Sweaty Palms of the Swarm

There’s not a single good, damn reason for my hands to be ever-so-slightly shaking as I click the Play button, but there they are, just sort of fluttering around of their own accord. It’s not fear at all, but it is a kind of tremorish anxiety. My neck is tense and my shoulders feel like they are pulled up to my ears. I take in a deep breath to steady myself, thinking the entire time that the fight-or-flight response feels radically out of context for the situation.

There is a futuristic whoosh kind of sound that indicates a match has been made, and I feel my nostrils flare with a deep, determined inhale. I flex my fingers, feeling a strange cold settle into the knuckles and the tips. I wiggle the still-slightly trembling extremities to loosen up. I’m pointlessly, needlessly, hopelessly tight, tense as the few seconds tick by. And then I’m loading.

My opponent is some rando-nobody. I automatically knee-jerk to picturing some half-doped college kid in a dim dorm room somewhere, or a teenager in ragged and faded jeans sitting at a computer chair not unlike mine. That person, whoever and wherever they are, is chill, with ice-water veins and a plan for my humiliating demise. With that internal image, a cold resolve settles in my belly. I feel it click into place like the last Lego, and then I’m looking at my drones spread out from my hyper-futuristic home base while I click out basic commands, start building my first unit, set hotkeys for key units and get comfortable for the bloodshed to come.

That is what it feels like every time I start a multi-player ladder game in StarCraft 2, a stressful, invigorating and intimidating exercise in nervous recreation.

I had walked away from StarCraft 2 for a good long time. To be entirely honest it was mostly because, for all that I like StarCraft 2, I don’t necessarily like how it makes me feel. The game just stresses me the hell out. No matter how fast I’m moving through the build order, how good I feel about my unit mix, or even how far ahead I am whenever I seem to be ahead, I feel like I’m walking the proverbial razor's edge. In a weird way, I’m out of control when I play.

If you watch StarCraft 2, it can be somewhat deceptive how easy the pros make it look, even when it doesn’t look all that easy. For those who don’t know the game intimately, a lot of the time it just looks like people moving pieces back and forth on a board, which is still exciting when armies collide and desperate defenses hold beyond all reason. Those who have some inkling of the game, who have ever tried to play even briefly on the ladder, recognize another layer below that. Seeing a player separate his forces as Zerg banelings come rolling in to deliver doom, or a player dropping the perfect scan at the perfect time to uncover a beautifully crafted trap — We’ve been in situations like that. We know that those players are a kind of super human.

But there’s another, deeper level beyond that. While these heroes of StarCraft are micro-controlling their forces in active combat, positioning their pieces on the board in a way that I couldn’t — even if you slowed the game by half. While they are doing all that, they're also building new units in their base, or expanding to new corners of the map, or scouting out the enemy’s edges and weaknesses. They are not only holding a dozen different pieces of information that inform small but vital decisions. They are building, expanding, scouting, and manipulating data in real time.

I can’t do anything like that, nor do I imagine I should be able to. But, there’s something about the chasm between my play and the play of the gods, something that sets me on an uncomfortable edge, even when I’m playing someone who is likely every bit as bad and as good as I am. I feel the mistakes. The moments when I can’t build any units for a minute because I forgot to keep enough supply. The moments when I realize the enemy has obliterated my worker units because I hadn’t remembered to look at the mini-map. The moments when I send my units carelessly into a chokepoint, and the enemy descends from all sides.

When those things happen — and at least one of those along with countless other normal flubs will happen every game I play — I have the knowledge and experience to know exactly what I did wrong. Every game provides a lesson, but my ability — the reaction times, the very degrading flesh I have to work with in my nervous hands — is not enough to correct everything that needs correcting.

I tell myself I don’t care, and I can take that not caring into the game with me. But, there’s a moment in every game where I have to make the active choice to keep not caring, and I rarely roll that particular saving throw. Either the enemy rolls into my base with a slightly superior force and I become engrossed in the defense, or I smell blood in the water of a weakened enemy and I seek to unleash a passionate hell upon them. The fire of competitiveness is too great a siren call for me.

There is this high when you win a StarCraft 2 ladder game, particularly against a competitive and challenging foe, that few games can evoke quite so keenly. It is this raw thing that makes you want to pump your fist and bare your teeth. It is the reason I push the Play button to begin with, because even in the face of error and incompetence, StarCraft 2 makes you feel like a winner when you win.

Of course, that coin has two sides.

The release of the Heart Of The Swarm expansion brings with it an inevitable return to the scene of multiplayer gaming. The new units, an extra helping of complexity for a puzzle I never really sussed out the first time around. New highs and new lows as I take on whatever opponent the system decides is a good candidate for my skill level. Here in the middle of it, as I am, I’m jazzed to be playing again. The pregame jitters are still a slightly desirable buzz, though that won’t last. Eventually, I just won’t need that kind of pressure anymore.

