Monday, March 11, 2013

Massacred by Gladiators: Rated CTF Games in WoW

This will hopefully be, given time and inclination, a series of articles about Rated BGs in WoW. This is my favourite part of WoW at the moment - I love the 10v10 format - I think it is the best team game in e-sports at the moment. I love Arena and Starcraft 2 as well, but they are more like, to use a sporting analogy, playing singles and doubles tennis. Eve Online and Planetside 2 have bigger battles, but the outcome of the battles are usually pre-determined before the combatants actually come to grips by the meta-game (i.e. the alliance/faction who can field greater numbers will usually win regardless of comparative skill levels). Rated BGs, for me, strike the right balance between scale and "fairness", which is why I am such a big fan. This post will focus on Capture the Flag (CTF) maps, namely Twin Peaks and Warsong Gulch, and will have links to the videos I have posted on YouTube of games at around the 1700+ level. This footage is from my personal point of view as a paladin healer, and will also feature the Skype communications recorded in-game. Our team hit 1800+ last weekend which is a milestone for many of us, and I thought that it would be fitting to commemorate the occasion by adding some commentary on composition/tactics and posting up some videos. As a caveat I do not pretend that our strategy is optimal, nor that we are the best players out there. Go to Skill-Capped if you want footage of the pros in action. What we are at the core are a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs, and this commentary is intended to be taken at that level.

Composition

Our team composition is pretty standard - 3 healers, 1 FC tank, and 6 DPS, with 1 TC (target caller) who is usually a DK due to their ability to Death Grip overextended enemies into bad positions. Our healers forms the core of our RBG team - they stay constant week in and week out, although we may occasionally bring in a 4th healer if our DPS seems particularly strong. Our healer group also happens to Arena together, albeit on different toons, so we have built up a strong synergy over the years. Since we started this year we have added 1-2 more regulars, plus we have 4-5 more people who play irregularly. My biggest problem is finding a competent TC who is comfortable in the job and can play on a regular basis. Ratsac, a great DK who was formerly on my server but has since transferred, is an excellent TC, but for a number of reasons, cannot play with us regularly. I often have to rope in a reluctant replacement, but ideally there should be a proven specialist in this role. One of the biggest problems I've found with trying to maintain a cohesive team is that people outgrow the team - that is, their personal rating hits a new bracket and they only want to play with teams that are on their level. Specifically, for example, once a player hits 1900+ or 2k+ they no longer want to play with 1800+ teams. My team has lost many good players this way, and it does cause some resentment to be used as a stepping stone and then casually discarded once a better offer comes along. However, I'm guilty of this myself so I cannot be critical of players who do the same. But it does create problems when trying to run consistent teams.

The wretched question I always seem to have to deal with is choosing people who are good PvPers over people I like. In Seasons 10 and 11 I played with people exclusive to my guild and server who, for the most part had no Arena achievements whatsoever, and we never ever beat a team rated 1600+ in over 300 games (our average MMR was 1400+ for most of the season). I became more ruthless with team selection in January this year by expanding recruitment across different PvP servers and imposing a 1550+ minimum Arena requirement. The net result was that our MMR immediately went up to 1700+, and we were able to get 1800+ after 5-6 weeks. The price however, was that I froze out many of the regulars I played with for over a year, and most of them eventually left the guild or transferred to different servers. I can't say I blame them - as I said, it is a real personal conundrum. I guess when people leave the team for higher ones it is simply a case of karma in action, so I should accept it as part of running Rateds.

Deployment and Strategy

We employ the "control" strategy in our CTF games - simply put, we try to establish control of midfield in order to create opportunities to kill the enemy FC before the enemy can do the same to ours. We deploy 9 players to the middle while we send our FC off by himself to secure the flag. The rationale for this is that we want all the healers in the middle in order to give our team the best possible chance of winning the big melee in the middle. Healers are force multipliers, for obvious reasons. A single healer by him/herself, however, is a sitting duck as either a focus or CC target - in big fights you should always try to have at least 2 healers so that they are able to support each other with dispels and heals.

