Getting Out of Your Own Way
Let’s face it – we’re results-oriented people. What’s more, we are short-term results-oriented people. Many of us have played hundreds of games of StarCraft II since its release, so it’s nearly impossible and, more importantly, insignificant for us to remember how we fared in the first five, fifteen, or fifty games we played. We can certainly remember, however, in excruciating detail, how we did in the last five or ten games. When we go on losing streaks keyboards and tables quiver in fear of the imminent nerd beating that await them, and when we win a few games in a row we begin planning how we’ll pose with the GSL Code S trophy.
How we have been playing recently is always on our minds. Our recent history affects our mood and how we play the game. Anyone who has trained in a serious competitive atmosphere is already familiar with this concept. Letting wins go to your head and dwelling on losses are common ways to lose focus and cost you or your team the game, so many players have developed pregame rituals that they use to stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand. Players such as Liquid`Tyler have oft commented on how important this mental aspect is to their gameplay.
Whether it is a winning streak or a losing streak, your mindset will change and your play has a good chance of being affected. For instance, one study by the University of Notre Dame attempted to show how gamblers betting habits changed after a series of wins. The psychologists had college-level students play a computerized card game. The students played two rounds of cards where the first round was manipulated so that each student would experience an excess number of either winning or losing hands. The second round of play was then monitored to see if the two groups bet differently.
What the researchers found was that the players in the winning group tended to bet more aggressively and more recklessly in the second round. Even on hands with a statistically low chance of winning these players would put money on their success while the players in the losing group tended to be more cautious in the second round of play.
This has been seen over and again in StarCraft II, not only across a player’s games who is hot on a winning streak, but even within a single game when one player becomes flush with small victories and charges heedlessly into a risky battle. Look at oGsMC, for example. In GSL Season III, MC was a beast. Tastosis nicknamed him the “Kratos Protoss” after the main character from God of War, who is known for ripping his enemies apart limb from limb. However, after that season’s victory, Artosis noticed that MC would often take undue risks. He would cut corners, trusting in his superior micro to save him from defeat. As many of you may remember, and others can probably tell by the direction of this article, that trust was not always well-placed.
MC suffered a number of defeats after that season, reaching only the round of 16 after coming off of last season’s first-place finish. And this trend is not uncommon for GSL winners. After IMMvp took the gold in Season IV he fell even further than MC, dropping into Code A, and IMNesTea, despite winning the last season of the GSL without dropping even a single game, was just recently knocked out of this month’s tournament in the round of 16 (and by Mvp nonetheless).
Even within a single game this effect can be seen. Players often find themselves in a position to snipe an enemy expansion or catch a cluster of enemy units out of position. Taking the free units and the advantage is easy – it’s what you do afterwards that is difficult. Casters will hold their breath, waiting to see if players will take the guaranteed damage and walk away with their spoils, regrouping with the knowledge that they are ahead, or if they will press the advantage and go for the throat. This has been the demise of many a player’s tournament chances as they walk directly into a concave of enemy units, thinking to end the game with a risky push.
The impact that this risky behavior can have is only strengthened when you look at other research on the subject. In the study “Can Losing Lead to Winning,” researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago examine how professional basketball players react to being ahead or behind at halftime. They found that home teams that were ahead by six or more points at halftime ended up winning the game about 80% of the time, whereas home teams that were ahead by only one point at halftime actually ended up losing more than 50% of the time (visiting teams had the same pattern, though their percentages were slightly different).
In soccer, our coach always told us that the most dangerous position in soccer was to be up two to one at halftime. The advantaged team often gets complacent, and the disadvantaged team gets fired up. The best defense against this is to remember that the game is not over until the final whistle blows or, in the case of StarCraft, until you see your opponent leave the game or crush his last building beneath your army.
So remember to guard yourself against, well, yourself. Take pride in your wins and learn from your losses, but be conscious of your mindset and do not let yourself become a victim of your own psyche.
If you’re interested in more discussion of winning and what makes a winner, I highly suggest this article: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/07/10/the-new-science-of-triumph.html