Comparison and Competition: From E-sports to the Seven Years War

To me, the concept of competition, and likewise cooperation, has always seemed to be a concept forever ingrained within our human psychology. Even when we try our hardest to avoid agonistic contests between friends, competition always finds a way to creep in, similarly, it also seems that we cannot help but to cooperate with complete strangers, whether we want to or not. We as humans maybe irrational, unpredictable, and emotion-driven creatures, but it appears that competition and cooperation are ubiquitous among us. This article, although not confirming the ubiquity of competition and cooperation, analyzes social comparison: “the tendency to self-evaluate by comparing ourselves to others”, an important source from which competition and cooperation may stem. Using individual factors and situational factors, the authors explain to us how social comparison almost always decides the ferocity and intensity of a competition. In this article, for example, the authors show the degree of competition is often increased if performed across social fault lines compared to being in the same social fault. However, they have also found that individual factors, such as gender or race, can affect the intensity of the competition, such as how two females would experience more competition between each other for a position in comparison to that between a female and a male. Another idea brought up by Garcia et al is that often times people are more willing to cooperate with a stranger in a competition, rather than a friend, as they cannot compare each other as well due the lack of information.

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A model depicting the relation of Situational and Individual Factors

  • Social Comparison in Sporting Events

The points brought up by Garcia et al is extremely prevalent in sporting competitions, particularly the ideas presented on competition between highly ranked athletes and close friends. For example, whenever Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps broke a world record for an individual medley event, he was always pitted against his longtime rival, Laszlo Cseh, and his close teammate and friend, Ryan Lochte. One can also attribute the fact that this always occurred during the finals when Phelps, Cseh, and Lochte were placed respectively first, second, and third, as another explanation to why Phelps would always swim faster when against the other two. Likewise, long distance swimmer Sun Yang broke the world record for the 1500 meter freestyle at the 2012 Olympics when placed in the final against his longtime rivals Park Tae Hwan and Oussama Mellouli, once again placed first, second, and fourth respectively. This idea is also not limited to individual sporting events, in fact, the competition between sports teams often more clearly outline the ideas presented in the article. As mentioned by Garcia et al, rival or highly ranked sports teams are far less likely to trade compared to intermediately ranked teams. This concept is apparent in Major League Baseball, where highly ranked teams such as the Red Sox or Los Angeles Dodgers are rarely traded players in between each other, preferring to trade with lower ranked teams instead. Compare that to more intermediately ranked teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, which has the highest player trade overall, and the New York Mets, where a majority of trades are done between other similarly ranked teams.

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Phelps (center), Cseh (left), and Lochte (right) pose on the podium after Phelps’ 400 meter medley world record (2008)

Garcia’s ideas do not only apply to the traditional definition of sports. The Electronic sports (E-sports) community also displays competition driven by comparison, perhaps even more so than the traditional sports community. An example would be the increased performance across a variety of video games, ranging from League of Legends to Super Smash Brothers, that players from rival teams Counter Logic Gaming and Team Solomid display when playing against each other. Furthermore, during the 2017 League of Legends Championship Series, the mid laners for rival teams SSG and SKT, Crown and Faker, both averaged higher map pressure, kill participation, and creep score in comparison to other games played against lower ranked or non-rival teams.

  • Social Comparison Throughout History

In fact, although the authors emphasize on how social comparison generally affects an individual more so than a group, comparison and competition between rival duchies, kingdoms, and empires have been a hallmark of human history. The Silesian wars (1740 – 1763) and the Seven Years War (1756 – 1763), fought between the triple alliance of France, Austria, and Russian, against Great Britain and Prussia, is a perfect display of a war declared over a competition between two rivals. Declared by the Kingdom of Prussia, the two wars were fought over the power projection of the rivals Kingdoms of Prussia and Austria over the dominance of the Silesia territory. Similarly, Great Britain and France, two empires closely comparable in army, navy, and colonization strength, as well as being akin to each other in the bloodline, fought in the Seven Years War to compete to become Europe’s greatest power. It is likely that without individual factors such as Great Britain and France’s similarities in composition and power, and Prussia and Austria’s closeness in power projection over the Holy Roman Empire, the Silesian and Seven Years War would never have occurred. Another example would be the Great Northern War (1700-1721) fought between the Swedish Empire and an alliance of the Tsardom of Russia, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and Denmark-Norway, Sweden’s main competitors. This war, caused by Sweden’s meteoric rise to becoming a European power, was declared, and won, by Russia with the goal to place herself ahead of Sweden as a power in Europe. This is an excellent demonstration of Garcia et al’s point of how one is often more prepared to cooperate with other competitors (Russia allying her natural enemies, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Denmark Norway), in order to hinder a rival or similarly ranked competitor’s progress (declaring war against Sweden).

