How Competitive Shooters Made Me a Better Leader

Career

Comments: 0
jotham.lim

It’s easy to chalk up e-sports as just children’s pastime. But like any other sport, it takes a lot of practice, skills, and talent to be highly competitive—even more so within a team setting.

After more than a decade of playing competitive shooters, I come to appreciate the mental gymnastics, teamwork and quick decision-making needed to reach the top of the leaderboards. These values have also helped shaped my career as a B2B marketing manager.

If traditional sports coaches can espouse the values of hard work, patience and skilful manoeuvring, it’s strange that society views gamers as the opposite: Lazy, slobs and toxic. I mean… such groups do exist, perhaps more so percentage-wise than other communities.

But let’s put that aside and focus on the sweaty tryhard gamer values we can extract from this thought experiment. Hopefully, making these comparisons can help with your career aspirations as well.

💡 Granted, this is not an 🍎 to 🍎 comparison. One is a job, and the other is straight-up procrastination. I will also switch between gaming and corporate analogies a lot, so try to keep up!

🚫 Working With “Bad” Teammates

Competitive solo queue is a cesspool 💩. Imagine teaming up with 4 random strangers who:

  • Have little team commitment.
  • Don’t speak the same language.
  • Are either children, toxic, drunk, or high.
  • Puts personal ego above winning the game.

The worst part is: You’re stuck with them until the match is over, unless the team abandons the game and quits.

It’s not that different from a workplace now, is it?

And yet, winning the game is a must; For your sanity, MRR points and career ambitions all depend on it. We all wish to be paired with teammates who are competent and rational, but we’re usually stuck with what we’ve got and have to live with it.

If you’re unfortunate enough to have “bad” teammates, the trick is to work around the team, rather than with or against them. Instead of fighting both friend and foe, use each player’s selfish tendencies to further the team’s goals.

  • Do you have teammates who only rush sites and die? Don’t crowd the chokepoint and yell “Go! Go! Go!”. Instead, use them as bait and lurk around.
  • Do you have passive teammates who only hold angles? Don’t force a fight, sit with them and run out the clock. Instead, take map control and gather intel,

Just because the team doesn’t do what we expect, it doesn’t mean that they’re bad at the game. Learn how to differentiate play styles from competencies!

One player might be comfortable smoking sites and playing at the back lines; Others like to flash and entry-frag. Understanding and working around your team’s intricate habits is more important than outsmarting the enemy team under most circumstances.

The same goes for work settings. For a domain as diverse as marketing, you might have introverts who prefer to commit hours on end producing content; Some are extroverts better suited for public relations. So don’t go around forcing tasks upon people who are not good at the job in the name of “learning”. Let their strengths shine instead.

🔈Team Communication

Watch any VOD or YouTube gameplay, and pay attention to how professional players communicate within solo queue lobbies. Their call-outs generally fall into 3 categories:

  • Observations —“2 at B,” “Bomb’s down,” “Footsteps A.”
  • Intention —“Flashing market,” “Smoking tree”
  • Requesting help —“Can you flash here? Ping,” “Peek with me.”

Notice how c l e a n 👌 these call-outs are. No fluff, no useless intel and no nonsense. Anything more would increase confusion, cloud judgement, and take away precious seconds that will cost the entire match.

More important is the dangers of NOT giving out these call-outs. The rest of the team would essentially operate blind; unable to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances, worrying if there’re enemies behind every nook and corner.

In my department, daily standups are our form of call-outs. Everyone takes turns sharing what they’ve done yesterday, their plans for today, and blockers for their tasks.

The session takes 5 minutes per person max. No filler; No hour-long discussions. In less than 20 minutes, everyone is on the same page and can focus on their deep work sessions for the day. Any work obstacles are highlighted daily so that managers can go around fixing them. Anything extra would warrant a separate meeting, with a proper agenda and meeting minutes.

👑 Role of In-Game Leaders

Statistically speaking, most in-game leaders (IGL) play the tank or support within teams, but rarely the DPS.

Our contribution comes from timing, positioning, and flexibility in assisting the team—not clicking heads. Because, like any workplace, team-based competitive games are designed with hard limits towards solo carries.

There are surprisingly a lot of new studies in this area. Szilágyi (2022) found that the presence of leadership within teams increases the likelihood of winning. Teammates also prefer IGLs who are “supportive” and “participative”. Tucker (2022) found that well-performing teams also have a distributed and collective leadership structure. Even if someone is in charge, everyone gets to make their own calls.

Hence, having ownership is important within the team. Teammates should be given the autonomy to own their respective roles and tasks, along with the relevant rewards and mistakes. More importantly, their autonomy shouldn’t be encroached upon unless they have royally screwed up.

Beyond executing strategy, as managers, we make sure that the team has the resources needed to do their job.

From smoking sites to troubleshooting IT permission issues, we ensure that there’s little standing in their way. If my team is worrying about stupid problems, I’m not doing my job well enough.

There’s no room for solo plays within a team setting. An S-tier graphic designers are like caffeinated teenagers with high K/D ratios. They are good at their jobs, but skills alone can’t carry the team towards the win. Both can’t deal with intense encounters, and both will eventually burn out.

In a way, our primary responsibility is to offer support, occasional guidance and trust the team to do their job. It sounds simple on paper, but many times a manager would step in too early and override the teammate’s judgement.

Your teammate has made a call. The best we can do is work around it and see what happens. Harsh criticisms should come after the fact.

