Some years ago I was struck by the large number of falsehoods that I had accepted as true in my childhood, and by the highly doubtful nature of the whole edifice that I had subsequently based on them. I realized that it was necessary, once in the course of my life, to demolish everything completely and start again right from the foundations. Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy.
“This guy’s underrated man, I’m telling you, he’s really good, like, Top 20 player in the league I swear.”
If you’re reading this, you’re all too familiar with this kind of sentence. Every sport is riddled with value-judgments that, when left unexamined, contaminate our language. Too often, we use words like ‘best’, ‘good’ or ‘underrated’ without giving it a second thought. It’s in no small part for this reason that statements containing these seemingly hollow words are often the smoking gun for unrelenting rage. We rarely know what we mean when we use them, which makes it all the more difficult for others to understand us in turn. Personally, I’ve wondered if there’s value in writing and tweeting about a good play or a good player. Am I saying anything of substance?
Through this interrogation of my twitter self I’ve lost confidence in the grounds for my various judgments about plays, players, and teams. I know s1mple is good, but on what basis? I’ve decided to create a firm foundation on which to ground these . Restart from the bottom up. By the end of this project, hopefully, we’ll have saved our praise and blame by clarifying where they come from and what they’re saying. But before we can talk about good players and good teams, we have to find out what counts as ‘good’: we need a criterion. As the first stratum in this foundation, this article will try to turn this abstract notion of goodness into a concrete definition—one we can then use to sift between the good and the bad in Counter-strike.
All things considered, any argument that tries to protect, define and do justice to the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the ethical sense dances between the noble and the contrived (this dance we call ‘moral philosophy’). Luckily for us, we’re the sports business, not the ethics business. And the exciting thing about sports, from the perspective of a moral philosopher, is that they actually have a foundation for normative judgments. Sports are competitions, and the purpose of playing, as a competitor, is to win. Something is ‘good’ in a sport, then, if it contributes to victory.
We have our foundation, time to build on it. What ‘winning’ means depends on the rules of the competition. In Counter-Strike, as it is now played, a game is won when one team reaches 16 round, or when one team meets a certain condition in overtime, such as a 19-15 scoreline. So what is it for something to be ‘good’ in Counter-Strike? It is for an action to be conducive to reaching 16 rounds before your opponent. Though quantifying it would be difficult, the value of something can be determined by the extent to which it contributes to winning 16 round. The expected value is the value of the action measured before it occurs, when there are many possible outcomes of varying values and probabilities.
From the perspective of the observer, it’s tempting to judge a player’s actions post hoc, using its actual value. If a CT player pushed Appartments and immediately got his head ripped off, that play had negative value. However, from the perspective of the agent (the player at the moment of deciding to push Apps), this was only one of many possible outcomes. Imagine that this agent received a comm from his teammates saying ‘Five mid!’. Given this information, our agent should expect that Apartments will most likely be empty. He knows that if he pushes right now, he will put himself in a favourable position to deny a potential plant if the Ts go B, and a favourable position for a flank on the retake if they go A. So, our agent knows that pushing Apps has a very high potential value and that this potential outcome is the most likely one. Hence, he can expect his play to earn positive value. Of course, since this is a probabilistic judgment, it could, as we supposed, have negative value if it turns out his teammate’s comm was wrong. And yet our agent was justified in his push, even if it turned out poorly. Even if it turned out poorly, he made a good play.
So an action is good if it has positive expected value, where value is determined by the extent of the contribution of the action on the achievement of 16 rounds. We’ve got what moral philosophers would kill for: an objective criterion of value.
I can say woxic is one of the best AWPers in the world and be right. What an incredible feeling.
I can feel the tension raised by my use of ‘objective’; clarifying my use of the word will illuminate our role in the business of praise and blame. The criterion above is objective insofar as for any given action, whether or not it had positive expected value will be a matter of fact. Either it was a good play or a bad one, and stating that it was one is not merely an opinion, it’s a proposition that corresponds to a fact in the world. Powerful stuff.
Metaphysically, there’s no ambiguity as to whether or not that Apps push a good play. Unfortunately, we have epistemic limitations. Note that, in the previous example, I mentioned a probability but failed to mention a number. When a pro player says ‘5 mid’, what’s the probability that he’s right? If he’s wrong, what are the odds that flusha is standing in Apps, crosshair ready to punish a push? It’s hard and terribly impractical to measure the probability of all these outcomes. Even worse, we have to quantify the value of each of these outcomes from the epistemic perspective of our agent, if we want an accurate expected value.
Why is this important? Well, it means that when we’re arguing on twitter about whether C9 or FaZe should’ve won that final in Boston, there’s an objective answer to be found. Plug in the overall expected value of every play in the game, rather than they’re actual value, and see who played better. If you say Cloud9 should’ve won and I object, we are not grasping at straws, arguing relative positions that are neither true nor false, and not especially meaningful. We’re arguing about reality, and, ultimately, about numbers.
Maybe you’ve never had an existential crisis about the futility of argument on the matter of ‘fluke wins’ and the ‘worthy winner’, the ‘best player’ and the ‘statistically slumping’. I certainly have. Thankfully, it seems that my despair was unwarranted, at least on the metaphysical plane. My tweets, unlike my life, aren’t just dust in the wind. We can trace back our value-judgments to their telos, that sweet sweet purpose, those 16 round wins. I can now tweet in peace, knowing what I’m saying something. Whether this something is true or false, we’ll explore in the next article.