If the FC is attacked my responsibility as a paladin healer is to break off from the middle, and assist him in bringing the flag home. Once we have flag in hand we stay together as a group (FC does not run back to cap point) and we then try to wipe the enemy, or force them to "split rez" - that is, wipe half their team so half are awaiting rez while the other half get steamrolled by our main group. Once mid is clear, or the enemies are scattered our group then splits into two - 8 rush the enemy base to get the kill, while the FC and myself fall back to the cap point and wait for the return. The offence cannot allow more than 2-3 opponents past their line to attack our FC, unless they are already within striking range of the enemy FC. In many ways it can be compared to a race - the team which is closer to the enemy FC has the advantage because at this point in the game both FCs are sitting at their cap points. If the FC and I are swamped by too many enemies then our offence has failed to sufficiently "control" the enemy (or the FC and I dawdled too long in the middle!).

I like the control strategy because it allows for improvised play, and it puts most of our team in the places where they are needed. In our formative games we experimented with different formations - in my first few WSGs we ran a 5 offence and 5 defence formation, for example. This formation sounded good on paper, but what actually happened was that the 5 people on defence ended up sitting at home base twiddling their thumbs while the other 5 on offence were massacred by 8-9 enemy players in midfield. Once our offence was down the enemy 8 attacked the remaining 5 on defence, wiping them and killing the FC, effectively defeating our team in detail. Keeping the team together, whether wiping the enemies in midfield, escorting the FC home, or defending the cap point, gives us the best possible chance of having numbers at the critical point on the battleground.


This first game is a 3-0 victory in WSG, and it illustrates our standard deployment in CTF games. As per usual our entire team deployed to the middle to wipe the enemy while our FC did a solitary run to the flag. The counter to this deployment is to leave 1-2 people to delay or kill our FC - that way, even if our team wipes the enemy our FC will be unable to bring the flag back to the cap point, and the enemy will have time to rez and regroup. This is exactly what happens in this game - our FC is jumped by a rogue, and I am forced to detach from the middle to assist. Once I got there I peeled the rogue off via CCs and we made our way out. In the meantime, the remainder of the team succeeded in wiping the opposition mid-field, and they converged on the hapless enemy FC who, isolated and alone, is mercilessly cut down away from the rest of his team. After this fast first cap the enemy seemed to be unable to reorganise, and they allowed the FC and I to run the field uncontested to get a second cap. The remainder of our team turtled at the flag point to deny the enemy the flag, and the enemy just ran into the kill zone in dribs and drabs, making them easy pickings for our grouped offence.

Quality Matters

Our team won all the major contacts in this game, and in my opinion it is in the contacts where the difference in quality of teams is most clearly manifested. Higher ranked teams, to put it simply, kill targets faster. This is due to better focus, better burst, better CD management, and better CC (which prevents healers from healing). I used to think that we could out-strategize our opposition, and in rare cases, it is possible - however, there is no substitute for the ability to smash the enemy at the points of contact. Regardless of how well planned any given strategy is, if your team can't kill theirs at the contacts then it will all come to nought. This the reason why good Arena players are good Rated BG players, and why high rated Arena players can turn the tide of games, simply because high rated Arena players are efficient player killers. Players armed with T2 weapons (rated 2.2k or higher) are especially brutal because their weapons allow them to burst harder. There is no real difference between the strategies our 1800+ team ran and the strategies my old 1400+ team ran in seasons 10 and 11. The decisive factor was that higher rated teams would wipe the floor of my old 1400+ team in the actual contacts. In CTF maps our midfield group would get wiped by teams 1600+ or more - in maps such as Arathi Basin, Battle for Gilneas and Eye of the Storm the people we deployed to take nodes would be repulsed and wiped by the corresponding enemy force deployed to contest the node. It is in the actual combats where the difference in team ratings can be most clearly perceived.

To illustrate this point, I have included a non-CTF map of a Gladiator team absolutely roflstomping our (almost!) 1800+ team. This whole team is composed of Gladiator level players (top 0.5% of their respective Battlegroups) armed with T2 weapons, and they absolutely annihilated us.



Note that they possess what are considered to be mandatory classes for good Rated composition - warlocks, mages and boomkins are all represented. There was also a weird incident where a cart started going backwards which I presume to be an exploit of some kind - however, it would not have made any difference to the outcome of the game so I didn't research the matter further. All I can say is that I'm glad that everyone can access T2 weapons in Season 13. As I've said in previous posts, good players deserve accolades for hitting 2.2k - they should not however, be given further equipment based advantages to slam lower ranked people down with. It is the antithesis of fair competition. I accept that even without T2 weapons this team would have beaten us handily due to the calibre of their team and their players - to not even have a chance because of gear disparity, however, is somewhat depressing (even if it was kind of fun in a twisted, masochistic kind of way).

