Business lessons from repeating as Diablo II reset champion
I’m part of a video game speedrun team, which is a group of people who try to beat a video game -- in our case, Diablo II -- as quickly as possible. Speedruns have attracted attention from both game fans and media outlets.
The best Diablo II speedrun teams in the world finish in a little more than two hours. My team is about half an hour off their pace. And as we’ve progressed toward our goal of becoming the fastest, we’ve used competitions for ladder resets -- a fancy term for “new seasons,” in which everything you did in the previous season goes away and you have to restart -- as an opportunity to practice (and have fun and get rewarded).
We recently won our second consecutive ladder reset competition -- meaning we were the first competition-registered team to finish -- so we’ve clearly gotten pretty good. And the second time we won, we did so with two new players (out of eight total).
We also won despite the fact that we couldn’t get eight players’ schedules to line up so we could practice the whole 2.5-hour run even once in six months. And how did we do it? Well, as a group of competitive gamers, we practice, communicate, plan and challenge ourselves -- a lot.
And a lot of competitive gaming lessons apply in business settings. Things like ...
Agile project management with scrum
My team lost two players from our first championship, so we had to recruit new players. Recruiting means training, so from a business perspective, my team had two new employees, and we were training them on a divergent process using agile project management with scrum: We were iterating on work, delivering products incrementally, and meeting before and after to discuss successes and failures.
Whether you’re making sure a new player on your team knows to ask for items and directions or ensuring that a new employee feels comfortable speaking in a meeting with more senior and/or veteran team employees, communication is vital for any team.
The way we play the game differs significantly from the way most people play it, so we had to teach that new approach -- or culture -- to our new team members. When I joined the team, I had to change my approach for the betterment of the team. Every time you welcome a new employee, you have to teach them how your company or team operates.
In our first practice, we finished our speedrun in a little less than four hours.
Nobody was pleased with that time.
So every time we ran, we tried to cut a little time here and there. Our most recent speedrun was two hours and 35 minutes -- and we’re still looking to cut time because the world record is two hours and five minutes. In business, challenging yourself to do more with less is a mantra, and everyone from the owner to the paid intern should be asking how they can use resources better.
Documentation versus doing it
Videos and other resources tell players exactly how to do a speedrun. The hard thing isn’t knowing what to do. The hard thing is doing it, which requires great players to play great. In business, A/B testing, SEO and other resources tell you exactly what to do. The hard thing is doing it.
About half of Americans are female. About 5% are LGBTQIA+. Black people constitute about 13%, Asian people almost 6%, people with a disability 26% and non-Christians 35%. Fortunately for the business community, diverse hiring improves workforces. Unfortunately for the bigots in the business community, bigoted language or actions produce poorer work product outcomes.
So if you want to make more money, you should ensure that your office policies -- and their enforcement -- seek to make marginalized people feel secure. (You could also do that because you’re a decent person.) That may mean banning “food coma” talk or “joking” references to demeaning or unwanted sexual acts. But it’ll improve your business.
The same is true in gaming, which is affected by xenophobia as much as any other pursuit is.
Four of the eight players on my team have kids. Between those commitments and others, we couldn’t do full three-hour practices, so we did partial ones instead, to refine smaller segments of the overall product. When competition time came, we were as prepared as we could be.
Whether you’re trying to chop seconds off a speedrun or trying to chop pennies off a product or service cost, testing alternatives to established practices is a great way to find out how much better you can do -- and, alternately, why those established practices work.
I am the only member of my team who can do two in-game activities that benefit the team, so doing something else is often a waste of my time. Similarly, using your highest-performing employees’ time on activities outside their niche is often a waste of their time.
Sometimes it’s a great use of their time, though, because it teaches them new skills that can improve their main ones. That’s a judgment call in business or gaming.
Whether you’re expecting to be eyes-deep in a document or eyes-deep in a speedrun, you can prepare for that situation by making a list of things you’ll need, procuring those things ahead of time, etc.
Your cyberteam practices (or it should) regularly so that when some bad actor gets through your defenses, team members are operating on instinct rather than flipping or scrolling to page 45 of whichever manual.
My speedrun team practiced as much as we could, given family and other constraints. And because we’d practiced so much, we were prepared when the competition was announced with only half the regular amount of preparation time, leaving many other teams scrambling.
Within the first few minutes of a game, we often find more daggers than we need. But we can go three hours without finding a single Sol rune, which helps make a powerful item. Using that Sol rune judiciously is key -- as is using scarce resources well in business settings.
A lot of people can say, “Hey, this is a problem” and leave it at that. Steve McKee wrote recently about the limits of “defining [a problem] if no addressing is to be done.” As McKee writes, businesses need people who call on the problem-identifier to step up -- or “say, ‘I’m gonna,’ and recruit others” in solving the problem. So when you have to fix erratic voice chat in the Zoom era, that applies to both business and gaming.
The free market
At the beginning of a Diablo II season, goods and services prices in a third-party market are high because few people have found items to sell/made characters that can do relatively difficult things, so you can charge several thousand in third-party currency (forum gold) for some goods and services.
However, a week or even a day later, the costs have plummeted. If you are one of few suppliers for a good or service in the business world, you can charge more than you could if the market were crowded.
In business and in gaming, you can also take a valuable item and attempt to either improve it vastly -- and sell it for a ton -- or you can break it.
Using your time wisely
If you have five minutes before a meeting begins, you have time to check email, chat with a friend, etc., so you don’t do those things during the meeting. In speedruns, when you’re waiting for a town portal, that’s time you have to do things you can’t do once you enter the town portal.
All of these lessons are great in the abstract, but sometimes you need …
My team not only won, we repeated as champions and beat our own record by 11 minutes with new team members who had never done much of this before.
We won despite erratic voice chat and a host of other massive problems, meaning that as we were playing, we were having to deal with outside interference.
Great teams perform well despite obstacles, and great teams improve because of obstacles.
Great teams can even handle team members joining rival teams and helping them improve:
Again, knowing what to do isn’t enough. You need a team to execute a plan.
Oh, and several hours of solution-oriented thinking later, I benefited from that free market:
Patrick Hopkins writes about transportation and public technology and copy edits technology news. He has been copy editing professionally for more than a decade and reading technology news for longer.