Sunday, 24 November 2013

Silver Over Gold : GW2

The inaugural GW2 WvW Season is drawing to a close. There's another match to come but as far as the North American Gold League goes we already know who's going to be king of the hill. Blackgate, sitting on 25 points from five straight wins, already lead by more than 50k points in this week's match, where they're playing the two weakest teams in their division, Maguuma and Sea of Sorrows.

They face stronger opposition in the final week when they come up against second-placed Jade Quarry and current third-placed Sanctum of Rall but chances are Blackgate will finish with the maximum 35 points, Jade Quarry coming in as runners-up. Third place could go either to SoR or Tarnished Coast.

Gold League is somewhat different to Silver and Bronze and not only because it features some massively populated worlds with very intense, dedicated WvW players. There are only six teams in the Gold League; the other two have nine each. With more servers the differences in ability, commitment, population and effectiveness are necessarily wider between the top and bottom and also in a short seven-week season a degree of luck of the draw is unavoidable.

Going into week six Silver League looks a lot more unpredictable, with just four points separating first and third place. As of last Friday's reset the smart money would probably have been on Fort Aspenwood to run out eventual winners with Stormbluff Isle a close second and Yak's Bend hanging on to third.


The final week sees FA and SBI play each other for the second time with sixth-placed Dragonbrand taking collateral damage. Yak's Bend had a fortunate draw, playing Fort Aspenwood only once in the season, which might have helped our chance of nabbing third place, something most of the pre-season forum warriors thought beyond us. All the same, you can only play the hand you're dealt and even with the favorable draw, going into the penultimate match third place is by no means guaranteed.

We have a tough match this week : Stormbluff Isle and Ehmry Bay. SBI trounced us in our previous meeting back in week three, romping home with a lead of almost 200k. Last week while we ran our wxp trains and enjoyed our 500 point ticks there was much wise counsel warning against complacency and emphasizing the difficult times to come. To hold on to our podium place we needed to come second this week then win the final round, a repeat of our opening match against Ehmry Bay (again!) and Borliss Pass.

It's something a surprise, then, on this overcast November Sunday morning, to be sitting here looking at a scoreline that shows Yak's Bend not only more than 20k ahead of Stormbluff but SBI trailing third behind Ehmry Bay.


Thus far this has been an amazing match. Not so much because of the score alone; Yak's Bend has a reputation for coming strong out of the gate at reset and burning hard across the weekend. We've had leads over strong opposition before but come Monday the real-life responsibilities of our largely working-age, gainfully-employed population take over and we fade a little.

Well, so the story goes. Obviously I have no idea of the relative demography of our server or anyone else's but Yak's Bend has a narrative and that's part of it, along with our yak-like stubbornness and our obsession with siege engines. One of the things I most love about playing MMOs are the stories servers tell about themselves. To me those stories can often feel more powerful in terms of immersion than the lore of the game itself. It's something Yak's Bend has in spades.

This time it feels a bit different. SBI seem visibly weakened, their zergs smaller and more scattered, while there are more Yak boots on the ground than I can remember seeing for a long time. What's more, whereas last week our numbers were swelled by achievement-hunters joining the constant wxp trains farming easy targets and filling all the available channels with excitable chatter, last night map and team chat were consistently filled with good intel and tactical information and all activity was directed squarely at building a lead by taking territory and holding it.


I spent the entire evening on our own borderland. Given the choice I much prefer to defend our lands rather than take other people's. I walked more dolyaks from supply camps to keeps in an evening than I normally do in a month, and I wasn't alone. No four-legged yak set out on his ponderous journey without several two-legged Yaks speeding him on his way, hiding him from approaching threats and defending him from would-be yak-murderers.

Walking dolyaks is a vital but thankless task. The huge mobile haystacks set out from the various supply camps and stump along the frozen mud tracks to various keeps and towers delivering their mysterious "supply". Without this supply gates can't be reinforced nor walls fortified. Even when the walls and gates are as strong as they can be and the battlements bristle with cannons, maintaining a healthy level of "supply" inside the keep is essential for any protracted defense against a determined assault.


If no-one walks with the yaks any passing enemy can pick them off at will. They don't defend themselves and the NPC guards that an upgraded camp provides do little more than slightly delay the inevitable. Dolyaks walk very slowly and accompanying one from camp to keep takes several minutes. A good thief, striking out of nowhere, can down one in a few seconds. Keeping one alive requires a skilled player capable of soloing all-comers or, more likely, a bunch of less-skilled players providing a visible deterrent.

In my experience, walking a yak is either five minutes of tedious anxiety or a flurry of unexpected action followed by failure and sudden death. If the yak reaches the tower you get a small reward of xp and karma and the tower gets a small supply boost. Then you need to do it again. And again. And again. Unsurprisingly it's not the most popular of activities but last night there were, at times, more people willing to walk yaks than there were yaks that needed walking. I can't remember seeing that before.


Our new-found willingness to buckle down and get on with the things that matter wasn't limited to the mundanities of animal-minding. At one point, out of the blue, one of the homeland Commanders issued a map call not for our own map but for us all to jump across to SBI's borderlands to defend the Hills keep that we'd taken, fortified and waypointed there. I went immediately. In seconds I was part of a large zerg, racing from our spawn to the icons of the two Commanders battling to hold back a large SBI force whose Omega Golems were already battering at the inner gates. By the time Mrs Bhagpuss tried to switch maps a minute or two later the map was queued.

We successfully routed the "invaders" and chased them back to their Garrison, which we took later on that evening. I'm sure that kind of response is run-of -the mill in the higher tiers but it was new to me and quite thrilling.

What's behind the upswing in interest and focus I couldn't say for sure. Certainly a lot of our regulars are out right now, which was less the case last week, but I can't help wondering if we haven't picked up a significant number of new converts to WvW as a result of the earlier achievement-focused activity. Did some of those players, new or newly-returned to WvW, get a taste for something more than uncontested door-knocking and decide to come and see what it was like when the other side hits back?

Perhaps it has more to do with the nature of The Season itself. The end is in sight, we know what we have to do, there's honor and reward to be won and what's more there's the chance of pulling off a big surprise. I find it highly motivating. Maybe others do too.

Whatever's going on, it makes for some of the most compelling WvW gameplay since launch. It looked a tough enough ask to hang on to third. Aiming for second is going to require everyone to step up.

So, who cares who wins Gold in the Gold League? Silver in Silver, that's where it's at!

And we can do it! We're Yaks!



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