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.


CHAPTER 3: WHAT SHOULD BE BANNED?


I’m going to skip the actual chapter three, “How Far Should You Go to Win?” because there really isn’t much to note in the chapter. The only decent takeaway line comes at the end:

 

Complaints should be taken up with the governing body of the tournament (or the community of players) as to what should be allowed in a tournament. This is a dead simple issue that confuses too many players.

While the community at-large has a lot of power in terms of size, at the end of the day, if you want your voice to not just be heard, but considered, you need to go to the source of your frustration. If you don’t like that Thorn is allowed in tournament play, you need to take that up with the organizers or the community that decided on the established rules of sweats/scrims.

We get it. You don’t like it. Oh, and here’s a hint if you want to be taken seriously: “Thorn v Thorn isn’t interesting to watch” isn’t a good argument. It’s a complaint.


Moving on!


Sirlin starts off the chapter noting that banning is a tricky subject, and one that is not very clear-cut. He asserts that there are two attitudes surrounding banning that stem from two major types of games.

The first attitude is one that stems from games that are either released and never patched or very sparsely patched for game-breaking or egregious bugs that may or may not be detrimental to overall game balance. These games are most commonly played on LAN.

The second is one that stems from games primarily played over the internet. In these games, patches are more numerous and frequent as the ability to gather and analyze data is much higher than those in the first category.

Players in Type A of games (Street Fighter, Super Smash Brothers Melee, Halo 1/2, etc.) tend to view bannings as an extreme measure. Players in Type B (MMOs, CoD, CS:GO, Destiny, etc.) feel that rotating game balance is just “an everyday occurance”.

 

The “constant patching” approach by developers also often leads to laziness on the part of the players; there’s less reward for trying as hard as you can within the given rules, because if you are successful, your tactic will just be patched into obsolescence anyway. You might be a footnote someplace, but you won’t still be winning.

Alright, so a big gripe I, personally, have had with Destiny falls smack dab in the middle of the above quote. I have rarely unequipped my Last Word since I started playing the Crucible back in April of 2015. Why? I don’t really see the point of learning another gun when most of the meta rotates around a Flavor of the Month theme. It has always been a powerful, competitive gun, and a decent alternative to using the Thorn.

On average, is Thorn a better weapon to use in a wider range of engagements and engagement patterns? Absolutely. However, my comfort and confidence in my ability to effectively use my weapon of choice far outweighs the strengths of Thorn. This should be your primary reason for not using what is considered, by many, to be the only S tier weapon remaining in the game. The gap between Thorn and everything other top weapon, still, in my opinion, has not reached a level where it’s Thorn or bust. It is, however, leaps and bounds above B tier and below weapons, and you are actively hamstringing your ability to compete if you are relying on those guns.

The meta has distilled into a choice few guns, and that is ok. If you take a meta snapshot in any competitive realm, the top tier almost always only has a handful of choices. Hearthstone has approximately 6 tier 1 decks at any given moment. MtG has no more than a dozen in any given format. In League’s top lane meta, I can’t remember a time where any archetype could succeed at a high-level, consistent basis.

Destiny’s top primary weapons are Thorn, TLW, MIDA, Doctrine of Passing, and Hawksaw(PDX). Each has a sweet spot for engagement range. Each has a style of play that can be countered using certain tactics. It’s been said before, and I’ll repeat it here, the only way you can counter Thorn is to actively disengage from losing gunbattles. This is a playstyle that is very counter-intuitive to many players and difficult to grasp. Thorn heavily punishes poor positioning or push timing. And heavily rewards the opposite.
Alright, so let’s get into the meat of this conversation: BAN THORN 2016. And the lesser: “Why is all that other crap banned anyways?”

There are three criteria for a banning:

 

A ban must be enforceable, discrete, and warranted.


Reason 1: ENFORCEABLE


 

If something is to be banned from tournament play, it must be reasonably easy to identify when it happens or to prevent it from ever happening at all.

The first is enforcing a Thorn ban. If you use equip it, you’ve broken the rule, and tournament/sweaty players can address it accordingly. There really isn’t much to talk about here. Same goes for exotic armor, multiple subclasses…you get the point.


Reason 2: DISCRETE


 

The thing to be banned must be able to be “completely defined”.

Again, just as reason 1, this is easy. Thorn is a gun, not a complex set of tactics. Two Nightstalkers is not a something that is up for debate. Max Armor Titans can be defined as using Unstoppable, Codex I+IV, and Arc Armor chest piece. There are no mysteries here.


Reason 3: WARRANTED


 

Here is the whole issue, of course. If it isn’t warranted to ban something, we don’t need to even consider whether it’s enforceable or discrete. The great lesson of competitive games is that hardly anything warrants a ban.

HERE WE GOOOOOO. Before we get into Thorngate 2016, let’s talk about some of the other bans, namely multiple subclasses and exotic armor.

MULTIPLE SUBCLASSES

I’m going to use the one example that pisses off everyone equally: ever play against a Trials team running triple Sunsinger? See man, lob simultaneous firebolts, push other two mans, lob third firebolt…profit! Certain team compositions break what is known as parity. Parity, or “the state or condition of being equal”, is completely shattered when one team utilizes a vastly superior neutral game through power stacking. Plus, now that burn and Thorn dot stack, every competitive game would just boil down to who has the best grenade placement.

