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Why you should quit ranked session-based multiplayer video games

Dan Ganiev
April 28th, 2021 · 4 min read

This post is a revelation of an addicted gamer with 4k hours in Dota 2 and 1k hours/600$+ spent in Hearthstone. Half of the time it is needed to become a master chef, or a music producer, or a good fiction writer, if you believe in a 10k hour rule. But apparently not enough time to become even a half-decent player, since I never broke through the 3800 MMR ceiling in Dota 2. Addiction had a chance to break my family and I regret the lost time, so I wrote this as a warning to other gamers.

There are plot-based video games, which inevitably end after a playthrough (with some exceptions). Then there are open-world video games, into which you can log in and out at any time without losing progress. Then there are session-based video games, where you play a game/round/session, it ends and then you’re done, or you can repeat. Think Civilization, Tetris, roguelikes like Binding of Isaac, etc. And then there are multiplayer session-based video games (MSBVGs), where you compete against other players, like Apex Legends, Dota 2 and Hearthstone. And these last ones are kind of a malignant force.

The covert malignacy this type of games has is their addictiveness (duh!). But not the usual kind of addictiveness that people imagine in the context of video games. Not the WoW kind. The evil corruption that multiplayer session-based video games bestow upon you is their competitiveness. It is a subtle, but persistent power, that over time made me, a grown man with a 40-hour work week, believe that I can and should compete with professional players and streamers and become a streamer myself. All this because of a number.

Most MSBVGs nowadays contain some kind of rating system which is tied to a number. Almost every rating system stems from Elo rating system, invented for chess, which makes sense, as chess itself was the most played multiplayer session-based game before games had any video in them. Chess players had to beat countless opponents to prove their worth, unlike professional football for example, which is mostly tied to leagues or tournaments and thus predefined set of opponents and no incentive in rating system more complex than who-beated-who-more table.

Game developers try to hide the rating behind fancy facades like medals in Dota 2 (herald, legend, divine) or ranks in Apex Legends (silver, gold, diamond), but in the end it is still a number. A number that has the power to make the player obsessive about it. Which is what happened to me. Twice, in two different games.

First, somewhere around 2015, I got obsessed with my Hearthstone rank. I really liked the game, and then, never before playing collectible card games, wanted to become a Legend (the best possible rank in Hearthstone). It took me three months, 600$ pumped into 3 or 4 meta decks, and countless hours of playtime and watching streams and youtube videos. In the end I got to Legend. Was it worth it? Well, I got a fancy cardback, that’s it. I haven’t opened Hearthstone since 2016, so the cardback is forced to rust in some datacenter in a byte form forever, never again seeing the battlefield.

Then, around 2019 I started to seriously grind Dota 2. I wanted to get to Titan (the best medal in Dota 2, top 0.1% players), which would, in my own eyes, make me eligible for streaming. Streaming was a common theme in my mind when it came to MSBVGs. I tried to stream Hearthstone when I had Legend, and I fiercely tried to gain Dota 2 rating number as quickly as possible. But it was not supposed to happen. I just could not break through the 3500 MMR (match making rating) consistently.

One Dota 2 game takes anywhere from 20 to 70 minutes. I came home from work each day and tried to play at least 4 games to become better. I tried to push for 8 games each day of the weekend. I watched Dota streams as my only entertainment instead of TV shows and movies, sometimes at work. Had I lost too much games in a row, I became angry and spilled this anger on my innocent wife. I stopped spending quality time with her, due to playing almost all my free time. At some point she started to avoid coming home, because “you’re playing anyway, there is nothing for me at home”.

Only this raised the alert in my head. I started playing less. One day me and my wife were sitting in a bedroom, and she just suggested - “why won’t you just delete Dota, it is giving you nothing anyway”. Then something clicked in my head. “Yeah, why wouldn’t I”. I got to my PC, opened Steam and deleted the game.

One day has passed, two days, a week. I haven’t felt that I lost anything valuable at all. I slowly regained interest in other entertainment, be it movies, other video games, or meeting with friends. I started to work more, made a blog (thanks for reading it right now btw!), finished a personal SaaS project. Retrospectively, quitting ranked Dota was one of the best decisions in my life. I think this decision is the best for anyone who is not already a big streamer or a professional esports player. Even if you think you’re close to breakthrough to twitch or stadium glory, you should consider jumping off that train.

Let’s compare being in top 100 players in Dota 2 to opening restaurant on a busiest street in a metropolis. When you’ll open a restaurant, you’ll face competition of maybe 50 other restaurants in an area close to you. But if you want to become a top 100 player in Dota, you need to face the odds of 1 to 400000 other players. Which in restaurant terms is like being competitive with the whole world. And let’s face it, you still can be profitable as a mediocre restaurant on a busy street, than as a mediocre player. Mediocre players are not payed at all.

This is because there is another logical reason not to play MSBVGs - the rating systems are essentially zero-sum games. For you to gain the rating another person has to lose it. For myself I choose not to play zero-sum games anymore, and focus on wealth creation games instead. Because real life MMR in $ net worth can be fun to grind too.

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