Welcome to our journey down the Sodium River that is David Sirlin’s Playing to Win. I highly suggest you go and read it for yourself, as I don’t cover everything and there’s plenty to take away from what I don’t.

For Playing to Win, I will be skipping the introduction and “beginners” portion of the book. Very few people here I would consider to be part of this category.


Losing is a part of every game. That’s just the nature of the activity: there is a winner or a loser. A lot of people have issues with performance anxiety. Just go to talk to any amateur player looking to break into the competitive scene. Look at the popularity of casual playlists versus ranked playlists.


If you never lose, you are never truly tested, and never forced to grow. A loss is an opportunity to learn.

A piece of cliché advice I was given by my high school track coach when I was trying to PR the 1600m, was that ‘it isn’t about how many times you fall down, but how you figure out how to pick yourself back up and keep going’. I was frustrated at my inability to break the 5 minute barrier. As I continued to compete and consistently run 5:05, 5:10, 5 flat, I knew the issue wasn’t physical. I had the physique to move that quickly, I just didn’t have the mental fortitude to push myself that hard. My losses tested me, and much better runners than I broke before that great shadow called The Clock.

If you’re going to break into sweats, superman a Trials card, or just put 5 blueberries in your backpack on a random Control match, you need to know that you’re going to lose. A lot. However, when you finally do get that fabled W, don’t forget how you got there in the first place. The blood, sweat, and tears you shed to make it.

As the great Mike Ross would say, “take that L and hold it to your chest”. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you. Just don’t let it define you. Be proud of the scars you’ve gained, but most importantly, learn from them. You don’t need the same scar everywhere.

Below are [4] common “losing attitudes”. If you find yourself saying these things, consider it a red flag.

Reason 1: “At least I have my Code of Honor”, a.k.a. “You are cheap!”

…the common call of the scrub…The loser usually takes the imagined moral high ground by sticking to his Code of Honor, a made-up set of personal rules that tells him which moves he can and cannot do.

We covered this in great detail in the prior week. So I won’t go too hard into it. Sirlin does make a good new point though:


It can be difficult to even reason with the kind of religious fervor some players have toward their Code. This type of player is trying desperately to remain a “winner” any way possible. If you catch him[/her] amidst a sea of losses, you’ll notice that his Code will undergo strange contortions so that he may still define himself, somehow, as a “winner”.

People are always going to find something to complain about. Especially if it somehow validates why they are failing. Remember when the big buzz was shotguns? Remember how that buzz shifted from shotguns to high aim assist snipers when they got nerfed? Times may have changed, but the Code sure as hell didn’t.

We get it. You got bodied by a secondary. Now the conversation has shifted to secondaries being overpowered.

Let’s say, for a hypothetical, that Bungie decides to follow the vocal community and limit green box spawns. You know how the game can warp around heavy ammo? Now the game is warping around secondary. Which is an even bigger problem. You lose heavy on death. You can’t just super someone and they can’t snipe anymore. So now the game is all about control of special spawns. Secondaries can beat out primaries, so control of said spawns becomes that much easier to the team who wins the first fight. The game can spiral out of control in the first 90 seconds.

Interestingly, a heavy limitation on special would make sidearms very good considering you get ammo on spawn. Or people will just run Icebreaker/Invective, as in the past, and the problem is circumvented.

Note: this article was written prior to Bungie’s change and later reversion, of limiting special ammo spawns in Trials and 3s.

Reason 2: “I lost to a scrub!”

This player is saying that he is very good at the game, and losing to such a poor player doesn’t prove anything. He often enumerates all the weaknesses of this “poor player”, including such gems as “he relies on only one tactic” and “his mind games are weak”. The more he puts down the other player, though, the worse he looks himself. If the other player relies on only one tactic, and you can’t beat it, then what does that say about you?

Let’s take another hypothetical situation. This is in a normal game of Skirmish. Game is close and heavy round is soon. You pick up heavy, a pair of rockets, and proceed to put down the top two enemy players. You then get melted by a Thunderlord. As do your teammates. For the remainder of the game, T-Lord puts up kill after kill, now using heavy-as-primary. Yes, you lost to the Thunderlord-scrub, but by placing the blame on him, you are just highlighting the fact that you could not properly control the flow of the game. You may have wasted supers, continually ran into unsafe areas the LMG’er was covering, etc. but that isn’t their fault, it’s yours.


