Insomnia | Commentary

Domination 101: Banned!

By Seth Killian

This article is part of a series of articles originally posted on the Shoryuken forums sometime before the Great Crash of 2003. In an effort to bring them to the attention of a new generation of players, we will be re-posting them here in the coming weeks and months.

A debate has recently re-erupted in the forums, and I thought it worth thinking about. Thanks to Chocobo for raising the issue, and alert readers for pointing it out to me. At issue is whether or not some players can be banned from local tournaments for being "too good". It's said that it isn't just that they're too good (though you'll notice that no one is complaining about visiting scrubs who want to contribute to the pot), but rather that they're too good *because* they have an unfair advantage. "What advantage could be unfair in SF?", you might ask. The main claim is that by getting to practice against the excellent competition in NYC, the visiting player has insurmountable advantages, which make him "impossible" to defeat. While many object to this idea for various reasons, I think many players are inclined to be sympathetic. This is because even if they don't live in VA/MD (the scene of the hypothetical crime), it helps them feel better about their own shortcomings. Though I can't hope to address all the variously relevant points that have spun off, I'll try to explain why I think banning these players would be a mistake.

The stance taken by advocates of banning (let's call them G. Young and J. Van Pelt -- no, that's too obvious, how about Greg Y. and Joe V.?) seems to be caught uncomfortably between two incompatible claims.

Claim 1: Arturo's local competition (China Town Fair arcade, in NYC) gives him an "unfair" advantage, making it "impossible" to defeat him (side note: feel free to read the fancy word "unfair" as one better known to the SF community: "cheap". That's exactly what the complainants mean here, whether they know it or not, and it will help shed some light on their motivations). It does this presumably by giving him a chance to play against top competition, which improves his game. Exposure to high level competition is *such* a great benefit that players lucky enough to have it should actually be banned from leveraging their skills against the defenseless masses elsewhere. There's really nothing that can be done about it -- exposure to high level comp is THAT valuable -- it's THAT much of a potent weapon.

Claim 2: Exposure to high level comp (re: Arturo) is such a terrible burden on us that we should take steps to ban it. High level comp is not only not making us any better, it's destroying the scene! It's not only not valuable, it has a *negative* value.

The combination of claim 1 and 2 is a pretty obvious stinker, and most of the objectors seem to smell that, even if they don't always hit the nail on the head. You can't have it both ways. So what exactly is going on here? What is the role of high-level comp?

The banning-advocates seem to (mistakenly) regard good comp as something handed down from on high -- it's like striking oil or something -- some places have it, some just don't, and there t'ain't nuttin can be done 'bout it! (Let's call this the "natural resource" theory of competition.) This is provably false even for people with less knowledge of SF history than either Choc or Overdrive have. Let's review some examples:

Exhibit A: NYC used to be spelled W-E-A-K. Both NYC and the surrounding areas were routinely schooled by visiting players. Yes, CTF was still there, with as much (and even more) comp at times. But the players were weak. Merely having a player base does not guarantee anything. Chicago would be another notable example -- for many years, despite having large followings, Chicago players were scrubs.

At some point, things changed for NYC. Perhaps due to the influence of Eddie Lee + co., and now it's home to the best MVC2 player in the world. Areas that succeed have something in common: A core group (usually *very* small: 1-3 players at most) of dynamic, inventive players driven to win. Areas that have solid player bases but still suck have something in common too: bad attitudes. Due to the illicit influence of local champs (or just loudmouths), they decide apparently legitimate tactics are "cheap". What's behind this? I've talked explicitly about this before -- it's laziness. These losers would rather just ban some tactic, even if it's poorly defined and artificial, than learn to deal with it. Is this reminding you of anything? In this case, we're talking about banning a player, but for exactly the same reasons. He's not doing anything illicit -- not breaking any rules -- but beating him (it) just seems too hard! This is despite the fact that, in the vast majority of cases, leaving nasty tactics in and dealing with them makes the game richer, deeper, and better overall.

Why didn't Justin Wong just follow your lead, and complain that he didn't have the benefit of playing Valle or Duc when he set out to face the CA players? After all, his achievement, according to your inane reckoning, should have qualified as "impossible" (remember, it's "impossible" to beat Arturo according to the banners because no one from VA has ever done it! Top-notch reasoning at its finest...) After all, he didn't get to practice against the established greatest players -- he had to practice against people who perhaps weren't as good as they were, and he still beat them! It's... it's... a total mystery! Sorry guys, it *can* be done, and is, all the time, even by people from (gasp!) VA. Which brings us to...

