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The thankless role of nearly being the best

Everyone wants to be one of the best, but what about when you’re almost the best?

Ryan O’Hearn follows through on a rare productive swing Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you’re a big fan of trading card games, mobile games, or Marvel you may have heard of a recent mobile card game entry featuring Marvel characters, Marvel Snap. Marvel Snap was created by people who had formerly worked on Hearthstone, credited with popularizing the concept of TCGs in the digital space to begin with. The idea they had when they began to create Marvel Snap was to make a game that solved several of the flaws endemic to Hearthstone but which could not be fixed so long after its release without making it a fundamentally different game.

And, for at least a couple of months, they had a hit. I know I have been addicted to it since installing it on my phone at the end of October. I’ve heard stories of other people having even more difficulty putting the game down than I have. Part of my problem is that the game ranks players based on their ability not just to win but to predict their own wins and losses and double down on ranking points - known as cubes - or escape without losing more.

For the first month I played the game I was having a blast, winning and losing lots of games and trying out a variety of strategies. But then something happened; I achieved rank 90. The game provides player rewards for every 10 ranks earned up to rank 100, known as “going Infinite” because rank 100 is the Infinite Tier. I was now one of the very best Marvel Snap players in the world and I began thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if I could reach rank 100?

And it wasn’t like it was impossible. Achieving rank 100 doesn’t mean you’re the best overall, it simply puts you in an even smaller subset of players than achieving rank 90. I spent the final weekend of November playing non-stop trying to achieve my new goal. I topped out at 94. I refocused in order to achieve the goal in December knowing I had the week off at the end of December where I could really focus down on hitting 100 if I could get close. I was stuck in the 80s for a week and got depressed. Last weekend I hit 98 and everything seemed within my grasp. But then I lost a bunch of matches in a row and now I’m back down 90. And you know what? The game has never been less fun.

I was having way more fun in October when I was ranked somewhere in the 50s and assuming I’d never even come close to being one of the best players than I have had at any point since hitting rank 90 for the first time. And if you’ve read this far and you’re wondering what any of this could possibly have to do with baseball; I think I now know just a bit of how Ryan O’Hearn must feel.

By all reason, O’Hearn has things good. He has a great seat for major league baseball every night. He’s paid exponentially more per year than most of us seemingly without any expectation of success or production. Still, I imagine he was having a lot more fun playing in high school than he is now.

O’Hearn is, by all measures, one of the very best people to play baseball around the entire world. When I complain on Reddit about not being able to get over that final hump to Infinite, I get very little sympathy from the people playing down in the 40s and 50s. I imagine he’d get a very similar reaction if he complained about his problems to modern Monarchs players, most of whom have and will never come close to the big leagues.

And, of course, we both get the same advice. “If you’re so miserable about it, just quit!” He can go get a new job and I can find a new game to play. But I imagine he thinks, as I do, that this is the exact wrong time to quit. We’re so close to our goals. If we try just a little bit harder we can get over that hump and become a successful MLB player and Infinite-ranked Marvel Snap player respectively.

I can’t force you to have sympathy for Ryan O’Hearn’s plight any more than I can change the minds of you who started this article and rolled your eyes into the back of your heads and raced to the comment section to tell me that no one cares about my mobile gaming habits. But dang, if I could wish for a change to happen this coming new year, I’d wish for people to be a bit more aware of the struggles other people are going through. Even people who seem like they have it all or people who spend way too much time on silly flashing lights on their phones.

P.S. Don’t pay too much attention to all of the people claiming the Ryan O’Hearn era is over. He’s very likely to slip through waivers and then be outrighted to Omaha. He’ll accept the assignment because otherwise, he’s throwing $1.4M away without any clear idea of where the next dollar might come from. If he’s in Omaha at the beginning of the year I’d bet dollars to dugout suite tickets he finds his way onto the active roster just one more time before Kansas City is finally forced to let him try his luck elsewhere.