The Tournament Scrub – The Curse Of Dave Sirlin

In this article, I examine the phenomenon of ‘Tournament Scrubs’ and look at Sirlin’s part in creating this phenomenon. I also take a look at Sirlin’s ‘Play to Win’ philosophy, examine how exactly it applies to the world of modern Internet gaming and examine whether or not it is, in part, a flawed philosophy.

As the fighting game community I am most familiar with is the Mortal Kombat one, I will be placing emphasis on this community throughout this article, but the general points relate to all fighting game communities.

For those who may not be aware, let’s take a quick look at just who exactly David Sirlin is and why anything he says should be acknowledged by anyone.

This is Sirlin’s Wiki page and this is his website. In the fighting game community (FGC), Sirlin is best known for balancing characters in the video game Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. He’s also known for playing competitively at tournaments plus he designs and plays trading card games.

Sirlin is obsessed with winning and his book ‘Playing to Win: Becoming the Champion‘ focuses on winning as a whole, how best to win and what the best mentality to have is, in order to win. Sirlin is basically the Charlie Sheen of the video game world only with nuttier fans and fewer public drunken outbursts.

A large part of Sirlin’s book is devoted to the phenomenon of scrubs. Sirlin gives his opinion on what a scrub is, how best to deal with scrubs, how best to educate them and, if you are one, how best not to be one.

Everyone in an online gaming community would recognise Sirlin’s definition of a scrub – the guy who makes up little rules in his head he expects others to follow, the guy who has his ‘code of honour’ about how he plays, the guy who complains if people ‘spam’ the same move and so on.

The MK community is full of scrubs like this and most of the MK sites catering to low-level players – like MKO, TRMK and the official NRS forum are infested with them. As in fact are the so-called higher level sites like TYM and MKU.

Most fighting game forums, whether the game in question is Street Fighter, Tekken, Soulcalibur or whatever, have a large number of these ‘play fair’ scrubs. Everyone knows that and we all know how irritating they are.

Personally I have a pretty standard ‘play to win’ mentality. I like to find characters in fighting games with cheap, spammable moves and use them to get my wins instead of using technical characters which require high levels of execution and big combos to get wins.

Over the years, I have obtained for myself inboxes full of hatemail, but in all that time I never developed the tournament scrub mentality which this article is about and which we will now look at in more detail.

The Tournament Scrub

The Tournament Scrub


So what, or who exactly is a ‘tournament scrub’?

Well, to answer that, it’s important to first understand that the word ‘scrub’ itself (in this context) has no dictionary meaning. It’s a general term used in the FGC as a pejorative, an insult, to attack someone who says something deemed not a suitable thing for a decent fighter gamer to say.

If you ask 10 people to describe precisely what a ‘scrub’ is, you’ll get 10 different answers.

I’m using the term ‘tournament scrub’ (© Copyright JTF 2013 :) ) as a parody of the general word ‘scrub’ but I think once I’ve explained what it is, the term will become understandable to anyone familiar with the people who fit the definition.

If a video game is popular, whether it’s a fighting game or an MMO or a shooter, then communities will spring up around the game. People will create websites about the game and forums for people to post in. People will create tournaments offline (if applicable). Community members will write long guides about aspects of the game to help others and create videos explaining how to beat parts of the game.

In these communities, whatever the game, you are likely to find 2 distinct types of people. The first group are usually termed the ‘serious players’ or the ‘elites’ while the second group are deemed the ‘casual players’.

Let us look at these 2 groups for the MMO genre of game first.

Serious players or the self-proclaimed ‘elites’ in an MMO community spend most of their time trying to get the best gear, the best weapons, the best everything. They also spend a lot of their time arguing on their websites about the best way to maximise damage and defeat powerful monsters.

Serious MMO players like to theorycraft and learn about the mathematical damage formulae behind things like damage and damage-mitigation. Often they will write long posts understandable only by other ‘serious players’ and people with a PHD in advanced calculus on the reasons why weapon X is 0.5% better than weapon Y in niche situations.

These serious players don’t usually have much interest in role-playing or in the folk-lore of the game. They simply want to get the best shiny things in the game in the quickest manner possible.

There is nothing inherently bad about any of this. If this is what you like to do and don’t hurt anyone else doing it then, good for you.

Sadly, many MMO serious players are also condescending, obnoxious, pitiful nerds with fat / scrawny, ugly bodies and shitty personalities which they use to attack and denigrate anyone who doesn’t have the gear or weapons they do. They fundamentally fail to appreciate that their way of playing the game is not the ‘right’ way, it’s just what they enjoy doing and they look down on anyone with inferior gear who plays the game for things like plot and story-line.

‘Casuals’ in MMOs usually do not care for mathematical formulae or obtaining the best gear. They usually just want to wield a big sword and smack goblins around. Those deemed ‘casuals’ often have an interest in role-playing and the back-story of characters and places in the game.

Again, there is nothing bad about this if this is how you want to play the game.

