So you’re a n00b. It’s OK. Everyone was a n00b at some point. Even I was a n00b back in the day. You may even be so n00b that you don’t know what n00b means (hint: n00b = newb = newbie). Thankfully, you’ve come to the right place. Online video gaming can be a haven of new friendships, unforgettable experiences and just all-around fun. But it can also be a cesspool of trolling, racism, and general douchebaggery. As a longtime gamer and contributor to The Escapist, I’m here to teach you how to get into the haven and avoid the cesspool.
Let’s get you started with equipment. First question to ansewr: Console or PC? Your platform of choice should be decided on what kind of games you wanna play. Do you enjoy sitting on the couch, shooting people in the face in first-person shooters like Halo? How about getting in some couch co-op with a buddy sitting right next to you in Left 4 Dead 2? Or maybe you wanna be the guy who takes home the gold at your local Street Fighter tournament. If so, console is probably the platform for you.
However, if you prefer click-click-clicking on hordes of demons in an action RPG (role-playing game) like Diablo, working with a team of five buddies to bring down the enemy base in a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) like League of Legends, or agonizing over strategies and synergies for ages in a turn-based strategy game like X-COM, then PC is probably the way to go.
If you’re going down the console path… congratulations. You’ve picked the easy way out. Just buy either the Xbox One or PS4, plug it into your TV and you’re good to go.
The quickest way to have a bad time in an FPS is to get sucked into a racist argument with a 12-year-old.
Now let’s have a look at the type of games you will be playing on your console, starting with the noble first-person shooter. FPSs trace their roots all the way back to Doom and Quake, letting mankind talk smack to strangers on the internet while blowing them away.
Popular choices in this genre right now include Halo 4 (only on Xbox), Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Battlefield 4. No matter the game, every FPS boils down to the same principle: Shoot the other guy before he can shoot you. However, there are some “unwritten” rules to follow to avoid getting bombarded with racist insults and comments about your mother’s sexual promiscuity.
First, don’t be too good. Second, don’t be too bad. The best player sits somewhere in the middle—not pissing off his own team by “sucking so hard” and not pissing off the enemy team by “clearly using wallhax.” The best way to reach this “good enough” plateau is to simply learn by example. Find a popular Twitch streamer of your favorite game and watch how its players handle things. The best ones will explain their decisions, allowing you to learn the best way to approach any given situation.
Playing a shooter online against real people is a massive change from playing solo. People think, react and play much differently than computers do, which takes some getting used to. Don’t get too frustrated when someone kills you (and kills you, and kills you, and kills you), and if you start to lose your mind, take a breath and a break. Most shooters use “drop in – drop out” multiplayer, meaning that you can join and quit a game or server without much consequence.
Also, simply tell people that you are new. In that case, some vets will be a lot more willing to help you out than if they think you just suck. Ask for help, be courteous when it is given and try really hard to let all of the vile comments slide. The quickest way to have a bad time in an FPS is to get sucked into a racist argument with a 12-year-old.
This advice works quite well for pretty much every genre of online game (especially the part about watching streamers). That said, other genres do have their own quirks.
While Sony and Microsoft have made valiant efforts with their controllers, there’s just no replacing the precision of an arcade stick.
Fighting games got their start in the grimy, noisy arcades of America and Japan, where players would gather to battle, smoke and talk trash, slamming their quarters down on the table to challenge the reigning champ. These days, as arcades have dwindled and taken up residence in the occasional hipster bar, hardcore players have taken their fight sticks inside to battle it out over the internet.
And therein lies the first piece of advice. If you want to get serious about fighting games, you’ll absolutely need to buy a fight stick. While Sony and Microsoft have made valiant efforts with their controllers, there’s just no replacing the precision of an arcade stick.
The only exception to this rule is for Nintendo’s Smash Bros. series, where fans will all agree that the classic GameCube controller is the best way to play.
Other popular titles in this genre include Street Fighter IV and Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. As these games are most often played 1 v. 1 at the competitive level, the best way to learn is to find a mentor, someone who will show you the ins and outs by constantly playing against you and telling you what you’re doing wrong. This might not be realistic for most of you, so the next best thing, as with FPSs, is to watch popular streamers.
Or if you happen to find one of those fast-disappearing arcades, going there and just watching the pros duke it out is a great way to learn, the way everyone used to back in the day. Attending or watching tournaments like EVO can help a ton as well.
It is possible in some circumstances for an exceptionally good player to “carry” his team to MOBA victory, but unlike in, say, the NBA, even basic teamwork skills can overcome one star.
