. These people were perfect, and people like me don’t deserve the unconditional love that they offer.
But I smiled, I said I was fine. And that was the truth. I’m not entirely sure why I wanted to cry. I was a wellspring of emotion.
I looked at my reflection in the window of the pub, the night fallen over the Bankstown airport beyond.
I still have a long way to go.
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