Sadly, many casuals often turn up to parties in-game to fight with sub-standard gear and weapons which they haven’t levelled up which adversely affects everyone else in the party. They often fail to learn even the basic mechanics of the game, let alone the advanced mathematical formulae. When challenged, they will often cry that it’s just a game and they can play how they want, (even if it’s a multi-player game and their poor performance hurts other people they are teamed with).

What I’ve detailed above are negative stereotypes of ‘elites’ and ‘casuals’ recognisable to anyone who has played online role playing games.

People may not like the notion of stereotypes but this doesn’t change the fact that gaming communities are still full of them.

The parallels between these stereotypes and the equivalent stereotypes in the FGC community are striking.

In the FGC, the equivalent of the MMO casual stereotype is the Sirlian scrub discussed earlier. These people usually care more about the back-story of characters than playing in tournaments, they mostly play at a low level and most have their ‘fair play’ code of ethics which they hurl at anyone who doesn’t play the way they like.

The equivalent of the ‘elite’ MMO stereotype in the FGC is the tournament scrub who believes that all fighting video games are created for the sole purpose of playing in tournaments. For them, the concept of video games being a recreational pastime is alien.

Like their MMO counterparts, tournament scrubs are obsessed by lists and numbers. They spend huge amounts of time making (usually stupidly wrong) tier lists based on their own personal experiences and attack anyone who has a different opinion.

Tournament scrubs love frame data as much as MMO elites love DPS formulae. Your average tournament scrub post is likely to contain lots of frame data. Plus numbers and minus numbers and lots of technical jargon. For them, reducing a video game down to its component parts and making it a war of numbers is useful and fun.

Tournament scrubs sneer at ‘casuals’ who have little interest in things like frame data. These casuals are automatically dismissed as scrubs and belittled for their different view of what a video game is.

For your average true casual player of a fighting game, they are the same as any other video game. Something you buy to have a bit of competitive fun playing with a few beers and some mates.

Tournament scrubs are usually incapable of just sitting in front of their TV and playing fighting video games like everyone else. They can’t just go round to a friend’s house and chill, have some beers and play for example.

Tournament scrubs only feel comfortable playing each other if, when they get together, they can call their meet-ups an ‘offline scene’. Even better is when they can find a public place which will charge them money to set up their consoles and they can then turn their get-together into a tournament.

The cherry on the cake in making these practice sessions official is giving them a cool, tough sounding name. Something like ‘Death Battle Wednesdays’ or ‘No Submission Runbacks’.

The notion of just playing at home for free with friends is for casual players apparently.

Whether he plays at home or in a public place, the tournament scrub doesn’t feel comfortable playing fighting video games unless he can stream the session on the Internet at the same time. It makes him feel important to have people watch him play.

So where does Dave Sirlin come into all this?

Sirlin has to take his share of the blame for creating (albeit unintentionally) the tournament scrub. Sadly, in the FGC, many of these tournament scrubs have armed themselves with Sirlin’s words and use them to attack anyone who refuses to play the game the way they like.

You may ask why anyone should care…

So what if the tournament scrubs attack the fair play scrubs? So what if the ‘serious player’ stereotypes attack the ‘casual’ stereotypes?

Let them sit all day on their websites, each trying to force their opinion onto the other, each attacking the other for not playing their games the way they personally like.

If it was a case of this and this only, then yes, I certainly wouldn’t care and wouldn’t be writing this article.

But the reality is that scrubs (be they fair play scrubs or tournament scrubs) do not represent the whole community.

Scrubs and tournament scrubs are different sides of the same coin – they are the extremists. Like political extremists for example, they are so far opposed in their views that essentially they go all the way round and end up being very hard to tell apart due to their actual near-identical mentalities. They each think they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Communities aren’t just composed of extremists. There are plenty of decent, rational, tolerant people in fighting game communities too and many are very tired of being attacked just because they share a different view on how to play a video game. Something that is, after all, essentially a child’s toy.

On a web forum, there tends to be the notion that ‘Everyone else is an ass so I will be too‘. In reality, the tone of a web forum is usually dictated by the people with the strongest personalities. These people saturate sites with their obnoxious, over-bearing manner and drown out people with milder personalities.

If you ever look at those vBulletin sites which list the number of guests online, you will see that every site actually has a much larger number of people lurking than posting. Most people are simply afraid of posting or cannot be bothered to because they don’t fancy getting their personal opinions and beliefs ridiculed by militant scrubs of any type.

Much of this relates to web forums in general so let’s look at how precisely the tournament scrubs on fighting game websites drive people away from communities and lower the quality of those communities for all, often using Sirlin’s words and beliefs as weapons.

Playing to win in an online environment

In Sirlin’s book, he doesn’t make many references to playing fighting games online. In fact, most of the time he refers to online play he talks about MMOs. One should bear in mind that Sirlin’s book was written quite a long time ago, while online fighting games were in their infancy.

Sirlin is keen to stress throughout his book that when deciding on what tactics one should or should not use in a match, one should use anything that is tournament legal. This is common sense in a tournament.

However, the rules of a tournament in New Jersey, USA, for example, have absolutely no bearing on a match between 2 random people on the Internet. There are no rules on the Internet and as such, no one has any right (or ability) to force their set of rules onto everyone else. This goes as much for fair play scrubs as it does for tournament scrubs.