And, if I’m honest with myself, I’m kind of looking forward to that day.

Comments

Playing RTS's against human opponents (especially Starcraft and Warcraft, for some reason) gives me the same kind of jittery stress. I love the games, but I have a very low ceiling of ability with these games even if I have a higher ceiling of understanding. And for whatever reason, while I can have a relaxing time against the AI opponent even if they're spanking me mercilessly, you put me up against a human and my blood pressure shoots up immediately.

I agree completely with how you describe it...

And I _hate_ that feeling. I want to feel like I'm in a friendly game, where I can lose gracefully, with a touch of self-deprecating humor, or where I can win gracelessly, with a touch of trash-talk which everyone knows I don't mean.

With anonymous strangers, this is impossible for me.

I bought the expansion, but I'm not sure I even want to TRY multiplayer.

I feel the same way. Thing is I love multiplayer games so I continue to be drawn to them. I feel much more confident playing a FPS than an RTS against pubs though. Playing with friends and those you know are much more enjoyable.

I feel the same way when I play BF3. For whatever reason, death by AI is acceptable, but death by {{dontquitNOOB!}} — a thirteen year-old, pimply-faced basement dweller — makes me seethe with impotent rage.

Nathaniel wrote:

I agree completely with how you describe it...

And I _hate_ that feeling. I want to feel like I'm in a friendly game,

And THAT is why I don't play DOTA or SC2, but love ME3 multiplayer. Multiplayer Co-Op lends itself to this soo much more than PvP.

The comparison to FPSs is an interesting one. I'm thinking the intensity we're feeling comes from the the high stakes of the 1 on 1 match up. When we lose we don't have anyone else to blame.

It's kind of like the difference between allowing a sack as an O lineman and striking out in baseball. There are so many moving parts in a football play that it probably wasn't all your fault but when you strike out in baseball you just got dominated by another individual.

Squeegee_Joe wrote:
Nathaniel wrote:

I agree completely with how you describe it...

And I _hate_ that feeling. I want to feel like I'm in a friendly game,

And THAT is why I don't play DOTA or SC2, but love ME3 multiplayer. Multiplayer Co-Op lends itself to this soo much more than PvP.

Yep and I play a ton of vsAI games when I do bother with LoL or DotA2. It may not be as challenging, but it's a whole lot less stressful and generally more fun. After all, fun is the point of "playing" right?

There’s not a single good, damn reason for my hands to be ever-so-slightly shaking as I click the Play button, but there they are, just sort of fluttering around of their own accord. It’s not fear at all, but it is a kind of tremorish anxiety. My neck is tense and my shoulders feel like they are pulled up to my ears. I take in a deep breath to steady myself, thinking the entire time that the fight-or-flight response feels radically out of context for the situation.

I used to get the same feeling playing WoL MP. It was very intense and strange that a mere videogame would make me so tense.

I eventually quit because even the supposedly brilliant matchmaking couldn't get my sucky ass a win ratio of higher than 33%, but maybe I can do a bit more for HotS. I do have more free time.

There is this high when you win a StarCraft 2 ladder game, particularly against a competitive and challenging foe, that few games can evoke quite so keenly. It is this raw thing that makes you want to pump your fist and bare your teeth. It is the reason I push the Play button to begin with, because even in the face of error and incompetence, StarCraft 2 makes you feel like a winner when you win.

I was with you up to that point.
I hated SCII multiplayer every game.

Every game felt like a final exam I knew I didn't prepare for enough. I hated imagining a frustrated Day9 narrating my every slow, poorly coordinated move.

I felt observed and scrutinized from the first second where I stumbled to get my 5 probes to start mining minerals. Building a vespian gas extractor always felt too late.

The few games I won, I felt like an archaeologist that had somehow discovered a forgone civilization that had encountered a keyboard and mouse for the first time. Someone worse than me. I was never better than anyone, they just had to be terrible in order to lose.

I just realized how much I hate this game.
Not really, the game I really like, and still watch Day9; but playing it... playing it made me feel terrible!

This is why I feel like we need to get some GWJ SC2 nights organized and going. You get all the practice and fun without the stress. Confidence is really the best defense against that sinking feeling when you start a ranked match, I think.

Same feeling here Hobbes! Loved SC and BW with that. But haven't played one ladder game yet. But I did by HoTS...don't ask me why....guess I will just bite the bullet.
Maybe because Certis showed there are people out there, worse then me at it

I wonder how much of the stress comes from what the game demands that we do in order to win. Am I constantly making workers? Am I constantly training military? Is my army in the right place, and am I keeping an eye on it? Am I building sufficient supply? Am I building enough new unit production buildings? Am I keeping on top of my race-specific macro? Am I researching upgrades? Do I have sufficient cloak detection capability?

