The spirit of competition is the driving force behind our game. Every month hundreds of ambitious duelists descend upon a different city in hopes of becoming a champion. The path to glory is not easily ascertained and many never reach the end of this road, largely due to our own misguided fixation on competition. This focus on competition is missing a key pillar of success: cooperation. Cooperating with a group of peers will allow more ideas to be exchanged and for those ideas to be evaluated through different filters. This bolsters a better working environment and allows for an improved outcome for all those involved.
“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
Competition is so deeply ingrained in our society from early childhood that by the time we become young adults it has become second nature. Once schooling begins, you’re thrown into a factory-like setting, separated as if age were the driving factor behind ability, and each subject is kept separate from one another. You’re taught that there is one correct answer, that’s in the back of the book, and that you’re not allowed to look or work with others. In school, that’s called cheating. Everywhere else, that’s called learning.
It is an interesting phenomenon that cooperation is such an integral part of succeeding, given that the game is played on an individual level and that there can only be one winner in a tournament. This emphasis on individual success would seem to promote competition over cooperation, as you are making an attempt to best everyone else in the tournament. It would seem that cooperation on any level would be to directly help the competition.
As it turns out, you can’t standardize learning. You may learn one thing best in a small group, another thing best in a larger group, and another thing best through inward reflection. To say that all learning can be equally achieved through one particular mode is ridiculous. You will often learn faster and learn more in groups and self-learning’s ceiling is typically lower than when learning in a group. While you may also be assisting your possible opponents, they will also be assisting you too and when it is all said and done, you’ll have learned more working with other than you would have had you worked by yourself.
We’ve established how cooperation can allow us to surpass the limits of pure competition, but cooperation is not without legitimate risks of its own. However, the risk of playing someone who you’ve helped and who has helped you is not only minimal, but it is also irrelevant. Legends aren’t the product of any single tournament. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Even if you lose out to cooperating with a future opponent, the singular loss incurred likely won’t matter in the long run. Instead of thinking about unlikely and infrequent possibility of losing within a single event due to cooperation, think about the nearly-guaranteed increase in performance for both you and those you cooperate with over say, ten events. When you look at it this way, even if you do lose to cooperating it’s almost as if you’re paying $1 now to get back $10 in the future.
A potential pitfall of cooperation is that it can often lead to “groupthink.” This is when people want conformity within the group and that desire for harmony leads to everyone deciding to do the wrong thing unanimously. People try to minimize conflict and often come to a conclusion without critically evaluating the alternatives. People do this because they want to appear loyal to the group and bringing up a controversial issue might make this appear disloyal. They also want the group to appear strong and make their decisions with authority. Any dissenting opinions might come across as an attempt to weaken the group or challenge the group’s authority.
Groupthink can be minimized by having each member critically evaluate the problem on their own and setting up independent groups working on the same problem to allow for comparison. Group leaders should not avoid giving their opinions during discussion, so that the group is not influenced through a respect to authority. It is also important to invert. If you are trying to figure out the qualities of the best deck, invert by asking, “what do not want in the best deck?” Then once you have gathered your answers from this perspective, flip them back around to answer the original question by switching things such as “I don’t want lots of normal summons to clog my hand” to “I want minimal normal summons.”
It is perfectly legitimate to question the extent to which one should cooperate. Unfiltered cooperation fosters freeriding and a decreased competitive advantage. If any information you had access to was common knowledge, what would determine the outcome of any given match? Similarly, why would anyone put in effort for the betterment of the group when the information is available to them regardless of whether or not they contributed?
I learned this lesson firsthand and through two separate experiences. The first was in the weeks leading up to YCS Toronto 2012. The banlist had recently been released and the general consensus was that the limitation of Wind-Up Carrier Zenmaity had left the deck significantly weakened and borderline unplayable. My friend Doug and I were spit-balling ideas on the way to locals, when I realized a combo with Magician and Shark that could do 8000 damage with just those two cards by utilizing Photon Papilloperative to turn an unused Rat to attack mode, so that you can get the effect. My naïve and limelight-seeking self from yesteryear decided to post the combo online rather than keep it to myself for YCS Toronto, which sparked a resurgence in Wind-Ups that left me missing top cut on tie breakers with an x-2 record, losing to two Wind-Ups, which were also the eventual winning deck of the tournament.
My second experience came almost a year and a half later immediately following the second Dragon Ruler format. I knew the Dragons were still the most powerful cards in the game, but the new limitation status on them left it unclear how to best utilize them. I discovered Hieratic Seal of the Ashes and used it to dump Hieratics and fill the void of loading my graveyard with Dragon bait. The week before ARGCS Nashville I decided to test the deck at a regional. It performed flawlessly and I finished with a perfect 8-0 record that day. What happened the following week? I dropped at x-2-1 after losing to two mirror matches that didn’t exist a week prior. Still relatively new to being seen as a top player, I had underestimated the impact I would have on the metagame which caused me to be underprepared for the tournament that I was practicing for.
Through these two experiences it became apparent to me that cooperation can hurt and the downsides must be accounted for, but that it is necessary to surpass the natural limits of competition. To view cooperation as the antithesis of competition is to actualize the antithesis of success. Working together will result in a better outcome for all those involved in the long run, but it must be done in a tightly kept group so as to perpetuate any competitive advantages and to prevent freeloading of ideas. Success in competition is best achieved through collaboration. Whether it is Paul Levitin of Overdose, Theerasak Poonsombat of Comic Odyssey, Lazaro Bellido of Superfriends, or Michel Grüner of United Gosus, legendary players have legendary circles. Until next time, play hard or go home!