Soldiers formed into battle lines. Puffs of smoke from muskets.

A Prussian victory at the battle of Roßach in the Seven Years War (1757)

  • Exceptions to the ideas of Social Comparison

However, despite being backed by history and examples from the modern day, there are just as many instances where Garcia et al’s theories don’t apply. For example, Garcia states that after being bested multiple times by a close friend in an activity, a person would either become less competitive in or quit the activity, or become less close to the friend. However, from my personal experience, it seems the exact opposite way around. When I am bested by a close friend in a sport such as chess, I feel compelled to be more competitive, and practice chess more, rather than wanting to quit the activity. Going back to my reference to competitive swimming, Ryan Lochte, despite losing to Phelps in nearly every event in multiple competitions, has also not given up his career in swimming, instead reportedly practicing more in order to compete with Phelps. Furthermore, Garcia et al’s statement that rivals and friend tend to cooperate less than strangers when it comes to competition once again seems to be the exact opposite of the international field. The United States of America and China, despite being obvious rivals in the political world often cooperate with each other on an economic and diplomatic level, creating trade agreements between the two countries and often working towards the same goal in United Nations conferences. Although this does not apply to an individual, it becomes clear that Garcia et al’s theories do not apply to all fields of competition.

The United States of America and The People’s Republic of China share over 20,000 economic Joint Ventures

  • Conclusion

In conclusion, through Garcia et al’s ideas on social comparison being a root of competition between rivals and friends, we can explain the results of many sporting events, whether it be traditional or electronic, as well as understanding the rivalry and conflict sparked between competing nations throughout history. However, I would like to disagree on the authors’ statements on how their ideas can be applied to every and any aspect of competition. It becomes clear that these ideas, although capable of encompassing large portions of competition, can only be applied to zero-sum game situations where a competitor cannot recover from their loss. Competition within the human psyche is irrational, emotional, and most of all, unpredictable. Although the ideas brought in this article do confirm social comparison as a factor of competition, the article will never cover all possible forms of competition


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  1. Under your subsection of exceptions to the ideas of social comparison where you mentioned that it isn’t necessarily true that a person would feel less competitive or give up and activity based on your personal experience. While I am not trying to discredit what you have experienced, what Garcia et. al are trying to get across with this point is not ‘competition is harmful to social relationships’, but rather ‘if there is a huge discrepancy between the skills levels of friends in a certain form of competition’, it would be enough for a person to either quit being friends or give up the activity. If it was a single loss, I would most certainly agree with you that it would only compel me to work harder, but I hardly think it is possible for a person to continue with a competition if the results are assumed to be the same every time- that a certain friend will most certainly win. In your example on Ryan Lochte compared to Michael Phelps, I do not think it is a good example to bring up either as we have to consider the fact that both are professional swimmers- they swim for a living. In a single competition, there are more than two competitors- while Lochte may lose to Phelps on every occasion, he is winning against other fellow competitors. On a professional stage, even if the results are more or less the same (Phelps winning), their skill levels are not drastically different. Just in the last Olympics, Joseph Schooling won against Phelps in the 100m butterfly, directly suggesting Phelps does not have absolute dominance in the sport. In the case of international affairs, it is certainly true that Garcia et. al’s model does not apply- it isn’t necessarily because of an exception to the rule, but rather, the rule did not apply in the first place. When referring to whole nations, you are not referring to a single individual; given that fact, there is no connection between being political rivals and the need to not cooperate. USA and China are not cooperating because of their relation with one another (in this case, I do not believe their relation with one another has a huge impact), but rather are acting in a way that would be mutually beneficial to their both nations. They recognize each others’ prowess in the global world, and therefore act in a way that would benefit them both- by cooperating rather than compete unnecessarily. It would be quite frankly, childish, to act on the basis that one nation is a rival, therefore, we will not cooperate with them- the consequences of a rash decision are always hand-in-hand with every political decision leaders make.


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