I decided on a "for the hell of it" basis to try participating in the Harmony competition this year as well as the Beauty one. That's one of the nine contests that we have once a year, building to the tenth grand finale. I wasn't aiming to win, just hoping to place, for once. Placing means taking one of the top five spots, but I came in sixth... by ten points (946 to 936). Again.
In previous years I have competed a number of times in a number of these contests, usually Justice, Harmony, and Beauty, and almost every time I compete, I take sixth. (It's impossible to say in Justice since it's more of a "playoffs" model; in Justice, I made it to the round where, if you don't get eliminated, you're sure to be in the final five, and then got eliminated. But four other people can say that, too.) It's not even that I want the prize; if I'd taken fifth this time, I would have given the prize to the person I beat into sixth. I just want to finally have won something.
The reason I don't isn't that I am not good at what the competition is in. (Though for Beauty, as I wrote previously, maybe it is.) It's mostly that the competition isn't fair: there is a huge advantage for whoever happens to be part of the nation that can field a lot of people (and other stuff) to harass the opposition and support them.
And that's what's really frustrating. This is supposed to be a competition for influencing (an in-game mechanic about using skills of persuasion on denizens), and my character is excellent at it, and I have prepared for it as well as anyone could. But like so many things in Lusternia it never ends up being about what it's about. Instead it ends up being about combat, because even though this is a no-combat event, combat is allowed. Yes, that's not a typo. "No-PK Event" means that anyone can PK as much as they like, but they're offered no extra bonuses or protection from repurcussions. Which means influencing skill and ability is not the biggest factor; it's necessary but by no means sufficient.
What really decides is, if you're part of the current winning organization, then you have all the advantages for winning even more. Most importantly, that means lots of people. Secondarily it also means all the mechanical advantages that all the previous wins bring: blessings, more power, commodities, and other resources like shrines (which are crazy powerful as weapons rather than being what they should be, primarily an arm of a god's influence). And this is allowed to affect almost everything, even things where it shouldn't, like Harmony. If we had a competition that was what Harmony claims to be, I could have seriously good odds not only to place but to win, but we've never had that contest, and it's a shame because I think it'd be nice to see it. There's so many things where being the combat-monster at the head of the unstoppable juggernaut is supposed to help you, that it would be nice to see what other things are like.
Another problem with the way this turns out is that almost all events in this contest keep going to the same small group of people each year. People who already have a Seal (the ultimate prize for these nine contests), or even those who already are Ascendant (the ultimate prize for the final contest), end up taking most of the winning positions. It'd be nice to exclude them to give everyone else more of a chance, but that would mean once you won a lesser prize you couldn't compete again for the greater one, which wouldn't be that fair either. Unfortunately it means it's always going to be the same people over and over.
Taking sixth is what makes me feel discouraged and not wanting to try again. I'd probably feel better if I'd taken eleventh. But after taking sixth about five or six previous times, taking it again by ten points is agonizing. I can't help but think of how many things I could have done slightly differently to get those ten points. In the end it came down to luck -- if I had run into one more of a particular denizen in the last three minutes, I would have taken fifth, but I didn't.
Oh, well. I have a whole year to decide if I want to try again (and try to find some way to be better next time). And to wish that somehow, they could make Harmony be about what Harmony purports to be about, and let the contests that are supposed to be about the other stuff (like War and Death) be about the other stuff.