Just what is fun exactly?

Think about it. Not “what do you find fun?” but what, objectively, is fun?

It’s the feeling of enjoyment from an activity, at its core—right?

For years, this was the basis of competition for me. I had to have fun with whatever I was doing in order to do it. This was ingrained in my head since childhood; and to this day, it’s something that everyone will make sure you’re having when you’re down or not having a good outing. But I think it’s one of the worst things about taking anything seriously.

Whenever I would do poorly at a Magic event, my go-to was always some convoluted version of “but I had fun!” It was something I said to keep myself from tilting, from feeling crappy about the weekend, you name it. It became an excuse. It became a crutch.

It became a liability.

Fun is something that needs to be the foundation of taking on any competitive venture. If you hate golf, then you’re going to hate it when you compete. If you can’t stand driving in a circle for two hours or more, why would you ever want to be a NASCAR driver? Fun is the backbone of any serious sport or esport.

However, when your backbone is your only bone, what do you do when that isn’t enough to support the ever growing weight of competition?

Fun begins to have diminishing returns the better you get at something. It doesn’t mean as much when the drive to get better overtakes it. You need more than that to sustain yourself, which is why a support system of some kind is huge. Like minded competitors—friends, partners, whatever you need to get through the crappy times.

Fun should be a given, not a fallback.

I have a lot of trouble with this, partially because I’m so incredibly hard on myself due to setting impossibly high standards. But recently, fun just doesn’t do it for me anymore. My drive to compete has long overtaken my desire to have fun, because of how awfully my Magic career went and how much I used fun as a fallback when I didn’t do well. When starting Zero to EVO, I quickly realized that I needed to put in thousands of hours of effort to make this happen, and having fun just wasn’t something I could depend on anymore.

So I had to reallocate my fun. I had to set it as the first layer of my build as a competitor, and find more impactful pieces. In MtG terms, fun should have been my auto-include the whole time, since it would make my archetype function. But I also needed to find ways to actually get to my end game without falling back to the foundation that I knew wasn’t reliably going to get me there in the first place.

Of course, this has its downsides. Losing sucks, and it sucks more because I force myself not to use fun as a fallback, as I have for almost 10 years. I take losses much harder than I used to—it was already pretty damn hard—and I struggle much more with dealing with it. This gets further magnified when I’m winning, even, because I’m always constantly looking at how I can improve. And a win means quite a bit less when your goal is to do as well as you can. Additionally, if you find that your systems in place are weaker, then it’s easy to collapse back into the fun crutch, or worse, not having a plan at all when things go awry.

Last, and probably more importantly, is emotional strain. If your name isn’t Sonicfox, Yuuya Watanabe, or LeBron James, you’re going to struggle at some point. You will not be the best, and you have to be okay with that. You can be good. You can be great. But you won’t be the best. Not anytime soon. You must also be okay with losing to people who you perceive to be worse than you. No one is entitled to a win, and you’ll make mistakes that will cost you games, matches, and tournaments. It’s so easy to let it consume you, and finding ways to manage that is crucial to growth. You don’t necessarily have to steel yourself, but you do have to find a way to either not let it affect you negatively, or make it affect you positively. Some people will go as if it never happened, while some will adapt right after a bad beat—which is a skill in and of itself.

Fun is one of the most powerful motivators for any hobby or competition. It is also one of the biggest detriments to actually wanting to be competitive. Find the balance.

Anthony has been competing in games for the better part of his adult life and is dedicated to improving his game, improving his community, improving himself as a person, and most importantly having fun and enjoying himself while doing so. You can check out his stream to find out which video game is the latest to catch his attention.

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