Not that it should matter. Tournament scrubs profess to hate online play. They constantly berate anyone who plays online and decree that unless you play offline at tournaments you aren’t really competitive, you aren’t a real player and you aren’t entitled to an opinion on what nerfs / buffs / changes to the game should take place.

The reality is that far more people play online than play at offline tournaments. Tournament players for an NRS game like Mortal Kombat or Injustice: Gods Among Us probably don’t make up 1% of the people who buy the games. According to Ed Boon, MK9 sold about 4 million copies. 1% of 4 million is 40,000. I doubt there are 40,000 people worldwide who regularly go to MK9 tournaments.

Where else does a <1% demographic get any attention at all, let alone the attention they get in the FGC?

Something that makes these obnoxious tournament scrubs even more unlikeable is the fact that not only do they spend their time attacking and degrading people who don’t share their need to take video games so seriously, but they are reliant on those very same people they insult for everything they have.

Every single tournament gamer is indebted to low level ‘casual’ players for allowing him to go to tournaments. If it wasn’t for the millions of ‘casuals’ or ‘scrubs’ or ‘character-fanboys’ or ‘online warriors’ buying a particular game in its millions then so-called professional gamers in the FGC would not have games to play and they would not have a way to compensate for their nerdy bodies and inability to beat someone up in real life.

This doesn’t just go for the tournament scrubs but for the true, high level, respected, tournament players like Daigo and Justin Wong. If it wasn’t for the likes of I_LOVE_RYU_XXX and ScOrPiOnRoCkS and all the other millions of people who buy video games for their primary purpose of recreational fun, then the likes of Daigo, Wong, Infiltration and ChrisG would never even be known for their prowess.

But the tournament scrubs take Sirlin’s words and use them in an environment (that of online play) against people (could be children or people high on drink or drugs just playing their Xbox) who Sirlin probably never intended his words to be used on.

As an aside, it is worth noting that the one player in the Mortal Kombat community with any credibility as a high level tournament player (Perfect Legend), won his first 2 Mortal Kombat Evos by almost exclusively practising online and against the computer.

So much for online being a waste of time…

Making Up Rules Does Not Make You A Scrub

Sirlin is very clear that making up rules restricts you as a player. Apparently it is only by freeing your mind of the bondage of rules that you can experience true gaming nirvana. (Or something).

Again, bearing in mind when this book was written, Sirlin is preaching something that isn’t wrong in the context it was meant, but is wrong in the modern day Internet environment. When you play offline at a tournament you play by the tournament’s rules. If the tournament says you can use infinites and you choose not to, then you cannot complain if others do. In this environment you have a black and white rulebook.

Online, there is no rulebook and people are free to make up their own rules. In a world of bigoted, opinionated, intolerant nerds, who does one listen to when deciding on rules? The tournament scrubs of course quote Sirlin and say anything goes. They say that infinites are legitimate and if it’s in the game then use it (barring game-crashing glitches).

This is not right or wrong because it’s just someone’s opinion. What’s wrong is that the tournament scrubs, quoting Sirlin, dismiss anyone as a scrub who does not play by their ‘anything goes’ mindset.

I personally do not think full infinites are legitimate and I won’t play online against anyone who does. Of course if I was going to an offline tournament and they were legal there then I would use them, but online, taking into account such things as lag, input lag, poor connections etc, I don’t feel that the ‘anything goes’ mentality is justified.

My personal rationale for not saying infinites are legitimate is that they aren’t usually programmed on purpose, they are often patched if they are easy to do and most of the time no one sits around while a game is being developed saying, ‘Right – let’s give this character an infinite’. So if they weren’t meant to be in there then don’t use them. Of course, this could also apply to lots of other crap in games too, so this isn’t enough on its own.

The clincher for me is that in any other major sport or pastime, something like an infinite would never be allowed. When deciding on rules for a video game, I often look at other sports and games to see what they do. The notion of being trapped in such a way as you can’t do anything and your opponent just repeats a move until he wins isn’t something any major sport would allow so I don’t see why it should be valid in video games.

Again, none of this is right or wrong – it’s just opinions. If you like infinites, good for you. I personally don’t.

I mention this infinite issue because it highlights something I find objectionable, even pathetic about, the tournament scrubs. Their mentality, gleaned from Sirlin, is that the more ‘cheap’ your tactics, the more ‘dirty’ they are and the more broken they are, the more high level and elite you are as a player. Thus they sit on their websites trying to find ways to ‘jail’ opponents in traps or infinites, congratulating each other when they succeed.

If such things exist in a game and you want to win, then fine, use them. Yes, they can be key to winning in a tournament. But acting like doing so makes you cool and hard and elite and high level is painful to watch.

When Sirlin wrote his ‘use anything in the game at all costs’ directive, he almost certainly had in mind simply winning. But his words have been taken and twisted and used by tournament scrubs to praise brokenness and cheapness as though it was something to be encouraged and desired; as though it was sex itself in video game form.

