On Losing

LOSEWinning is a good thing, right? You don’t play Chess to lose, so you try to win.

But, your opponent usually has plans of conquest similar to yours, so they might have the gall to try to win. And, horror of horrors, they might actually start winning. How can you possibly stand up to an opponent that is currently winning?

To know how to make the mythical “come back”, you have to know what you are doing. I don’t mean knowing what you are doing in a mechanical sense, but in a game sense. You have to know what is happening when one player is winning and another is losing. So, before we are able to discover the magical “come back,” we have to find out what it means to be winning in the first place.

Every single game out there is a competition of resources, potential and execution. Quake, for example, has resources (ammo, health, armour etc.), potential (being in a position to be able to hurt the enemy) and execution (actually firing the gun and making the other guy go boom).

Each one has a relation to the others, and that exact relation is unique to whatever game you are playing. Shooting a gun in Quake lowers your ammo (resources being spent on execution) while last hitting in DOTA2 gives you gold (resources being gained from execution).

When someone is winning, it means they have the advantage in one or more areas. A person could be winning in that they have more resources, like having more minerals in Starcraft. Or, they could be in a favourable position, like being able to ambush someone in an FPS. Or, they could just be the better player, like in… well… any game ever.

These three stats all describe what someone can do, but with different emphasis.

  • Resources refer to what someone can do. If I have 4 mana in Magic the Gathering, I can cast a 4 mana spell. I cannot cast a 5 mana spell.
  • Potential refers to what someone can do. If I am behind someone in TF2, I can backstab them.
  • Execution refers to what someone does. If my execution is good enough, I can perform a long combo in Street Fighter.

So, how do these things match up against each other? Well, to put it bluntly, the don’t.

This isn’t a rock-paper-scissors thing where resources can trump potential, but not execution. Enough resources can make execution and potential meaningless, while the perfect executor can make any difference in potential or resources moot. Someone with more resources and potential may be able to beat a person with better execution, or they may not, it all depends on the specific game.

This means there is no one “way of coming back” that is universal to every game.

  • Sometimes, it is all about cornering your opponent into an unwinnable scenario, and potential plus execution trumps all resources.
  • Other times is all about collecting your resources in a quick and efficient manner while denying your opponent the same, with resources plus execution trumping potential.
  • Other times, it is about how you’ve prepared for the moment, building your resources and ambushing your opponent to remove execution from the equation.
  • Or, it could be a pure test of mechanical skill, where differences in resources and potential are fleeting and irrelevant.

Some things can cross over the stat definitions and describe both one thing and another.

  • A 30 second boost that is only available every 5 minutes is both a resource and potential.
  • Being able to see the easy checkmate is a combination of potential and execution.

Again, it depends on the game and situation.

But, there are a few guidelines that you can keep in mind while you are practising specific games. These “rules of thumb” will tell you how to think about situations where you are behind in one or more stat. Again, it depends on the game, the players and even the specific moment, so take these points with a grain of salt.


So, you’re behind on resources. This means you have less health, money, units, whatever than your opponent. What you can do as compared to what your opponent can do is very limited, and you feel restricted. The first thing is to force your opponent to “pay” more than you in any encounter. Whenever you attack, make sure you take more than they take from you. If you can spend only 20 gold to kill their 50 gold unit, do so. The more resources they waste, the better you will be in future conflicts. Initiate only when you have nothing, or at least very little, to lose.


This basically means you are in a bad situation. You are ambushed, they brought rock against your scissors, or you just used your big skill with a long cooldown and they haven’t. To solve this situation: run. Flee. Skedaddle. Vamoose. Exit stage left. Get out of the bad place and get into a not bad place. Try to remove or neutralize the advantage your opponent has. If they are behind you, turn around. If they are surrounding you, get away from them. If they have a temporary super weapon, get out until they lose it. Also, try not to put yourself into situations where you might be ambushed. Paranoia is your friend in this situation.


Well damn, they are better than you. This really sucks. You should quit now and uninstall, noob. gg no re, mid feeding etc. Except, that’s not the end of the story. If the opponent is out-playing you, you need to out-think them and exploit the other two stats. Farm harder, set up ambushes, heal yourself, take pot shots, whatever you have to do to weaken your opponent. Yes, they can beat you in a 1v1 situation on equal terrain with equal weapons, so make sure that never happens. Have buddies with you. Get the high ground. Corner them. Surprise them. Fluster them. Get that one item that counters them. If they are better than you, you should never rely on pure skill to win conflicts.

Basically what these three tips boil down to is: exploit your strengths while covering your weaknesses. In general, you should be doing that even when you are winning. If you are ahead in resources, use that to your advantage. If you are in a better position, use that to your advantage. If you are better, use that to your advantage.

But, there is one tip that I must give to every single person to ever play a game in the history of the world: never give up. Literally never give up. Always keep fighting, always keep striving for victory. You never know what might happen, what mistakes your opponent may make in their hubris. Seriously, even if you think “there is now way we can win”, never give up. By all means, you should definitely retreat if you are in danger. This isn’t an excuse to try to enter unwinnable skirmishes, this is me saying that you should never give up the game/match/whatever.






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