Firebolts can be countered by proper Shadestep timing, but with proper grenade timing, you run out of charges.

Multiple subclasses take away from what the game is about: gunplay and resource management. Properly using your firebolt for pushes, defenses, area denial, etc. is all downplayed by the fact that 3 members of your team can do it every 25 seconds. In trials, that’s every round. In Skirmish, that’s about every other engagement.
Consider that in nearly every other competitive game, multiples of a character, class, etc. are not allowed on the same team or other similar restrictions. You only get 4 copies of a card in constructed MtG. 2 in Hearthstone. One hero in League (outside of Korean blind pick)/Smite/DotA.

EXOTIC ARMOR

Exotic armor was created to do interesting, powerful things. Things that actively break character parity. Grenades on spawn. Two melees. Fast revives. Free class abilities/nodes. At a competitive level, all these things are not created equal. The sweaty community at-large has, instead of deciding on a case-by-case basis, made the decision to ban all exotic armor. It would take too much work and be too difficult to find legitimately objective members to properly manage.

Personally, I feel that the exotic armor ban is the only ban worth debating, but understand the argument for all-or-nothing versus case-by-case. I tend to fall on the side of all-or-nothing just because it keeps the classes closer to parity, keeping the core gameplay intact and remaining easily managed.

THORN

 

How does one know if…a legitimate tactic destroys [the game]? The rule of thumb is to assume it doesn’t and keep playing, because 99% of the time, as good as the tactic may be, there will either be a way to counter it or other even better tactics. Prematurely banning something is the scrub’s way. It prevents the scrub from ever discovering the counter…

I made the point above: Thorn’s counter is disengaging. We, as a community, know this. If you don’t, now you know. What does that mean? That means if you get hit with Thorn before you can get your hit off, you run away. You run and link up with a teammate. You wait have your shields back and you reengage taking a different angle. You reengage with a teammate to team shoot.

A lot of Thorn-whiners don’t sweat. They don’t participate in tournament-level play. They haven’t given themselves the opportunity to learn what it means to disengage or how to play as a unit, a team. If you’re going to complain about the highest level, you ought to, at the very least, attempt to be playing on that level.


Extra Credit; Reason 4: IT’S TOO GOOD!


 

Only in the most extreme, rare cases should something be banned because it is “too good”. This will be the most common type of ban requested by players, and almost all of their requests will be foolish. Banning a tactic simply because it is “the best” isn’t even warranted. That only reduces the game to all the “second best” tactics, which isn’t necessarily any better of a game than the original game. In fact, it’s often worse!

This game is about checks and balances. Do you know what Thorn keeps in check? Special weapons. Thorn is one of the few, if not the only now, weapons that can keep special weapons in check. What other weapon can stop shotgunners effectively at mid-range? What mid-range weapon can effectively push and attack campers in all three dimensions of play?

If you take away Thorn, the meta moves from using the best and second best weapons to just the second best weapons. That means the meta becomes TLW, MIDA, Hawksaw, Doctrine. MIDA is the only weapon that can challenge snipers. Utilizing proper map movement, TLW can stop shotguns. Hawksaw becomes the only decent midrange option, but requires teamfiring to maximize effectiveness. MIDA is better for teamfiring as it is more forgiving for missed shots. Doctrine shines in 1v1 engagements, but those won’t happen as often as teams get better and better and move as a unit.

The game becomes more about special weapons and keeping them in check. Snipers are going to sit back and hardscope the same lanes that Thorn was covering. Shotguns are just going to nonstop warrior until they run out of ammo.

Why would you engage in mid-range when it’s more effective to perform at long or close? The game moves away from gunskill and towards map movement.

It devolves into a game of tug-of-war where it’s all about jockeying for map position rather than gunplay/gunskill or team synergy and cooperation.

 

The most common case is that the player requesting the ban doesn’t fully grasp that the game is, in fact, not all about that one tactic.

The fundamental issue at play here is that special weapons are too good given the current state of the game.

Primaries cannot keep up with the power of secondary weapons. It used to be that special weapons would complement their primary counterparts. TLW, hand cannons, and autos shined in close to close-mid engagements, so snipers would allow that user to defend themselves at mid to long range. Thorn, scouts and pulses shined in mid to mid-long ranges, so a shotgun could cover close to close-mid if someone could close the gap.

Now, the opposite is true. The power of primaries was tuned back across the board, so now TLW protects you from shotguns rushes while you kept opponents at arms-length with your sniper. Pulses and scouts gave you a fighting chance flinching out snipers and weakened them while shotguns gave you a powerful option when you closed the gaps against them. What a lot of players don’t realize is that gap closing with shotguns isn’t just about spatial awareness. Weakening an opponent can also close the gap by making a shotgun kill at extended ranges despite damage dropoff. The gameplay still revolves around secondary usage.


TLW:


Only in the ultra-rare case that the player is right and the game is worth saving and the game without the ultra-tactic is a ten times better game – only then is the notion even worth fighting for. And even in this case, it may take time for the game to mature enough for a great percentage of the best players and tournament organizers to realize that tactic should, indeed, be banned.