Netrunner has a fantastic community.
It is young, ever-growing, diverse and friendly. Of all the gaming communities I’ve ever been a part of, from Magic to White-Wolf RPGs, Netrunner is the best.
However, there is one issue that is especially polarising: Casual versus Competitive play.
In all my time as a geek, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Any time a topic arises that allows a person to put themselves in one camp or another, they seem to do so with unrelenting gusto.
I’m writing this to argue that there needn’t be two sides to the community. I think it’s important to highlight that everyone plays this game for different reasons, and those reasons may be different to yours. Additionally, there is no wrong way to go about playing any game, or producing content or engaging with the community.
It’s important to note that people also switch up their reasons for playing. Some of the time, maybe you’re piloting a tier-one deck in the hopes of besting all your opponents and taking down a tournament. Others, you’re bringing your pet deck and hoping to finally catch some people out with Helion Alpha Test.
I’m back and forth, but mostly I’m what you’d call a competitive player. I thought I’d speak to a few ‘myths’ that I’ve seen come up time and time again across many forums and Facebook groups. These are some of the topics that stigmatise the people who play competitively, many of which I believe come as a result of misconception or, at times, a lack of understanding.
Rarely are people ‘competitive’ or ‘casual’ players in entirety, and I’ll point out that that everyone plays for different reasons. But these ‘myths’ tend to be about people when they are playing competitively. For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to people participating in tournaments as ‘competitive players.’
Competitive Play Is Unfriendly
Of all the myths, this is the one I hear the most. So let’s settle it: Competitive players are not some alien race. I’d like, one day, for the terms ‘casual’ and ‘competitive’ to be non-existent. Yes, competitive players can be unfriendly. But so can people in general. Unfriendliness is a problem in gaming communities, and it’s something we all need to combat. It’s not something we need to blame on people playing the game in one particular way, rather than seeing ‘be nice’ as a mantra that we should all try to live by.
I think this myth stems from aspects of elitism and tilt. There are some competitive players who are very elitist, and this is a Bad Thing. It is tantamount to having a clique and not wanting anyone else to come and hang out with you. It can be very ‘You Can’t Sit With Us.’ Again, this happens on both sides of the fence. If you’re reading this, remember: You need to always be friendly, and you need to not externalise your tilt. We all want this game to grow, and scaring away new players is not the way to go about it.
Competitive Players Don’t Play For Fun
This myth is very confusing. For some reason, ‘fun’ and ‘win’ need to be two separate things. The difference between playing casually and playing competitively generally means that you’ll have a slightly different attitude to winning. However, regardless of attitude, I’ve found most people enjoy winning.
There are always fun things to experience whether you win or lose. A competitive player will always respect a hard fought win from their opponent, especially in tight games. Competitive players will also analyse their loses and do what they can to learn from each mistake. A casual player might just enjoy the fact that their home-brew deck had their opponent scratching their head for most of the match, and don’t mind when they lose: They’re in it for the memories.
For a competitive player, the fun is in challenging up the ladder, testing their decks, honing their skills, and getting the reward of a nail-biting win. For others, the fun might come in making the most unique deck possible, pulling off an outlandish combo, or only winning through a secondary win condition. All these are valid options for a good time.
Just remember that nobody would play any game unless they were having fun doing so. Because your reasons differ from another’s doesn’t mean that either option isn’t fun. It just means you’re a different person.
Net-Decking Is Bad
Net-Decking is not bad.
Okay, maybe I should explain my reasoning here: Not everyone is good at building decks. Hell, I’m not. Secondly, not everyone has the time to build and test a deck from scratch. I am a firm believer in playing to your strengths. If you’re good at putting a deck together, seeing synergies between new cards and old cards everyone has forgotten about, and finding the most efficient way to execute them, then you are one of my favourite people.
Without the fantastic deck builders of the world, a lot of us wouldn’t know how to shape a meta. This is one of the reasons I am always sure to credit the designer of any deck that I do well with. If you’re like me, and your strengths lie in playing, then Net-Decks are fantastic. We all have limited time to play games, as such I’ll take any avenue which maximises the time I get to spend doing what I’m best at.
I don’t think it’s fair to expect everyone to build their own decks and still have a fun time playing the game. There is no ‘moral victory’ to be had for building your own deck when you lose to someone who has Net-Decked. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be proud of your creation, but finding a way to put someone down when you lose to them is a very Bad Thing.