🧸 Role of Fun

I think that competitive video games are an excellent illustration of Cal Newport’s idea of passion and motivation resulting from talent, and not the prerequisite to talent.

I remember playing Sudden Attack for the first time. The server was full of Korean players, so you know you’re about to get wrecked. It was David versus Goliath, and I rarely survived beyond the 30-second mark.

I didn’t “get” FPS games coming from vanilla Runescape, Maplestory and Pokemon. “Is dying over and over again really that fun?”

But things took a turn when I got my first double kill and triple kill. The developers took the effort to make every headshot chunky and bloody—it was morbidly fun. I’ve started ranking second place in a five-man team, and then first place then got a 2:1 K/D ratio three games in a row. Confidence grew, and an idea surfaced. “Maybe I’m good at this game after all”.

Conversely, stagnancy is a motivational killer. Many streamers actually hate playing competitive games after a while, and most of them are not at the top-tier ranks. Yeah, they’re good. But they don’t practice, analyse their games, nor invest in training. They play to entertain.

The same maps, same weapons, same strategies, same unlucky lottery of teammates—it’ll get real old, real fast, real quick. To a certain point, games become routine work, just like a full-time job.

The People I’ve Come Across Who Love Their Day Jobs Have Only One Thing in Common

They’re damn good at what they do.

Work fulfilment mainly comes from deep-seated confidence in one’s own abilities. Our ability to do good work is the source of pride and jealousy which fuels the competitive spirit. It’s the boost in motivation when you face against someone better than you, and you go “yeah, I can totally win against that guy”.

This goes beyond motivation—it’s an obsession. Competitive players are chasing after the dopamine rush of being better and getting better. As managers, we just need to coach teammates, offer resources, and build environments that compel them to tryhard.

But unlike video games, there are no immediate feedback systems for the workplace. There’s no scoreboard a tab button away, nor jingles and announcements after a winning match. There’s no dopamine rush for doing a good job; Only immense dread when you underperform instead.

In a marketing team, imagine tiring yourself out after consecutive exhibitions and doing a stellar job. Instead of feeling accomplished, your bosses decide to “reward” you with more exhibition work because you’ve done such a great job. There is no basking in the afterglow of your success, no end in sight, no sense of progression. There is no carrot, only the stick.

That’s why I heavily emphasize post-mortems within my department. Everyone needs to take part through sticky notes on a Miro board, analysing the campaign outcome, each other, and mostly themselves. Successful campaigns are celebrated with drinks and Starbucks Frappuccinos (for my Muslim colleagues). Shortcomings need to be brought up and analysed. Good individual performance needs to be documented so that I can help them apply for a raise.

In short, a department’s reward systems need to be clearly defined. Employees can’t be expected to “know” if they’re doing a good job. As managers, we need to implement systems to recognise and highlight employee achievements. Because how else are you going to make work engaging, rewarding, fulfilling, and fun?

🎲 Role of Luck

Competitive FPS may be a skills-based game, but we always underestimate the deceptive role of luck.

At the intermediate levels of gameplay, it’s about isolating 1-on-1 gunfights to win 50/50 odds. The bigger your gun relative to theirs, the better your odds are. Sure, you can totally win against a 2 man gank if you’re talented enough, but is it worth the 66/33 dice roll?

Tryharding is all about squeezing every little advantage and tilting the odds to your favour through better guns, positioning and strategy. There’s always the most optimum rotation route, the most optimal decision to make. Deviate from it, and you’ll reduce your chances of winning. To a certain point, competitive shooters become speed-running gambling fiesta.

But at the higher ranks, competing teams are equally skilled mentally, physically and strategically. Even when executing the “right” decision perfectly, there’s a chance that you’ll still screw up and die. Does that mean that you’ve made a “wrong” choice?

The same goes for marketing campaigns. We have no control over market conditions, the economy or buyers’ intent. We can only prepare ourselves to capture consumer demand if it surfaces, using whatever levers we can push and pull.

A well-planned, stellar exhibition may not yield any customers, while a simple signup form can convert a boatload of leads. The world just works weirdly like that.

So what separates the professionals and amateurs? It is their ability to commit and operate under this veil of uncertainty. They can bounce back quickly from an unlucky streak and not overheat when they lucked out. They face each new round with the cold, hard objectivity that it warrants, shedding behind useless emotions that interfere with the ultimate goal: winning the game.

Hence, for marketing campaigns, we can only plan, execute, measure, and move on—to a new campaign with a new fresh pair of eyes. The rest is truly up to lady luck.

Us small enterprise bronze players can’t compete with international diamond players, but that doesn’t mean we can’t win matches. Sure, they may have better market reports, fancier websites and larger booths. But those come at significant costs, and they’re still operating under levels of uncertainty as well.

We only have ourselves to compete with; Not the market nor our competitors.


🧠 Closing Thoughts

Truth be told, I rarely game now after I’ve transitioned into the Apple ecosystem since 2022. I’m glad that I did so too, because it forced me to cut down on my gaming time—the god-awful time sinkhole that it is.

In a way, this writeup is a goodbye to the childish gamer side of me. Perhaps looking at gaming through this lens is a way for me to justify the thousands of hours I’ve sunk into it.

I now replace one addiction with another: A.I. productivity apps and note-taking systems. At least, it’s an obsession that helps me get paid better.

Subscribe to my blog/newsletter to get bi-weekly updates! Perhaps I can write another piece on gaming once I finally able to afford a PS5.

Cheers, 🙃

Jotham.

Recommended channels to follow:

Share via:

Leave the first comment