Listen to my story. This may be our last chance.
Why would anyone want to platinum FFX Remastered? Why?
Today I want to bring attention to the most important issue that WS faces as a competitive game. That issue is extremely simple – people aren’t regarding the game with a competitive eye. It’s an endemic mindset in the wider WS community (that is, outside of Japan), and it has made the game stagnate to the point where new players are actively told that the game isn’t to be taken seriously. Yes, the game is swingy. It’s very difficult to put up consistent results, there’s no real prize support, the game creeps too fast, etc. There are many reasons for this problem, and I want to address at least some of them. Chances are that a lot of them affect you. There’s no shame in that. Quite a few of them affect me, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try to at least fight the culture.
This is going to be a very opinionated article, one that strikes several chords that people might not like. That being said, I think it is a necessary article. Even if you find yourself disagreeing, please read it to the end, or at least leave a comment about your thoughts. I don’t care how abrasive those thoughts are, this is as close as I’m going to get to a heart-to-heart with the wider WS community.
There are no ulterior motives here. I’m not being paid by Big Kidani. Chemtrails aren’t real. This article is about putting the game’s culture on public display. It’s entirely obvious to a lot of us, but nobody’s really examined it, nor has anyone moved towards condemning it. I’ll be trying to do both, because I care about this game’s competitive lifespan. The game will be around forever and ever because it is the biggest anime cardgame. ChaosTCG, Level Neo and Precious Memories can’t compete. Victory Spark is already out of the race. Nobody actually knows what Crusade is. With Weiss’s longevity assured, I want to push it in a direction where competitive cardgamers can begin to take the game more seriously, and subsequently enjoy it more. Without further ado, words.
1) The game’s target audience is not actually competitive cardgamers.
Magic is a cardgame that is marketed for new players, and one that relies on the strength of its game system to keep people hooked. The game is very well designed and balanced for newer players to learn, and it allows people to play a variety of different styles. It naturally lends itself to interest in competition, because people want to be the best. In Weiss, however, the vast majority of new players are brought in because they are fans of the anime or game series. I’ve advertised at anime conventions. The lines that bring in the most people are ‘Attack on Titan’, ‘Sword Art Online’, ‘Persona 4’ and ‘Fairy Tail’. There’s nothing about competitive worth in my stock salesman spiel, because there isn’t a point in doing so. The spiel changes when I talk to game store owners or interested FNM attendees, but the disparity in interest between the two groups is undeniable. You’re appealing to the passion of anime fans. It’s a super-strong draw.
Honestly speaking, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that is evidently the strength of the game that has allowed it to compete with Magic and Yugioh from a consumership standpoint. Because of that, you naturally get more people who just want to collect and play casually, instead of taking their deck to the limit and play in tournaments with it. Between your typical FNM Magic player and your typical convention-going Angel Beats fan, who is more likely to go deep and improve their cardgaming skills? I think the answer is pretty obvious. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this. People are different, and if you decide you don’t want to play WS in a competitive setting, then I can respect that decision. I have one stipulation, though.
Don’t go telling others that the game is a series of skill-less waifu fights. By that same principle, don’t let anyone tell others this. If you see misinformed crap like this going down, do your darndest to stop it. Casual players will very frequently cast themselves as the victims in this discussion, citing the competitive players as ‘try-hards’ who don’t have fun. That’s absolute bullshit, and everyone should know it. The term ‘try-hard’ is a ridiculous one in the first place. You’re insulting someone for putting effort into something that you don’t want to put effort into. That’s practically praise. The serious players who get labelled as tierwhores or bandwagoners are often the people with the most passion and drive about the game itself. It’s really not that different from having passion or drive about your favourite anime or VN.
Yes, you should respect people if they want to keep Weiss as a casual pastime, but you should never, ever let them turn it around and call you out for taking the game seriously.
2) Anime fans have redefined the goal of Weiss Schwarz.
