(Metagame Archive) The Casual-Competitive Conundrum

By Ben Kalman

Over the past two weeks, I’ve asked a group of eleven people twelve questions about both the casual and competitive game and their place within the Vs. System community. The group included professional players, shop owners, purely casual players, online personalities, judges, and UDE employees. The object of this questionnaire was to get an idea of how the Vs. System community felt about the split between competitive and casual players, and how they felt about being involved in a game that clearly had more than one side to it. I’m going to go over the questions and look at some of the players’ responses.

Are you primarily a casual or a competitive player?

“Casual play is my Primary Directive.”—Rian “stubarnes” Fike

Casual (5)
Competitive (3)
Both (2)
N/A (2)

The important aspect of this question is how to define a casual or a competitive player. Some people I asked felt that every player is a casual player first. Some felt that they could be both at the same time. Can someone be a casual player even in a competitive arena?

Rian Fike thinks so. He told me that he has set goals for himself, but that he doesn’t take the game as seriously as many other players on the Pro Circuit. Money is nice, and winning is nice, but his main goal in this game is to enjoy himself even when thousands of dollars are on the line. Perhaps this is why he’s so hard on himself when he allows himself to feel pressure. He has said in the past that while playing on Day 2 at PC Indy he faced an opponent who tried to stall and trick him into a loss. He ended up losing because of his inability to remain calm and to react properly to the situation. Rian is working to ensure that in future tournaments he will be focused on what is important—the game—and not worry about his opponent or his opponent’s attitude.

I feel that there’s no such thing as a purely casual or purely competitive player. In my mind, there are only players, and “casual” or “competitive” are merely labels that allow people to categorize you in terms of how serious a player you are. For me, seriousness is situational, and a player can be stone-faced in one situation and rambunctious in another. Attitude and callousness are not necessary for a competitive player. Competitive players can have fun, and casual players can be serious. It’s all part of the game.

Do you play on both sides of the fence?

“I’m a tweener . . . I can beat casual players but get owned by competitive ones.”  —Erick Reyes

Yes (8)
No (3)
Only when necessary (1)

The “only when necessary” response is from Dave Spears. He only enters the casual world when he is teaching new players how to play the game. The “No” responses were split between competitive and casual players. As above, I think that most players who play competitively also play casually. As a couple of respondents mentioned, every player begins as a casual player. Most players also enjoy fun games to test out subpar decks or to just unwind after a bout of crazy testing. I think it’s more common to see casual players who aren’t interested in playing competitively—whether they don’t like tournaments or are isolated and have trouble finding good tournament spots—than vice versa.

Why did you start playing Vs. System? What attracted you to it?

“It was an excuse to get out of real work at the office.” —Alex “The Chark” Charsky

“I first demoed it at Gen Con So Cal 2003 . . . I’m not sure if it was the game that got me hooked or the way that Danny [Mandel] did the demo. I always say the former because we don’t want Danny’s Sentinel-sized head to get bigger.” —Erick Reyes

Comic fanatic (4)
Disillusioned with HeroClix (2)
GenCon SoCal 2003 demo (1)
Magic’s mana issues (1)
Player of new games (2)
N/A (2)

The answers are always the same. Comic fans were disillusioned with HeroClix or other comic-themed games. Old-school Wildstorms fans were just waiting for this kind of game to come. Magic players were sick of being manascrewed. I fall into these categories myself—a comic fanatic who was also a Wildstorms fan and was starting to get tired of the constant HeroClix rules changes. I needed a change of pace and had been waiting for a strong superhero card game for six years. Andrew Yip agreed. “I’ve always looked for an excuse to get back into the world of comics and superheroes. Especially with the stale card game market, Vs. was the right game at the right time.”

Most people cite the same reasons for loving Vs. System—the balance of the game, the resource system, UDE’s dedication to the game and the players, and the vibrant Vs. System community. Robert “Bizarro #98” McSantos says it best. “What I love about Vs. is the fact that Upper Deck not only has the devotion to make Vs. characters into clever takes on their comic counterparts, but also the foresight to make sure that this would be a good, balanced, well-made game, even without its license, and that’s what’s going to keep Vs. alive for years to come.”

Do you think that competitive players are too serious and don’t respect the health of the game, and why or why not?

They can be (6)
No (5)
Unsure (1)

Do you think that casual players aren’t serious enough and are too focused on the non-competitive game, and why or why not?

