X-wing Theory: Success Disease

Why and how achieving your goals or winning a tournament can be just as harmful as being stuck in a losing cycle.

“More people are more familiar with losing than with winning. Consequently losing is not that difficult to deal with, in the sense that we have all faced it, lived and are familiar with the fallout it can produce. As with losing there is fallout from success, and the many symptoms are the same. The only difference is that you go down with a smile on your face instead of a frown.”

Abridged from one of my favourite books, “The Score Takes Care of Itself, My Philosophy of Leadership,” by Bill Walsh. I’ve mentioned this book before and having read it and gone through it again I would recommend that everyone reads this book. It is surprising how it relates to many everyday life situations in the work place and explains why your place of work is either good or bad and why the leadership more often than not could achieve better. A lot of the content is applicable to playing X-wing or other games and life in general which is why I like it. This is a bit of a love fest for the book, quoted in italics from the Success Disease section.

score takes care

Success Disease is an interesting concept which is rarely explored. The knock-on effect of winning and how winning can harm your game as much as sinking into a losing streak and accepting it as the norm. After all few people get to win tournaments and even good players that do win will lose more tournaments than they win. Even hitting and feeling pleased by a pre-tournament goal, such as winning 3 out of 5 games can result in an element of Success Disease setting in as you have hit your goal and feel happy and satisfied with it.

“Our first Super Bowl championship team had forty five dedicated and disciplined players on the roster. Soon afterwards to varying degrees eight of them self-destructed and ended their careers too early by mishandling their lives through drugs and alcohol, stupid life styles and becoming consumed with themselves. Many other good players and people on that team were also thrown off stride to varying degrees. Why? Because they won the Super Bowl; we were the world champions of football.

This response-being knocked off balance both emotionally and mentally- is one of the fundamental reasons it is so difficult to continue winning; it’s true in business as in sports. Repeat winners at the high end of competition are rare because when success of any magnitude occurs there is a disorientating change that we are unprepared for. Having navigated through long losing streaks and losing seasons, having climbed to the top and led a team at the bottom of the barrel to a world championship, I had little knowledge of the new terrain.

How else can you explain that in the season immediately following that championship with virtually the same personnel , we lost twice as many games as we won in the strike shortened season? The explanation is in part quite simple: Success Disease.”

My past two seasons of X-wing have a kind of mirror in them as they both had tournament wins and high placings around a similar time span before I went off piste as it were with my lists and play styles. My first tournament win after six months of playing was particularly damaging for quite a while afterwards as I felt I had at last mastered the game.

starscream with crown


“The second richest man in America, Warren Buffet, says that one of his biggest challenges is to help his top people-all wealthy beyond belief-stay interested enough to jump out of bed in the morning and work with all the enthusiasm they did when they were poor and just getting started.

When you reach a large goal or finally get to the top, the distractions and new assumptions can be dizzying. First comes heightened confidence, followed quickly by over confidence, arrogance, and a sense that “we’ve mastered it; we’ve figured it out; we’re golden.” But the gold can tarnish quickly. Mastery requires endless remastery. In fact, I don’t believe there is ever true mastery. It is a process, not a destination. That’s what few winners realise and explains to some degree why repeating is so difficult. Having triumphed, winners come to be believe that the process of mastery is concluded and that they are its proud new owners.

Success Disease makes people begin to forego to different degrees the effort, focus, discipline, teaching, teamwork, learning and attention to detail that brought ‘mastery’ and its progeny, success. The hunger is diminished, even removed in some people.

“Complacency” may be too strong a word to describe it, maybe not. Perhaps “contentment” describes it. You feel content after navigating up the hard and treacherous road to victory. This is understandable; you should feel satisfaction and contentment. But when it lingers-sets in-you and your team are suffering from Success Disease. It can create a lack of respect for the competition, a feeling of superiority, and an assumption that you can win at will, turn it on when it counts. The time to turn it on, (and leave it on), is before it counts. In fact, my belief is that is counts all the time.

And of course, when you couple contentment and underestimating the competition, you-all by yourself-have set yourself up for defeat. Imagine that.”

starscream with crown 2

The first few month of this year started really well with a win at the Aldershot winter kit event, 3rd place at the Milton Keynes ETC qualifying event and a further win at What a piece of Junk. With wave eight hitting the shelves prior to the next event I decided to mix it up and try a few things out. Somewhat in experimentation but also with an eye on the prize at “I Find your lack of faith disturbing,” winter kit event at Ibuywargames:

Darth Vader: Veteran instincts, title, Advanced Targeting Computer, Engine Upgrade

The Inquisitor: Juke, title, Auto thrusters

Zeta Leader: Wired

Academy Tie Fighter

98 points

It played contrary to the play styles I had been using and that having ‘mastered’ Soontir Fel at What a Piece of Junk, further competitive flying at this stage with Fel was not necessary. This was a bit arrogant and I certainly had an element of assumption that I could win at will with whatever ships I was using even if it were subconsciously.

starscream gets shot

The next event at Firestorm cards I reverted to  the traditional loadout on the Inquisitor in a familiar build:

Whisper Tie Phantom: Veteran Instincts, Fire control systems, Rebel Captive and Advanced cloaking device.

