What to Expect Your First National Cyber League Season

Hi there! My name is Jeana and I’m one of the new NCL Player Ambassadors. I’m guest contributing to CryptoKait’s blog this week to let you all know what to expect during your first season of the National Cyber League Games. My first season playing NCL was Fall 2017. After just two seasons of playing, I became Pace University‘s student coach. Since I’ve participated from both the player side and the coach side, I wanted to share my perspective on a few things to expect during your first season.

If you need to know how the season works, Kait has a blog on that called What is the National Cyber League and Why is it Better than a Norwegian Cruise?

Expect to learn a ton of new skills.

I know you are expecting to learn new skills during your practices and training; that’s somewhat of a given. What I didn’t expect during my first season was that I would be picking up new skills during the games themselves. I think a lot of people are inclined to just skip challenges that they don’t know how to solve when they come across them during games because they want to get as many points as they can out of the challenges they are familiar with. At least that’s a pattern I noticed with some of the students that I have coached. When you do this, the only person who benefits is the person trying to get ahead of you on the leader board.

When you come across a challenge you don’t know, spend a little bit of time googling some of keywords you see in the challenge along with the challenge category and you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn. Some of the challenges might take a little more time to learn how to do than others, but the satisfaction of submitting a flag on a challenge that you had no idea how to solve when the game started is so worth it!

Expect to get stuck on some the challenges.

Okay, maybe a lot. During the individual game of my first season, I spent hours upon hours trying to figure out one log analysis challenge to the point of near insanity. I was yelling at my laptop; I forgot to eat; my roommate was very concerned (Note: I don’t recommend doing this).

So like I said, expect to get stuck, but if you are feeling stuck, take a break. Whether that’s doing a different challenge or actually leaving your room to go eat real food instead of the snacks you stocked up for the weekend, just stop looking at it. If you’ve spent more than an hour or two trying to submit and resubmit flags for the same challenge and it’s just not happening, that’s a pretty good time to give yourself a break. The worst thing to do during your first season (or any number of seasons you’ve participated in) is burn yourself out because you’re over obsessing with one challenge. Once you burn out, you won’t have any energy to do any of the other challenges, or, like me, you’ll run out of time entirely because of all the over obsessing.

Expect some friendly competition with the other people on your team.

During your practice and training sessions in the weeks leading up to the games, you’ll start learning which challenges are your strong suit. If you practice together, you’ll start becoming friends with the other players on your team and you’ll begin to learn everyone else’s strong suit challenges, too. Once everyone has a feel for each other’s skill levels, that’s when the friendly competition starts.

For our team, the friendly competition was a huge motivator for us to learn more and do more than we thought we were capable of. It was also a great way for us to learn skills from each other before and after the the pre-season and individual games (of course not during because that would be against the rules). Because we were paying attention to what everyone excelled in, we were able to fill each other’s skill gaps and teach each other new skills. We all wanted each other to be the best players we could be because it made the competition aspect of it even more exciting.

Expect to have fun!

Ultimately, the NCL Games are for learning and having fun! I hope these few tips helped you with navigating your expectations for your first NCL season. If you have any questions for me, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @ncljeana and I’d me more than happy to answer questions! Good luck with your first season and happy hacking.

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