As the individual season of the National Cyber League comes to a close, I know many competitors are now turning their thoughts and attention to the Post-Season Team Game. This is one of my favorite parts of the NCL season because it allows players who have been going head to head within their schools to work together, share strategies, and learn from each other. That being said, switching from solo-competition to working as a team is not always easy. Below is how I have handled the transition as both a competitor and coach.
First, it’s important to decide who will be on your team. Schools and Universities can have multiple teams per institution. I’ve covered how I select teams in a previous blog you can find here.
Once your teams are selected, you should have a Team Captain. This role is especially important in some methodologies. This person will act as a leader and, sometimes, a project manager. We will discuss more on that later.
My biggest and most important tip is to figure out how you will collaborate. I’ve got a couple of methods I’ve seen employed by various teams and I will discuss each below.
While a personal favorite to watch and sometimes the only method available to teams, this method is based on a complete inability to communicate with each other. Each player logs into their own portal on their own computer at their own leisure and inputs answers on a first come, first serve basis exactly as they would for the regular season games.
Now some of you may see this as a choice, but there are teams that simply cannot collaborate due to schedule conflicts, lack of available communication methods, and I’m sure other reasons. Sometimes, people even get paired together who are uncomfortable working together. This method is the least effective for overall team growth but can be the best choice for certain combinations of players.
This is my personal favorite way to compete as a player. There are a few optional parts I will include at the end, but the main idea behind this methodology is to get everyone in one room where they can work as a team throughout the process.
The downsides to this method are that everyone has to have transportation, similar availability, and everyone has to get along with each other for extended periods of time. Due to the need of all of these things, you could end up with less time than other methodologies. Personality conflicts can arise and damage the overall morale of the room.
Some of the optional parts of this method are to order group snacks (such as pizza), having a movie or music everyone enjoys playing in the background (I’ve watched Moana with my team during post-season), and being able to map out ideas on a dry-erase board. I also like that this method allows you to create a master list of challenges and cross them off each time someone successfully captures the flag. This way, team members who are struggling get to celebrate their teammate’s progress!
Online Communication Only
We all have crazy lives and schedules and it’s sometimes impossible to get everyone together in one room at the same time. That being said, using a pre-defined group chat and a collaborative, auto-synced notetaking environment (such as Google Docs) can make a huge difference. One of the team captains I worked with at Westchester Community College came up with a fantastic idea to use Google Sheets so that everyone could put in their answers to compare before submission. Our team has a rule that three or more players must have the same answer before submission to keep our accuracy as high as possible.
Below is an EXAMPLE of what our sheet looks like with all questions and answers removed.
As you can see, we use a different tab for each challenge category to make things easy to find. We would also have only a few keywords of each question like, “What is the TTL of…” For the answer, we type it EXACTLY as we would want it pasted into the Cyber Skyline portal. We have a column for correct answers so that we have a way to help people who may have gotten the answer wrong. If an answer is submitted and it’s incorrect, we highlight it in RED so no one accidentally submits the same wrong answer twice. If we came up with an answer that we are not sure of, we highlight in yellow as a caution.
Also of note, the only person on our team who can input answers is our team captain once he or she has reviewed this document, any notes that may have been added in the yellow box at the bottom left, and agrees with the conclusion the other team members have come to.
While there aren’t too many downsides to this method, it isn’t the most fun. Team members don’t get to hang out, there’s significantly less comradery, and it puts a lot of pressure on the captain to maintain contact with everyone.
A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That
In reality, there’s no wrong way to play NCL. Most commonly, people will use some blend of the three methods I discussed above and others. For me, an ideal practice season is that the Google Sheet gets up and running within the first hour of Cyber Skyline opening the Game. Everyone takes a different challenge category and sets up a few tabs each.
Assuming the schedule is Friday afternoon to Sunday evening, I’d have everyone work independently Friday afternoon and evening, inputting their answers into the sheet without collaboration. No submissions to Cyber Skyline at this time.
On Saturday, everyone meets up after lunch (as their sleep schedule allows so that they are well rested). We write all the challenge categories on the board and people sign up for any sections they would like to work on (whether it’s because they are good at that section or want to learn from someone else). The team captain delegates out who works on what and this can change as often as people need to. Groups should ebb and flow throughout the day.
We like to order dinner of some type and eat family style. After dinner, we begin to input answers. As each challenge category is completed, the team captain is charged with erasing it from the board or marking it as complete. Team members should be free to leave as their schedule requires, but this has lasted as late as midnight(ish). My recommendation is for everyone to quit by 10pm.
Sunday morning, I try to meet again around 10am (late enough so people are well rested) and have breakfast sandwiches at practice. This practice ends as each player burns out. Some will make it the entire day, but others will leave by lunchtime feeling that they have contributed and learned all that they are able. Be kind to these players and let them do what’s best for them.
At any point on this day, the team captain can decide it’s time to Leroy Jenkins and go for the gold on the last remaining flags. This must be announced to the whole team, but then it’s every man for themselves. My teams have traditionally snagged some higher point value flags that have jumped them a few positions in the final few hours, but this has significantly damaged our accuracy which up until this point stays in the 90’s.
Things to Remember
First and foremost, I hope you always remember that this is a game. It’s designed to help you learn and grow and I hope you always remember to put that first. Because it’s a competition, tensions can occur. Try to be empathetic of the personalities around you. Take breaks as needed. Stay hydrated. Eat food throughout.
Most importantly, I hope you have fun.