How I (Accidentally) Became a Sports Fan

When I was young, I used to watch the football games with my dad every Sunday night. I didn’t know what was going on, but I had nothing better to do and it was a good chance to spend some time with the people I found interesting at the time. I even played some baseball and soccer in rec leagues until I was about 13. But as I grew older and drifted away from my parents, I also drifted away from sports; I just didn’t derive any particular enjoyment from watching a guy throw a ball to another guy, and I didn’t get the frenetic energy sports fan got when “their” team won. I just preferred to play games and study music.

So you imagine my surprise when I suddenly realized, sitting alone watching the finals of the Mid-Season Brawl on mute using library wifi, that I had become a sports fan…just not the type I had always imagined in my head.

Everyone knows that guy who insists on going to a bar for lunch so he can “watch the game” or that person who plans out epic Superbowl parties or the person who listens to the ball game on the radio during their commute back home at night. We all know those people who thrive on competition and bracketeering and meticulously tracking stats and arguing with co-workers over who the greatest quarterback of all time is. I never saw myself as one of those people and I never understood their obsessive need to be involved with the sport constantly (especially if they didn’t play it themselves), but in the arena of esports, I’m beginning to realize I’m exactly like those people. I am those people.

During the Mid-Season Brawl, I technically had no work to do outside of keeping up with the LiquidHeroes bingo and tweeting out any boxes we had checked off. I had no obligation to watch all the games, but I did anyway. I followed the games religiously, kept notes wherever possible, and paid attention to the drafts of each team and how the metagame was evolving. Unfortunately, I had to miss at least two full days driving my mother back and forth between the house she’s fixing up and home (a two hour round trip, and up to five or six hours in between transit), but it didn’t stop me from trying to get all the information I could.

I checked Twitter and Discord constantly for hints about what was going on. I didn’t have the data (or battery power) to stream everything from my phone, so I had to rely on wifi wherever I could get it, so I drove to libraries, coffee shops, Waffle Houses, etc. And for the first time, I noticed that I was moving outside the realm of pure analysis and self-improvement to actual fandom; I suddenly understood all of those crazy emotions people went through watching a football or soccer game.

Esports is all about the competition and the storylines. It’s about the underdog slaying the giant. It’s about meaningless but thoroughly entertaining games. And it’s about building a community of people that will stick together because of this one random thing they all have in common.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened. I remember watching LoL Worlds in the university library while studying journalism last year. I remember staying up ultra late just to watch Korean SC2 players play the most epic GSL finals of all time. I’ve experienced it all, even in games I didn’t play. But that moment watching the Mid-Season Brawl was a wake-up call. It turns out I have a lot more in common with sports fans than I thought.

The Failures of StarCraft 2, Pt 1

Written by: EsportsJohn

Table of Contents

  1. Defender’s Advantage
  2. Damage Numbers
  3. Macro Mechanics

Decided to do a bit of a short article about my thoughts on StarCraft 2…and then it grew into this thing. I want to be very clear that StarCraft is quite honestly one of the best things that has ever happened to me; it completely changed my view of the world, and I’ve never been the same since I first discovered it. Nonetheless, I think it failed to live up to its potential, and it’s important to look back on the history of the game, how it evolved, how it came to be, and really think critically about how it was handled. It’s important to do this sort of analysis, not just because I just want to disagree with David Kim, but because I truly believe the developers didn’t think through their design decisions properly, and thus the finished product was botched beyond belief.

I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs with StarCraft 2, and since I’ve taken the long way around to playing Brood War, I feel I’m qualified to explain the design failures of StarCraft 2 accurately with a sober and impartial approach free from “arguments of nostalgia”. StarCraft has been a huge part of my life, and I feel it’s necessary to put down on paper all of the things that have been bothering me about its design and development from day one—and hopefully in the process, I can explain why some of these things came to be in the first place.

Note: I have not played Legacy of the Void since the first few weeks of release. I know a lot of people believe that the final expansion has made a lot of progress and created a much better game, but through my own observations, watching tournaments, and seeing others play, there are still plenty of core issues that still persist and taint the potential of this beautiful game. I want to avoid making too many Brood War vs StarCraft 2 arguments, but I think it would be willfully ignorant to gloss over the things that BW did correctly just to avoid a comparison argument.

Defender’s Advantage is Dead

If you play Brood War for only a moment, you will immediately notice the insane power of defender’s advantage. With the right units, you can hold a base forever against your opponent. For instance, literally no number of marine/medic will ever break three lurkers on top of a ramp, and Protoss can camp out on one base with Templar, Dark Archons, and Arbiters safely for pretty much eternity.

This sort of defense doesn’t exist in StarCraft 2. It’s not necessarily bad that the sequel got rid of high ground advantages that relied on RNG, but the effects on the gameplay were numerous and adverse.

Perhaps the largest difference is the emergence of the “deathball syndrome”. I don’t necessarily mean the emergence of large armies, but rather the phenomenon where players will always expand outward from their main while using a rather mobile army bouncing between bases to defend. From this issue arises a whole slew of other problems, from hard counters to uninteresting economic models to unit design issues.

Here’s an example: in Brood War, one of the key concepts, particularly for Zerg and Protoss players, is to expand to other corners of the map and create two “main bases” to work outwards from. This means that you can defend one base from your opponent’s attacks while slowly building up a force at the other base. When the big doom push comes knocking at your natural expansion, you can stall out with defilers or templar while continuing to amass forces at the other corner of the map.

If you attempt this sort of strategy in StarCraft 2, one or both of your bases will likely be overrun very quickly unless your opponent doesn’t scout it. This was attempted many times in the game’s infancy, and there’s a reason why the tactic quickly died out.

A Thought Experiment

Think abstractly for a moment. Two kings are at war with one another. King Raynor has only one castle, but King Artanis has two castles placed a reasonable distance apart. If Raynor wants to take over Artanis’s empire, he will want to invade both castles. He can either split his forces and risk being unable to break either or he can overrun them one at a time; naturally, Raynor will decide to dedicate all of his forces toward one target to avoid splitting his damage too much.

Assuming unlimited resources, the king with two castles will always win. Artanis can stall out Raynor’s siege for a very long time while gathering his forces at his other castle, eventually gathering a critical mass that will allow him surround and crush the invasion or attack Raynor’s base directly; Raynor will have to either sacrifice his castle (which he can’t) or retreat with his forces intact. Either way, Artanis with his two castles comes out ahead in the war.

