A few weeks ago, my friend Jascha and I were went on a multi-hour Overwatch binge. New to the game, Jascha bounced around from one character to the next, hoping to find a character to invest in. At first, he struggled mightily with high-learning curve characters like McCree and Widowmaker. Then he moved onto Symmetra and Tracer, where he started to show some positive gains. Despite his initial success with those characters, he stubbornly went back to McCree and Widowmaker, failing now just as he did before.
Piquing my interest with this curious decision, I asked him why he went away from characters that were working for him. While I don’t remember his exact response, it was clear to me that it was going to take more than being good for him to stick with a character.
People are funny creatures. As much as we want to rationalize our choices in life through logic and reason, there’s the whole emotional side of the decision making process. Even in a competitive environment where winning is supposedly everything, it’s not.
I know this first-hand through my experience with Street Fighter IV. Early on, I hit a ceiling with Akuma that I ultimately broke through by letting him go. However, making that decision was really difficult. For one, he was considered to be one of the best characters in the game. Furthermore, he’s just so damn cool. An ultra-powerful version of Ryu who fully embraced the evil spirits within and has the most iconic super move in all of fighting games, he was and continues to be one of the coolest characters in the franchise.
Though she was a worse character at the time, Rose proved to be a better fit for me. Despite thinking she was lame from a story and design perspective, I couldn’t resist the wins and she grew to become my favourite. Having said that, former EVO Champion Louffy puts a heavy amount of his character choices based on looks. He picked Rose in Street Fighter IV even when she was a bad character because he thought she was sexy. Unfortunately, I can’t find the posts now, but I’m pretty sure he was initially playing as R. Mika in Street Fighter V for similar reasons.
Right now I’m going through a character crisis in Overwatch. For years, I’ve been overly stubborn in my character choice, as I pretty much love everything about D.Va. However, recent experimentation showed that I had a pretty decent Mercy. So much so, that it’s shaken my fundamental understanding of my own Overwatch play. Granted, it’s a game where having the ability to play multiple characters is an asset. However, I hate the idea of dropping D. Va completely during competitive matches, because I enjoy everything about her.
I believe that in any competitive game, you get an intangible boost to your abilities when you play as a character you really like. When you love how they look, what their backstory is, or whatever external influence beyond how a character plays within the game, you unlock a motivational boost in your brain. Is it enough to turn the tables from playing a “not as good” character today and relying on your own abilities to cover the differences? Or does that not even matter when all you want to do is play as D. Va, skills and meta be damned?