Disagree (12)

“I decided to combine these questions because the answer is the same for both. Casual and competitive Vs. are two completely different games. There’s only a problem when the two of them inadvertently interact with each other. When a player with a casual deck and a player with a competitive deck play each other, and the casual player gets slaughtered, did either of them get anything out of the experience? Why should they even play against each other?” —Robert “Bizarro #98” McSantos

When I asked Jeff Donais these questions, he said, “Occasionally there are bad apples in competitive play or casual play, and it’s up to us to deal with them. I think we’ve established that sportsmanship is a huge part of our game.” And there it is, in a nutshell—the community and the game thrive on sportsmanship, and Vs. System has a lot of it to go around. If anything, our community has proven that we can all just get along, and that those that are too serious or create discord are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Alex Charsky knows the competitive tournament scene better than most, being the Head Judge to end all Head Judges. He said, “I think competitive players occasionally take the game too far. I completely understand their reasons for doing it, though. At a high level of play there is usually quite a bit of money on the line, so players will do everything legally possible to win that money. I think a solid application of common sense by the judge staff takes care of most of the issues . . . there have been occasions when I had to tell one player that ‘The rules enforcement you’re suggesting is ridiculous, even at the Pro Circuit level,’ and, ‘Hey buddy, you’re at the Pro Circuit, act accordingly,’ to another player.”

Robert McSantos finished up his comment on these two questions with, “Make sure you know what your opponent’s motives are before you play him or her, and if they conflict with yours, don’t play that opponent.” I tend to agree with him. The community will always be healthy as long as we respect each other and each other’s inherent goals within the game and the community. If yours are in conflict with someone else’s, simply smile, shake his or her hand and move on. This is the best way for casual and competitive players to coexist happily together within the same community.

Should casual players have a say in policy that would affect tournament play?

“It seems to me the whole reason for the Pro Circuit is that it’s a marketing tool to get new players into the game. You want every new player to at least consider that they could make it on the Pro Circuit some day.” —Shane “fatalsync” Wendel
“People who don’t play in tournaments probably shouldn’t have a say in the policy, but most people do end up playing in tournaments sooner or later, so that’s a very small percentage of people.” —Jeff Donais

Yes (5)
No (3)
Depends (4)

I think that Carl Perlas said it best when he told me, “One party should not have power over the other.” As long as a casual player is entering tournaments on any level from Hobby League to Pro Circuit, he or she should have a say in the policy of tournament play. Patrick Yapjoco disagreed, saying, “Only those who compete at high levels should have a say in high level tournaments, since this affects them more than the casual non-tournament player.” He points out that casual players in other sports don’t have a say in the policy of those sports.

While this is a good point, I think that the policies of those sports don’t have as much of a direct impact on the casual players as they do in Vs. System. Granted, low-level tournaments can have house rules or change the policies to suit their needs, but having a policy that benefits everyone at once is more consistent and makes the community healthier.

Should there be cards designed specifically for casual play?

No (4)
Yes (8)

Should there be cards designed specifically for alternate format or multiplayer play?

No (6)
Yes (4)
Maybe (1)
Abstain (1)

“If it means more cards like J. Jonah Jameson, then heck no! I don’t know if you can really make cards specifically for casual play unless you have some plot twist that says if you make a bodily function noise, draw a card.” —Erick Reyes

“What, you mean J. Jonah Jameson? I love him. Everyone I know loves him. He’s the perfect example of how a casual card should be done.” —Robert “Bizarro #98” McSantos

“ I love J. Jonah Jameson. I don’t think there should be more than one [card like him] every set or two, but I love that there are some.” —Dylan “docx” Northrup

Jeff Donais said that a lot of the cards are designed for casual play and that they’ll keep coming. Carl Perlas said that every card is designed for casual play. I tend to agree with them. I also find it amusing that Erick Reyes, the ultimate casual player and champion of all things casual, is against the idea of cards like this.

I think that most players understand that the casual player is the driving force behind any game. Adding 1 card out of 165 that is useless in the competitive environment but a great addition to the casual environment is a great shout-out to the casual player. I’m not a huge fan of J. Jonah Jameson,especially after I pulled two (one foil and one non-foil) in a Booster Draft a couple of weeks ago, but I respect the inclusion of him in the set. Without a hint of irony, however, I will say that if the reverse happened, say a card that could only benefit competitive players with no usefulness in a casual deck, I would be one hundred percent against it.

The same goes for the multiplayer and alternate format question. Robert McSantos added, “Upper Deck already makes good cards for multiplayer and alternate formats. They’re just subtle about it.” Think about that for a bit, then go through the sets and look at cards like Dark Phoenix and Overpowered. You’ll see that the multiplayer game hasn’t been ignored, and alternate formats can get very interesting with some of these cards on the table.

Does it bother you that that the design/development team thinks of the casual player and casual metagame when designing sets?

