Playing the odds in competitive gaming

Playing the odds in competitive gaming

May 08 Shase  
  • Difficulty

This one is going in deep, so if you’re looking for a tutorial article more along the lines of “use rockets when your opponent is close”, keep on lookin’!

I’m going to tell you how you should be thinking in a duel in general, and this applies to many aspects of competition or even life in general.

I’m going to be talking about expected value and playing the odds. Nothing in competitive gaming is certain, everything is about odds, the better you are, the more you can get away with and the higher your odds are in any given situation, but your skill only ever gives you better odds.rfwq

So if you aren’t much of a gambler – here’s the technical definition of expected value: “The expected value is also known as the expectation, mathematical expectation, EV, average, mean value, mean, or first moment. More practically, the expected value of a discrete random variable is the probability-weighted average of all possible values.”

I have no idea what any of that meant, so let me explain how I understand it with a well-illustrated(no illustrations included) story.

Once there was a wise and godly powerful wizard we’ll give a completely fictional-made-up-not-real name like… “Travis”. Travis the all-powerful wizard was walking by a harmless village when he encountered a lowly foolish peon we’ll give up another completely fictional-made-up-not-based-on-real-life-events name like… “Mark.”


Travis the all-powerful wizard took out his 6-sided dice and said to Mark the lowly peon

“Hey Mark, let’s play a game, I’ll roll this dice and if it lands on 1,2,3 or 4 you give me 10 gold pieces, and if it lands on 5 or 6, I’ll give you 10 gold pieces.”

“Ha! I may be foolish but that bet is even too foolish for me to take!” Said Mark the foolish peon.

“Alright fair enough, but let’s roll the dice to see what would’ve happened” Says the mighty Wizard wielding the wand of probability… which was a muddy twig from the nearest tree.


They rolled the dice and as luck would have it, it rolled a 6.

“Oh no you would’ve been up 10 gold coins now, shame!”. Says the wizard, grinning that his once-every-3-times plan was working this time.


“That was lucky, roll it again!” Says Mark the foolish peon.

Again the dice rolled in what would have been the peons favour.


The foolish peon was starting to believe that the events of the past could somehow predict the results of the future.

“Ok wow I want to play, let’s do this one for gold!”.

Happily Travis the wise and powerful wizard accepted. Mark the peon gets lucky on the first roll and is so giddy with the results that he insists on playing further, not realizing that although the results of the rolls were in his favour up to this point, he was not putting himself in a profitable situation, it was simply luck which when repeated enough times, was sure to run dry.


And so it did, as the Peon insisted on playing again and again until his gold ran dry. The  foolish peon (Mark) had lost a lot of gold but had learnt a valuable lesson in the art of expected value. It didn’t matter how many times the foolish peon had won, it didn’t change the fact that it was always a bad bet to take, even if it rolled on a 5 or 6 20 times in a row, it would still be a bad bet to take.


What makes someone improve faster than another in anything competitive is that they can tell when a situation was good for them even if they came out behind (like the wise wizard), and they can tell when a situation was bad for them even when they came out ahead(unlike the foolish peon). Someone who can’t distinguish why they win or lose in a given situation will ultimately be making more bad decisions than good ones with no accurate perception of whether an action was a positive or negative one because hey, it totally worked that one time!


So let’s put this in Quake terms with an example I’ve seen a lot on our local servers – taking armours with no regard to your situation and that of your opponents.


Let’s say the peon is on DM6 on top of bridge with visor, a rocket launcher and a machine gun. His opponent is just below him with LG and rail and heavy just arrived. He knows he doesn’t have the guns to engage in that space but he reckons maybe he could steal the armour, hit a good rocket or 2 while running down the stairs. He makes the jump down, hits some mediocre rockets but take crazy LG damage while getting out and he’s now low. “Success I took the armour, did a bit of damage, on my way to mega, I’m good!” he thinks. He meets up again grabbing health near mega, but he’s outstacked now after the damage he took and dies over the mega fight.


Let’s analyze his decisions here against the decisions he should’ve made. 1) His odds of killing his opponent outright are very low) His odds of taking massive damage from LG are very high 3) His odds of stealing the armour are very high 4) His odds of getting out alive neutral if he’s optimistic.


If players are of similar skill in that situation, the player dashing for the armour will realistically never come out ahead. At best he can come out even. As in, his expected value at best is neutral, but most likely is very negative.


Here’s what he should’ve done. Stayed on top of bridge, mad himeself small, tried to do as much damage as possible with the intention of dashing for mega the second he felt his opponent was getting a running head start to it. The odds of him dying in that situation are incredibly small, yes he doesn’t get the armour but who cares, he doesn’t die, gets to do free damage and is in a great position to take the next mega. It’s all about playing the odds and thinking further than the immediate situation you’re presented with.


The same kind of thinking can be applied to any situation and any decision that you need to make – to charge or not to charge – to run or stand and fight – to spam nails or try hit a very difficult rail. Take that given situation and ask yourself if you had to repeat both of those given scenarios infinite times, which one would result in more positive outcomes? Choosing the losing situation because it “totally works sometimes though” or you “just felt it deep down inside that it was right” are not valid decision making tools. Forget your stupid feelings and learn to consider the odds.

One comment

  • May 9, 2018 @ 17:11 pm

    interesting read man!! this mark peon is learning things!!
    I am the wizard to rule them all however!!

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