If you remove the defender’s advantage—say, the two kings own camps on large fields—there are few incentives to creating large camps far away from each other (though you do have the perk of being able to relocate easily). Instead, the kings will tend to clump up their resources and rely more on mobile troops who can switch very quickly between attack and defense to guard their land. History will show that this is often the case in less advanced regions, with examples such as the Huns during Atila’s reign or the Iroquois Indians in the plains region of North America; the group that was proficient on horseback and owned many horses was always on the winning side.

The second example is much closer to the accidental design of StarCraft 2. It’s not necessarily bad, but it does create a situation where bases must be tightly clustered and multi-purposed units with a lot of mobility reign supreme. If you need a more concrete example, look at the one exception in Brood War: ZvZ. In that matchup, Sunken and Spore Colonies simply don’t attack quickly enough to deal with swarms of mutalisks or zerglings, therefore negating a lot of the defender’s advantage. As such, players constantly had to match their opponent’s army in order to defend against potentially fatal attacks.

You could argue that ZvZ was borderline chaos. StarCraft 2 took this a step further into to the extreme when things like instant reinforcement (Protoss Warp-ins, speedlings on creep) and hyper utility units (like the Queen or the Mothership Core) were added to the game and even further weakened the defender’s advantage. The road since then has never yielded us a comfortable design that felt manageable. Without the proper checks and a stable set of rules, this sort of mobile warfare devolves from a brilliant allocation of troops similar to Risk into absolute chaos.

The Deathball: An Unintended Side Effect

The thought experiment above is actually great for understanding different systems of warfare and even understanding some of the asymmetric balance that occurs between the races in StarCraft, but as you can see, it comes with some serious considerations. If bases aren’t spread out, what’s the point of spreading your army out?

Deathballs were something that emerged almost immediately in Starcraft 2‘s storied past, beginning with the horrific 1 food roach swarms during the beta. Many reasons were stated in the past as to why this particular phenomenon seemed to crop up: it was the fault of “unlimited” unit selection, damage density, hyper-mobile units, weak AoE, boring unit design, economic mining behavior, etc. There’s no doubt that these things may have exacerbated the problem, but at its core, it all began with a lack of defender’s advantage.

If you have a weak defender’s advantage and have to rely primarily on numbers, then positioning becomes much more important. In the late game, a large army can only be defended by an equally large army. It’s difficult to spare even a single unit to defend outlying bases, much less split your army in two. Thus, it makes more sense to move your army in a large ball between bases, using small groups and vision to deter possible counterattacks.

Blizzard’s Attempt to Fix the Problem

Legacy of the Void has attempted to artificially solve this problem by starving players out (“expand or die”) and forcing them to take blind chances with their positioning; they must split up their army and do harassment on several different fronts to protect their own economy while slowing down their opponent’s. You will always lose something, so it becomes a battle to see who can lose less—it’s skillful, but not necessarily fulfilling. For multiple reasons, I don’t believe this is fun (though I know others believe differently). More objectively, however, it creates a world in which a “perfect game” is impossible, a sentiment that many Korean players and coaches have shared with David Kim and the design team over and over—it’s not just very hard to play well, it’s literally impossible.

One of the beauties of Brood War is that it can actually nearly be mastered. Basic macro and positioning is difficult to do, but very much achievable with many intermediate steps along the way. Most of the difficulty is in the PvE aspect, so you feel great if you played a game with high APM, great macro, and a well-executed strategy. From there, it’s a battle with your opponent to see who can out-multitask the other. That’s where the endless challenge of Brood War lies, and it’s an endless pursuit as long as players play the game competitively.

On the other hand, Legacy of the Void has an extremely low barrier of entry but forces you to make blind decisions regarding your tech, scouting, and army positioning. While this can be entertaining from a spectator’s perspective (for those “big moments”), it’s nigh impossible to practice properly because of the game’s ever-changing nature depending on the opponent, their build, and their playstyle; you cannot become proficient without either having innate godlike twitch mechanics or an uncanny ability to read your opponent and guess their next move.

To reiterate, this is a band-aid fix for a problem that runs much deeper than the surface. It’s not necessarily accurate to give the game an inherent property that actually means something, but for a game that is based on economics, Starcraft 2 fails on the premise of making economics meaningful. Unit interaction and throwing a wrench in your opponent’s plans take up a far more meaningful role than building bases and managing resources.

There are some potential fixes that could have helped to fix deathballs (such as better defender’s advantage, stronger space control, or some sort of innate base defense that can defend against small numbers of units), but a starvation economy and an increased focus on harassment has done nothing but destabilize the game.

Damage Numbers Are Out of Control

One of the key features of StarCraft 2 has always been its quick pace and smooth graphics. Compared to Brood War (or really any other RTS that came out around the same time), it runs on a beautiful, efficient engine. Everyone who’s seen a dragoon take 20 minutes to find the entrance to a ramp knows exactly the frustration that older generation RTS’s posed in terms of unit movement and animation. StarCraft 2, on the other hand, was revolutionary.

For the first time, units would glide over the terrain with precision and accuracy. Micro tricks like marine splitting, blink stalker micro, and ling/baneling wars were the apex of the game’s achievements; nothing in the world takes your breath away like watching a pro player split marines like a god. Anyone who argues for the wonky glitches and awkward unit interaction from older generation RTS’s is living in a fantasy world. Either way, we still have to face the fact that the smoothness of the engine did cause some unintentional problems.

The first inherent problem is the tendency for units to clump up. If you select a large group of units and click at a designated location, the engine will give each and every unit a command to walk to that exact spot on the map, hindered only by unit collision. Not a big deal, but it does create some issues in that groups will always travel in clusters. Add in “unlimited” unit selection, and you’ve got yourself a good old-fashioned “deathball”. One of the beauties of older generation games was that units moved in waves or small, kind of square-like groups that was messy and required micro management to keep it in line.

A ball, however, is the perfect shape for damage. With ranged units, it applies equal DPS on all sides and naturally protects itself from surrounds by eliminating the gaps in between ranks and reducing surface area. Most importantly, it greatly increases the damage density.

Damage Density is Dangerous

Damage density is the damage per second per square inch (or foot or meter or what have you). In other words, clumped up units do more damage per second.

