Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ramblings: learning more from losing?

You can learn a lot from the occasional defeat, but only if you work hard at it, and in most situations winning is simply better. Winning is better because it pushes you forward while losing makes you question where you are.

Some of you will be familiar with the Khador player I helped a while back, but repeating the story probably won't hurt anyone. This guy was on a massive losing streak with his pButcher and pIrusk lists when I met him, and the ever helpful and well meaning friends were telling him to stick with his list and learn everything about it.

I could see his love for the game dying a little bit every time he lost, so I took one look at his list, suggested a screen unit, and he won the next five games in a row. Six months later he took fourth in the Danish Masters, just ahead of me actually, so maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. Losing promotes doubts in everyone, and doubts inhibit learning. This game is about finding your own path and style, and the fear of failure will prevent the experiments and growth a player needs to achieve his potential.

Always winning isn't much better though, since if a player wins a lot of games he's likely to conclude that his talents/strategy is flawless. Success is a good thing but too much of it can make us believe we don’t need to change anything, and then we stop asking the tough questions that would help us expand our knowledge or alter our assumptions about how the game works. This means that losing every once in a while is a good thing, but only if you work hard on taking the lessons to heart.

If you are...

Winning: If you always win you don't grow as a player, which is fine if you happen to always win against the best players in the world, in which case this probably isn't challenging enough and you should go play the Rybka chess engine instead. If you consistently win against everyone in your meta then it's time to let them grow and go play international tournaments instead.

Losing: If you always lose you will become the victim of doubts and fears that will stop your growth as a player, and when you keep losing games you will lose your interest in the game as well (unless you're a special kind of masochist). The occasional win will be labeled a fluke and you will learn very little from it, effectively locking you in a downward spiral. This is why many players suddenly find themselves invigorated and successful after switching factions, not because the new faction does anything substantially different from their old one, but because they've escaped the spiral and can start from scratch.

Mostly losing: If you win a couple of games here and there you will probably remain where you are, using what you know and the tactics that have worked for you so far, but never really growing. This is where a lot of players are at, and that's actually fine because most players enjoy the game when they know they can manage the occasional win. These guys are the players who will do well enough in casual games and fail miserably at tournaments where lists are tuned and high skilled players smell blood.

Mostly winning: This is the place to be. This is where you are confident in your ability to win a game against anyone, though obviously some players will be very hard or nearly impossible opponents. This is where you experiment and design your own lists concepts, and this is where losing will teach you valuable lessons and motivate you to do better.


I feel that "You learn more by losing" is a flawed statement, and even players I deeply respect repeat this ad infinitum. I understand that patting a losing player on the shoulder can be tempting but I think it makes the problem worse. If a player is losing and keeps losing you're basically telling him that he sucks, and then that he sucks even more because he should be learning to stop sucking.

A player caught in a downward spiral needs to know that there might just be one little thing wrong and, like the Khador player I talked about before, a single change in his list could allow him to start winning and growing as a player. It might not work, and he might just be hopeless, but "maybe you should try something new" is a lot better advice than "you learn more by losing".


  1. I disagree with most of the sentiment in this article, but I have a feeling that might be because of differing definitions and a lot of implicit points in the "you learn more by losing"-statement.

    Losing does teach you more, but only if you adopt, adapt and improve and thus "try something new". When you win, great! You did it right; all the more power to you, but the learning points will be that much harder to pick up on.

    The other thing that you gingerly step around, is the fact that "learning more by losing" is not something to live by forever; you shift away from it naturally once you settle into a groove that suits you and where you're able to adopt, adapt and improve, rather than being so green (n00bs, for the 1337-inclined) that you need the learning experiences of an abject failure rather than the dizzying highs of a battle well-won. Sometimes the player will need to shift this view consciously, and disregard the "wisdom" of his peers, and at other times it will come naturally.

    All it boils down to is that "maybe you should try something new" is implicit in "you learn more by losing", until the point where you're comfortable enough with the game that you can adopt, adapt and improve freely. And telling a new player that he should just "try something new" because he's losing, when doesn't even know the rules for charging, well, that's just asinine.

  2. That's interesting because I don't see people picking up a lot of pointers from losing, and certainly not in our meta. I completely agree that your theory holds true if the person has the ability to ignore the negative spiral, but I don't think many of us do (I sure don't).

    Besides the obvious examples like the horrible Menoth & Cygnar discussions we've had on the Danish forums lately, and the Khador talks every Monday that never come up with any workable solutions, I could mention the statement "I don't need upkeep removal" from a veteran with around ten times the number of games I have.

    The current score between us is 13-3 in my favor, with one game being my worst match-up in the Terminus challenge (and I was severely dice raped there), and at least half the games have been won by my upkeep removal. I'll bet you 10 bucks that one game he wins by having upkeep removal will do more to change that attitude than 100 games where he loses by not having it.

    Finally this article wasn't aimed at complete rookies, but I feel they might benefit more from reading a book instead. If they don't know how a charge works they certainly won't be learning much beyond basic rules, which could be taught without playing and causing them to experience yet another loss :)


  3. I can recognize a lot of this stuff from myself. I think I'm there where I mostly loose, but every once in a while get a win. This might be a bit exaggerated and depends upon who I play. Against my most regular opponent I think I win every third or fourth game or so. It's not totally demoralizing, but often I feel like my wins are pretty random, as I always have a hard time to figure out what to do when I play. It's hard for me to come up with a solid plan for my turn depending on my opponents turn. In the past I've been using vast amounts of time thinking about this in my turn, but to no real use. My newest way of playing instead, is to just think up something simple without thinking too much about the consequences, playing my turns a lot faster. I'm not sure what to do to get a better overview of the game and playing Cryx, but playing faster like this is something different for me :) My hopes are that I'll learn more and get better by doing this instead :)

  4. I tend to agree with Hjelmen - there is a point in loosing if you make right conclusions afterwards.

    When I came to my first tournament I lost every game. What I did is analyzing my mistakes, both in list building and acting during the game. Next tourney I attended I came second - and had a decent chance to win if only my brain hasn't shut down due to exhaustion during the final game.

  5. Exhausted Brain is difficult to overcome :)

    It might not be clear from my article, but I do write "you can learn a lot from the occasional defeat, but only if you work hard at it" which is exactly what you did.

    My issue is with the idea as a whole, that you automatically learn something from being beaten. I don't think I would have a problem if it was rephrased to "you can learn more from losing", as it takes some real effort on the players part.


  6. Fair enough, I just wish that you'd have said that without the hyperbole and silly wall street examples.

    "You learn more from losing" is, maybe not that obviously, loaded with assumptions. When I say it, I do assume that the losing player uses the experiences to better themselves, and that the player is aware of the situation so that it is not a permanent state.

    After hearing you elaborate your position, I can see where we might have "gone wrong". I think we agree on most points, albeit not the delivery of said ;)

  7. Silly wall street example now removed from the post :)

  8. I received a PM I think will add something to the discussion as well. I've asked permission to translate and post it, but I think I understand the essence of his PM.

    "In my job I work with success vs. defeat. We try to provide our clients with tiny measures of success, guiding them in the right direction. It's strange but the mind remembers defeat more readily than success, and confidence is a good thing. The right challenge at the right time is what you need in order to learn the most"