To my knowledge, not one single attractive female in the history of the planet has ever been seduced into bed with the words, ‘Hey baby, I can take the whole of another man’s life-bar with a block infinite…’

As far as rules go, they exist in every other sport and game. All over the world, men in pubs discuss rule changes they feel would make their favourite sport better; and the rule makers of those sports have changed the rules over the years to enhance those sports and make them less boring and more ‘fair’.

Good rules don’t inhibit how people play – they enhance the playing experience. Brokenness is not encouraged in most other sports, there is no reason to encourage it in fighting video games. Games makers should be pressured to make better games so people don’t have the opportunity to use broken crap.

Making up rules to try and create a better community gaming experience is common sense and in fact needs to be done, especially with games that have traditionally been as broken as Mortal Kombat games.

However, many tournament scrubs have read (or misread) the words of Dave Sirlin and believe that any attempt to create rules for any reason makes one a scrub.

Again, it’s about the mentality, not the actions. Allowing ‘everything’ because you firmly believe that it’s the right thing to do is one thing.

Allowing it because you have a paranoid fear that NOT doing it makes you a scrub or a weak player is stupid. But the message Sirlin sends out is very clear – if you complain about rules (aside from game breaking glitches or characters so overpowered they might as well have a 1 button kill move) then you are almost certainly a scrub.

Making up rules doesn’t make you a scrub. Rules are great – again, they exist in every sport and game in the world to make the playing experience better. There is no major sport in the world where you open up the rulebook and it says ‘Do what the fuck you like’.

The concept of playing with ‘everything’, or ‘if it’s in the game then do it‘ really doesn’t exist in other major games.

You don’t hear people say in a game of soccer ‘If I can do it then I will – so I’m going to pick up the ball and run with it‘.

Every sport, every game, every pastime in the world has rules – most have lots and lots of rules to avoid genuinely cheapening the game.

So rules can be good. Obviously with random people on the Internet you can’t expect everyone to know your rules but on community websites you can make up rules which enhance the game for community members. Sadly, because these websites are mostly run (and over-run) by tournament scrubs, this isn’t something that is likely to be achieved.

It’s funny…

Back when I first joined the Mortal Kombat community the game of the day was Mortal Kombat: Deception, a game impossible to play without community rules. Almost every character in that game has a number of brain-dead 1-button infinites on top of general game brokenness.

Yet, even though the community was full of server trash, we made our community rules about what you could and couldn’t do and we just played. We actually had a couple of years of competitive online play and built many good memories which remain with me as some of my happiest moments gaming.

The one kind of trash we didn’t have then was the tournament scrub, (because Mortal Kombat had no real tournament scene then, whatever a few misguided UMK3 fanboys will tell you) and that’s probably why we were able to make our rules and play as a community on the various online servers.

If a game like Mortal Kombat: Deception was released today (with no patching like back then), no doubt the tournament scrubs would scream that we all had to play with the infinites or be labelled scrubs and the community would die after 2 weeks.

This isn’t even just about online play.

A popular, but weak argument for not banning infinites or other severe brokenness in tournaments goes, ‘In a tournament, you’d have to have a judge watching every match to see if anyone broke the rules – it’s not practical.

But in professional sports like golf, the players are expected to monitor themselves, play according to the rules and be honest about infractions.

If this can be done in professional billion £££ sports, it can certainly be done in video games.

Again, none of this is an issue about infinites specifically. They are just being used to illustrate a point.

To sum up, the point that Sirlin is trying to make when he talks about rules is that players who cannot defeat ‘cheap’ tactics whine and cry and throw tantrums instead of learning how to beat them. They make up little rules in their head based on what they personally can or can’t do and attack anyone who breaks them.

By any objective rationale, these people are scrubs and their ‘rules’ are illogical and should be ignored.

However this type of scrub should not be confused with someone who makes up rules simply because he wants a better playing experience – which is the same mentality that official rule makers have when they make the rules for their billion ££ sports and games.

People who play offline at tournaments should not be afraid to voice opinions on having rules if they feel it will make the game better to play and better to watch on streams.

Playing to win is NOT always correct

There may be ambiguous elements to Sirlin’s book but one thing which is very clear is that Sirlin believes that winning is the most important thing in competitive play however you achieve it. The title of the very book after all is ‘Playing to Win: Becoming the Champion’.

For Sirlin, victory is everything. In places it almost seems as if it is a crusade to him. This mentality has been adopted by many tournament scrubs who use it to attack anyone who does not share their (and Sirlin’s) beliefs.

Sirlin himself says in his book to those who follow his ‘play to win’ philosophy, ‘Your objective is good and right and true, and let no one tell you otherwise.

The very essence of a scrub is the belief that your way is the righteous one and everyone else is wrong. In this regard, Sirlin is no less a scrub than those he dismisses as one. To say that winning alone (by any legal means) is all that matters is plain wrong when so many sporting greats of the past have spoken of what drives them.

The following quote is from Georges St-Pierre, regarded by many as one of the greatest MMA fighters ever.

(Original Tweet)

For many, a cheap win is a worthless win or a diminished win. For some, a boring win using negative tactics is a diminished win.