Inquisitor Tie Advanced Prototype: Push the limit, auto thrusters and title.

Zeta Leader Tie FO: Wired, comms Relay, stealth device.


starscream dead

My first encounter with triple contracted scouts and although playing it well to start with I made an error with Whisper which got Whisper nuked and the game then went downhill. It was not the first time that day I made mistakes that cost me wins though. The aftermath to this was changing up the squad to deal with contracted scouts which when combined with lack of play time and sleep went badly at the London regionals.

Whisper: Vi, ACD, rebel Captive, fire control

Soontir fel: PTL, royal guard title, auto thrusters, targeting computer.

2 X Acadamey Tie Fighters

100 points

This list was in part due to not analysing the games properly and effectively a bit of a knee jerk reaction to the past run of tournaments at Firestorm and Ibuywargames. Change for change sake?

starscream legs

The Yavin list two weeks later was a bigger departure although if I had gone down the two phantom and doom cow route earlier I certainly feel that I would have got a better showing even with the total tiredness endured. Still, the decision to field the list was born out of the belief that I was more than competent in flying Phantoms, both Echo and Whisper, (which have featured in all three of my tournament wins), but never together in the same list. A panicked over reaction to contracted scouts? Overconfidence in one’s ability to think through both Phantom’s movement?


starscream crown crush

This is what Bill suggests in keeping Success Disease at bay:

Staving off Success Disease, the fallout from achievement.

  1. Formally celebrate and observe the momentous achievement-the victory.
  2. Allow pats on the back for a limited time. Then formally return to business as usual and let everyone know the party is over. Victory can produce enormous energy. You must channel that force and enthusiasm into the work ahead. Make sure the power of your victory propels you forward in a controlled manner.
  3. Be apprehensive about applause. Praise can become a hindrance. Ongoing applause can turn the head of the most disciplined and determined person.
  4. Develop a plan that gets you back into the mode of operation that produced success in the first place. Don’t assume it will happen. Review why you prevailed.
  5. Address specific situations that need shoring up; focus on the mistakes that were made and things that were not up to snuff in the success.
  6. Be demanding. Do not relax. Hold everyone to even higher expectations.
  7. Don’t fall prey to overconfidence so that you feel you can or should make a change for the sake of change. Change is inevitable, but change is not a casual consideration. When you’re flush with victory you can take on a mind-set that says “Hey let’s try this!” Only in the most desperate situation is change made simply for the sake of change.
  8. Use the time immediately following success as an opportunity to make hard decisions, including elevation or demotion of individuals who contributed or did not to the victory.
  9. Never fall prey to the belief that getting to the top makes everything else easy. In fact, what it makes easier is the job of motivating those who want your spot at the top. Achievement, great success, puts a big bullseye on your back. You are now the target-clearly identified-for all your competitors to aim at.
  10. Recognise that mastery is a process, not a destination.

Certainly for me this year the combination of a good start and a new wave of ships threw a spanner into my thinking. I experimented needlessly when running a  modified squad or the same squad would have been a better use of my time. I then dealt with the fallout from the Firestorm games spring Kit badly. Of the three defeats two were actually quite close and the smack down from Man of Monkey was a combination of familiar opposition, bad decisions and some bad dice culminating from those bad decisions.

dice equation

The ripples of the stone throw continued with the London Regional and then the Yavin Open. Rather than sitting back and saying to myself that the Ibuy event was just a bit of fun folly it built into my psyche and effected the aftermath of the next one and carried on.  The arrival of contracted scouts were not the most desperate situation requiring dramatic change in the squad, just flying a bit smarter and mastering flying against them.

It’s unlikely that winning an X-wing tournament or achieving your set goals in X-wing will lead to hedonistic excess of drink, drugs and rock n roll, but you never know. The unprecedented run of success which could be stretched back to my last tournament of 2015 in early October,(before moving house scuppered anymore), a 3rd place finish in the swiss and losing in the final, caused Success Disease to set in. The most difficult aspect of it is how it sets in subconsciously. Keeping it at bay even when learning about it and feeling that you may be infallible to succumb to Success Disease is still a task in itself.

Success on any level can lead to overconfidence, “I can fly anything,” which can lead to forgetting that mastery is a process, not a destination.

 Final Thought

yoda mastery

Further Reading:

“The Score Takes Care of Itself, My Philosophy of Leadership,” by Bill Walsh.

I found it available quite easily through Amazon or other online book vendors both new and second hand. I recommend it as it’s an easy read and a love of sport or American football is not a requirement. It’s also split into two sections which is the meat of it plus a beginning section of how the book itself was put together, a story in its own right.

Also Stay on the Leader has a good piece about our common foe losing, in  “How to lose at X-Wing.”

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