Weiss is now ‘the anime cardgame’. As mentioned before, that’s not actually a bad thing. It brings in more players, and that gives Bushiroad more incentive to print good sets and make more people happy. However, it does come with a lot of baggage – namely, the fact that the majority of new players will be anime fans that have never considered cardgames in the same sentence as ‘competition’. How many times have you seen a request for a deck tier rundown, only for that request to be met with the answer ‘top tier: my waifu, bottom tier: your waifu’? How many times is the next response a picture of popcorn, or someone making a joke about needing more salt for their popcorn? If your answer is zero, then you obviously haven’t been in the relevant Facebook groups for long enough. There is always someone who cries waifu when tiers, matchups and metagames are mentioned, and those people are actively preventing the community from adopting a more competitive mindset. Not only are they making newer players think the game is literally just Fight of Characters: The TCG, but they are discouraging people with actual competitive interest from ever discussing things publicly.
My overall point is not only that people don’t actually regard WS competitively, but that the culture actively promotes and encourages this viewpoint. People aren’t driven to improve, because most of the time, you are reassured that the cushion of your waifu and the fact you are repping your favourite series will take precedence over winning or losing. The fact that WS is a game where ‘any deck can win’ means that you can build a garbage waifu deck and occasionally kill off a meta deck. That concept builds a fallacious win-win scenario, and the game is worse off for it.
The fact that we have fully incorporated this notion of ‘waifu equals win’ has effectively repressed the norm of victory being the ultimate goal we strive for. If you max out your deck or appropriately represent your waifu, then you’ve already accomplished what you set out to accomplish, and winning is no longer relevant. That’s fine, and if you want to keep that as your goal, then I’m fine with that. However, it’s not as if you can’t have both. I have quite a few maxed decks myself, and I play the series I do out of love for them. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try and optimise them. It will take a pretty big culture shock to change any of this, but you can very easily play what you want AND keep a competitive mindset. All we need to do is stop preaching from that accursed bible of waifu glory.
3) People aren’t actively collaborating to get better, and often aren’t attempting to improve at all.
All of this ties into the culture aspect of WS, where the playerbase just isn’t as driven as the MtG or YGO playerbases. Part of this is because there is precious little incentive to win (aside from a trip to Japan, maybe). Part of this is because of all the game’s culture issues mentioned above. Let’s put it in more relatable terms.
Have you ever played a cardgame with the express intention of getting better? Have you slow-rolled it with a friend over your shoulder, questioning anything he finds or offering nuggets of insight? Have you ever played open-hand and discussed the best way to approach an opponent who may or may not have a certain counter or trump? Do you have actual card and metagame discussion in your playgroup WhatsApp or Facebook chat? These are all questions that competitive Magic, Pokemon and Yugioh players can wholeheartedly answer ‘yes’ to. If you answered yes to most of the above questions in WS, let’s go a bit deeper.
Have you properly tested every viable climax combo in your deck in preparation for a specific tournament? Have you ever used a calculator in playtesting? Have you ever held a playtest camp for the week prior to your event? Have you analysed price trends on major buying sites in order to improve your card evaluation? These questions go beyond asking whether you’re trying to improve. They concern the degree of dedication you have to getting better; how much time you are willing to give up to be better at this cardgame. If you answered yes to these questions, you’re probably lying. If you insist on it, then good for you. You’re going the distance that MtG pros go. (Also, calculators are for chumps.)
Take 2015’s American National Champion. I’ve known of him for quite some time prior to him taking that title, and I can tell you he goes the damn distance. He keeps confoundingly precise statistics that mostly tell you nothing at all, except that he is dedicated and really likes numbers. He took the time to objectify mostly subjective data in order to rank his locals’ players (including himself) in various categories. Speaking of categories, his blog has thematic content in subcategories. Subcategories! But you know what? That just means he cares. You don’t become a Nats Champion by accident. However, what impressed me more than anything else is that he reached out and actively asked for others’ help after the tournament was over. Do you know what this means? It means he hasn’t stopped at winning Nationals. He’s looking at Worlds, and beyond. This is a lesson we can all learn from, and I’m going to get a bit preachy.
Your ability as a cardgamer isn’t just measured in wins or top cuts. The Pokemon players I most respect (and subsequently choose to test with) haven’t actually won anything in years. Some of the best lessons I learned about Magic come from serial EDH players who abhor events. I can’t actually remember the last time Luis Scott-Vargas won a large paper event, but does that cut into the immense respect I have for him? You are always developing skills in life, and cardgames are no different. As long as you approach the game with the full intent of learning and getting better, you will eventually be rewarded. Winning or losing is just an end result, and the process is what’s truly important. Take everything you can from every victory, and take everything you can from every loss. The only difference between them is that victory very occasionally has a trophy attached.