Quantity Has A Quality All Of Its Own

The ratings of your players are not be all and all of Rated BGs however - there are ways to manipulate the odds in your team's favour. The biggest difference between Arenas and Rated BGs is that people can rez and get back into the fight, thereby introducing a numbers element into the game. This is yet another good reason to keep your team concentrated - they might have 2.2k players, but if they don't group up they can be picked off by your team. The smart use of rez vectors will also allow your team to bring numbers to bear on the opposition, even if they do outrank/outgear you. Graveyards (GY) should be considered reinforcement points, and are ideal places for regrouping or holding last stands. 

The next game illustrates this point fairly well I think. In this next Twin Peaks game we fight a 1700+ team that has a 2.2k boomkin spearheading their attack. Both teams are closely matched, and both teams utilise their GYs to gain a numerical edge over the enemy at critical points in the game. Furthermore we isolate and target the boomkin at every opportunity to minimise his impact upon the game.



At the onset of the game the boomkin attempted to solo our FC by himself, which meant his firepower was kept away from our team at the initial contact. We deployed as per usual - 9 to mid, while our FC toddled off by himself to get the flag. When our FC called for assistance I broke away and peeled the boomkin while our FC grabbed the flag. Both FCs were able to reunite with their respective teams and we had a brief stalemate across the river. Our team focused or CCed the boomkin at every opportunity, but we were still pushed and were on the verge of wiping. In this situation our GY becomes our best friend - if the team looks like it is wiping there is no point fighting to the bitter end, as a complete wipe will open the door to a kill on our FC. We retreated to our GY, were able to regroup and stop the enemy push, and then sent our offence to attempt to kill the enemy FC.

Unfortunately the enemy team was also quite canny, and they too used their GY to regroup and to wipe our offence. The FC and I retreated to our GY to consolidate with our rezzing O, and we made a stand at the bottom of the hill near our back GY to await the enemy counter. We sent two people to try and kill the enemy FC while the rest of the team turtled around our FC. We were able to repel the enemy attack, and we then sent the rest of the team to attack the enemy FC while all the healers turtled around our FC. Our O was able to drop the FC, and we secured a cap despite a late push by the enemy. At this point of the game the boomkin made an amazing dash with the flag which almost culminated in a cap. Only a last ditch effort by Lelle to snatch the flag at the last minute saved the day - even then we had our hands full while we tried to peel the enemy away from her. We ended up turtling inside one of the houses on the map, and we ran down the clock to secure the win.

Final Thoughts

Rated BGs are lots of fun, and hopefully this post and the accompanying videos impart some of that feeling. Definitely my favourite part of WoW at the moment, the key things I have learnt in my CTF Rated experience to date are i) individual player quality matters when pushing rating; ii) keeping the team concentrated is the key to success;  and iii) smart use of GY vectors can allow your team to turn the tide in losing engagements. There are many things I can still learn and fine tune, and hopefully these things I can share at a later date when I get better at this caper. For those people who have never done Rateds before, I would encourage them to try them out. Season 13 awards CP for losing games now, so it won't always be wasted time - furthermore capping via Rateds will accelerate you faster to the 27k aggregate requirement for the T2 weapons this season. I know I went on and on about how high rated players are necessary to do well, but this is only true if you are pushing rating on the ladder. I had just as much fun playing with my 1400+ team in seasons 10 and 11 as I do now with my current team - in the end thought, I made a choice based on what I wanted to do, and had to accept the consequences.  Nonetheless I've been in some higher rated PuGs on PvP servers where players have been rude, idiotic or unpleasant, something which never happened when I played in my old team. In the end, rating or skill or proficiency in a game means nothing at all, unless you are one of the very few that makes it their livelihood or profession. Play is play, and no one governs how we play except ourselves. I think RBGs are fun, and they satisfy a competitive streak in me which makes me want to push higher and higher - I would heartily recommend them to anyone who is looking for a good team e-sports to fritter away their leisure hours.