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Learning to Lose

I never played competitive sports when I was a kid. Not really. I did some track and cross country and a bit of soccer when I was really young, but I never felt like I even had a shot of winning those. Never did team sports or anything really. Always hated them. But I've started to wonder if I missed out on something there.

So I'm a big fan of the game Hearthstone, by Blizzard. For those who may not be familiar, it's a card game much like Magic the Gathering, involving playing minions and spells to deplete the opponents health or kill his minions. Whoever gets the other player to zero health first wins. It's a fun game with lots of strategy and pretty animations, and Klutzy and I are both big fans of it.

But I do have trouble with it sometimes. Because, to be frank, I'm not that good. I mean I'm better than a lot of folks, sure, but I lose far more than I'd like. And that gets to me a bit. After 2 or 3 losses in a row I start to get angry at myself. Never really at them, always at myself. I curse myself out. I remember the guy on the Hearthstone subreddit who said I sucked when I posted about some difficulties I was having. I think of all the people who say they have no problem getting higher in the ladder system than I do. Who say the deck I'm playing is great and they're winning all the time with it.

It's funny because it hits me most when I'm doing something that matters, where the loss has a consequence. Hearthstone has a ranked system where for each win you go up a rank, for each loss you go down a rank. Each rank has a few stars or levels in it. So as I right this I'm at Rank 16 with 2 stars. The number of stars required to advance changes from level to level. Your rank is cut in half at the end of every month, and you get some rewards based on the highest rank you achieved that month (regardless of if you dropped back a few ranks).

So playing ranked is stressful, but rewarding to me. I had set a goal for myself of rank 16 this month and when I got there I'm almost scared to play again. Even though I now am guaranteed the rewards for rank 16, it would still feel bad for me to drop to 17.

It's funny to contrast my reactions to Klutzy's. I often avoid ranked, playing unranked modes (which don't offer the same rewards) to unwind. She plays ranked most of the time, since in ranked you tend to be better matched with an opponent (as the matching algorithm takes into account both your ranks, whereas in unranked mode it's more random). And really why not? You might as well play it and have a chance at gaining a rank and therefore more rewards at the end of the season. And for her the lossesĀ  aren't particularly punishing. She shrugs them off as bad luck, bad card draw, a better player, or what have you.

I'm not good at that same shrug off. I can do it once or twice but then I start to get angry. I start to wonder what's wrong with me, why I can't make this great deck work. And I extrapolate it. My failure in Hearthstone means clearly I'm not intelligent. This is why I didn't get into grad school, why I've had trouble finding a new job, also why I'm overweight (somehow). It all ties together, and the guy on the other end is sitting there, of course, savouring his victory and laughing at my idiocy.

I've wondered if this difficulty has something to do with a lack of team sports in my youth. If I never learned to lose well. I've started to remind myself that, going into ranked, no matter what, is good for me. A loss teaches me how to lose. A win is, well, a win. But it's definitely been tough. But it's growth, and that's a good thing. It's funny, the avenues we can find for growth, if we look for them.