Like with most things, none of this is right or wrong, but personal opinion. But again, what is wrong is trying to make out that your way is the right way and everyone else is inferior for not thinking the way you do.

History is full of paper champions who managed to win and keep titles by devious means, by ducking rivals or by using negative tactics. They earned their money and their belts but were often ridiculed by the public and were never afforded the respect they craved along with the money.

Contrast this with those who did things the hard way, never dodged an opponent, beat all in front of them with inherent skill and not on technicalities and retired with the knowledge that they had the respect of entire generations.

For many, that feeling of ‘respect’ is worth more than all the prize money and trophies earned. More than the sense of winning alone. If Sirlin and the tournament scrubs don’t understand this then they are ignorant in the truest sense of the word.

How does this translate to fighting video games?

Well, imagine someone plays a game in high level tournaments and he constantly wins by picking the most top tier, broken character and utilises all its most broken moves, including infinites etc..

There is nothing wrong with what this guy is doing – if the tournament allows it then he can do it. So he plays and wins maybe 10 tournaments in a row playing like this.

Then imagine someone else comes along and uses a mid tier or low tier character with little to no brokenness; just natural reflexes and brain-power and beats the other guy repeatedly.

Do you seriously think that no one would care how the guy won or be impressed by it? That no fuss would be made of how he beat a much better character with no ‘cheap’ tactics? Everyone would be raving about the guy, not just the scrubs, but all the way up to professional players.

The point being made is that even at the highest level of professional fighting games, the concept of how you win, not just whether you win or not, exists.

Just like with any other sport, someone who wins while using less ‘cheap’ or ‘dirty’ tactics is going to get more kudos and be thought more highly of than someone who ‘tier whores’ with a die-hard ‘play to win’ attitude.

In his book, Sirlin seems to think that sportsmanship extends just to shaking your opponent’s hand when you win. But in competitive play it goes much further than this.

Most professional sports have good sportsmanship built in. Sports like football (soccer to Americans) and tennis etc. are filled with ways in which you are expected to respect your opponent.

For example, in the English Premier League, one of the world’s richest football divisions, if a player goes down injured, the other team is expected to put the ball out of play to allow him to get treatment. The same is expected in most professional football leagues.

This isn’t written in any rulebook, but any team that didn’t do it and went on to score would cause demands for a rematch and probably riots, depending on which country the game was played in.

In fact, football’s governing body FIFA has a ‘Fair Play Committee’ which, and I quote ‘deals with fair play matters in football, monitors adherence to fair play as well as supporting and supervising the conduct of everyone involved in football.

Do not confuse the scrub’s pathetic ‘code of honour’ which is just him whining that anything from a fireball to throwing is cheap and should be banned, with genuine codes of honour which exist in all levels of competitive play.

By the standards of a common sense person, a scrub’s ‘code of honour’ is a ridiculous thing. But also by the standards of that same person, a real code of honour is something that should be respected, (but not forced onto other people).

If you disagree, then be sure to go up to Georges St-Pierre the next time you see him and call him a scrub…

Taking Words In Context

One of the more annoying aspects of the tournament scrub is that he uses Sirlin’s hatred of scrubs to attack anyone who uses words like ‘spam’ or ‘cheap’ etc., whatever the context, dismissing them as scrubs.

These words are not inherently bad words and there is no reason why a reasonable person should not use them.

To ‘spam’ just means to do a move repeatedly – that’s all. There is nothing wrong with telling someone to spam a move. What is wrong is whining that spamming is bad and complaining about it all the time.

There is also nothing wrong with pointing out a move is cheap. Cheap moves are just moves which are high reward and low risk. So they are usually safe to do and can often further be described as ‘brain-dead’ in that they take very little skill to execute.

What is wrong is whining all the time that something is cheap when it can be easily over-come or whining that everything from a throw to a fireball is cheap. There is nothing wrong with pointing out a genuinely cheap move or character.

Professional fighter gamers use terms like ‘spamming’ and ‘cheap’ all the time. Again, there is nothing wrong with using these terms, just appreciate the context they are said in and the person who is saying them.

Don’t let scrubs hijack these words and only give them bad connotations. Don’t let tournament scrubs label you a scrub for using these words in a perfectly reasonable way.

There is a serious point here. The reality is that games which encourage spamming and cheap moves often turn away crowds. The FGC is at a point in its life where it is trying to become more mainstream and get more revenue for bigger tournaments with more money. To do this you need to make games exciting to watch.

In the UFC, a fighter can be penalised for running away from his opponent. This is done to keep the matches interesting. In boxing, defensive boxers are routinely booed. The notion of being boring and defensive exists in every other sport – the same applies to fighting video games.

Tournament scrubs take their lead from Sirlin in attacking anyone who mentions words like ‘spamming’ and ‘cheap’ but if the people uttering those words know what they are talking about, then they should be at least listened to.

Personally I like spamming cheap moves but I can see that if fighting video games are to take off in a big way, the games have to be made more exciting for viewers to watch. Which means less zoning, less spamming and fewer cheap moves. Of course – go too far in the other direction and games become equally as dull to watch which is why a series like Virtua Fighter is viewed as too technical and boring by many.

