The SpyParty Ladder, administrated by KrazyCaley, has really influenced how SpyParty has grown and developed recently. I understand that as a smaller community, it makes sense that a centralized, continuous tournament of sorts can be a large draw to many players, especially higher level players who primarily want to test their skills against similarly skilled opponents. That is exactly why I joined the ladder initially, or more accurately the tournament that would seed the initial placings into what would become the Ladder.
For a time I was really content with the Ladder, just happy with how it worked and what it was doing for the community. I mean, look at all of this new activity and excitement! All these sweet replays, and suddenly a real competitive amphitheater to legitimately put ourselves to the test! And I would like to note that, for this exact reason, the Ladder is very good at its intended purpose, which I would define as ~ To provide a stable and reliable competitively minded place with which to test one’s skill at the game of SpyParty.
Now the specifics of why I decided to step down from the Ladder are unimportant for this piece of writing, but what is important is the things I’ve started to notice that are seemingly a result of the Ladder.
Less High-Level Games Being Played
As some of you may be aware, I try to cast on Tuesday evenings instead of just playing regular SpyParty. Now, as the Ladder was just beginning/ramping up from less than 20 people, I recall it being fairly easy to ask most any player for some recent games and expect to find some. However, since the Ladder has reached a certain point, the only replays I can find with any regularity are Ladder matches. I’d ask several veterans for recent non-Ladder matches, as I like the less-structured, potentially less serious feel of pick-up games, but as the weeks has gone by they’ve become pretty hard to come across. My guess as to why this is happening is fairly simple – These players are spending less time in the lobby because the Ladder promotes scheduling one’s matches over PMs, so both players know they have an opponent to play at a given time, and feel less compelled to drop in and see who’s there. In the last month or two, I’ve had many more nights where upon entering the lobby there were zero other players, the last time this was an issue for me was during closed beta. And quite frequently I end up with an opponent with less than 5k games, which ties directly into my next point.
More Intermediate-Level Games being Played
Although the people on the tippy-top of the leaderboards have seemingly only being grinding the Ladder, the people who have more to learn are taking this opportunity to play. It seems that the people I see in the lobby are rarely over 5k games as of late, which is part of Chris Hecker’s long-term goal to be able to keep players around past their first thousand or so games, and I am enjoying seeing more and more varied names as of late as my opponents when I stream. This is definitely one of the better side-effects of the Ladder I’ve seen, as it’s been keeping players playing longer because there is a reason to. Before the Ladder it wasn’t too uncommon to see good newer players just leave because there wasn’t much else to do but get crushed by vets or attempt to find people at your level, which has never been easy. I’ve definitely been noticing certain players getting really up-there with their game counts in silly amounts of time, and I hope this trend continues.
Any League or Ranking System Will Probably be Pushed Back
This game has been, and continues to be, a lot of work for Chris Hecker, the man behind it all. He has a lot to do, from getting the new art in, to fixing all the mundane bugs we find, to finding time to play against us for our birthday games, he doesn’t have a lot of free time. The Ladder, being the success that it is, will probably only delay any efforts to work on a real ranking system within the game. It’s been much talked about in the forums, with some neat ideas tossed back and forth, and although Chris plans to implement a system at some point it seems as if whatever work has or will go into said ranking system will have to wait for awhile. And while this might not necessarily be awful news for some, it definitely isn’t ideal as the Ladder can only get so big before (I feel) it’ll need to be restructured to fit 50+/100+ players all trying to coordinate and parse games through a single thread/Caley. Not to mention the fact that because it is only available in the forums, and many players have a hard time finding the forums, with many not even knowing they exist, even players who might want to be competitive may end up lost if the right people aren’t in the lobby to guide them there.
What does this all mean? Where does all this rambling end? Well I feel there is a good and a bad to all of this: We’re finally getting to a point where we have a way to sustain and keep interest in the game for people after they figure out the basics, and even if not everyone wants to be competitive it also sets a stage for players to prove themselves on, which is hopefully exciting for spectators whether or not they play the game itself. The lack of higher-level players actively being seen and playing in matches will probably promote some interesting and potentially inventive new ideas to get some use as they’ll be on a more level playing field, more prone to letting mistakes left unpunished. It will also slow the higher end of play, making top tier innovations less visible to new players until displayed on the Ladder. I also have begun to worry that with how the Ladder is setup, less competitive players are simply less inclined to play, especially at higher levels, as their opponents have stopped logging on as often, leaving them with no point to keep playing. And with any form of an official ranking system waiting in limbo, current high-level games might end up being more focused on playing your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses than just solid play, because why bother watching for a purloin in the first minute when you know your opponent is known for slow-play? If you have time to research and look into your opponent’s style and rhythm of play, why play the game when you can play the player?
Think the Ladder isn’t healthy for the community? Think I don’t know what I’m talking about? Post your thoughts in the comments.