So what makes this different from any other game? Critical mass. If you continue adding to the ball, eventually you reach a point where the diameter of the ball exceeds the range of the unit. When all of the units cannot fire at once, the ball has reached critical mass and cannot generate a higher DPS except through a concave. What happens when you can select up to 100 units at a time in StarCraft 2‘s ultra smooth engine? The critical mass almost ceases to exist in a realistic game.

Some have speculated that increasing unit collision size or refining some of the movement behavior through unintuitive engine rules might fix this problem, but it’s unlikely that these changes would ever create a more stable or glossier interface that we have currently; we do not want to go back to a clunkier system.

Assuming that the engine mechanics are here to stay, we can only influence the behavior of deathballs (which is difficult for reasons stated above) or find a way to prevent the critical mass from sublimating everything in their path.

Quality of Life Improvements Are Too Good

The second major problem arising from StarCraft 2‘s engine is the ease of utility and the smoothness of the way the units move and behave. Again, these are great improvements in quality, but they can cause some serious issues if left unchecked.

Things like smart targeting, lack of overkill, and smart casting all play a part in making the user’s experience easy and consistent. In addition, the animations in the game are clean and functional without creating visual clutter. It’s honestly a marvel in game development how few bugs and glitches StarCraft 2 has. However, these quality of life improvements also make it really easy to focus damage and gun things down very efficiently.

Smooth unit movement also makes it incredibly easy to close distances with melee units or move armies up and down ramps like a flowing river. It makes everything more mobile, more slippery, and above all, more dangerous. Added to the quick speed of the game, there’s hardly time to react to unit movements and you will almost inevitably take some damage if you’re not paying close attention. It’s not uncommon to look away at your base and look back to find your army melting to colossi beams and Psionic Storms.

To put it simply: the fluid unit movement and attack animations in StarCraft 2 are simply too good for the current damage numbers. Damage numbers have grown out of control. Again, we definitely don’t want to relive the past, but we must adapt to the new technology better than we have so far.

Reducing the Overall Damage Output

The most elegant solution is a damage nerf across the board. Oracles should not be able to clear an unattended entire mineral line in seconds. A group of marine/marauder/medivac shouldn’t be able to level a base in the blink of an eye. A group of 12+ roaches shouldn’t be able to one-shot basically any unit in the game.

The game of StarCraft 2 is actually played a notch faster than originally intended, but as the standard game speed increased, the damage numbers stayed the same. As a result, the hectic race of trying to drop in two places while maneuvering your army in an intelligent way on top of macroing perfectly has always been a delicate balance. Many games have been won and lost by a single mistake, a single moment of inattention, and it’s largely because things just die too fast. For the most part, we got used to it, but the insane pace set by Legacy of the Void sped up the game even more and created a frantic atmosphere of drops, small skirmishes, non-committal expansions, and crazy strategies. It’s become a game of making less mistakes than your opponent rather than executing thoughtful strategies perfectly.

If you ask me, the base attack of most units in the game could be toned down by 20-50%. It would feel weird at first, but giving players more time to react, micro, and play around attacks might create an illusion that the game is not so chaotic as it seems sometimes. Large spell threats like Psionic Storm, Ravager bombs, or Widow Mines could remain the same to retain those big moments where attention is absolutely necessary, but preventing critical masses from mowing down everything in sight instantly could create much more interesting game dynamics than we see currently.

Macro Mechanics Were a Bad Idea

I don’t think there should be any argument here, to be honest. Macro mechanics were designed as a way to keep players doing things and paying attention to their bases, a problem the developers appropriately identified when they simplified/smoothed out a lot of the UI. Increasing the ease of play by allowing workers to be rallied automatically, shift-clicking buildings, and increased maximum unit selection were all good things (it would be ignorant to say otherwise), but they had one major drawback: they made the game a little too easy to play. Working with the smaller maps and confined spaces to build at the time, the developers calculated that something needed to be worked out so that players had to look at their bases occasionally. The result was macro mechanics.

At the outset, it didn’t seem as if they posed any large overarching problems. Hilariously small maps like Steppes of War and Slag Pits were dominated by proxy cheeses which Terran and Protoss benefited from most, but macro mechanics allowed non-stop action during these elongated one base vs one base fights. On large maps, there seemed to be no adverse side effects other than 4-gate rushes and speedling openings. It was apparent that one-base tech was coming out a little too quickly, but that could always be solved with research time adjustments (like the ones for the bunker, warp gate timing twice, banshees, reapers, etc.); large scale macro games, however, showed no real signs that the macro mechanics caused issues. It was difficult at this time for the creators to actually gauge whether macro mechanics or some of the more common things like unit design, timing, and maps were the issues with imbalance.

In hindsight, it’s strange that they overlooked a core aspect of the game for more variable objects. While numbers or functionality of a unit can be changed to affect one circumstance, macro mechanics affected all parts of play in every circumstance. If something so core to the game isn’t accurately vetted and tested, there’s no telling what the long-term effects of it will be, and in this case, all it did was artificially speed up the game.

The Inject Larva Arms Race

When we finally reached open mapmaking that gave fair opportunity to all races and Zerg could freely take third bases, Inject Larva started an arms race. This is when we began to truly see the “three base cap” and big deathballs emerge, and it was all because Zerg could instantly remax their army off of four injected hatcheries. I personally believe the first time that macro mechanics became truly problematic was Stephano’s roach max build. This wasn’t some chimerical idea that had never been thought of before, but it did change the way that many players looked at production and defense. After that, Terran players began to build extra CCs earlier, Protoss players began taking bases earlier, Zergs got even more aggressive with their expansions—the greed got out of control because whatever drawbacks the player took from expanding early were more than made up for within a minute or two due to the macro mechanics. The economic boost gained through Chronoboost, MULEs, and Inject Larva sped up the early/mid game to an alarming speed and ushered in an artificial late game with monstrous armies.

Within a few months, the game had evolved from a mosh pit of one and two base aggressive plays and awkward macro play to a calculated game of risk that balanced greed and safety on a knife’s edge while abusing macro mechanics. Pretty soon, everyone was able to get to three bases rapidly without any danger, and we began an era of 2-base all-in or max. A few odd turtle strategies like mech or swarm host play emerged, but generally the game revolved around one thing: getting a third base and maxing out.

Legacy of the Void and Macro Mechanics

These problems persisted late into the second expansion and into Legacy of the Void. As the game grew into larger maps and freer bases, the developers began to realize they had made a huge error. The attempt was made to artificially slow down the rate of expansion and maxing out with their economic changes as well as the introduction of several more units who could break fortifications or harass mineral lines with ease. Following an outcry that the game was too difficult, the developers decided now was a good time to address macro mechanics and maybe even remove them altogether.

