This thread is not about elitism or competitive gaming being a sport or lolnerds or lolcasuals or scrubs or anything of the sort.
A lot of people play multiplayer games at a non-competitive level, they just want to have fun with some friends, and that's cool. I dig that; I do that, too.
But on the other hand, a lot of people play multiplayer games with the intent of competition: they practice, they think, they experiment, they may even watch videos or look up strategies. However, a tiny, tiny amount of those people actually follow through and join competitive play.
This is what I wonder about. If a person is playing a game and they've invested time and effort into becoming good at it, what keeps them from taking the next step?
I have a few basic theories, based on people and situations I've encountered in real life. But my sample sizes are just too small for me to get a decent picture of what people actually think about low-level competitive gaming, which frustrates me.
Some people must feel that playing in tournaments is a huge time investment, when for many it isn't a lot more than what they might already be spending on the game. A typical local fighting game tourney might cost each player a weekend afternoon, plus travel time. For an FPS, a few hours if they schedule a some warm-up and late arrival leeway, but they wouldn't have to leave their house. For an RTS it's about the same.
This problem is rare, because tourneys are cheap. A local fighting game tourney will usually max out at $10 a head, plus maybe a $5 venue fee. That's being generous, because most are in the $5 range. Until they've reached a much higher level, online FPS and RTS tourneys are usually free to join.
I hear this one a fair bit, but I think it's the easiest to get around. Everyone sucks when they start playing, and everyone loses their first tourney. Often badly. There's no shame in losing, only in giving up. There are plateaus that a player will hit where the only way for them to move up is to play with better players, and the best way to do that is to get involved in a local scene or find an active, competitive scene to be a part of. It's also often the case that a reasonably skilled player won't be the worst player at a tourney, even if they're new. That's something they'll never know until they try.
This one seems the most valid to me. Competitive communities can be cliquish, especially for established games and series. A local scene might have a core group of players who've been playing with each other for years and years, and an online community might have a bunch of initiation hoops to jump through before a player gets accepted, especially in team-based games, because that's when clans get involved. Getting into an established clan, or establishing one, can be a pain in the ass, which is why most don't last very long.
Here's the thing, though: most players are just people who are trying to have some fun by playing a game they enjoy in a setting they enjoy. Namely, a competitive setting. Many of them have been the outsider, or the new guy, and can sympathize, and most are cool dudes anyway. There are assholes in every group, and as the groups get bigger the assholes are more abundant, but, especially online, the assholes are usually just people who like to say things, and have no real connection with actual competition.
This is all really generic, but I think I've covered the major walls keeping people from joining in more actively.
Not every player who plays competitively has absolute aspirations for the top spot. Most treat it as any other hobby. There's a huge gap between travelling cross country to a major tournament and showing up every few weeks to a 30 player local. Not everyone tries out for WCG, or drags their computers to large lans. But everyone who attends any sort of tournament or gathering is playing an important part in keeping alive the competitive scene of a game they enjoy. With very few exceptions most competitive games have a finite shelf life, and their competitive scenes dry up quickly. People tend to abandon ship as soon as they think there's a leak, or there's something else on the horizon.
If you enjoy a game and think it's worthy of competitive play then you shouldn't leave it up to other people. Contact your local scene, and if there's isn't one then try and get something started. If you're taking the time to get good, and if you enjoy competition, then get involved. Find skilled players and stick to them like glue. Join an online tourney, or just play around on some competitive servers. Don't be discouraged if you lose; ask questions and try to learn more about what went wrong.
Before this becomes too preachy, I'd like to bring it back to my original question. What keeps you from joining more competitive play?