I am struck once again by how different players are today. Maybe it’s just the circles I moved in, but growing up there were never huge outcries for better matchmaking systems. A pub was a pub, and better players were better players, and everyone took their lumps and moved on. Players who actually wanted to improve took the necessary steps: they joined a team, they got on mIRC pickup channels, they went to local gatherings, and they entered tournaments. They did all this because they knew they would lose to better players, and that losing to better players was the surest way of improving.
Some of this must be a symptom of the dissolution of 3rd party public servers, banlists, and the general trend toward quick match online play over any sort of face-to-face interaction. I realize now that there are people who never had a server they called their own, have never been to a local gathering or LAN, or even a net cafe. Their entire concept of online play is hinged on nebulous matchmaking systems, friends lists, and down voting people on XBOX Live. Even with ranked and unranked ladders in some games the waters must be muddy as hell.
I suppose when a players has never done anything organized it can be hard to gain perspective. Their only reference points are watching pro players in tournaments, and their personal random pubbing experiences. That the two are so different has got to rankle. But that difference exists, and it’s not the responsibility of a matchmaking system to emulate the grand finals of (insert the name of a large tournament) for every player who clicks the find a match button. It only exists to get approximate results, and can’t account for either teamwork or trolling, and it never will. Go watch your average pro player doing their high level matchmaking on a stream and ask yourself if you really want every pub to play like that (The exception to this rule would be some 1v1 ladders in which the top tier players would mostly be tournament players being matched against each other, and even then.). When they’re pubbing they play pubs. It’s not serious. They’re playing for fun. That is what pubs are for.
When 3rd party servers were still common that is how they were used. They formed communities, people got to know each other. Usually the same players were there because they had similar schedules and that server had the lowest ping. It was nice to go there and hang out with the same group of people, get to know them, make connection, set up tryouts and scrims, and generally play for fun. In such a setting it was easy to learn how one stood against everyone else, which made power struggles at least sensible, and it was possible to know who could be approached for advice. The same goes for offline gatherings, which may be about intense training, but are also often a group of players hanging out for an afternoon, talking about anything. That sort of environment is conducive to learning because players know who they are, and they know who everyone else is. If one of them needs advice on how to play against characters X they can go to the best X player there and talk about it, then get on a system and work it out. That is how progress is made, and why most who have been to a local gathering or tournament will say that they learned more in those few hours than they did in a week training alone.
These communities become tight-knit. There is a reason that major tournaments try to separate them out in brackets when they travel together. These were the teams before there were sponsors, because the local players trained with each other, improved each other, and progress for one of them was progress for all of them. There is a great sense of being in it together.
All of that is lost in the anonymity of online matchmaking. There is no perspective, and no sense of self or others. I think that’s one of the reasons there is so much resistance to both giving and receiving advice or instructions: it’s not as simple as not wanting to be told what to do by “some newb,” it’s that without perspective every other player is “some newb.” They have never been seen before, and they will probably never be seen again, making them no different from any of the other hundred players encountered that week. There is no connection, they have no identity. It is the difference between getting advice from Lebron James and getting advice from some random asshole who just hit a lucky 3 point shot in a public court in some schoolyard half way across town. If it was Dendi giving out advice on Pudge play to their opponent in a pub game that Pudge would inclined to listen, never mind that he may be giving the exact same advice that the last 5 pub opponents gave, except that he is Dendi and they were just 5 random pubs.
This is more than simply bowing to authority figures, though that may be the larger part of it. The anonymous and random nature of matchmaking will always create a disconnect between a players and the rest of the community, especially in team games where they have a dozen other excuses to fall back on every time something goes wrong. Complaining about matchmaking is not the solution. The solution is to get involved.
Most players will quickly plateau in pubs because they need challenges to keep them from forming bad habits, and they need positive examples to emulate. A matchmaking system designed to place them against players of equal skill would not give them either of those often enough to make a difference. Fortunately for all, what worked before matchmaking still works today, and most anyone should be able to find an organized league, pick-up group, offline community, or even small tournaments to join. Any or all of those would be much better at helping them learn and get contacts than randomly tooling about in pubs until they stumble upon the secret to their success.
Good players don’t magically coalesce from the ether. Even those with natural talent have to be tempered before they can compete, and does anyone really think pub matchmaking is where that happens? Even the so-called pub stars that pop up in pro tournaments now and then realize their full potential when they take their game to a setting that will allow it.
So why don’t people do it? Why are so many leagues dead on their feet for lack of interest? Simply because blaming other people or blaming matchmaking is easier than getting involved and possibly finding out where they really stand. There isn’t even anything wrong with being a pub player. By all means, pub it up and enjoy it, but don’t turn around and blame anyone other than yourself for where you are and the games you get, not when you have the options to get real competition any time you want.