Without more people possessed of a mindset like that, a community will not flourish or grow stronger. It takes several of these like-minded people to transform a locals into a place where everyone grows as a competitive player simply by taking part. It won’t be easy, and it will take a lot of people with a lot of dedication, but it is the only way that the wider community will get better.
The even more important lesson we can learn here is that collaboration is key. The fastest way to get better is to surround yourself with good players. The strongest Magic pros are never found without a strong testing team alongside them. I dare you to ask the champion of your most recent cardgame regional about their playtesting habits. I guarantee you they test with people they trust to help them get better. If you do not have the fortune to be surrounded by good, interested players, then get online. Join a Skype group or internet forum. I am blessed with both a competitive playgroup and competitive online groups that I can rebound ideas off. The most important aspect of collaboration, however, relates to a key tenant of life. You will do better at things you enjoy. I’ve made great friends through cardgaming, and it is because of these friends that I continue to love cardgaming, and continue aspiring to become better. Friends make things a lot more fun, and if you find things fun, you will get better quickly. If you are serious about getting better at WS, I strongly suggest you find yourself a good community to playtest with. The internet is a marvelous tool.
4) The official sanctioned format fails to appropriately show skill disparity or promote competition.
This is a big one. I just spieled on about how winning and losing shouldn’t be regarded as the only measure of skill, but it is definitely the easiest measure of ‘skill’. Unfortunately, we have an utterly absurd tournament format. It is the source of a lot of soul-crushing woe – in TCGs, people who make the correct plays can very easily be punished by a bad streak of luck. This is simply the nature of cardgames. However, a system where you have another roll of the dice will give you a chance to redeem yourself; a chance to let skill carry you to a win. This is the multi-game Swiss format. This is Best-of-3. This is how almost every other cardgame does it.
In this day and age, there is precious little reason for a TCG to have a best-of-1 Swiss format. I’ve discussed this before, but all this does is enhance the effect of bad luck when it happens, and it can happen very frequently in Bushiroad cardgames. If you want to move towards a format more representative of skill, then you absolutely need to push towards either more Swiss rounds, or a best-of-2/3 tournament format. Japan is absolutely incorrect in their decision to make this game Bo1, and is even more incorrect for using a goddamned lottery to decide which X-1 players make it into cut. It’s a goddamned joke.
There’s a reason I’m not berating Bushiroad for not providing cash or credit incentive in their tournaments. That’s a key element of what caused Magic and Yugioh to expand so violently, but I still believe each company has the right to do what they want with their game in the broader sense. Bushiroad has gone on the record saying that they never want their games to be the player’s sole source of revenue, and I understand that they don’t want it to be about money. That does not mean they can omit such a key competitive element of an RNG-centric game. You can’t even invoke the Sakurai defence of ‘I don’t want the game to be competitive’, because Bushiroad goes out of their way to fly people from around the world to an international finals event. If they don’t improve their competitive format, they will not advance the game’s competitive element in any significant way. They’re doing a disservice to themselves, and to their players.
Yes, I understand logistics are an issue. I could totally go off at Bushiroad for not using resources properly. Buddyfight is floundering, Victory Spark literally died, Weiss Schwarz is losing ground in Asia, and yet they still choose to develop Luck & Logic in an attempt to steal some of the pie Force of Will just managed to get its hands on. For the sake of discussion, I’m not going to talk about any of that, and instead go with the notion that logistics are indeed an issue. Even with that in mind, you should always be building the format around your game. Weiss is a game with an incredible amount of shortcutting potential anyway, and the fact that we still have defenders of the whole ‘trigger in stock = missed timing’ idea just shows spartan inflexibility that no reasonable judge of any other cardgame would ever entertain. The fact that we still have people willing to shark and win games off judge penalties is arguably a sign of competitive immaturity. I would argue this viewpoint in any cardgame, not just Weiss. Winning by technicality is less interesting, less fun, and less thrilling than winning on merit. I get that winning is winning, but grant me my little moral soapbox, ok?
