After a difficult string of placement matches for the current Overwatch competitive season, the unthinkable happened. I dropped to a lower tier. I had spent multiple seasons comfortably sitting in the Platinum tier, and suddenly I was Gold. I have become obsessed with undoing this demotion.
I like to think that I’m a decent video game player. In most games, I straddle the line between intermediate and advanced. Sure, I have bad games now and then, such as a recent Quake Champions game during which I demonstrated a reckless disregard for the movement techniques I mastered years ago. But in general, I know I’m pretty good at video games. Not great but still dang good. With Overwatch, I’ve consistently ranked in the Platinum tier each time I’ve made the effort to qualify. Until now.
The criteria for Overwatch ranks is unclear at times but the progression of ranks is straightforward: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master, and Grandmaster. There’s also a separate rank for the top 500 players. You’re given an initial rank after ten placement matches and can work up to the next through strong individual play and winning matches. I’ve been content with a consistent Platinum that signals strong fundamentals with room for improvement and I do hope to reach Diamond eventually. Slipping away from my normal ranking has proven a difficult personal trial.
One’s Overwatch competitive tier isn’t just a badge of honor. It also dictates who you play with. It might all be in my head, but so far Gold tier has been a swamp of negativity. My teammates often panic and get into distracting arguments with each other. It’s been hard to coordinate and secure wins, and I’ve been underperforming with some of my favorite characters. In part because I play poorly, my teams don’t win and my rank doesn’t advance. I’ve psyched myself out to the point that I’m playing like I belong in Gold tier. I know it “doesn’t mean anything,” but my lack of upward progress has left me frustrated.
My fixation on improving my rank has caused me to pour more of myself into Overwatch than I have before. I now perform an extended warm-up routine before playing competitive games: extended aiming drills against bots, followed by a series of consequence-free quick matches. I’ve tried new heroes and switched more often at my team’s request, learning more and more about the game’s roles beyond my usual focus on offensive heroes like Tracer and Soldier 76. I even paid for a training session from a Grandmaster ranked Ana player to get a better game sense and understanding of key map positions to improve contributions to my team during battles. I’ve done this and more, all for the sake of a goddamn number.
My negative tilt has spilled into non-Overwatch games, too. Numbers have begun dominating my attention no matter what game I’m playing. I’ve just started playing ranked matches in Arms and have reached rank seven. The idea of losing a string of matches and sliding back down the ladder is anxiety inducing. When I dive into PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the prospect of dying before making it to the final ten stresses me out much more than it used to. I don’t just want the satisfaction of knowing I did my best. I want my best to actually be the best. I want other players to see it. I want it emblazoned right next to my username. I want a shiny badge that tells people I don’t suck.
By and large, my newfound obsession with ranks hasn’t really lessened my enjoyment of these games. My love of Overwatch hasn’t diminished, even as I languish below my desired rank. I relish the challenge, and welcome the chance to watch myself improve. I’m aware that I may be worrying too much over too small a thing. It’s just a number, but it’s my number. I know I can make that number climb.