Removing MULEs, Chronoboost, and Inject Larva was probably the best thing they could have done with the game, but a surprising amount of backlash from the community pressured developers into bringing them back. Faux arguments that macro mechanics showed skill, allowed more choices, or were an integral part of StarCraft 2 were all fallacies backed by nostalgia; all of them failed to recognize that the insane arms race generated by macro mechanics are the reason why the game needed an economic adjustment to begin with. Removing them provides far more meaningful decisions in regards to your army positioning, how you harass, and your opening build.

Think for a moment of an early game where variations of 4-gate timings aren’t two minutes apart. Think about how much more predictable that particular pressure will be. All builds would take a little longer to get off the ground, harass units like oracles or cyclones would come out later (and at a much more reliable time), and scouting in the early game would actually be somewhat difficult. Mind games and proper control become paramount, but no longer does each player need to take risks to account for an impossibly early rush that might kill them instantly. Bases are taken somewhat more organically as players take a bit longer to mine out. There’s more early game interaction between units and less positional guesswork involved.

That’s the sort of StarCraft that feels strategic.

The verge of success.

More of a personal blog.

For the last two years, I have been on a constant grind toward trying to be successful. I’ve had some success, but at the current time of writing, I’m again without a job and struggling to pay bills. I’ve learned a lot over the last two years and have significantly improved in several areas, but it is somewhat demoralizing to find myself in almost the same situation as when I started. Ego aside, I think my resume is starting to finally shape up, and my skills speak for themselves. But I keep on getting rejected over and over and over by companies and organizations I know I could thrive in.

I know that rejection is a basic part of life and professional success—but goddamnit, it hurts like hell.

Watching all of the HGC teams this week that tried their absolute hardest and failed is heart-wrenching for me because I know exactly what it feels like to put all of your hopes and dreams and ideas and effort into something, work as hard as possible, and still fail. I know exactly how shitty that feels.

For a long time, I’ve felt like I’m standing on the edge of a precipice, wondering what it would feel like to fall and lose everything. I feel so close to success yet so close to complete and abject failure…it doesn’t feel like a straight line. I have actually stood on the edge of a cliff, on the top of a building, and wondered what it would be like to fall. It has been a sickeningly dark thought that has followed me around constantly in the last two years: that fear (and curiosity) of losing everything.

Still, I try to stick to what I know, and what I know is that I will be successful in some measure if I just keep trying. I hope.

Practice Habits, The “Problem With NA”

Continuing my trend of sitting down and writing daily (I did write some between blog posts, they’ve just been scattered around or remain unpublished for the moment), I wanted to talk today about poor practice habits and what I see as the “problem with NA”.

Consistency and quality are the building blocks of greatness; you can’t have only one and still become the best of the best. In everything that I do, from writing articles to blog posts to making videos, etc, I try to make sure I’m following that mantra: consistency and quality above all else. Sometimes this makes work tedious and pedantic, but I know the end result will be something good.

The same goes for competition. The best competitors are ones who practice not only improving the quality of their play but also their consistency. You can be the most talented, most skilled player in the world, but if you can’t play your best game every game, then you will never be a great player. That’s the cold, hard truth, and it’s one that I don’t think many progamers in North America have quite taken to heart. In fact, I think the region is so steeped in bad practice habits that the idea of systematically building quality and consistency has been completely lost in the fray of constantly grinding. It’s common for competitors (or artists or really anyone) to get caught up in mindlessly grinding and failing to improve, but it is especially prevalent in the NA scene, and it’s evident if you look at the results for most esports competitions.

It’s important to note that I’m not making a blanket statement about ALL players. In my opinion, there are quite a few standout players in the Heroes scene like Glaurung, Fury, and Fan who are relentlessly critical of themselves and constantly in search of areas to improve. If you watched the recent scrims with Team 8 and Dyrus, you’re probably aware of how insanely positive Glaurung is for his teammates and how much he takes the blame on himself. Not only is this admirable in the sense of putting the team before himself, but it shows that he is never happy with his play just being “good enough”. The goal of performance should be perfection, even if you never achieve it.

Still, the few standout players can’t redeem the region as a whole. I’ve talked with quite a few people about what the “problem” is, and far too often we come to the conclusion that it’s some sort of cultural problem. Maybe the US (and/or Canada) is far too forgiving of mistakes, maybe we’re not taught to pursue perfection the same way as other countries, maybe we’re just not dedicated to practice, etc. I can’t speak for what the exact reason is, but one thing I know for sure is that players and teams often have very bad practice habits which prevent them from improving at the same rate as other regions.

Last year, I sat in on a scrim session with Astral Authority (the Gust or Bust team, not the Murloc Geniuses team) and realized that they were getting almost nothing out of it. For almost six hours, one player experimented with drafts while the rest of the team just played through the game. There was little talk about why strategies or drafts worked or didn’t work, and for the most part, they seemed completely unconcerned with the outcome of their scrims (final result was 1-5, I believe).

In the final game, they drafted a complete troll comp and just played around and fed. I was trying out for coach, so I asked them a bit about their practice regiment and whether they were concerned about the results, and they told me that “other people don’t get their practice habits” and that they didn’t want to take scrims too seriously and get burnt out.

This is purely anecdotal evidence of one scrim for one team, but I get the creeping suspicion that the lassaiz-faire attitude is common among a lot of the teams in North America. To be clear, I’m not advocating that practice should be super serious at all times; in fact, it’s really important to make games out of all practice of any kind to keep yourself engaged. However, goal-setting has to underline all practice habits or else you are learning nothing and stagnating.

Consistency is a big problem in North America too. During this season of HGC, only Tempo Storm has fared well in terms of consistency, and even then, they did have a few days where their drafting and in-game performance wasn’t quite on par with their usual.

Everyone else was a trainwreck. Team 8 was very consistent for the first half of the season, but once April rolled around, their play fell apart and they suffered three crushing defeats in a row against teams that they should have been able to beat (some of this has been blamed on scheduling and scrim time, but I don’t believe those factors alone contributed to the overall drop in play). Naventic and No Tomorrow got dumpstered on all season, but on good days, they were able to beat or go even with some of the teams in the region. And don’t even get me started on GFE….