Once again, I implore people to withhold judgement of others. And this goes to the people who play exclusively tier-1 and then lose to a unique build they’ve never seen before!
We Don’t Need Judges, Players Fix Mistakes On Their Own
I totally get where this comes from. However, there seems to be a stigma, especially in the Netrunner community, that the introduction of judges will somehow ruin the tournament scene, or even, (as some suggest), the growth of the game in general.
Judges are there to make sure everything stays fair, and consistent. There is nothing worse for a player, (a new player, especially), than to receive one kind of infraction for a mistake, only to receive an entirely different one at a different store/event.
For example: While at a Store Championship, Player A is on the Corp side and accidentally draws one-too-many cards. Unsure of what to do, Player B suggests that the best way to fix the issue is to discard a card at random. Player A agrees and does so, and they continue play as normal.
At a Store Championship the following weekend, the same Player A is on the runner side and Player C occidentally draws one-too-many cards. Unsure of how to proceed, Player C calls a judge who cites the new floor rules and states that Player C’s next click gets eaten as a card draw. Player A is now upset because this is a far more reasonable solution than the one that occurred to them the previous weekend.
This makes for a bad play experience. It’s not the role of Judges to be seen as police who go around making people sweat. They are there to be impartial arbiters, to uphold the floor rules and make sure the tournament runs smoothly and fairly for everyone.
Having Judges in the room is a very Good Thing.
Playing For Money Is Bad
This issue, of all the ones I’ll speak about, is definitely the most polarising.
Ever since the introduction of the Android: Netrunner ProCircuit, (more on that in a moment), there seems to be a new thread somewhere almost weekly that discusses this issue.
Playing for money is not bad. I can understand why a few people think it ‘ruins the game’, but I think those opinions are based on niche interactions with unsporting people. The general argument is that as soon as money is on the line, then people are going to play aggressively, and hyper-competitively, and be rude and unkind to new and less experienced players.
While I certainly can’t argue that there are no people like that out there, what I can say is that I think people need to have more faith in this fantastic community. The people that act and play like the ones I’ve just described do so regardless of what prize is on the line. They are negative people who need to either sort out their behaviour or get out of this and other gaming communities- Nobody is arguing against that.
The ANRPC, regardless of how you feel about cash prizes, is a fantastic initiative. This is coming from someone who is in no way involved, (outside of being pals with Dan D’Argenio), and who doesn’t even have a branch in their country! Community-driven projects like this should be looked at as a testament to how fantastic Netrunner is, and I think that if you care about the community, and you play tournaments, you should make time to play in your local ANRPCQ, or any other community-run event, for that matter.
If playing for money really disagrees with you, you shouldn’t let that stop you from playing in these community-run tournaments, if for no other reason than to express your solidarity. If you do well and manage to win some money, you can go a step further and re-donate it to the Tournament Organisers who are putting together these big events across the states and the UK. Or you can keep it. Or you can use it to travel to Worlds and have a blast, or you can donate it to charity, or you can use it to buy a demo set of Netrunner for your LGS so even more people can learn how to play.
Cash prizes shouldn’t be looked upon as a bad thing, because they’re not.
As I said in the beginning, Netrunner is a community of fantastic, inclusive people. I know that nobody will ever agree with everyone, but I really hate to see fracturing occur when many of these otherwise simple issues arise.
It’s not fair to put people down for how they choose to play the game. It’s not fair to dismiss a group of players because they’re ‘just casual.’ It’s not fair to suggest to new players that casual Netrunner is ‘more friendly’ than the competitive side. These are all Bad Things which, overall, segment the community and hurt it’s growth.
If you don’t like playing in tournaments for whatever reason, that’s fine.
If the idea of just playing a few casual games with no distinct goal seems strange, that’s fine too.
This game is a beautiful thing. It’s accessible, elegant, deep. The most amazing thing about it is how it can attract people from so many walks of life, with so many approaches to the game.
If you care about this game, if you love the community and want to see it prosper, then the next time you think of putting someone’s approach to the game down by suggesting it’s infantile or obnoxious, don’t.
Be kind to each other. Love each other.
And for God’s sake, play some Netrunner. Smile, and enjoy this very Good Thing together.
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. You can check out more of his garbage ramblings on twitter @bwholland