I played another Infinity tournament over the weekend, and had a ton of fun with it. The local scene for the game is a huge amount of fun, lots of very nice, casual players who are both humble winners and gracious losers. The whole experience with the group is fantastic, and it’s been a lot of fun for me to join in. I really appreciate how welcoming the group has been.
I was really concerned about jumping in and playing with a new group at first, for a couple of reasons. I never know what kinds of attitudes I’ll have going into new scenes, for starters. I had a great, private group of friends that I played Warmachine with in Austin, and went back to playing in Maryland. I took some time off of the game and game back to the same Maryland group and found it had soured, and it put me off of the game entirely. I haven’t played a single game of Warmachine since I moved to Seattle, and was worried that the same might happen with Infinity.
The other reason is that I was worried about how I might fit into the group. My Infinity group in Maryland was one of the most competitive groups in the country, and the guy I would trade wins back and forth with swept Gen Con and got invited to Spain to participate in their big international tournament. I’m not what you might call a hyper-competitive player in general– I could probably perform better than I do if I played more lists that traded fun for effectiveness, or stuck with one faction and mastered it. I’m not that player. Kodra would probably describe me as somewhere in between a Timmy and a Johnny, in Magic: The Gathering parlance. However, I’ve played a lot of Infinity, and I’ve played a broader swathe of the game than most people are even interested in. I’ve played against some really, really superb players and learned to hold my own.
The short version of this is that, not to toot my own horn too much, I’m a fairly highly skilled player, and introducing a new, highly skilled player to an existing group of players, especially a more casual group of players, can be like dropping pure sodium in water. Having “the new guy” suddenly appear and start sweeping everyone can be a bad experience for a playgroup, and while I do my best to make my games fun for my opponent even as I’m winning, I’m well aware that it’s easy to be frustrated with someone like me. It’s less of a big deal if there’s already another high-skilled player who tends to win a lot, but even that can create strife.
There are two ways I can see to approach this. I can downplay my skill, intentionally add handicaps to my play if it looks like I’m winning too much, or I can play at the level I’m used to and let other people deal with it. The first option has always felt disingenuous to me, and robs me of the fun of the game (and my opponents as well, if they catch on). It bothers me at a deep level, because I feel like it’s twisting the good parts of the game to a nastier, pointless end. On the other hand, it’s hard for me not to feel like playing hard and letting the chips fall where they may is irresponsible.
A good friend of mine locally, who’d seen me play quite a lot in Maryland, demanded that I “just play”, and not concern myself with that sort of meta-thought. It meant a lot, coming from him, because he tends to take a dim view of excessive competitiveness; it’s one thing to win, it’s another thing entirely to stomp an opponent with ease and know full well how and why you’re doing it. It felt like permission to just play the game I enjoyed, which is what I’ve been doing. I’ve played something different, sometimes silly and fun, for every tournament I’ve been to, and while I’ve won all of the ones I’ve attended, the more important bit to me is that I’ve had fun and my opponents have enjoyed themselves.
I care a lot about my opponents enjoying themselves. My least favorite games are the ones I sweep. They were satisfying once, years ago, when I wasn’t sure of my ability at the game, but I don’t have anything to prove anymore. I want games where, at the end, my opponent says “that was awesome!” even if they lost. I think I’m succeeding. People are excited to play games against me; I’ve had a local friend ask me to bring the most vicious list I could come up with against him, just so he could see it in action, and at the last couple of tournaments I’ve had people excited both at the chance to play against me and hopeful for the chance next time.
I think that means I’m doing something right. I’ve won every tournament I’ve been to this year, and I’ve gotten a bit of a rep as a strong player. However, I’m not winning by the margins I was nine months ago; each tournament gets closer and closer. At some point, someone is going to overtake me, and I think they’re going to be thrilled. I’ll be thrilled too– it means that I’ll have been the final boss for someone, and it’ll make their victory all the sweeter.