Finally, I would point out that there are many high level tournament players who rely on exploiting cheap, brain-dead moves to get their wins. These players would fade away if they had to play a game where that wasn’t possible, but that’s another article…

You Don’t Have To Be At A Tournament To Be Competitive

Sirlin’s book is really aimed at people who play at offline tournaments but his words have been taken by tournament scrubs and his philosophies are used to belittle anyone who doesn’t go to tournaments.

Often you will hear a tournament scrub say that if you don’t go to offline tournaments then you can’t really be competitive and you are just a ‘casual gamer’.

This is nonsense. The whole, demeaning notion of a ‘casual gamer’ is flawed.

A game of pick-up basketball on a street playground, a game of football in the park, even a family playing Monopoly (actually ESPECIALLY a family playing Monopoly) – all have high levels of competitiveness.

Most gamers nowadays are serious gamers in the sense they spend most of their free time immersed in video games. They play them all the time, they spend hours a week posting about them on websites etc.

You don’t have to be at an officially organised tournament with brackets and an entrance fee or warm up to ‘Eye of Tiger’ before every match to be competitive at something or be serious about gaming.

Even with true professional gamers there is the notion that ‘casual’ matches aren’t really that important but if you’ve ever watched someone rage at their Xbox when lag caused them to lose a match you’d soon realise how important winning can be to some people, even when there is no money or tournament on the line.

Of course, there is the argument that unless you are in the perfect environment of the tournament hall, with perfectly set up controllers and the best screens and no lag etc., no match can be considered anything but casual.

This really isn’t true.

When I was young, I used to play football in the park after school. We had to make goals out of coats, there was no marked out pitch, the ball might even be a tennis ball instead of a proper football, but the games we had were always competitive to the maximum.

The lack of tournament quality surroundings has simply never equalled a lack of competitiveness in the history of playing anything.

99% of all games and sports played around the world are played by non professionals in non professional environments.

To dismiss them all because the average person doesn’t play on a Premier League pitch or under tournament rules is just ridiculous.

You simply don’t get this mentality with any other pastime aside from video games.

No one ever told me when I came home from those football games in the park that I was just playing casual matches and they didn’t count for anything because I wasn’t playing in the World Cup with an official ball, a referee and a full sized pitch.

No one has ever told a bunch of guys playing pick-up basketball on an outdoor playground that their games were non-competitive because they weren’t playing in the NBA. No one ever told them that the wind and the bumpy ground meant their games were meaningless.

Many people in gaming communities devote their lives to playing video games and put in as many hours as people who go to tournaments. There is nothing ‘casual’ about them.

Do not confuse true ‘casual gamers’, (those who don’t play video games that often) with people who simply play at a lower level than the highest ranked tournament players.

Just because you can play video games without feeling the need to put yourself on a web stream or you are able to have a few friends round to play without charging everyone money and organising people into brackets, that doesn’t make you a casual player.

In the graphic below (the bit circled red), is a certain mindset illustrated by Matthew ‘Shock’ Luongo, the so-called Godfather of the Mortal Kombat community. It’s a view shared by many tournament scrubs. It’s the kind of small-minded, ‘elitist’ mentality which drives people away from websites and it simply isn’t true.

(You can click on it to make it easier to read).

Small minded Shock

Serious gamers go to tournaments‘.

Really Shock?

Then what do the serious gamers in the MK community do after they have been to a tournament? They get back behind their computer screens and spend hours on websites like TYM posting the same ignorant, argumentative, intolerant, keyboard-warrior shit that 80% of people who just play online do.

True ‘serious gamers’ don’t do this.

Don’t confuse genuine high level professional tournament gamers like the aforementioned Daigo, Wong and ChrisG etc. with the likes of Shock and his little UltimateMK clique, REO and Tom Brady or the 99% of tournament scrubs from websites who go to offline tournaments.

The vast majority of these guys are simply not fit to look down on non tournament players by virtue of the way they behave and the things they say.

Before Shock’s site UltimateMK got closed down by the server trash who posted there, it was full of tournament goers who filled the site with ignorant, opinionated rubbish.

The other so-called high level MK sites like MKU and TYM are no better.

Mortal Kombat United is a travesty of a site – its owners stole the code and formatting from a previous site which prominent community members helped to get closed down. MKU now panders mostly to the worst kinds of American Xbox stereotype.

Test Your Might, the main site now for Mortal Kombat tournament players is a horrible mixture of the worst that SRK and GameFAQs has to offer. What passes for ‘high level’ tournament players on that site spend most of their time writing drivel that puts the MK low level fanboy sites to shame.

90% of threads on Test Your Might involve keyboard warriors attacking anyone who has a different opinion to them, the same old GIFs pulled from Google Images of people eating popcorn or face-palming and the same old hysterical, subjective ignorance in tier list and nerf/buff threads you get on somewhere like GameFAQs and on pretty much every other shitty American website on the Internet.

