How have I survived Diamond? What is it like for me to play in that terribly strong division for years on end? To understand my answer to those questions, you need two pieces of context.
The first piece of context has to do with a quote about love. It describes a concept that I’ve lived by since I read the quote, though I’ve now forgotten who wrote or said it. Whoever that was, they were talking about someone they loved dearly: “You are hard work.”
The meaning, as I take it, is that even (especially!) the best and most rewarding things in life, including true love itself, demand our hard work;—our attention, our focus, and our effort, to the best of our ability to give it. Nothing worthwhile is effortless.
So it is with me and SpyParty. Playing SpyParty competitively is hard work for me. In SCL, I constantly have to play matches against the absolute best players in the game. I show my respect for my elite opponents, and for the game itself, by giving it the hard work they deserve. I’m not sure anyone comprehends what that means to me- the amount of time and mental energy consumed for my preparation process for competitive matches in general and even more so for SCL.
I spend an immense amount of time trying to review every replay of my opponent that I can get my hands on. I look for trends; I look for anti-tells that are never taken; I look for anything that might give me an edge in the match to come. I see what they pay attention to as sniper. I see how their laser moves on different venues so I can get the jump on timing bugs and such. I jumble their spy replays and snipe against them. Then I spend as much time as possible going over my own recent replays. I look for the same information; I dissect my own play for weaknesses. I find my blind spots as sniper and how they might be exploited by that next opponent. I try to analyze what different kinds of snipers would be looking for against my own spy games, and what they might think of how my spy game would look to them.
I continue to do this until just before a given match. It takes an immense amount of time and energy. A huge proportion of my free time is spent in this way when a competitive event is running. I spend much more time working on my competitive SpyParty game than I do playing SpyParty, competitive or otherwise. As of the date I’m writing this, the SpyParty leaderboard says I have spent 29 days, 19 hours, 23 minutes, and 37 seconds in active games of SpyParty, the third most of anyone. It also says that I have played 23,874 games of SpyParty, the most of anyone. But I must have spent at least triple that time studying for competitive matches just over the time SCL has been running alone, and I’ve certainly looked at that many replays, at least.
A player searching for the path to SpyParty mastery and looking to my experience for guidance might be tempted to conclude that the secret to top-level success is lots of opposition research and grinding hard work. But this is only a half-truth.
The second piece of context you need to know has to do with another concept I’ve integrated into my life for a long while now. It’s sort of related to the concept that things you love demand hard work, but it is not the same. It is the idea that “Everything has a Way.” When I say “Way,” I mean the optimal way possible for a particular person to do something. And when I say everything, I mean everything: even the most menial or ordinary of tasks. There is a Way of sweeping a sidewalk—a Way to wield the broom that, with practice, will clear as much debris from the sidewalk as is possible for you. There is a Way to efficiently and quickly store and retrieve the broom, and a Way to knowing the best time to sweep the sidewalk.
When we are thoughtful we can consider the various Ways all around us in our ordinary lives—the Way of brushing our teeth, the Way of spending time with loved ones, the Way of lying in bed, even. Nor is this way of looking at the world limited to the ordinary or everyday. There is a Way to govern a country, a Way to drink tea, a Way to command a submarine, to perform brain surgery, to grill salmon, to persuade a jury.
Truly, everything has a way, and I find that the more often I concern myself with mastering a Way to do something, and approach all tasks with the same systematic dedication and sincerity of purpose, the more enjoyable and sublime my life becomes. Thus, I have embarked on the Way of SpyParty, or at least the Way for me to play SpyParty. I say “for me” because different people have different strengths and weaknesses, and my Way will not be your Way, just as people with different kinds of brooms or differing arm lengths.
I learn more about my Way all the time. My hard work helps; I am constantly immersed in both my successes and my failures, which teaches me much about myself. I am also constantly immersed in the successes and failures of my opponents, which, while it does give me plenty of information I can use against them, also constantly teaches me much about the game that I had not previously considered. The more I try to see into the minds of other people, the more wonders I find there for playing this game, things that I would never have thought of on my own. As I learn, my scope of possibilities for the game expands, and I learn more about the Way I should play this game. This happens constantly. I have not stopped learning new things about SpyParty after nearly six years of playing it, nor do I ever expect to.