Weiss needs to actually see some significant change. I’m very aware this post won’t do a lot of good, given we need help from the men upstairs for anything to happen. To that end, a suggestion. A two-game format could very easily be implemented by pushing the time limit up to 50 minutes, awarding 3 points for a 2-0, 1 point for a 1-0 or 1-1, and no points for 0-2. Going to time would need to see some revision, but baby steps first. I see absolutely no reason why something like this shouldn’t be at least trialled, because the current system is laughable. Time concerns are a thing, but being able to play quickly is a major skill in TCGs, a skill by which the fruits of playtesting, shortcutting and appropriate metagaming can all be properly exhibited.
5) There isn’t enough community discussion or content.
Magic, Yugioh and even newer games like Netrunner and DBZ all have strategic analyses and articles pumped out by the fistful. Weiss has very few of these articles period, and therein lies the issue. It takes a very motivated community to put out insightful discussion, and Weiss has neither the critical mass of content creators, nor the motivation in the community. There just aren’t many sites discussing WS. A lot of the current dedicated sites are almost entirely built on silly memes and jokes-of-the-week originating from Foreign. Confusingly, some of the best content is in some of these silly meme sites. I’m half amused that one of my favourite WS articles was written entirely in all caps.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not condemning any of the current content creators. A lot of these sites do put in a lot of effort, and for that they already have my respect and gratitude. While I might not agree with how they write articles, sites like 9thcx regularly and actively put out content covering topping decklists, exposing the general playerbase to cool builds they might not have considered. Sadly, that’s the majority of what they do. Yes, they occasionally have deckbuilding articles, and yes, they put out a fantastic article about being wrong, but a significant proportion of content they put out is literally just decklists, often not puzzling over specific card counts and basically never talking about other excluded options. In their defence, they can’t exactly tap into the mind of the deck creator. They didn’t build the decks, and as such their articles don’t teach you anything about deckbuilding intentions or metagame choices, and barely manage teach you about the deck itself. They are creating content, but I don’t think it’s the content we need.
There are equivalents to this in the MtG community – Eric Froelich’s Deck of the Day is one such example. It’s literally just listing a deck that did well in a recent event or online league, followed by a ‘well this sure is a cool deck maybe you should build it’. I’m not much for these articles, but he gets a free pass because his stuff is published alongside excellent content, and because he specifically delves into reasons why it might be a good play for your next event. Weiss keeps up with the filler decklist articles because this is an easy thing to do, but it sorely lacks in-depth stuff. The game also has a woeful shortage of content that covers relevant topics concerning the game or metagame at large, as opposed to the card analysis or specific decks. I am very, very aware that a major part of this stems from a general lack of motivation. There are precious few sponsored sites that put out good content (in fact, 9th CX is literally the only site falling into this category). It’s a fact of life that every consistently good site with content will eventually move towards either a subscription package, or have a sponsor to cover costs and provide incentives. There’s already a site trying to do that with English WS (and DBZ). WS simply hasn’t developed far enough for any major sponsor to even consider that. Couple that with the culture that my first 4 article points created, and you have a recipe for a really apathetic community when it comes to discussion-generating content. It’s at the point where I wouldn’t be able to blame anyone for this, even if I wanted to.
That being said, you have to start somewhere. The solution is simple, really. Just get out there and create content. This doesn’t have to be in the form of articles like this one. Stirring up discussion on internet forums, posting pointed questions about deckbuilding nuances on Reddit, or even just discussions over dinner with your playgroup. Literally any content that makes you think about the game as a whole will help, because you start thinking more, and when you start thinking more, you get better quicker. Any discussion or thought-provoking topic is fine, no matter how stupid the question might seem. Nobody has expectations for what you talk or write about. The most important thing is that you start thinking and discussing more.
Do you want to know who benefits the most from my deck analysis articles? Me. I wager that I gained more from my Execution deck article than anyone else who read it. While I definitely want to put out articles for the general public, I’m not going to waste my time writing about things that I don’t think I can benefit from. As someone who isn’t paid to create content, I post sporadically and jump from topic to topic, but my main goal is to write articles that can help stimulate the community into a more competitive environment. I really, really like Weiss Schwarz as a cardgame, and if I can make the community more willing to accommodate in-depth discussion, then I get to talk about one of my favourite cardgames more, and that’s great. That is literally my entire motivation.
On that note, I’ve whined enough for one day. If anyone at all takes something from this article and goes on to enjoy the competitive aspect of Weiss Schwarz, then I can consider this article a job well done.
May your opponents always eat those 5s.