No (11)
Not sure it’s true (1)

Does it bother you that packs are specifically collated to help with Limited play?

Yes and no (1)
No (9)
Don’t notice either way (2)

“Casual players are the bread and Miracle Whip. Tournament players are the ham and cheese. Without both, you don’t get the sandwich of goodness that is the Vs. community.” —Dylan “docx” Northrup

Dylan hit this nail on the head, and he summed up my entire argument in a great way. Just as the community needs both casual and competitive players to survive, the game also needs to be designed around both halves of the community in order to flourish. With the Design/Development team working in the way that they do, we can be assured that Limited play, tournament play, and the metagame will all benefit from the system and from the individual sets.

Robert McSantos made an interesting argument when he said, “I don’t really agree that there is a casual metagame. It’s just a metagame . . .casual players have fun with it, competitive players analyze it, study it, try to predict it, and try to defeat it.” Perhaps he’s correct. Maybe there is one all-encompassing metagame, rather than two separate entities. Perhaps there are merely separate casual and competitive influences on one overall metagame. Shane Wendel believes that, “it’s the casual players who really drive the metagame . . .[they] put the cards together that don’t seem to have synergy and find that broken combo that the competitive players then turn into a top tier deck.” Shane is correct that the casual players have an important influence on the metagame, although I don’t think he gives enough credit to the competitive players in that regard.

All in all, I think that the casual players provide the clay and the tools, and the competitive players shape and mold that clay into a metagame statue. The Design/Development team’s consideration of the casual metagame and the Limited collation of packs are merely steps towards ensuring that the status quo remains this way. However, Andrew Yip thinks that the collation isn’t enough. “Vs. is a very difficult game to design for Limited play across sets because of the nature of teams and expansions, but it’s still a problem that should be resolved with the cards, not the collation.”

Can a community flourish with casual and competitive players on separate sides, and why or why not?

Yes (11)
Don’t Know (1)

Can a competitive player also be casual and vice versa, and why or why not?

Yes (12)

For these final questions, I will let the respondents have the final word(s).

“Any game needs a healthy mix of casual and competitive players for the player base to continue to grow.” —Alex Charsky

“Most people are hybrids of casual and competitive. Even hardcore players sometimes just want something low key. There is not a black and white distinction.” —Jeff Donais

“They don’t have to agree on everything to play in their little corner of the universe.” —Dave “En-Kur” Spears

“This whole competitive vs. casual issue is weird, because does ‘casual’ mean a good player who has fun or a bad player who can’t play competitively? And does ‘competitive’ mean a good player with a bad attitude or a bad player that wins a lot?” —Erick Reyes

“[Erick Reyes] is the epitome of the casual player. He doesn’t care about winning or losing, as long as he gets to play or see his favorite characters in battle. But, if you get him in a tournament, he can be every bit as competitive. It’s just a matter of the situation. Since he owns a store, he doesn’t care about winning, as long as he gets people coming back because they had a good time.” —Patrick “Majestic” Yapjoco

“I found that I didn’t need to take the game too seriously to win serious money. I will always live in a world of grins and giggles, but when Vs. System was first announced I set a tangible goal for the first time in my life and I will continue to work diligently to make it come true. Yes, I study the game constantly. No, I do not practice as much as most competitive players. Maybe it’s possible to be both.” —Rian ‘stubarnes’ Fike

“Picture if you would, a man who is devoted to a particular team, so much so that it’s the only team he allows himself to play, either casually or competitively. However, he feels that this team’s representation in Vs. is subpar, and attempts to compete by taking advantage of an unintentional synergy with an associate of his favorite team’s mortal enemy (who happens to have a bad haircut). Is this person casual or competitive? I’ve been stewing over this for some time.” —Robert “Bizarro #98” McSantos

“One could imagine a player so good that he learned everything he needed to learn playing with his eight-year-old sister every third Sunday of the month. I see no reason why a player of moderate intelligence can’t play casually and still compete. Most of us don’t have the time to brute-force our way to good play habits” —Andrew “liquidroyl” Yip

“All players are casual players first, whether they play casually or not. Competitive players are a subset of casual players.” —Tony ‘Typhon’ Burian

“No one stays a competitive player one hundred percent of the time and vice versa. There are plenty of players who cross both sides, maybe not now or not tomorrow for some, but they eventually do and most people will have experience on both sides. And this is what keeps balance within this issue.” —“Cap’nCarl” Perlas

“I want to say ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ here, and leave it at that. The truth is that the debate between the two ‘factions’ is ultimately healthy. UDE must be greatly encouraged that the game inspires so much passion.” —Shane “fatalsync” Wendel


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