My peculiar philosophies and practices with regard to the game, what might be termed my “style” of playing the game (as both sniper and spy) also informs my Way of playing, though they are not the same thing. I might be a camper as a sniper, but camping itself is not my Way (in fact camping itself has its own Way). In some ways, the deliberate choices I have made about my style limit me and deny me strengths I might otherwise have. But sacrifices like these are deliberate and trade off for what I hope are greater strengths still.
The most basic thing I think other people can take away from how I approach SpyParty, and competitive SpyParty especially, is that I do it with that same systematic dedication and sincerity of purpose I would hope to be mindful enough to bring to everything else in life. I play SpyParty with the same level of dedication and sincerity (if not total labor expended) as I bring to protecting people’s lives in court as an attorney, a job I do with zealotry.
So now you have your context. To understand what it’s like when I’m playing SpyParty, you need to know how I’ve approached the game, what my attitude is about it, and how I feel about it, before it ever even begins. Hopefully you have some understanding of that now.
Do I feel nervous or stressed when I’m about to step into yet another match against an absolute killer like KCM or Bacon or Bloom, or anyone else who has ever been in Diamond? Sure, who wouldn’t? These days, though, it’s a feeling that subsides quickly for me. I have been there before. To be sure, they may be better than me today, and they often are. Though I may have defeated them in the past, they are all very much capable of improvement in their own right and today I might lose. But I feel mostly at peace, because I have done everything I can do. I have followed my Way, and I feel that all the individual games of a match are winnable. I am always in a quiet, undisturbed place, and the game has my total concentration. And most importantly, I feel a sense of anticipation, because playing SpyParty in the way that it deserves most to be played is extremely enjoyable.
When the game starts, I mostly am in what is called “flow.” I no longer perceive or think about things that are not the game, and my mind is projected wholly into the game, kind of like how when you’re driving a car your mind kind of projects onto the car such that you start to operate as though it were a part of your body. I no longer need to consciously direct the actions I take – when I’m camping as sniper, for instance, I don’t think “oh, I need to check the list now,” it just happens. My mind is wholly engaged in the task. I have the necessary experience, the practice, the understanding of my opponent, the consistent approach to each game, and the hours and hours of work put in. As a result, I don’t consciously think about needing to do or observe this or that at any given time. My mind runs “the camping program” as sniper or “the terrain-reading program” as spy so automatically so that my conscious thought is making higher-level strategic decisions rather than engaging in the moment-to-moment challenges the game presents. It’s like I’m watching myself play SpyParty, telling myself what adjustments to make and how to counter what my opponent is doing, and then watching myself execute that game plan, as a coach would watch a player on the field.
I feel, even in games where I lose, an immense sense of agency and power to maximize my chances of winning. I feel curiously in command of the situation, even as spy. And I feel a profound and ongoing sense of satisfaction, as you get when you win a game of solitaire after some clever moves, or put the last thing neatly away in the room you were cleaning, or otherwise accomplish some imposition of pleasing order on an otherwise-chaotic world.
To be sure, I don’t spend all my time playing SpyParty in this wonderful state of mind, and when I give people advice on how to beat me, I often tell them to do things that are designed to shake me out of this flow via distraction or a dramatic sense of loss of control. But even against the best players, doing their best to disrupt my game, and even in defeat itself, I find that I mostly maintain this state of mind. It is an overwhelming sense of competence. Not mastery, but competence. I feel at ease, certain that I have the power to meaningfully affect the outcome of each game, of each match, of each season of SCL. It is a profoundly peaceful and rewarding experience.
That experience, those practices I follow—that is the way I have survived four seasons of immensely challenging gameplay against SpyParty’s best in Diamond. For me, it is part of the Way of SpyParty.