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Perception vs. Reality in Competition

Perception vs. Reality in Competition – May 8, 2012 5:30 PM (edited 5/8/12 1:30 PM)
Talraen (2373 posts) Doesn't Play with Others
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I mentioned this on the chat a few minutes ago, but I wanted to arrange my thoughts a bit and see if anyone has any interest or reaction. I have a strong general interest in the difference between perception and reality, both in terms of media coverage and commonly held beliefs, and the different (but I think related) matter of why people think they like or dislike something vs. why they actually do. This post is about the former.

There has been an interesting narrative in the NHL playoffs this year about the Washington Capitals. Led by Alexander Ovechkin, an offensive superstar but a defensive liability, they have been a run-and-gun, all-offense/no-defense team for years. Their coach at the time, Bruce Boudreau, was known for being an offensive-minded coach almost as much as for dropping ridiculous numbers of F-bombs. Early this season, they fired Boudreau, and hired a defensive-minded old-school disciplinarian in Dale Hunter. The stated reason for this was to change them into a defense-oriented team, built for the playoffs.

(The idea that being defensive is an advantage in the playoffs is a separate question of perception vs. reality, one that I'm personally not convinced of, but for the purposes of this discussion, the truth of this belief is irrelevant.)

The perception is that, under Hunter, the team is tougher and more defensive-minded. Ovechkin's ice time has been limited, and he has proved to be a liability even while leading the team in points. #7 seed Washington has played a ton of close games, beating #2 seed Boston in 7 games, setting an NHL record by having every game decided by 1 goal for the first time ever. Only one of the five games against the #1 seed Rangers in round 2 has been decided by more than a goal, and they're hanging in there (down 3-2 as of this writing). It seems pretty clear that their defense is working.

The problem is, that's a load of hooey. Grantland has penned several analyses of the Capitals which show that statistics don't necessarily back up the perception. (Of course, statistics being what they are, it's quite possible someone out there whose site I don't read has been doing just that.) In short, the team won less games and had less control of games under Hunter, and hasn't fared any better in close playoff games (which there were less of under Boudreau's offensive style).

That's all a ton of backstory to make a simple point: the perception of the Capitals is based more on reputation than actual results. Dale Hunter as a player was tough as nails and defensive, and he made it clear that's what he wanted to do with the team, and so people believe it. He has made the team more defensive-minded, that much is true, but he arguably hasn't actually made their defense better.

What I'm wondering is whether this is just a sports thing. (Well, it's also clearly a 24-hour-news thing, but that's another story.) Sports radio only really works because of all the hyperbole, and a reasoned analysis of sports just isn't as interesting as overreacting to everything. Specifically I wonder how and if this applies to video games. By their nature, they are easier to analyze statistically (since everything is, at its core, numbers), which logically implies that it's harder to disconnect from that. Still, people develop reputations, and I imagine a reputation is still a stronger force than actual change. However, I wouldn't really know personally, which is why I present this for discussion.

There is no Mythril Sword in Elfheim
Re: Perception vs. Reality in Competition – May 9, 2012 8:23 PM (edited 5/9/12 4:25 PM)
Cyris (240 posts) Tapped Out
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Disclaimer: I haven't read this post yet.

Elina has a fun book called "How we Decide", it's about the decision making process in humans. It's written for lay people though, so lots of anecdotes and such, I highly recommend it. In it, there is a story about the 76ers in the 1982 NBA playoffs. The long and the short of it was that fan and player perceptions of "hot streaks" were utterly incorrect. To quote "The streaks were figments of the imagination."

In warhammer 40k, Orcs paint their vehicles red because "Red makes em go fasta!" Except in the case of orcs, the gestalt psychic field (known as the WAAAAAAGH) that they create actually does empower their red vehicles, but you get the point.

I think this is a very interesting subject.

Re: Perception vs. Reality in Competition – May 15, 2012 12:17 PM (edited 5/15/12 8:17 AM)
Cuzzdog (1522 posts) Head of Gamer Corner R&D
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A few thoughts on this:

1) It's very hard use statistics to show that the team did worse in specific games under the new coach than they would have done under the old coach. The only reason they're doing as well as they are might be because the new coach is bringing in new plays that are throwing the opposition off from the play style they would have anticipated from the stale, familiar style of the old coach. So the perception of the team doing better under this shake up might not be wrong.

2) I think in subjects that are very hard to quantify, perception and reality are very closely related. A team who thinks they are doing better than their opposition will end up being better, even when on paper the game could go either way, or they're actually at a statistical disadvantage. I've certainly had this happen to me when playing sports. Just having that feeling that you're going to win is enough of a mental shake up to come back from behind, or just that feeling of letting things slip away is enough to lose the lead. Isn't this very idea the reason why a sports team playing at home is considered such a huge advantage?

Re: Perception vs. Reality in Competition – May 15, 2012 12:56 PM (edited 5/15/12 8:56 AM)
Talraen (2373 posts) Doesn't Play with Others
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The Capitals in particular were slightly above .500 before firing Boudreau, and exactly .500 (including the playoffs) under Hunter. Admittedly the Boudreau stat is misleading because it wasn't that many games, but the reason they fired him for being slightly above .500 was because in previous years the Caps were among the best teams in the league. Hunter didn't improve their record and didn't get any further in the playoffs than Boudreau, so there's no objective evidence that the team was any better (despite what the analysts like to claim).

As for home team advantage, there is a lot that goes into it: having the home crowd, being in more familiar surroundings, sleeping in your own bed, rules advantages in some sports (last licks in baseball, last change in hockey, that sort of thing). For whatever reason, home team advantage has become less significant in recent years, at least in football and hockey (which are the sports I read about). There are a lot of theories as to why, such as the "real fans" being priced out of seats, but I don't know that I really buy that. It would be interesting to see actual statistical studies of this, but I don't know of any off the top of my head.

There is no Mythril Sword in Elfheim
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