These are the self proclaimed ‘high level’ tournament players scrubs I am talking about. Real high level tournament professionals don’t spend all day every day having raging nerd-wars and ‘trolling’ on crappy little community web sites.

They spend their time just training and getting better.

Tournament scrubs are not fit to tell other people who don’t go to their little tournaments that their opinions don’t count. In most cases they aren’t fit to lick the boots of decent, ordinary people who allow them to live their fantasies as professional game players, by buying the games they play in sufficiently large numbers for there to BE a high level tournament scene.

Whether tournament scrubs like it or not, normal people who just buy a game and play the modes within, (including online), have as much right to venture an opinion on the game they spent their money on as anyone else.

Yes, when discussing things like nerfs and buffs, the reasonable, rational thing to do is not take into account the opinions of Internet scrubs who cry that everything is cheap and who pull their cord out at a moment’s notice.

However, there is also no cause to listen to hysterical tournament scrubs either. One only has to read the reams of mind-rotting nonsense from so-called high level players on TYM about nerfs / buffs, which characters are top 5 etc., to see that irrationality occurs at both ends of the skill-level spectrum.

People who don’t go to tournaments are the 99% majority. They aren’t ‘online players’. They are just normal people playing the video games they buy. It’s the tournament players who are the odd ones. They choose to take a recreational toy and revolve their life around it. They are free to do so, so long as they don’t hurt anyone else, but they should realise that what they choose to do doesn’t make them superior, it just makes them different. In many cases, that difference makes them worse people when they use their mentality to belittle others who don’t think the same way they do.

I personally have no reputation as a top gamer and I don’t profess to be one. I just buy video games and give the people who make them my money so they can make more. As far as I am concerned, that makes my opinions on the games I spend my money on as valid as anyone else’s.

I am entitled to complain when the online mode I am given is sub-standard and the retort, ‘it’s just online – deal with it‘ doesn’t cut it. I have a decent enough connection that if the net code is good and my opponent has a good connection and doesn’t live too far away I should have a good online experience.

Sites should put pressure on games makers to improve their programming and make better games with better netcode. Tournament goers should especially pressure games makers to do this on their sites as a way of thanking all those ‘online players’ who they rely on to help them live their dream.

As mentioned above, I came into the Mortal Kombat community during the release of MKD – a game that people rightly dismiss as totally unplayable from a high-level point of view due to its plethora of brain dead infinites and other glitches.

But despite that, we still made it work. We made up some rules to limit the broken crap and for the best part of 2 years on 3 separate online servers there was competitive play. Fierce, war-like, competitive play. Clan wars, feuds, hard fought battles and competitiveness of the highest order.

Anyone who was there would tell you that the level of competitiveness equalled anything you’d find at an offline tournament. There was no FGC vernacular, no ‘salty’, ‘hype’ or ‘free’, little talk of frame data and few match-up charts. It was competitive video game playing at its best. Nothing we have had since in the Mortal Kombat world has come close, as far as I’m concerned.

So no, serious gamers don’t just go to tournaments. Competitiveness exists at all levels, not just at tournaments.

All it takes to be a serious gamer is to love video games and to spend most of your time playing them. If your skill level is low you can still be a serious gamer and can still have competitive games if you play people your own level. Something that happens in every other sport.

90% of fighting game players should never bother going to a current tournament because they will never win – they simply aren’t good enough.

You don’t get this in any major sport. You don’t get club tennis players being told they should ‘level up’ and aim to play at Wimbledon and the US Open every year alongside Nadal and Federer.

Most fighting game tournaments are ‘Open’ type events so people of all skills play together. This is useless for a lower level player. What’s the point of going half way around the country to get your arse kicked by someone 10 times better than you?

Yes, people can get better to a degree but everyone hits a plateau. Few can ever be the highest level in anything.

If ‘pro gamers’ want to get lower level players more involved with tournaments then they need to arrange more low level tournaments, like you’d get with any sport or competitive activity.


I don’t pretend to know Sirlin well. I have actually read his whole book (unlike many people who quote him) and the basic points he makes are sound.

I don’t of course hold him responsible for the fact that most gaming websites are steaming piles of horseshit masquerading as humanity. As I have pointed out, in fact websites are not as bad as people think – it’s just that the worst elements tend to dictate the tone of the site. They silence or drive away the better elements.

None of this is Sirlin’s fault and it is not his fault that some of his words have been taken and twisted by tournament scrubs and used as weapons to attack people.


Nevertheless, his words have become a movement of sorts and regardless of whether it was his intention, they have helped to create a particularly virulent kind of online server trash.

I do also think that on some points Sirlin is narrow minded and oblivious to realities around him in other competitive arenas, where things like honour and fair play are respected entities and are an integral part of competitive play.

These ‘tournament scrubs’ are all the worse because the environment they are in encourages them and their behaviour. The greater fighting game community is generally not a nice place to be. I’m not just talking about the pathetic tournament scrubs, but the real top level FGC players too.

People hate stereotypes but the uncomfortable reality is that many fighter gamer tournament players ARE stereotypes, either physically or mentally or both. Much of the FGC is made up of archetypal, alpha nerd wannabes, taking part in video game equivalents of masculine, macho activities which most of them have no stomach for in real life. The more sedate ones may have nicer personalities but many are still, ultimately, fat nerds.

