(Metagame Archive) Confessions of an Aging Gamer

By Nate Price

It’s finally happened.

In the general scheme of games, Vs. System is still a toddler. Many Other Games™ have been going strong for years now, while Vs. System is still getting its feet wet. But despite its relative youth, Vs. System has shown a tremendous capacity for growth. Early in the game’s life, the same names were ever-present at the top of the leader boards. Players like Robert Leander, Nick Little, and Ryan Jones were never far from the Sunday stage. As time progressed, we saw many new names blended in with the mainstays of old. New dominant players emerged. Competitors such as Michael Jacob, Dean Sohnle, and Michael Dalton began putting up strings of impressive finishes. The game was finally beginning to grow up.

Not content with expanding the game’s influence solely in North America, Vs. System was released across the world. Europe and Australia were among the first locations outside of the United States to host the fledgling game. As has happened with games in the past, the main center of Vs. dominance was in its country of origin, the United States. However, as the days went by and the $10K events came and went, it became apparent that the rest of the world wanted its fair share of the glory, too.

The first PC on foreign soil happened this past year in the wonderful city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam was the first Pro Circuit–level event to use the Modern Age format. The Europeans made their presence felt by putting three players into the Top 8. On top of that, Scott Hunstad, an Australian, managed to pilot his Marvel Knights deck to a semifinal appearance. Despite the home field advantage, though, Adam Horvath, a New Jersey native, took down the big prize. Though it marked the first time a non-American cracked the Top 8 of a Pro Circuit–level event, it certainly wouldn’t be the last time.

The location of the Pro Circuit has a very large impact on its player composition. For example, in Amsterdam, while the U.S. did put up the highest percentage of players with 28% of the field, it was nothing compared to the whopping 82% of the field that the Americans made up at PC NY. This goes to show that the country hosting the event tends to skew the percentage of the field in its favor.

Beginning with The Avengers, Vs. System made its way into a new frontier—the islands of Japan. When the first pack was cracked by a Japanese player, the world collectively gasped. As is the case in just about everything they get involved with, the Japanese tend to own the world of games once they get down to business. They approach the game with such insight and professional diligence that little escapes their attention. Just like every good gamer, though, they have to start somewhere. The most recent PC LA marked the arrival of the Japanese players on the Pro Circuit scene. Only three players made the fourteen-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean, and only one, Masami Ibamoto, placed in the Top 50 of the event.

The lifespan of Vs. System to date can be thought of in generations that are separated by the milestones listed above. Each new generation brings new faces, new decks, and a higher level of skill to the game. I myself am from the first generation of Vs. System players. The first packs I drafted were Marvel Origins. Admittedly, I never posted any numbers or had any tournament success, but that’s mostly because I became a writer. I really love writing and ultimately preferred writing about the game to playing it full-time.

I say full-time because in order to stay on top of the game, a round-the-clock commitment must be made. There are many players out there who have a good deal of natural skill. Unpracticed, they will do well in tournaments on skill alone. However, there is much to be said for the other side of the spectrum—the workhorses of the game. These are the players who, while they do obviously possess skill, have broken the game open using a relentless approach and a tremendous work ethic. These players know their formats inside and out and rely on their knowledge of the game to carry them through. This type of knowledge isn’t easily gained, though. It requires countless hours of practice and personal sacrifice. For these players, it really is a full-time job.

I fall into the latter category. I’ve never instinctively been able to pick up on the things that make a successful player. I’ve never been the type to know what to do in a situation simply because. Rather, I know what to do because I’ve played an unfathomable number of games and have encountered just about every situation I could imagine. This allows me to know the correct play through experience, rather than through feel or reason.

I believe that many of the original big names in the Vs. System world were of the first type of gamer. They came to Vs. with an inherent understanding that led to their ability to break the game down and reason out what they needed to do to win. They could dissect the game without having to spend countless hours pounding away with their decks. Reason, logic, and general gaming knowledge were their tools to break the game, and break it they did.

But staying on top of the world requires an incredible amount of work. As time passed, many of the older faces of Vs. System fell by the wayside. They still put up solid finishes at the major events, but they didn’t dominate the way that they used to. I believe this is because the emerging generation of gamers was of a different kind. They were the workhorses. They took the game and played it until their fingers bled. They also raised the bar for organization and began to form giant conglomerates. These teams helped them to distribute evenly the tremendous amount of work it took to break a format open. It allowed them to gain the edge they needed to work their way into the limelight.

Obviously, the most logical course of action for the first generation was to follow the lead of their contemporaries and band together. Teams that seemed to be nothing more than jumbles of big names began to spring up. They began to dissect the game the way the workhorses had done, deciding that it was time to rely on more than just skill alone. Something had to be done, and that something was work.

If there’s anything more dangerous than a natural gamer or a workhorse, it’s a natural gamer with the drive to pound through the work required to excel. Such a person is a force to be reckoned with, and you can rest assured that the results will show that. This is why I’m so eager to see what has happened in the world of Japanese Vs. System since PC LA. Most of the Japanese gamers I’ve met fall into this category. They have a natural understanding of the game and are among the most diligent group I’ve ever met. It’s a dangerous combination, and given enough time, it will be something to fear.

Anyway, as I said, I’m from the first generation of Vs. System players. I was there when the first packs were being opened and the first decks were being designed. I know most of the old faces, and most of them know me. As a writer for Metagame.com, it’s become my job to learn the new faces, too. It’s kind of like going to a party at a friend’s house. You get there and see all of your friends’ faces. You see the guys you’ve known for years. You also see a group you don’t recognize. They’re friends of your friends. Being the gentleman you are, you decide to learn something about them. After all, if they’re good enough to be friends with your buddy, they should be pretty cool people in their own right.

Luckily for me, I’ve found out that this is true. Most of the new players I meet are really cool people. Getting to meet all of these interesting people is one of the best perks of this job. It helps me keep on top of the game and enjoy myself with some new friends. The people really are what will keep this game afloat.

In the future of Vs. System—and I’ve no doubt that it will be a bright one—players from this era will be looked at as dinosaurs. It’s the inevitable evolution of the game. We will look back years from now and think to ourselves how incorrectly we were going about things—how our strategy was behind the curve and our decks were almost laughable. Our testing processes will have been improved a hundredfold. It will almost be a different game. We will be old gamers. It’s kind of hard to be thirty and considered old, but in the lifespan of a game, that’s how things go. Due to the way the game is designed and the competitive nature of it, natural selection is bound to take place. The strong will survive, and if the weak don’t find a way to adapt, they’ll be left behind.

So far, the players have shown a tremendous capacity for change. The game has very much changed from its inception, and it isn’t even that old! Just imagine what changes time will bring. I can’t wait to see what’s in store in the future.

These have been the confessions of an aging gamer.

As always, I can be reached at the_priceis_right@yahoo.com.

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