I've been playing Warcraft 3, which isn't supposed to run on my machine, but does, albeit badly. Apparently, I'm getting better at it; last night I played a game against the computer and actually won (surprisingly easily).
WC3 has two modes of play vs the computer. One is the campaign. The campaign may be played at either "normal" or "hard" levels -- or, as I prefer to look at it, "Easy" or "Almost Impossible." On the "normal" level, the campaign is basically one really long tutorial. Eventually, it gives you exposure to all the races and all the units.
Then there's "custom games" which are one-shot scenarios on maps, each side starting with the very basics. The computer, in this case, is usually extremely good, to the point of being scary. When Brenna wanted to play a game with me, I suggested we go up against people because, unlike the computer, human players weren't necessarily good.
Unfortunately for me, the WC3 playing field is tilted against team play of the sort I'd like.
The game has a player-rating system which judges persistence more than skill: you gain a lot towards your next rank when you win, and lose just a little of it when you lose. So everyone goes up, unless you are so bad and unlucky that you never beat anyone.
This works OK, though not all that well, in one-on-one games. Most of the people who are first level are genuine newbies who don't know what they're doing in a game against a human opponent.
Where it really breaks down, however, is in the "arranged team" games. An arranged team progresses in level as a unit, and starts at first. So if you and I are both 18th level in the one-on-one ladders, and we're playing our first arranged game with each other as partners ... we're 1st level. Even if X and Y are an 18th level team, and A and B are an 19th level team, for X and A's first game as a team, they'll be .... 1st level.
Which means that X and A will be pitted in their first game against two people who just bought the game and decided to try playing it together against another set of humans.
The problem of the true newbie teams is exacerbated by the fact that they are relatively few. A typical arranged team probably comprises people who've been around Battlenet for some time, long enough to meet some other players that they consider good enough to invite into a partnership.
Last, the pool of people waiting to play an arranged team game is much smaller. So, while during prime-time the system may be able to find, in a matter of seconds, another first-level opponent for you in a one-on-one game, it will probably take a minute or two to find some team 4 or 5 levels above you when you're playing on an arranged team.
So, to recap: arranging a team when you don't know what you're doing is setting yourself up for failure.
The flip side of this is that, having played (and lost) a lot of team games with Lut, I am now seeing his point -- most low-level one-on-one players are, frankly, horrible. I fought against one guy Tuesday night who never built anything but ghouls and spirit towers. That is, in a game that allows the equivalent of an air force, ranged strikers, tanks, melee infantry, fixed defenses, siege weapons, etc., this guy brought out ... melee infantry and fixed defenses. That was it. He didn't even give them good armor and weapons. These guys make me look good, and I'm definitely not good.
And I do still lose. It's probably not a good idea for me to draw conclusions about the one-on-one player base as a whole, because I've only played seven games against strangers total in the last week, of which I lost three. And Lut and I held our own, briefly, in arranged games. So maybe it's just chance that i've found some bad players recently to smack around. in one-on-one.
Or maybe I've just gotten better.