Learning the metagame

Ah, the metagame or the meta. Any gamer, especially one who’s been exposed to competitive online gaming, will be familiar with this term.

Per Wikipedia’s defintion:

“metagaming” refers to operation on knowledge of the current strategic trends within a game.

I like to think of it as the current standard for best practices. Take note of the keyword current, since in any healthy competitive environment, there will always be evolution on what is considered the optimal strategy.

This goes beyond just computer games, but practically any competitive setting in life. From sports to business, any environment that contains a finite number of rewards with potential competition will naturally promote development of strategies to maximize said rewards.

I was exposed to all of this early on through video games, particular RTS type games like Starcraft or Warcraft III. If you’re familiar with these games, you’ll know the long and rich history of the metagame here, with a constant churn of starting builds, unit compositions and timing attacks. These all evolved around game patches that buffed/nerfed units as well as what other popular opposing strategies were at the moment like a game of rock paper and scissors.

Now the reason I bring all of this up, is because I think understanding and learning the meta is a skill in itself. And one that’s not highly emphasized today, even though it’s extremely useful.

By learning the meta, the “best practices”, it serves as a forcing function for yourself to go beyond the basics of whatever game you’re playing. It provides the following advantages:

  1. To understand the meta, you’re forced to first master and understand the state of the game
  2. You’ll see for yourself how high-level players execute on strategies
  3. You’ll gain a more macro-oriented view of the strategic elements of the game

Why do players use this particular strategy? What are the benefits? What are the counters? Why did previous strategies work and now don’t work? Why is this strategy exploiting another strategy?

These are all questions that will eventually be answered as you become more familiar with the current meta.

And by ruthlessly prioritizing yourself to be able to engrain these strategies within yourself, I find that it’s a shorter path to eventually performing at a high level compared to the more common casual approach of mindlessly playing/practicing a game. It helps as a north star for what you should be striving towards and may help prevent you from going down unfruitful paths.

Like I mentioned before, this goes beyond just video games. Whenever I find myself diving into new unknown territory, whether it be a hobby, sport or a career, I’ve always started by researching what the current meta is like. How do others play this game at a high level? What should I start learning now to get to that level?

Get to know the metagame of whatever game you’re participating in life now. Understand what the top players are doing at the very edge. Set yourself on a course to get to that edge. And maybe one day, you’ll be the one defining the new meta.