Compare that to Europe. Fnatic and Dignitas were absolutely solid throughout the entire season, and although Liquid had a bit of an issue in the second half, they were very consistent overall. Team expert, Playing Ducks, and Tricked had widely varying levels of play, but for the most part they beat the teams they were supposed to beat (Synergy/beGenius). There are no examples of the last place team beating the first place team (Gale Force eSports vs No Tomorrow).

Again, the lack of consistency comes with bad practice habits, in my opinion. A strict practice schedule and clearly defined goals eliminate the possibility of “being out of practice” or unclipping your mind and muscles from the actions they’re supposed to do automatically. Quality of play will always vary, especially in a team environment, but the standard deviation should be minimal. You cannot become the best team in the world or even the region without a high level of consistency.

Mary Oliver, a famous poet, once wrote that in order to find inspiration, you had to cultivate it with daily practice; in other words, sitting down and thinking seriously about your work every day. Even if the result doesn’t feel inspired, you will eventually train yourself to call on that inspiration at will.

What I DON’T think the problem is is ego. No one goes 0-3 and thinks “I’m still the best player in the world, no one can touch me”, at least no sane person. North American players are well known to make excuses and play the blame game, and I honestly don’t believe that’s a product of arrogance as much as it’s not being able to locate problems in their practice habits. The game is incredibly complex, and there are a lot of reasons why people win or lose. If you don’t have a habit of being relentlessly critical of yourself, it’s very easy to overlook your own play and blame another player or team. Sometimes the reasons are even murkier, and a frustrated player will lash out to the nearest reason like a bad draft or a bad bracket.

It’s hard to pinpoint mistakes…that’s honestly a skill all its own, but it’s one that separates decent players from great players, and it’s built through having lots of targeted practice. Think about a choral master who, after years of practice finding his own voice and listening to others, can find a single wrong note in a chorus of 100 people. That’s the level to aim for.

The Spectator-Analyst, Qualified Opinions

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down at my computer every day and made a concerted effort to write something. For whatever reason, I guess I felt like regressing to that “writing only as inspiration comes” method would somehow serve me better. Consider this post the first of what will probably eventually become a failed attempt at consistency.

It’s easy to talk about myself and how I have problems, etc., etc., but I’m going to try and focus on a more analytical approach to a random subject and try to get some ideas that I’ve had in my head out and onto the page. Today’s topic: the spectator-analyst and the hoax of qualified opinions.

The Spectator-Analyst

In short, the spectator-analyst is the person who watches the game from afar without the burden of actually playing. A more direct definition: a backseat driver.

We’ve all seen it a thousand times. Zuna tries to make a huge play and ends up finding himself caught in the middle of the opposing team with no support. “ZunaFeed” and “LUL” fill the Twitch chat as the viewers work themselves into a frenzy over what appears to be the dumbest play ever, and Reddit posts immediately crop up criticizing the player for his poor choices and/or his mechanical errors. The casters try to make sense of it, but the one story on everyone’s mind is how “retarded” you have to be to make a play like that. If you’ve found yourself saying the same things, don’t worry—you’re not alone.

I’m just using Zuna as an example here, but this sort of thing happens to even the most consistent players in almost any competitive scene. Whether you play Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends, basketball, or badminton, there will always be mobs of people trying to tear down your play and explain the what the proper decision was.

But is that okay?

Let’s be real. The skill range of Twitch chat is comprised scores of Bronze-Plat players, quite a few Diamond/Masters players, and maybe a handful of Grandmasters. So it’s impossible to tell exactly who has an well-informed opinion on the subject unless you recognize the name. Still, all fall prey to the same pitfall: they all have the luxury of observing the game without having to go through the mental and physical rigor of actually playing it and worrying about the outcome. Spectator-analysts are movie-goers at a dollar theater with overpriced popcorn, worried only about the entertainment at hand and typically very little invested into the actual outcome of the match. They do not need to predict the movements of the players or make decisions themselves; they can simply sit back and watch the show.

This is the difficulty of being a spectator-analyst: knowing that you have full information of the game and a much clearer view of what either play should or should not have done in order to achieve the best outcome. While a player is juggling a multitude of things on top of the pressure of performance, the spectator can focus in on a single asset and analyze it well after the play occurred. They don’t have to keep up morale or make the next call.

That said, opinions from spectators with full vision and time to focus on the gameplay are not necessarily bad. An analyst almost always has full knowledge of the games he or she is studying, and their opinion can be valuable feedback from time to time; at the very least, it is good discussion for the fans and fanatics who make up a sports/esports fan base. The player themselves typically know what they did wrong (hindsight is 20/20), usually better than the majority of viewers. In the case of Zuna or other top tier players, the levels of decision making are usually far beyond the average spectator.

The Hoax of Qualified Opinions

Which brings me to my next point: everyone is still free to have an opinion. When Reddit blows up with bronze-level spectator-analysts trying to shove their way into the conversation and say something intelligent, it’s easy to call them out on their skill level on the basis that “they don’t know what they’re talking about”. In fact, this idea gets blown out of proportion to the degree that some will say only pros can realistically comment on other pros’ play, and sometimes even less successful pros get shit on for giving their opinions on top tier Korean players. It becomes a weird metagame of opinion-shaming those who are opinion-shaming pros by method of opinion.

This is unfair and unfounded. The best coaches and analysts in the world are nowhere near the level of their players. The best coaches in StarCraft and League of Legends were never the best players of all time, and some of them never even really played professionally at all—Coach Park of SKT1 and later CJ Entus comes to mind. As I suspected (and the Internet confirmed), there are many football coaches who have never even played organized football as well. Though it definitely helps to have a certain level of skill, understanding of the game comes in many shapes, and it’s not hard to put two and two together sometimes.

Therefore, I think it’s important to base your criticism of opinions on the merit of the argument rather than the player. One word posts that say “ZunaFeed” are poor excuses for actual analysis and can be ignored. However, even if someone is low ranked or not quite at the same level as the player they are criticizing, it is the value of their explanation that matters most. A logical rationale and thoughtful response demands some respect. If some of the details are wrong, feel free to set the record straight, but don’t be that person who assumed you have to be somehow qualified to have a good opinion.

TL;DR Be aware of your position as a spectator-analyst and have mercy on the players when they do what appears to be “stupid”. Criticism and discussion is warranted where necessary, but there is no such thing as a “qualified opinion”, only a good or bad one.