Exhibit B: The most terrifyingly obvious disproof of your view of comp comes from your own backyard: the oldschool VA beach players, Kris Grytebyst, Omar DeLoney + co. They had wins and impressive showings at a number of national events, not to mention dominating the NYC comp. Omar is still thought to be one of the best A2 players of all time. Tell me again how VA is doomed forever to suck. Tell me again how it's "impossible" to improve, or to get better in relative isolation. They did all this before the advent of DC practice modes, and before the internet spoonfed you world-class tactics. Remind me again -- what's your excuse?

Exhibit C: Do we even need to mention the handful of "diamonds in the rough" like Hsien Chang, who seemed to get great out of nowhere? Coming from Texas, Hsien played virtually no one, went to California for a tourney on a whim, and teched his way to victory over the best players in the country. But that's impossible!

So to return to the banners' claim: Arturo's ability to play at the CTF is "unfair" (cheap!), because it gives him advantages that are "impossible" for VA/MD players to overcome. However, in the above we've seen clear counterexamples to these claims. You can get *that* good without great comp, and it is possible to play far beyond the level of your local competition.

Does any of this guarantee that VA/MD greatness is just around the corner? Hardly. Especially given the apparently prevailing attitudes. What it does show is that what you regard as "unfair advantages" are nothing more than someone else's hard work, paying off. Believing that good comp is just a matter of having a "lucky address" is like most other complaints about something being unfair or "cheap": it's sheer laziness, and ignores the facts of history entirely. Good comp is created. It surrounds serious players, and generates more when sparked. The only thing making a VA victory "impossible" is stubbornness, and laziness. If you're unwilling to change your ways, to learn, to adapt, then yes, you can lose forever. But at least be honest enough to admit that your being unwilling to pay attention to why you've lost is not the same thing as your competition having an "unfair" advantage. It isn't "unfair" if you're doing it to yourself.

If you don't like the equation of "Banning Arturo" and "Being a pussy", maybe you should try and explain what you think "being a pussy" *is*, because as I understand the term, it's a pretty fair description of you. A pussy is someone who shies away from something they should be dealing with, simply because they find it stressful. A Street Fighter tournament should test Street Fighter skills, one would think. The fact that you want your local tournaments to do something else seems to be shying away from the obvious purpose simply because you'd rather not put in the work required. Now of course, this is your right (just as it would be your right to have a no-throwing tourney, a no-Cable tourney, a no-one-who-can-beat-me tourney, etc.), but given the fact that you're clearly a serious player (relative to your ordinary man-on-the-street), it also makes you, yes, a pussy. At least as far as SF is concerned. There are worse things to be. Relax.

Here, banning-advocates will want to wave the noble flag of "wanting to test *local* SF skills* -- "wanting to encourage *local* comp". The obvious question is "Encourage local comp to do what?" Become losers? Strive for insular, local mediocrity? I've never heard of any serious players that were hopelessly discouraged by losing tournaments. Quite the contrary -- many great players have been inspired precisely by getting seriously dominated at some point. That sense of anger and indignation is often a major motivator.

Second, I don't see how the Game Time situation is substantially different from any burgeoning local scene, virtually ALL of which feature some local player who annihilates everyone else regularly. This doesn't seem to crush local competition -- again, quite the opposite. So your only complaint here is the highly arbitrary claim that Arturo's "not local". Aren't you the same guys complaining that in your local scene, *no one* is local? That everyone lives a hundred miles apart and rarely gets to play in large groups? "Local" is a pretty obviously gerrymandered, mostly empty term -- state lines are arbitrary, and you're not even limiting yourself to one state! You are also gonna throw in MD, and shucks, while we're at it, a few other stragglers from non-VA/MD states are welcome too! "Locality" is a total red-herring, as far as this debate is concerned.

The main complaint remains that Arturo has the "unfair" advantage of more serious comp, which was debunked above. Stop taking the fact that no one has yet beaten him and dressing it up as if it proved something other than your own weakness. For something to be unfair, it should make winning incredibly easy, or unreproducibly hard. Arturo's tactics and advantages are neither. They'd clearly enrich your local games (just like the tactics you happily steal from the internet do), if you'd pay enough attention to notice and implement them, instead of just focusing on the fact that you lost and leaving it at that.

Seriously -- enough broad generalizations and analogies already. What is it, precisely, that Arturo is doing that makes him "unbeatable"? Is he doing something magical? I'll guess he isn't. Break it down. Think about it, rather than just getting frustrated. If you bother to spell it out (something glaringly absent from this entire discussion as yet), you'll be forced to admit that it's nothing magical -- nothing you couldn't do yourself with a little effort.