Two elite FGC warriors at the peak of physical perfection

Yes of course not all members of the FGC fit the stereotypes. Some work out and have good bodies and some are nice people. But far too many do fit the stereotypes – enough to set the tone for the whole community.

The simplistic, repetitive language people in the FGC use, switches between the violent and the moronic. Terms like ‘rape’ and ‘own’ are frequently used in the FGC to give the impression of dominance. It isn’t a case of these words being insensitive or unacceptable – they just sound so stupid and feeble when uttered by people who are so clearly trying to over-compensate for their physical short-comings.

Even when they’re not trying to give the impression they are dominant alpha males, most of them sound like gibbering idiots. Every other word is ‘salty’, ‘free’ or ‘hype’ – I’ve heard more varied vocabulary from parrots. (By the way, every time I hear someone in the FGC say they are ‘free’, I think of this).

If the FGC member is black, you can throw in ‘nigger’, (sorry ‘nigga’) as one of the stock words which he’s likely to use over and over again until you want to mute him.

There is nothing wrong with using any word now and again but when you hear the same limited words and phrases over and over, you can feel your IQ lowering in real-time.

The biggest influence in the FGC (outside of Japan) is America and it’s a sad fact that the Western FGC is a tribute to the worst aspects of American culture – the worship of stupidity and the pretensions to dominance that the country is famous for.

The intolerant aspect of these people’s personalities described above means that if you say anything they disagree with, then you are likely to be labelled a ‘troll’ or a ‘hater’. These people cannot take criticism and instantly dislike anyone who says something negative about them.

If you are going to be in the public eye, then you need to learn to just take whatever people say about you. We all say what we like about football stars and baseball stars and movie stars etc. We all slam them when they perform badly. Any high level video game player has almost certainly done the same thing himself.

The downside of the fame and adulation that comes with being a famous competitor is that people may slate you and talk negatively about you. If you can’t take it, then don’t take up a competitive endeavour. The same rules that apply to every other person in the public eye also apply to you.

Never forget that the same people criticising you are the very ones buying the games that allow you to play. They are the same ones watching you at tournaments and on streams and on YouTube, giving you the attention you crave so much.

It’s worth mentioning here that many tournament scrubs and even decent tournament players can be said to have a scrub mentality about them.

In recent times we have seen one player in the FGC called Christopher Gonzalez (NYChrisG or just ChrisG) perform well with tactics many in the FGC find boring and cheap.

Many have abused him and his tactics and proven that although tournament players may claim to have a ‘play to win’ mentality, that has its limits, even with them.

To be frank, I have little hope that the FGC community can be enhanced to a degree where anyone with a rational outlook on life and a non-extremist mentality can be made to feel welcome.

Sadly it seems that the only attempts to improve the situation are by fighting one form of extremism with another, as militant homosexuals and radical feminists use the poor excuses for humanity which make up 90% of the FGC to continue their perpetual war against all straight, white men.

If I had a voice in the FGC I would humbly suggest that scrubs of all forms appreciate that not everyone has the same opinion as them. I would add that if you like playing games a certain way then simply use the many websites to find like-minded people to play against. Raging at anyone who doesn’t think the same way you do just reflects badly on you. You are best off finding people your own level if you can’t beat the better players who use the dirtier tactics.

There should be, ironically, less tolerance for intolerance in community websites. People who want threads closed because they don’t like the subject matter, people who call anyone a ‘troll’ or a ‘hater’ for not liking what they like, people who attack anyone who has a different opinion to them – websites should work to remove these people from community websites for the betterment of the whole community. This goes for mods as well as users.

When I go onto a so-called ‘high level’ FGC website, be it SRK, TYM or wherever, I don’t see any difference in thread-quality to that found on sites like GameFAQs. The language is the same, the mentality is the same, the animated GIFs from Google Images are the same, the ‘memes’ are the same, the hateful people are the same. This last one is especially what drives decent players away and weakens online communities.


I am aware that from time to time, the FGC does good things or charitable things for FGC members in need. But these occasions are sporadic and sadly do not define the FGC as a whole, nor do they set the overall tone for the FGC on a day to day, minute to minute basis.

Being an arsehole and helping to drive people away from the community 95% of the time, then occasionally donating to a drive to get someone to a tournament for a game you like, doesn’t qualify you as a great human being.

I am also aware that not all tournament gamers fit the stereotypes detailed above and if you don’t, then this article is not about you. But, it will need people like you to stand up and speak out against the individuals I have mentioned in this article if you care at all about your community.

Until then, the greater FGC, (including all scrubs, tournaments scrubs and associated community websites) is what it is – a cesspool of niggers, wiggers, white trash, trailer trash, server trash, scumbags, douchebags, maggots, faggots, lying turds, alpha nerds, misfits, psychos, lying, crying, hate-filled, anger-filled, tantrum-throwing, raging losers.

Sadly for Dave Sirlin, he is a hero to many of them.


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