Anyhow, I have ranted for a bit. I haven’t slept in a while, so I’m going to try and sleep now haha. This post was inspired in part by Frictional Games’ developer blog, which I always enjoy reading.

Monthly Update – May 2017

Hey there, I’m back with another monthly update! Heads up, this one is a little heavier than the last one.

My last update happened to coincide with a change of tides and an optimistic outlook, so it naturally took on a good-natured and work-oriented tone. However, I want to delve a little bit deeper into my mind this month and explain exactly what’s going on in my brain because…it’s not that easy. You can say you want to do this and that or have aspirations or some grand plans, but it’s simply not that easy to make it a reality.

If you’d rather skip over my personal problems and get right into my work, just scroll down to the first heading.

So, if you follow my work, you will probably remember my unbelievably depressing New Year’s post. Admittedly, these are ghosts I walk around with all the time—will I ever be good enough? Am I inherently flawed? Why can’t I just work a job like a normal person? These nagging thoughts bite away and me and weaken my will to do work and create things, even during the best of times.

I also struggle a lot with self-image. I’ve never been particularly skinny, and I’ve always battled with obesity and healthy eating habits. A few years ago, I managed to whip myself into shape, lose 80 lbs, and get on a full vegetarian diet, but I have regressed almost completely since then. This is the particular reason why I struggle to do videos like the HotS Thoughts series, even though they are by far the easiest medium to work with. I just can’t look back at these videos with any sense of satisfaction because I hate my voice, I hate my face, and I honestly wouldn’t listen to me either. The ruthlessness with which I attack myself is something that I think drives a lot of my improvement in writing (and long ago, in music), but it certainly has some drawbacks in places where I have to show my face.

A few days ago, I grew restless at 3am and decided to go out for a drive. It’s the sort of restlessness you get from being idle, from feeling like you’re not moving or going anywhere worthwhile. This uneasy feeling visits me often at night. I ended up driving out to one of the parking decks on campus and going to the top level.

Before we go any further, I want to assure everyone that this isn’t a near-suicide story; I have had some terrible and strange thoughts, but I’ve never had a crystallized view of killing myself. You do not need to be frightened or worried for me.

As I stood at the top of the deck looking out across the athletic fields, I decided, at the very least, to do some walking across the deck from one side to the other. Inevitably, that turned into a bit of jogging and running. But by the third lap back, I could already feel my muscles start to fail, my breathing becoming heavy, and my heart pounding in my chest. Nauseous, I collapsed on the ground and tried to control my breathing and avoid throwing up.

It was in this moment that I sort of floated outside my body, and the words of Shane Koyczan came to me: “Know that now is only a moment, and that if today is as bad as it gets, understand that by tomorrow, today will have ended.” And for a moment, I had a sort of out-of-body experience—this, of course, may have just been a minor hallucination due to lack of oxygen to my brain—where I could see myself lying on the ground pitifully trying not to throw up and thinking, “Remember this. Remember this moment and know that tomorrow you will be, by whatever small margin, better than this.”

So I’ve been working on my fitness levels again. And though it’s only been a few days, I’m hoping that again I can continue to rally and press forward each and every day. It’s important to remember my weak moments and use them as motivation to move me ahead, however marginally, toward my goals and the things that I want in life. I will struggle, and some days will be bad, but I’m hoping that I can continue to move forward through that stress and strain into better pastures.

For a long time, I’ve been feeling like I’m standing on the precipice of a valley and intertwined are the mixed feelings of fear that I’m going to fall and wondering if I have the strength to make it to the top. It is a precarious balance that keeps me awake at night far longer than I should be awake, feverishly working on some project trying to bring it to fruition; and at the same time, the slow deprivation of energy that robs me of all will to do anything at all. I recently heard that the original StarCraft team worked crunch time for 8 months; I understand that completely because I’ve been working crunch time for two years straight trying to find a “finished product”. I have no idea if I’m close or not, but I try to tell myself that I’m in the home stretch every day.

Anyway.

Plans for May

After losing my only steady job at Inven Global last month, I’ve been desperately trying to search for a new job that’s right for me. Unfortunately, I’ve either heard absolutely nothing from the people I’ve tried contacting or I’ve been turned down for whatever reason. Rejection obviously sucks.

On the bright side, various opportunities have arisen out of seemingly nowhere. For instance, I was asked to start casting the Afreeca Starleague (ASL) with a friend, and it turns out that’s actually a paying gig! It’s still pocket change compared to what I need to pay the bills, but it’s a start. I’ve also been contacted by a few organizations for an opportunity as managing editor, which is the dream job (if it pays).

My new logo has given me a bit of a credibility boost, but I still need to stay diligent with my work. Aside from my day to day work at LiquidHeroes (yes, I read and edit ALL of the recaps and articles that get published), I’ve just been trying to find the right angle for my next project. I have a lot of ideas, but I’m not sure which medium I want to use. There are so many cool ideas that fit better into video, but as mentioned earlier, I have a very difficult time motivating myself to sit in front of a camera and speak, so I may end up just writing some stuff down.

I want to continue doing a variety of Heroes content, from basic guides and articles to feature pieces and interviews. Right now, many of the pros are unbelievably busy with playoffs coming up, but afterwards I would really like to get in touch with people and do a lot of interviews during the off season. (I’ve got my eye on Dyrus if he decides to actually switch to HotS as a progamer).

I’ve been spending most of my time playing StarCraft: Brood War recently. Even though I’m still a D- scrub, I think I’m improving fairly quickly, and I hope to start working on some educational content and/or game analysis. My knowledge from StarCraft 2 carries over only insomuch as being able to watch other people play and figure things out, but I feel like that’s enough to properly create content that is both intelligent and engaging. Fun fact: before I switched to HotS, I wanted to be a SC2 version of Day9.

Although I rarely play or watch Warcraft III and Battlerite, I am still an avid supporter of their esports, and I’ll continue to at least give everyone updates on that scene.

Other than the nebulous goal of “make more stuff”, I will be working hard to post a little bit more regularly on my Discord and create positive discussion. I’m a big fan of building communities, and even though I get literally nothing out of it, I want to create a place where people can talk about games, daily life, and progress in a healthy environment.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you in June!

P.S. This is the month I have to evaluate my financial situation and make a decision on whether or not I can move to California in the fall. I will post an update on whatever I decide.