The analogy between little-league kids facing a major leaguer is pretty ridiculous. You're taking it upon yourselves to look even more pathetic than you really are, simply to avoid having to try any harder. The analogy is weak to begin with, but Arturo clearly lacks any of the innate physical advantages an adult would have over a child. What he does have is experience, execution, etc. All of these things are clearly within your grasp, should you try -- these days more than ever before. Places all over the country have bootstrapped their way out of being complete backwaters (including VA!!) -- you don't need the millions a winning major league team would require -- it's just a little effort. I'm not putting laziness itself on trial here, but it's obviously not something you should try and accommodate in a damned competition! "We're competing, sure, but -- hey! -- not to the point where we actually want to TRY!" No you say, that's not it! It's because we're facing "unfair", "impossible" disadvantages! Right. The same ones people all over the country have overcome, and continue to overcome (the relative strength of both the Pacific Northwest players and Hawaiian MVC2 players being only the most recent examples).

And finally, the greatest mistake of them all: "I ain't a-enterin if I don't think I can win!" ... A moment of silence to let the stupidity resonate, please. WTF is this? Talk about completely missing the point. I actually hear people talking about the entrance fee as if it were some kind of investment, rather than the (incredibly low, relatively speaking) cost of pursuing their hobby. I have no response to anyone stupid enough to view SF tournaments primarily as money-making opportunities. Playing SF primarily as a way of making money is idiotic. And no, I don't mean it would be "dishonorable" to do that -- I just mean it's idiotic. You could make more money dancing for nickels down on the docks. *Any* job would pay a lot better than your typical expectation from anything but the biggest SF tournies. Arturo putting in ten hours roundtrip on the BUS is not exactly "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", and you're accusing him of being in it just "for the money"?! The best players in the world are usually breaking even at best, and would probably do better (from a financial point of view) working the hours of the tournament delivering pizzas. The fact that a non-local boy is leaving with the cash is also irrelevant. You're obviously not concerned with some non-existent effect on the local economy, and one person is going to leave with the first place pot regardless. Being upset that they're "not from 'round here" is your own empty prejudice, not a serious "issue".

SF is not about the money (at least not yet, though B5 had some pretty tasty payoffs). You enter tournaments because you're a player. Because you love the game. You've *already* invested countless hours (and quarters) into this game, honing your skills, mastering its fine points. For you to then sit there and hedge on another $10 is almost unbelievably silly. "Sure, I've invested hundreds, even thousands of hours improving my game, but $10 to really see what's what? Gee -- I dunno..." Apart from entering tournaments being the logical next step of your efforts to date, if you insist on being a calculating little toad, it's still a good investment. Take $10 worth of casual play. Contrast that with the worst case scenario of entering the tournament and going out in 2. A smart, observant player will learn more at a tournament than they can in countless hours of casual play, especially when they have the benefit of having the match on tape. Entering a tournament is the fastest way to know yourself as a player, because you get an honest showing of your strengths and weaknesses. And if you're awake, you'll learn more in two serious tournament matches than you could ever get out of $10 of casual play.

You can get 10x more out of playing briefly against a really good player (if you're observant) than you can by playing mediocre comp forever. Your own stagnant scene proves it: Many of you have probably been playing each other longer than Arturo's been playing period. And yet you're still sucking, and he's wailing on you. Your prior investment in the hobby thus far easily justifies a further outlay, especially when you consider the reported experience of virtually everyone who's ever been. They all love it, can't wait to get back, to touch the fire that burns only in honest competition. You also have a chance to get seeded in future tournaments, even if you don't place top 3. You can also prove something without winning. All this, and you're not a big, sloppy wuss. Cheap at half the price.

To return to the beginning, let me try and get you out of your little contradiction (the "Arturo has an unfair advantage of access to good comp!" and "we shouldn't have to put up with facing good comp!" dichotomy): Rather than banning him (thereby announcing and insuring the continued weakness of your scene), have you considered that what you (as serious players) should really want is MORE exposure to Arturo? It sounds to me like he's coming down pretty regularly already -- certainly enough to give you adequate chance to figure him out -- but even if it's really very little, that can still go a long way if you pay attention. I know it, because that's exactly how I learned to play A2. I almost literally never played in the arcade, but come tournament time I'd enter, and watch the best players I could. I came to understand a few things, and I became a competitive A2 player (top 10 in national tournies) with almost literally zero non-tourney play, and probably 1/100th of the experience a lot of the other entrants had.

So here then are a few solutions to your problem (which most other local tournies would view as a blessing): Ask, or even require, that the tourney winner hang around for exhibition/casual play matches following the tourney, or prior to the next tourney. Even make a percentage of the prize payable in local tokens, so that he'll be particularly inclined to do so. While I don't necessarily accept that you have a problem in the first place, any time you're intentionally structuring tournaments to lower the level of competition, you're taking a step in the wrong direction -- one that any serious player should be ashamed of.