So that’s it for consoles. If you want to join the elite ranks of the PC gaming masters, things get a bit more complicated. To get the most bang for your buck, you’ll want to custom-build your own PC out of individually purchased parts. But that’s a little aggressive for a n00b. So instead, just walk into your local PC shop and say “Hey. Build me a computer that will run The Witcher 3 for around $600”. If they stare blankly back at you, turn around, go outside, walk into another PC shop and repeat. Or ask the geekiest guy you know to build one for you. If he’s a true PC gaming geek, he’ll do it for Mountain Dew and Funyuns.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll need a few more bits of essential equipment, like a proper gaming mouse and gaming headset. Are you using a wireless connection? Turn that shit off. Buy a long-ass LAN cable (I don’t care how far your PC is from your router) and plug it in.
As for the games you’ll be playing on your shiny new PC: Remember how we talked about specific games having their own sets of “unwritten rules of etiquette”? Well, there’s no genre that has more crazy “rules” than what is quite possibly the “newest” genre of video games: the Multiplayer Online Battle Area.
The MOBA was borne out of an old Warcraft 3 custom game called Defense of the Ancients, or DoTA. The basic premise was that two teams of five “heroes” battled together with “lanes” of ever-spawning mindless minions, trying to push their own lane into the enemy base and destroy its “Ancient.” It was this crazy blend of RPG, RTS (real-time strategy) and even team-based shooters, and at the time was something no one had ever seen before.
Dozens of MOBAs have sprung up since DoTA’s heyday, but the “big three” are Riot Game’s League of Legends, Valve’s DoTA 2, and the newcomer, Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm. Of the three, League of Legends is the most popular, Heroes of the Storm is the most n00b friendly, and DoTA 2 is the most wallet-friendly; it’s only one where all heroes are instantly, and permanently, available to everyone.
The first thing you need to know about MOBAs is that they are incredibly complicated, usually requiring perfect teamwork to win. If both teams’ players have equal individual skills, the side with better teamwork will always win. It is possible in some circumstances for an exceptionally good player to “carry” his team to victory, but unlike in, say, the NBA, even basic teamwork skills can overcome one star.
So the most important advice I can give you is to play the tutorial. All three games have fairly substantial tutorials that teach you how to play. After that, play lots of “vs. AI” games, so you can get a feel for how things work without causing your teammates to rage.
When you’re finally ready to go “live”, and play real games against actual people, check out character “build guides” at websites such as Mobafire (League of Legends), DOTAfire (DoTA 2) or Heroes Nexus (Heroes of the Storm). They’ll help you make your avatar as formidable as possible.
Watching your MOBA of choice’s big tournaments is an excellent way to learn, as they all feature skilled commentators explaining everything that is going on, and the spectator interface gives you a really solid idea of who is doing what.
Lastly, MOBAs are most fun with friends—particularly if you can all jump into a solid voice-chat program like Skype or Mumble—so gather up a bunch of buddies before diving in. If you love working as a team, this is the genre for you.
Popular streamers such as Trump and Kripp are amazing resources to further your studies, as the players often explain their moves and choices in great detail.
While MOBAs are pretty new, strategy games are incredibly old. Electronically, they date back to Westwood studio’s Dune 2 and Sid Meier’s Civilization, but in the physical realm they date back even further to the likes of Chess and Go, ancient strategy games that were designed to force critical and strategic thinking.
These days, the video game versions of strategy games are usually split into two separate sub genres, Real Time and Turn Based.
Real Time Strategy (RTS) games, as the name would suggest, are in real-time, and require lightning-fast micro and macro management skills to overwhelm your opponent. StarCraft II is the only real competitive choice these days, but be warned as the competition is notoriously fierce. Cut your teeth playing the game’s single-player campaign, which as well as having a fantastic story will teach you the basics. Just like MOBAs, playing lots of “vs. AI” matches will help prepare you live matches against human players.
Also just like MOBAs, StarCraft II has plenty of popular “build order” cookie cutter strategies, of which you can find a plethora of over at Liquipedia.
The second type of strategy games, Turn Based Strategy (TBS), are a lot more forgiving—especially for us older folks who lack those teenager-fast reflexes. It’s a fairly broad genre encompassing “traditional” TBS titles like Civilization V, as well as newer sub genres such as Hearthstone and other online trading card games. Civ 5 is great for marathon-length brain-ticklers, but the online community is fairly small and fractured between it and its spin-off, Beyond Earth, so I would recommend Hearthstone for beginners.
Luckily for you, I’ve already written up a cheap and competitive deck guide for Blizzard’s free-to-play card battler, which should cover those of you just starting out. Popular streamers such as Trump and Kripp are amazing resources to further your studies, as the players often explain their moves and choices in great detail.
So there you have it, a short(ish) introduction to online gaming. It’s by no means exhaustive but hopefully it helps you choose a platform and a genre. Once you’ve made your decision, please continue to research it further and further. The better you understand a game, the more good times you’ll have—and fewer “how the fuck did I just die??” moments.