Knowing Your Role in the Nexus P3

The two keys to victory in any Heroes of the Storm game are battleground objectives and teamfighting. Combined, these two things are what makes or breaks a team in the late game. While there are many aspects to these two concepts, one can understand them almost entirely through role selection. What is your role on the team? How do you fit into the composition on the map? Controlling map objectives and winning teamfights is much easier for the team where everyone knows their role, and a self-aware team is a winning team.

A Word on Battleground Objectives

Most of this series has emphasized generalizations and avoided specific details, and a large part of that is due to the vast array of battlegrounds and objectives. It’s very difficult to explain rotations or solo laners without the context of the map. What’s the difference between a four-man rotation on a two lane map and a three lane map? Why is the solo lane more important on some maps than on others? Exactly how important is waveclear?

Different battlegrounds emphasize different roles, and certain heroes have higher priority over others depending on the battleground. For example, Towers of Doom is all about teamfighting since sieging is not particularly effective, but you can avoid teamfighting completely on Blackheart’s Bay as long as you have an effective jungler.

Poke is highly prioritized on battlegrounds with channeling objectives like Towers of Doom or Cursed Hollow because one or two heroes can almost indefinitely delay the objective while the rest of the team soaks experience or travels across the map. Objectives which require standing on a point tend to favor zone control heroes like Zarya, ETC, or Jaina. PvE maps like Blackheart’s Bay and Haunted Mines are dominated by good junglers who can take camps quickly and efficiently. Heroes that can sustain well on their own do particularly well on Infernal Shrines and Sky Temple where clearing the objective is a big deal.

Globals are obviously more valuable on larger battlegrounds than smaller ones, but they’re never particularly bad. Certain cheese compositions like Stitches/Medivh or Medivac Core rush even appear from time to time on specific maps.

I could talk for days explaining each of the maps, but suffice it to say that players must adapt to the map. Some heroes might change roles (like sieger to solo laner) depending on the map, the composition your team has, and what your opponent is doing. Knowing what your hero does best and understanding your role on the team will help you to quickly identify how you need to adapt to the situation at hand.

Teamfighting Roles

As mentioned in Part 2, your positioning is based largely on your role, with tankier heroes staying near the front while more fragile heroes stand further away from danger. This is the most important part of setting up a good teamfight, but once the teamfight starts, there are important interactions to consider.

Every hero, regardless of build, plays differently in and against every composition. The interplay between abilities, synergies, anti-synergies, and counters all play a big role in terms of knowing how to approach fights and swing them in your favor. Don’t straightjacket yourself into one role or think there’s only one way to play a hero. You must adapt to each situation as it comes.

Before the game even loads, think about how your composition works together and what potential dangers you have to look out for in the enemy team. You may normally play a very aggressive Greymane, but if your composition doesn’t support it or the enemy team has a lot of disengage, it might be necessary to take a backseat and wait for better opportunities in teamfights rather than immediately jumping in. Similarly, you might be used to playing the passive CC tank, but if you’re playing Muradin in a double tank composition, you have some leeway to be more of a bruiser while your primary tank peels for the team.

Interrupts are huge in teamfights. Channeled abilities like Mosh Pit, Ravenous Spirit, or 1,000 Jugs can be game-changing if they go off for the full duration. If you have an interrupt, think about how and when you’re going to use it and anticipate your enemy’s movements. Similarly, Heroics with small windups like Twilight Dream and Sound Barrier can be interrupted to ruin the enemy team’s engagement.

The same goes for big disengagement tools like Gust or Horrify. Time them well, think about the proper time to use them. If the enemy team has disengages, try to bait them out before actually committing to a full fight.

Another important aspect to teamfighting is knowing who to focus. The mantra “kill Morales or gg” isn’t far from the truth, but it’s not always the right call. If you can reliably get damage into the back line while trading favorably, you should go for it. Otherwise, it’s best to maintain the proper positioning and whittle away the front line.

Think about where your high-impact abilities fit in, and keep track of your opponent’s important abilities. If you can figure out even a simplified version of the complicated jigsaw puzzle that is teamfighting before the fight begins, you have a much higher chance of winning it.


This is the third part of a multi-part series. You can find the other parts here:
Part 1
Part 2


EsportsJohn cuts his sandwiches down the middle like a normal person who grew up into an adult (somewhat). You can follow him on Twitter or help support him on Patreon.

Knowing Your Role in the Nexus P2

Now that you know a bit more about hero roles and what each hero can do, it’s important to understand how that role plays into your positioning on both a macro and micro scale. On the macro scale, your role determines where you need to be on the map at any given time. On the micro scale, it’s all about positioning in teamfights and skirmishes.

Macro Positioning

Macro positioning is difficult to explain fully without an extensive guide on lane configurations, but I will do my best to lay out some of the basic ideas. On all maps, side lanes generally belong to solo laners while the other four members inhabit the other lane or lanes. Side lanes are generally “safer” from ganks compared to the mid lane but are also more isolated, especially on large maps where objectives can spawn far away. A few players tend to roam between lanes looking for ganks.

First and foremost, supports should almost always be with at least one other teammate to maximize their healing value—some exceptions can be made for double healer compositions or Rehgar, who also happens to be an excellent jungler. If you are sitting in a lane alone as a Lúcio or some other low impact support, you’re often in the wrong place. It would be more beneficial to join the rest of the team than to soak the lane, even at the cost of experience. This is a very common mistake, especially at low level play. Do not solo lane as your team’s solo support; always be next to the majority of your team.

Heroes with globals like Falstad, Dehaka, and Brightwing get considerably more value from side lanes. While soaking in a side lane they can still quickly travel to the other side of the map and help out with objectives or teamfights. In addition, side lanes build up more minions and push harder due to the extended length of the lane.

Tanks will generally lead rotations and look for ganks on other lanes, but that is not always ideal, especially in weird Quick Match compositions. The main thing you’re looking for in rotations is good CC and damage from heroes like ETC, Tyrande, or stealth heroes. In comparison, Lúcio, Zarya, or Nazeebo are usually not ideal for rotations due to their low burst, poor waveclear, and lack of CC.

Sieging heroes tend to have weaker rotations but excel at pushing an individual lane with their good sustain and/or long-range damage. On two-lane maps without big rotations like Braxis Holdout or Haunted Mines, these heroes gain substantially more value. Ideally, you want three or four heroes in a sieging lane (usually support, siege, and one or two DPS), but this may not always be possible in uncoordinated games.

