What's My Marginal Advantage?

A win is a win. Just win. It doesn't matter how you do it.

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On Monday, in The Meta of Meta Learning, we talked about the concept of “Slow is Fast,” that applies to practice but it also applies in game. Today we’re going to talk about the importance of Marginal Advantage.

Sean Plott wrote this amazing post on the Team Liquid forum in 2007 which is still just as true today, where he talks about marginal advantage.

The marginal advantage embodies the notion that one cannot, and should not, try to “win big.” In a competitive setting, the strong player knows that his best opponents are unlikely to make many exploitable mistakes. As a result, the strong player knows that he must be content to play with just the slightest edge, an edge which is the equivalent to the marginal advantage. More importantly, a one-sided match ultimately carries as much weight as an epic struggle. After all, the match results only in a win or a loss; there are no “degrees” of winning. Therefore, at any given point in a game, the player must focus on making decisions that minimize his probability of losing the advantage, rather than on decisions that maximize his probability of gaining a greater advantage. In short, it is much more important to the expert player to not lose than it is to win big. Consequently, a regular winner plays to extend his lead in a very gradual, but very consistent manner.

Perhaps the best line of that post is:

Amateur players, on the other hand, try risky, greedy strategies. 

I may get that tattooed on me as a reminder. Watching streamers, it’s easy to try to play like them but it’s important to remember they’re playing to entertain, not necessarily to win. You’re not keeping score of your favorite streamer’s win rate, you’re tuning in for their combination of personality and skill.

Since no one is likely watching you, it’s better to play slow, smart, and methodically - playing to your ever-changing marginal advantage - than it is to play fast and loose and hoping you’ll eek out a win. The difference here is making smart bets on probabilities you can see versus just letting it ride and hoping for the best.

Marginal advantage changes throughout the game and also has a lot to do with an individual or a team’s playing style.

Let’s dive into an example. Let’s say you’re a great sniper or can hit a long-range AR shot like a champ. Zone changes, you quickly get to the highest point in the new zone, build up three layers in a metal 1x1, turn your cone into a ramp and look around for people running around out in the open.

You have a few marginal advantages in this spot:

  • Height and visibility over the field

  • Your superior long-range shooting skills

  • Good/Great overall positioning (depending on the zone and actual scenario in-game)

You may also have disadvantages:

  • Low ammo

Think about the questions below as you play today and this weekend. Maybe write down answers to them to solidify them in your head. If you share them with me, I’ll share them here anonymously for others if you like.

How do you like to play? What works for you when you’re playing your best? What’s your mindset? Your brain uses a ton of energy to solve complex problems, do you have enough food in you? Do you fly through the air recklessly or methodically place walls between you and your opponents? Are you best with an AR? A shotgun? A sniper? Do you play high ground or low ground best? What are you best at?

Have a great weekend. See you Monday.