This post is inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow player at Tuesday's local tournament, which was originally planned as a box tournament but due to the poor turn-out (and the prize structure because of it), we reverted to just doing a standard weekly tournament. I don't remember the remark exactly, but it was something along the lines of "no body shows up because Team O is too good and no one gets any better playing here." I was kind of taken aback by this statement, I guess because I have a very different philosophy on the steps people should take to not only get better at this game, but really anything in general whether it be a sport, a job, etc. I proceeded to tell him that I believed one of the best ways of getting better was to simply "get your ass kicked" against players that were better than you, so long that you can take something away from it. Whether it be for just a playtesting session, a day, a week, months, years, whatever, playing against someone better than you will provide the learning environment to mimic similar advanced plays and strategies of that player. This, combined with an open mind, a genuine eagerness to learn, the ability to listen and incorporate given advice, and doing proper research are the keys to improving, in my opinion.
The classic example I gave to this player to illustrate this, was my friend Mikey from Texas. He went from playing rando Macro-Soul Absorption combo deck and basically only doing sub-par at tournaments, to becoming a regional topper across multiple games. We used to have weekly playtesting sessions, every Friday at my apartment, which basically was 3 or 4 hours of me beating him game after game, until a few weeks in when it all finally clicked in his mind about how to play properly, at least better. What I mean is just attacking if you already have 1 monster on board, as opposed to summoning a second and walking into a Torrential or Mirror Force. Not blind-MST'ing just to get MST'd back and taking the -1. Not setting spell/traps before attacking just to walk into an Icarus Attack/MalCat. There are many other examples of these kinds of things, basic things to advanced players but something that gets passed by to those that are "average" or below. Once he got to that realization point, he became thirsty to acquire more knowledge about the game and started watching relevant Youtube videos, reading articles, event coverage and feature matches, the whole nine yards. By the end of my time in Texas, he was going toe-to-toe with me at locals. While conversing with this player I even pointed to Vamp who walked by, and said how he has progressed so much as a player by learning through Team O and being on the team.
So going back to my conversation, I had to make it clear that players that played or didn't play in certain tournaments solely to avoid Team O were simply doing themselves a disservice. People don't get better by winning in irrelevant tournaments full of scrubby players; what good is it being "king of the losers?" Once he proceeded to say "well I don't like half of Team O anyway", I knew nothing I said from here on was going to get through his mind as he's already displayed a stubborn attitude toward the game and the player base. Naturally I got upset by this statement because I can honestly say we have grown a lot as a team and we are much different than what we were. The roster itself is different, some being the most helpful people in the entire community, and we're much older now so the "douchieness" level I would say is much lower than what it was. Sure there may be bouts of said "douchieness" but that comes with the territory of the game and for the most part isn't made out of ill will - it's good ol' fashioned "ribbing" you could say.
So after thinking more of the statement "people don't get better playing here" (ie playing people that are good at the game), I had to question myself how people actually do or expected to. Do lower-skilled players have some sort of mindset that the better players should be teaching them how to get better, out of some sense of entitlement? Is it my job or anyone else on Team O's to make the community good? Naturally my answer would have to be "no". Now don't get me wrong, like I said previously, many of the team have helped other players outside of the team at least to some certain extent. Whether this is just giving cards away for free to giving deck advice or game-play advice, taking players up directly under our wing to get better, we've done it all. Some people do so more than others, but I don't think it's right to blanket-statement that all of Team O is unhelpful when it may only be a few members, at most. I believe what it boils down to is the players themselves - after all, we all had to start from somewhere, on the bottom, so what's the difference between them and us? [And I'm not trying to put us on "pro" status or anything like that, but most couldn't argue that we aren't among the top players in our area.]
Herein lies the principle problem of average players, I think what keeps them in their state and slowing their progress to becoming good players: the inability or lack of willingness to listen. I thought of this quote as I was driving home from the tournament - "the players that need help the most, are the ones least likely to listen." Little Timmy would rather fight to the death to prove that one day his Chronomoly deck will win him a tournament than listen to anyone's advice telling him otherwise or giving recommendations on card choices. That player will always run Magic Cylinder because "they might attack into it for game" over a suggested Mirror Force which can potentially deal with the problems on board so he can win next turn (or at least not get killed by those monster(s) anyway). They'll play 55 cards and refuse to ever go lower because "every card is useful." This inability to listen and stubbornness is the biggest hindrance in players' ability in performing better at tournaments. Rather than listen to any sort of constructive criticism from someone that's been playing the game for several years, they'd rather do their own thing because in their mind their views and philosophies are always right.
The effect this inability to listen has on a player is further compounded by "the loser mentality", an attitude that these types of players tend to have. This topic was discussed in great detail in Danny's video so I'd recommend watching that to get his take on the issue. From my standpoint, an example of the loser mentality is when you sit down to play someone, they come down to sit, and go "oh god, I have to play you I'm going to get destroyed" in all seriousness. Some guy who I've never even seen before did that when he went to play me last Sunday - part of it is humbling but part of it is frustrating because people are mentally defeated in the match before they've even started shuffling! Another example is when people physically go out of their way to go to a tournament, but don't enter because they first observe who all is playing and deem the tournament to be too difficult and not "worth it" to enter. This leads to people quitting the game to try something else. Like Danny said in his video, the way that parents raise their kids contributes a substantial part to having or not having this mentality. A child that is raised by parent(s) who can instill confidence in them and a "keep fighting, don't give up" attitude will most likely see more success throughout life than one that is given the attitude of "well if it's too hard then it's OK to stop, how about trying something else?" This teaches them that if something in life is too hard, it's OK to just avoid it altogether rather than dealing with it head-on and trying to conquer it. Now I'm not a parent, but my parents never gave me an inkling of a notion that if something was too hard that it's OK to just give up. It's quite sad to see so many players around my area with this attitude.
Ultimately I believe you get out what you put into this game. What I mean is, someone that does a minimal amount of quality playtesting, no research, no collaboration, and only hits up that one weekly tournament with their pet funsy deck isn't going to see a great amount of success when compared to someone that reads up on the metagame, strives to build the top tier decks, reads articles, analyzes decklists, practices side-decking, etc. The best players in the game put in a lot of time to master their craft; it's the same with any job or people that play various sports on any sort of professional level. It's not simply a numbers game though; as my old drill instructor would say, "if you put two stupids together in a room nothing good's going to come of it." This means that just because you put in 100 hours of testing doesn't mean it'll amount to all that much if it's with fellow players that only have similar bad ideas/views of the game. The motivation that comes from oneself with a positive attitude and a willingness to listen are vital in that effort to becoming better, the best that you can possibly be.