“The will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win.”
— attributed to dozens of coaches
While execution is crucial, the most important parts of the game can happen before you play.
What hardcores are doing that casuals are not is preparing to win. They are theorycrafting, studying builds, practicing skill rotations, learning maps, and generally investing time that will lead to better execution. They are not thinking on the same level as the casual player. While I am playing Starcraft and thinking, “I’ll build a drone. I’ll build another drone. I should probably get a Spawning Pool soon,” the hardcore player is already executing “6 pool” and has most of his brain left to think about how he is going to beat me. To say nothing of games where you can stockpile resources so that playing more means winning more.
Examples outside online gaming are even better. Go watch a local non-professional sporting event and pick out who has been doing her endurance training. Teams fall apart in the fourth quarter because they are tired, while the teams that ran more laps can keep going. Rote learning is actually really valuable1 because you just know things without needing to look them up, think about them, or work them out. Ender’s Game has a lovely bit from Bean’s perspective; he might be the smartest person on the planet, and he can re-derive all of geometry from Euclid, but he needs to study because he won’t have time to re-derive all of geometry on the test. Martial artists practice their kata endlessly because you have less than a second to react to that fist coming at your head.
No one has time to do this for everything. Most of us are casual for most of the things we do. Casual players are entirely reasonable when they say, “It’s just a game,” and they have more important things to do with their time. But hardcore players are just as right when they say you need to put in the hours if you want to get on their level.
(1) Provided what you “just know” is true.