Answer "no" to any of those when your opponent answered "yes" -- and a lot of people still playing SC2 online these days are pretty good at answering "yes" -- and that's not a recipe for winning the game. It's a lot to keep track of!

I hated imagining a frustrated Day9 narrating my every slow, poorly coordinated move.

Oh no, that's a hilarious yet terrible mental image (applied to my own weak play)! I'm going to try *not* to think about that next time I play.

This is why I feel like we need to get some GWJ SC2 nights organized and going. You get all the practice and fun without the stress.

I'm in, if someone would like to organize!

I avoided serious competitive non-FPS multiplayer games for years before I got into League of Legends big time back in August 2011. I started out playing bot games exclusively to avoid the pressure of PvP but after a hundred games or so finally decided to delve into the dark side. I had the same exact issues so many of you have had... literally shaking with nervousness and just stressing the hell out. Fast-forward to now, with somewhere over 900 multiplayer games under my belt. I don't shake anymore and I'm a lot more calm when I play, but I still have a temper and still take this sh*te way too seriously.

I have never gotten into the competitive nature of online gaming like I did for WoL when it came out. I played a lot, watched a lot, took and left notes all over my monitor. I practiced unit micro, build orders, and macro Zerg. I climbed up the leagues, and joined some online tournaments. All of this and I finally decided it wasn't for me.

As mentioned, there are few things that feel better in all of gaming than besting someone of similar skill in Starcraft. All of that practice, and all of that worry culminating into a fantastic experience that jets you from your seat in sheer enjoyment and adrenalin. I can't name another game that matches that. Maybe, the shouts of anger from another room at a LAN party when you got that perfect head shot on Blood Gulch, but nothing is LAN anymore...

I had to quit because it started to feel like a job. If I didn't put in at least a hour each night I would start loosing games in the most frustrating of ways. I had to move on to newer less stressful pastures. Now I have been enjoying 4v4 with my brother. The atmosphere is more casual, but I can't help but wish it was a 1v1 game when my teammates fail to help an early rush because they are rushing to .

The way to enjoy Starcraft MP is with friends. That's how I roll.

Sounds like there's some people in here that should be playing with us!

For my own part, ladder anxiety is definitely a thing. I sit there and stare at the button and just can't press it most of the time. But it's not the idea of losing a game or two that gets me really. It's the idea of losing a bunch of games. The last time I laddered on Wings of Liberty I lost six games in a row in the same matchup (curse Protoss players that turtled on three bases...) and it just crushed my will to play further.

That said, in Heart of the Swarm I've already laddered more games than I did in the probably the last four or five ladder seasons of Wings of Liberty. Most of it happened tonight, and the thing that pushed me into more games was streaming. I had a couple of people from here on the forums and at least one other random internet person watching the entire time and it kept motivated to keep playing, even when I lost four out of the first five matches after I finished my placements.

You would think it would just bring more pressure, but somehow it gave almost the same feeling that playing 2v2's or 3v3's does, where there's somebody else there kind of on your side, even if they aren't actually playing.

Anywho, just an experience I found interesting

A few things that also help with ladder anxiety:
1. Music (Find something familiar with a driving beat.)

2. No outside distractions. (If you have kids, wait until they are in bed. Let the dog out. Get the dishes done. A clear mind is crucial to maintain motivation and confidence while laddering.)

3. A glass of wine.

I get the same anxiety. In fact, just reading this article stressed me out, lol

Turns out Day9 is playing the single player campaign at 20-30 minute intervals.

I'm actually really enjoying someone playing the game for me.

Just wanted to follow up about my anxiety about playing this online; way back when Wings of Liberty was released and all the GWJers thought it would be a good idea to have a tournament, I gladly joined. I'd have to look it up, but I remember losing early and actually feeling relieved.

I didn't, not for one second, fear ridicule or mocking. It's what makes GWJ such a great place. But the anxiety was not related to winning or losing, whether it was a close game or either side got steamrolled.

Xeknos wrote:

This is why I feel like we need to get some GWJ SC2 nights organized and going. You get all the practice and fun without the stress. Confidence is really the best defense against that sinking feeling when you start a ranked match, I think.

Not really true. I played a few evenings of GWJ SC2 nights when SC2 came out, and I sucked so bad that I couldn't even hack it in friendly games. I eventually quite playing all SC2 mp after a while. Had the same experience with Sins of a Solar Empire, Dawn of War 2, League of Legends, etc.

I liked the campaign, and there are some fun mods, and I like skirmishes against the AI. But I've learned that I'm simply not ever going to be competitive in any way at multiplayer in an RTS game.

We should play, my win rate is 1/6 atm. We can see who sucks worse.

I think that may be a matter of "This is not the game you're looking for." At the lower leagues, you can win with just simcity and dinerdash.