I recently jumped into for the first time since its launch, with the full expectation that I would have no idea what I was doing. I was hoping I could at least keep my head down, soak in the strategy, and have fun learning a very complex game. It was a polarizing experience, to say the least. The first match I played made me never want to play the game ever again. But the second match made me think I'll never want to play anything else.
Both reactions were caused by the same thing: my teammates. Our own Steven Messner invited me to play, and unlike me he's been goggles deep in Siege for a long time. And while it was fun to play with a friend, the disparity between the teams we were paired with each game was massive. One gave me flashbacks to my days full of League of Legends ragers, while the other showed me why Siege continues to be available.
Taking your teammates hostage
Before our first match, Steven and I were pleasantly catching up as he with me. Which sights to use, which operators are best to start with, why you should always add a grip to your gun—it was a good way to ease in. But moments after he queued us it into a match, that nervous optimism was squelched. We were immediately greeted by our new teammate, a lively fellow named "JEWDESTROYER," who made his presence know by screaming obscenities into his microphone. I caught "Fuck. Fuck you. Fuck off. Fuck your mom. Fuck. Fu—" before I stumbled through the menus and found the mute button.
Another player (whose player name I believe started and ended with "XxX") chimed in to respond with his own brand of awful, but seemed to actually be talking about the game while doing it, so I left his mic on. The whole match felt genuinely oppressive, like I was a captive to these idiots. At one point Steven was in a 1v1 situation while on the attacking side, and Triple-X was doing nothing but putting him down. "You are so bad at this game. You are just the worst. You're total garbage, you should uninstall." Steven wins the duel and puts us up 2-0 in the match. "Wow, that was so lucky. You suck, that was such a lucky shot, you should have died there."
It was unending, and I was dismayed that I couldn't find a reporting tool in-game. After doing some research, it seems of reporting a player like the ones above is to take screenshots/video evidence, record their gamertag and the time it occurred, and then submit all that to Ubisoft's generic customer support. Not exactly an efficient way to curb this behavior, and miles behind other competitive games.
I don't think I said more than two words the entire time, and I'm usually a talkative guy. Steven actually checked to make sure I hadn't dropped at a couple points, just because I was so quiet, but I didn't want to engage these terrible people any more than I had to. I found out after the game that he had immediately muted both players, and couldn't hear the verbal abuse he was taking during his otherwise clutch round. We won the match 3-0, but I nearly stopped playing right there. If that's what Siege was like, no amount of winning could make me enjoy it.
But Steven assured me teammates like that were the exception, not the rule, saying he only had games that bad about one-in-ten times. So we hopped on a Discord server to have a place we could talk separate from our team comms and re-queued. I was not optimistic anymore.
Working together without firing a bullet
But this second game was about as different it could possibly be. The pre-game lobby was cordial and chatty, and as we loaded into the first round on the Hereford map I sheepishly mentioned I was new to the game and apologized if I was a burden. Instead of insults or even the silence I was expecting, I was met with reassurances. "It's alright, we all start somewhere," one of my teammates said, and suddenly I was actually interested in playing again.
Our team was great. They were friendly, communicative, and, best of all, patient. Crucial moments upped the tension, but no one lost their temper. At one point I was the last man standing against three opponents, but my teammates calmly fed me intel and directions as I tried to stay alive. I didn't, of course, but it was a far cry from the insults Steven was subjected to and I felt like I played better because of it. The results didn't matter as much because just trying to coordinate and plan with my squad was fun in itself.
I did pretty well the first game; second on my team in score, a positive K:D, and a 3-0 victory. The second game I was pretty much useless. I might have gotten an assist or two, and most of the time I wasn't sure where I was supposed to be. It was a hard fought 3-2 victory where I basically could have been replaced with a bot and my team would have done just as well. But that first game felt like torture, while the second was one of the most satisfying FPS experiences I've ever had.
For me, Siege lives or dies by the people you play it with. Communication is such a key part of the game that muting toxic players only feels like a half measure. And it's easy to blame a competitive game's problems on the design choices of the developer, but I wonder how many good games lost popularity simply because its own player base pushed the audience away. Siege has the potential to be a tense and engaging tactical shooter, or a prison run by assholes who don't really care if people are having fun, and it's pretty much up to us which one it is. I'm excited to continue playing and slowly improving, but I'm not sure how many more times I can stomach landing on a bad result when I spin the matchmaking roulette.