Thursday, September 4, 2014

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em : Pre-Tourney Strategy And Tactics In GW2

I was going to say something today about the upcoming September Feature Pack for GW2 but Jeromai just covered it in such exhaustive detail I don't think I'll bother. I'll just say that most of it looks pretty good in theory and I look forward to trying it all out in practice.

Instead I'll just say a few words about the upcoming WvW Fall Tournament. The third of these, announced on the fly with no forewarning, it again features a wholesale shake-up of the rules, making comparisons between performance season by season shaky at best.

The initial tournament lasted seven weeks. It felt too long. The second ran nine weeks. It felt much too long. This one is four weeks. Will that feel too short? We'll know soon enough.

With April's move to a Megaserver structure for PvE and the upcoming globalization of guilds, World vs World stands out as the only remaining, anachronistic holdout for server pride. The ruleset for the forthcoming tournament renders even that fig-leaf transparent by allowing free transfers throughout the four weeks. Your server losing? Don't worry! $10 or $20 dollars will see you back on top!

And those are our good points.
Yak's Bend may be unusual in that most of the Commanders and many of the players competing under our banner in this tournament will be exactly the same ones who flew the YB flag in the previous two. Same as the year before we even had tournaments for that matter. Mrs Bhagpuss and I follow the same tags and play alongside the same names, by and large, as we did nearly two years ago.

We have had one significant addition. A small but strong and focused WvW guild transferred to Yaks Bend a couple of months back. We call them The Hair Bear Bunch or The Bears for short because they have three enormous Charrs with the new bouffant hairdo. Oh, and they all wear pink.

Their commander has managed something no other commander was able to achieve in two years of hectoring and cajoling: I finally cracked and installed Teamspeak. This will be the first tournament we've done where both of us are in voice coms. So far it's been interesting but not especially effective.

Everyone speaks so softly and calmly, even when things are utterly frenzied and chaotic on screen, that sometimes I don't quite realize how serious the situation has become.  When I can pick out their quiet, understated tones from the explosions, battle cries and music of the game (and I'm not turning my in-game sounds down for anyone) I still don't always understand what they're saying. There's a lot of jargon that I'm slowly assimilating. Finally, when I can hear and I do understand it still doesn't mean I'm able to react fast enough to do whatever it is that I'm supposed to be doing. All the same, better to know.

Good to know your own strengths

The announcement of the tournament has thrown up a whole meta-game around positioning for places at the start. There's a lengthy and revealing thread on the forums about "tanking" which, in this context, doesn't refer to the Holy Trinity but to servers making concerted efforts to lose matches so as to avoid ending up in the wrong division come Friday the twelfth.

There was a little of this last time around but this season it's rampant. Out of tournament, WvW uses a glicko ranking system across the full two dozen NA servers, which split into eight "Tiers" of three servers each. Weekly results and wildcard draws see servers moving freely, if usually slowly, between tiers. Come the start of the event all servers will be locked to spend the full four weeks in one of three Leagues - Gold, Silver and Bronze. For some this is a terrifying prospect.

Camouflage? What's that, then?
Gold League comprises the top six servers. Silver and Bronze make up the following two sets of nine. In practice only five of the servers in the Gold league are competitive with each other. Arguably only three. The sixth spot is seen as The Hot Seat of Doom. Whoever is in sixth place at reset on the appointed day can look forward to a month of being spawn camped by huge blobs, getting no points and having no fun. At all.

No-one wants that, least of all Maguuma, the server sitting in sixth place right now. They have, by most accounts, already been worn down to a nub by weeks of predation by the bigger beasts in the Tier 2 jungle and many of their active players and guilds had transferred off the server or stopped playing even before the Tournament was announced. Of course, this is Maguuma we are talking about, the masters of disinformation. That could all be part of the plan.

Whatever is or isn't going on behind the scenes, over the last couple of weeks Maguuma hasn't just been losing, it's been losing by a huge margin. If they keep it up they stand a good chance of dropping to seventh and spending September in their happy place. This has not gone unnoticed by the bunch of five servers packed very tightly directly below them - Stormbluff Isle, Devona's Rest, Dragonbrand, Crystal Desert and Yak's Bend - none of whom want to be the one left holding the parcel when Maguuma's music stops.

As a result recent matches have been...strange. Also fascinating, both to watch and experience. Some regulars are simply absent, taking a break, hoping the reduction in numbers will be sufficient to ensure a protective glicko slump. A few have been doing the rounds actively promoting a defeatist agenda, advising against trying too hard or, god forbid, actually winning during these lead-up matches. Most have been using it as an opportunity to wreck around having fun, looking for trouble and causing mayhem. Tactics have been peculiar, strategy often indecipherable, on all sides.

Spot the odd one out
Despite all the malarkey, as things stand now we go into the final week with fewer than 40 points between 7th and 10th place. No-one is safe in Silver yet. This may turn out to be more nerve-wracking than the tournament itself. If I had to put money on it I'd bet on Maguuma staying in sixth. They're losing as badly this week as last but they aren't dropping enough glicko points doing so. The problem with tanking under the glicko system is that the worse you do each week, the less is expected of you the week after.

Next week's match will be the clincher. There's a random factor in the weekly draw so until we see the line-up going into the final week predictions are impossible. And then there's the huge spanner of Tuesday's Feature Pack update to throw into the works. I think we've done enough to ensure a spot in Silver already, falling from 8th to 10th, but I can't be sure. No-one can.

That's the fun of it all.

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