Within the SpyParty community I’m known for being from Lithuania (wherever that is), but more so for playing SpyParty a lot, talking a lot, and generally doing everything a lot. And that‘s the kind of person I am–when I love something, it takes up a big part of my thoughts, my emotions, and my life. And that‘s why SpyParty has made me cry more times than some of my crushes.
As I write this, I have about 5,000 games played. When I started playing this number was unthinkable, and I assumed anyone who’d played that many games must be a pro. But now that I’ve reached it, I don’t feel like a pro. I still second guess my decisions. I still question my assumptions and doubt my ability to understand things. I still get fooled by AI pathing, and I’m still not sure when a briefcase return is suspicious. I don’t feel as good as my game total. And sometimes, the difference between my experience and my expertise can be discouraging.
Like everyone else, I was overwhelmed when I started playing. After I improved, I decided to start playing people better than me. I wanted to get noticed by the top players, and by the community at large, by winning games a new player shouldn’t win. I wanted to “level up,” and I knew the best players had deeper strategies than I did, and that playing them was the best way to learn. I wanted to do this early on, so that it would surprise people. I wanted to be a dark horse that comes out of nowhere and competes with the best.
The openness of the game’s community is what made trying this even possible: I’d spent a lot of time in the stream chats of the top players getting to know them and becoming friends with them, so it was easy to start playing them. At first, this was such a leap forward that I didn’t feel particularly bad about losing, but I had the expectation that, if I kept doing it, the wins would come. And for a while, they did.
And then they didn’t. I started freezing up during games. Sometimes I didn’t know what missions to do. Sometimes I didn’t do any because I was paralyzed by fear from playing so many great snipers. Even when I managed to act, I felt like what I was doing was random, like all my skills and capabilities were gone. It was like I was learning to play for the first time all over again. And every time I miss a purloin, or forget to check fingerprints, or don’t notice a time add, I feel that way again. I should be catching these things, shouldn’t I? Don’t you have to catch these things to be “elite”?
Playing people who are already elite, though, can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, playing the best players means you get the best advice. And it’s an honor to be able to play them, to sometimes be their equal, and to have them recognize you as a peer. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like they don’t think of me as their equal, or even as a worthy opponent. Sometimes when they lose, they bring up technical issues or imply they weren’t playing seriously. I don’t believe this is intentional, but those kinds of comments can sting.
But later, when I get past my own feelings, I wonder what their feelings are. I wonder, what do they think and what do they feel, playing someone who came out of nowhere, who’s been part of the community only a fraction as long as they have, and not always winning? And I realize that, instead of feeling undermined, I should take what they say and use it to get better. To think of that as some kind of unplanned, unintentional mentoring.
Being mentored intentionally, though, is more valuable. Especially by someone more experienced than you. It’s fine to improve on your own, but improving with another player’s help is quicker, smoother, and leads to better results. You learn about issues and weaknesses quickly, and it stays with you (I still specifically remember the time I was shot for not moving correctly after canceling a briefcase pick-up). You have someone to discuss your mechanics and behavior with. And most importantly, any time you learn about the game from someone else, your own brain has more time and focus available to develop deeper strategies.
My own mentor in SpyParty was (and still is) falconhit. At first, we played each other a lot. Because of that (and because he kept shooting me for it), he started teaching me about pathing, about AI behavior, and about all the game’s technical rules and tricks. It was (and still is) a lovely experience playing him. But after a while, I wanted to compete with him. I felt the urge to rise to his level and, hopefully, even surpass it.
Sometimes, something happens that shows me I’m getting closer to that goal, and it’s not always winning. falconhit is known for his love of framing, and my usual assumptions don’t work against him. So to be competitive, I had to develop new assumptions. Once, while sniping on Courtyard 2, I heard “Banana Bread,” and noticed nobody was out of conversation; no hard lowlights. I saw two full conversations, each with a Suspected Double Agent in them. The third conversation had just three people, one of whom was talking. I suspected a bluff, and was tempted to lowlight every conversation but that third one. I (barely) decided not to take the risk. I shot the spy later for a hard tell, but more importantly: he was one of the people in that third conversation. I didn’t act on the instinct I had, but I had it, and it was right. I felt on top of the world, in no small part because this came against a player who had taught me so much.
I share this story because sharing and openness is the prevailing spirit in the community, and improvement like this is only possible because players like falconhit are so generous with their time and expertise, even though it has obvious downsides; as I continue to improve, I find myself trying to decide if I should keep playing publicly (someone once joked that “If there’s a SpyParty stream, there’s a 50% chance that catnip is on it”), continuing to share information about how I play. Playing on stream reveals which missions you favor, which missions you feel uncomfortable doing, and your general thought process. Watching VODs after the fact is invaluable. But the trade off is an exposure of your own play style.
This is particularly important now that the SpyParty Competitive League (SCL) exists. The SCL is both a blessing and a curse for someone like me: I like that it gives me a tangible way to measure my progress, but it’s easy to overreact to losses. I went 1-4 in my first five SCL matches, and began to lose confidence in myself. But those failures inspired me to increase my efforts, and a few weeks later, I started to turn things around, winning a challenging week 8 match, and on week 9 tying that same mentor, falconhit. This turnaround gave me confidence that no matter how frequent my failures were, they would eventually lead to success.
SpyParty has been a big part of my life for the last eight months. It’s not just fun: it’s challenging. To me, it’s more than a game. I don’t mean that it has an amazing community (it does) or that the people in it form personal bonds (they do). I mean that it feels less like a game and more like a test: something that can define me as either ‘smart’ or ‘stupid.’ And that’s why it’s so important to me. That’s why it’s capable of bringing me to tears.
The harder you try, the more disappointing it is when you get something wrong. But that disappointment, and wanting to avoid it, is a crucial part of improving. And not only do you learn from these mistakes, but you learn how to learn from them: they constantly remind you that your success is built out of your mistakes. You have to believe that to improve, and you have to believe in your ability to learn from those mistakes. Because if you want others to believe in you, you first need to believe in yourself.