Basically, you need to have some respect for other players who have the power to win, no matter what faults you may see with their play styles. Sometimes these “weaker players” really are better than you, and you just aren’t admitting it. And if they aren’t better, then you should not let them win. You should be recognizing and learning from your own mistakes, or you should be improving to catch up to them.

Every game is a clean slate. Every opponent has the capability of putting you down. Just because someone on the enemy team has an Elo of 1,100 and you’re sitting pretty on your 2,000 doesn’t mean that guy is incapable of just rolling over you and your team. Otherwise, your hubris and overconfidence is just going to place you in situations where even the lowest of skilled players can take advantage of you. Play smart, stay smart.

Reason 3: “I suck, why even try?”

Sometimes this line is said…after a loss, which is somewhat understandable. …The real crime, though, is when this is said before or even during a match.

This is probably my favorite reason on the list. Nothing is easier than a team that has already beat themselves. We’ve all had these moments, especially if you aren’t a stellar player and frequent Trials. When you come across the streamers, the top 1%ers, the full clans with matching pink shaders, you get that sinking feeling in your stomach. Why even attempt to compete when you know resistance is futile?

An important concept I was taught for competitive MtG was that, in all but the most extreme of cases, you play out the game. You force the opponent to kill you. Even if they had lethal on board, they might make the wrong decision. They might choose to play around something that was never there, make a suboptimal play that gives you a chance to get back into the game, or something in that nature. Put the onus on them to beat you. Be the Goliath to their David. Force them to make a miracle happen, even if you don’t quite believe it yourself.


Self-doubt does not win games; positivity does.

Enough said.

Reason 4: “This game is dumb / too random / too boring.”

In all fairness, sometime the game is dumb or too random or too boring. In that case, you should stop playing it altogether and find something better to do with your time.

Uh, hello!? If you don’t like it so much just leave? Not like you’ll really be missed anyway.


The “too random” game is a bit trickier. On the one hand, the more random a game is, the worse it probably is for serious competitive play. But randomness can add “fun” to a game. Usually, though, there is only one meaningful way to answer this complaint: examine whether the same players can consistently win at it.

This is why reforging weapons is such a hot button topic. Being able to reforge weapons was a great idea, but was implemented in a game not currently well suited to serious competitive play. Do we want a competitive game? Absolutely, that’s why many of us have gone so far as to form a community for scrims. But that doesn’t mean the current state of the game is conducive to a highly competitive model. It just means a select few of us want it.

On the other hand, lets take a game like Hearthstone. That game is chock full of randomness. Your Boom Bots hit the opponent in the face when you want to hit a minion. Your Shredder turns into that 1/1 parrot. But sometimes, everything just falls right in your favor. That’s fun. And just look at those legend ranked on the ladder. They’re pretty much the same people month after month. The same players are competing and winning at tournaments at the highest level. With the same cards chock full of random elements that you are.

In Destiny, there is the element of randomness with gun rolls. But look at the top players. Have they really changed being good whether their sniper has Hidden Hand or shotgun has Rangefinder on it? Absolutely not.


The “too boring” comment is always an easy way out. Basically, all these complaints are about shifting the blame over losing away from yourself and toward supposed deficiencies in the game itself. Again, sometimes the game deserves to be criticized, but be aware that these complaints are often just excuses that allow you to shrug off a loss rather than actually learn from it.

We get it. Lag sucks. It’s real. We’re not denying that. It’s the times you’re coming up with excuses for why you suck that bother us all. Look at that last line in the above quote again. Don’t just shrug off a loss, actually learn from it. Don’t immediately start up another game, take a moment to examine what went wrong and why. Most importantly: how can you stop things from going wrong in those ways again? Wanna get good? Figure out first why you’re bad.


Catch yourself if you start to fall into any of these losing attitudes and take responsibility for your losses. Only the loser plays the part of the victim. The winner takes charge and actively seeks out improvement.