Don’t forget to respond to your opponent’s composition either. For instance, if you’re playing Alarak into Chen, you know you always want to follow the Chen around so that you can prevent him from pushing. Heroes of the Storm is more dynamic than just choosing a lane and playing against whoever is there; you have to actively change tactics depending on the situation.

Micro Positioning

When it comes to fighting, your positioning is largely determined by role—the tankier you are, the more aggressive your posturing usually is. By extension, tanks should theoretically stand in front with assassins slightly behind them or to the side, and the healer should be standing safely in the back. This setup is never static and constantly changes, but it’s an important concept to keep in mind.

As a healer, your number one goal is to stay out of harm’s way and keep your team alive. When you play too aggressively as a support player, not only are you wasting your healing output on yourself, you are also putting yourself at risk and forcing your team to spend precious resources trying to save you rather than focusing on the proper targets. Certain supports like Kharazim and Rehgar lend themselves to a more aggressive playstyle, but a certain balance must be struck between passive and aggressive posturing.

Tanks have to maintain a distance between the back line and the enemy team. One of the biggest mistakes for newer players is to jump headfirst into a fight as a tank because it’s easy to stay alive. However, when they opt for this YOLO playstyle, they tend to neglect their primary duty as a tank, which is to shield the back line from danger.

Likewise, assassins should avoid a gungho approach. As a rule, the tank should be in front of the rest of the team (with a few notable exceptions), so if you’re an assassin, especially a ranged one, standing in front of the tank during a teamfight is probably a mistake. Ranged assassins should follow the tank during fights and allow them to soak as much damage for them as possible before making any very aggressive plays.

There are some assassins, particularly melee assassins, that excel in getting good flanks and deleting someone in the back line. I won’t go over this too much, but it’s important to constantly weigh the risk vs reward of the situation. Often, the safe play is better than an overly ambitious engagement.


This is the second part of a multi-part series. You can find the other parts here:
Part 1
Part 3


EsportsJohn decided to play Zerg in Brood War and now regrets it. You can follow him on Twitter or help support him on Patreon.

Knowing Your Role in the Nexus P1

Teamwork is the most important aspect of Heroes of the Storm. With other MOBAs, you can get ahead with pure mechanics and good decision making, but the shared experience in HotS prevents any one person from standing out from the rest of the team. As such, the team must come before the individual.

However, as far as practice goes, it all starts with the individual, and specifically, knowing your role on the team.

I talk about this subject all the time—and I’m certain I’ve written about this before—but there is always room for reiteration. The best way that you can make maximum usage of your team is by improving your own gameplay through understanding your role. Once you understand where you’re supposed to be, what you’re supposed to be doing, and how to do it correctly, you can enable your teammates to do better and win the video game.

Your role is determined by your hero

On a macro level, your “role” can be defined as support, tank, damage, or siege (or Blizzard’s own categories of Support, Warrior, Assassin, or Specialist). When you pick a front liner like Muradin or Johanna, you know that your role is tank; if you pick a hero like Valla or Greymane, you focus on maximizing damage output. The broad categories can be described as following:

  • Support – Your job is to keep everyone alive and enable your allies to make big plays. Do not die. Your team cannot take a fight without you.
  • Tank – The front line is designed to insulate the enemy team’s attacks from hitting the back line and engage the enemy team. Protect your supports and damage dealers first. You become a liability if you play too aggressively or leave your teammates behind, even if you don’t die.
  • Damage – DPS characters generally make the “flashy” plays by pouring out the damage. While it’s never good to die in this game, assassins are more expendable when it comes to making trades.
  • Siege – Some heroes excel specifically at dealing damage to buildings or pushing lanes. This is perhaps the most nebulous category, but this group usually provides lane pressure that forces the enemy team to respond.

Aside from broad roles, each hero has their own subcategories depending on their abilities. For example, the difference between Tyrael and Muradin on the front line is gigantic; one has speed boosts and a huge teamfight Heroic while the other one is a master of disruption with stuns, slows, and debuffs.

It’s difficult to pin down heroes based on their characteristics, but certain traits will shoo them into one category or another. Understanding the minutiae of these traits and how they interact with one another also makes a huge difference in your drafting ability and allows you to compensate for weaknesses or reinforce your team’s composition.

  • Waveclear – Waveclear is one of the most important tools in the game, so it’s important to weigh the costs of pick potential, damage, or tankiness against whether you can clear lanes effectively.
  • Crowd Control – Often referred to as CC, crowd control includes stuns, slows, silences, or any sort of debuff. Stronger CC often results in better picks, harder engage, and better peel.
  • Disengage – Being able to stop or pause a fight is invaluable. Big Heroics like Mighty Gust, Sanctification, and Void Prison are particularly impactful, especially against hard engage compositions.
  • Sustain – Sustain refers to your ability to stay out on the field without having to back for health or mana. Having good sustain is important for long battles, but sacrificing sustain for harder engage can sometimes be effective.
  • Mobility – Some heroes suffer from a lack of mobility which can make it difficult to play with or against certain heroes. The trade off in damage, heals, etc. is sometimes worth the lack of mobility, though.
  • Globals – Global influence is key in the current metagame. Being able to influence multiple areas on the map can net your team some extra experience, structure damage, or even just turn the tides of a fight.
  • Raw DPS – Characters with high damage need the proper setup to deal their damage. When it comes to drafting, you need to have enough damage to deal with the enemy composition or justify a lack of sustain in your own composition.
  • Tankiness – All characters have differing amounts of tankiness which allows them to position more or less aggressively. Tankier heroes can often play more aggressively than others.

This is by no means a definitive list, but it’s a good place to start thinking about the capabilities of your hero and how they fit into the rest of your team’s composition.

Even more specifically, there are roles like “solo laner”, “bruiser”, “jungler”, etc. which combine a lot of these concepts. For instance, a solo laner typically has good sustain, strong poke, and usually some form of global (i.e., Dehaka or Falstad). I will not go into all the particulars here, but just understand that every hero has a bunch of unique traits which define their role on the team, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.


This is the first part of a multi-part series. You can find the other parts here:
Part 2
Part 3


EsportsJohn does not eat pineapple on pizza. You can follow him on Twitter or help support him on Patreon.

Red Ribbon

Red Ribbon

my fondest memory
as a child, i won
the second place prize

in the county science fair
for my potato project—
that red ribbon,

my proudest possession,
hung over my head
and framed my face

with delight—
who would have known
the meaning of that prize,

the feeling of being
second best at something
i didn’t even like

_