Saturday, January 24, 2015

Yak's Bend: We're All About That Base: GW2

ArenaNet probably imagine all GW2 players had their attention this week focused on the  building hype for their big announcement this morning but from where I'm sitting that's been little more than a sideshow. In fact most of GW2 itself has become an afterthought.

The Living Story and speculation around an expansion may have provided more fuel for blog posts but what I'm actually doing in GW2 around 75% of the time is fighting for the Honor of the Yak. (The other 25% is dailies and sorting my bags).

As anyone who's been following the ins and outs of World vs World, GW2's badly-designed, largely-neglected, three-team medieval combat simulator, over the last couple of years probably knows, the phrase "Honor of the Yak" comes steeped in irony. Yak's Bend is quite possibly the most reviled server in the North American league these days.

Without question that crown used to belong to Maguuma, who wore it with pride but, since the mass defections that saw them slip from Tier 1 contenders to the lower reaches of the table, it seems to have passed to us. The reasons are opaque but as far as I can divine from the entrails of our frequent and repeated guttings we are a bunch of smug, self-satisfied  PPT-obsessed Tier One-wannabe tryhards, who rely on siege to do our fighting for us because none of us can or will fight on open ground.

If you're going to roam as a staff ele you need all the help you can get.

What's more, by bringing our dour, dire, dull gameplay into Tier 2 we've crashed a party to which we were never and would never have been invited, spoiling it for everyone who was already there having a great time. Plus we have given sanctuary to a bunch of arrogant scrubs who'd already made a ton of enemies before they came to us, so we deserve nothing better than they would have got .

This is what it must have felt like to be a Milwall fan in the 1970s. Only with fireballs and cannon instead of scarves and DMs. The rough scenario running right now goes like this:

  • There are three servers in Tier 1 with whom our playstyle would, supposedly, jibe reasonably well. As far as I can tell none of them actively hate us and some players there might even welcome us if only as a change of scenery. There are, however, only three places in T1 and clearly no-one there wants to leave just to make room for us. 
  • Anyway, allegedly, all three T1 teams indulge in match-fixing practices designed to make sure T1 remains an exclusive club, so that's not happening, no way, no how.
  • There are three servers, other than us, who would like to be in T2 so they can have "good fights" and enjoy the Guild Vs Guild Valhalla T2 used to be until Maguuma went all emo on them and skulked off to hide in a corner, thereby letting YB in to mess everything up for everyone.
  • There are two servers stuck in a living hell in T3. Week after week whichever of the four proto-T2 servers drops down kicks the everlovin' crap out of both of them, 24/7, trying to generate sufficient lift to bounce back up. Everyone feels bad about it but goes on kicking all the same because to show the slightest mercy means risking a longer stretch in T3 and a chance of  being the ones getting that kicking in the future.
  • Due to the inflexible and glacially slow way the glicko scoring mechanism operates it takes a huge amount of effort and energy to effect even a small change in this unhappy status quo.
  • To add the cherry on top, every so often an ANet dev opens the doors to hell, peers into the darkness, calls out "Here! Have a cookie", then throws in a rule change or a Season and slams the door. Everyone forgets what they were doing, scrabbles blindly for the cookie, and any progress towards stability that might have been made is lost.

Well, it is pantomime season.
After a relatively moderate introduction to T2 last autumn leading to a period of increasing discontent that culminated in the Great Christmas Tryhard Campaign of 2014 (seriously, do these YB nerds have no lives or what?) there is now a full-blown, well-organized, coherent and sustained push by the whichever two of the other three servers find themselves in T2 with Yak's Bend each week to get us the hell out. The plan, as divulged to Mrs Bhagpuss in one of her frequent conversations across enemy lines, is to double-team us until we shatter and fragment like all the other bandwagon servers have. Except when it suits Dragonbrand to change sides of course.

It's all getting rather ugly. So fed up with our Lemongrass Poultry Soup-eating, superior arrow cart placing, keep-hugging ways are our opponents that all the gloves are coming off. Anything goes if gets these jumped-up YB jerks back where they belong - the scrub leagues.

Considering ANet appear to do virtually nothing to police behavior in WvW and, especially, that they've been leaving gaping holes wide open for exploits for years, it's perhaps surprising that most matches don't already degenerate into a seething melange of siege trolls, zoom hackers, spies and saboteurs. By and large, though, players have policed themselves reasonably well. Not any more.

In fact there was a commander. I was still in someone's squad from an hour ago and couldn't see his tag.

The last couple of matches have seen an appalling rate of cheating and poor sportsmanship. Steam is coming out of Mrs Bhagpuss's ears (quite impressive when she's playing an Asura). Most people who express an opinion in Team and Map chat are fuming mad too although our senior commanders largely try to rise above it all. It doesn't press my buttons in the same way but I would certainly rather not have to contend with people making characters on alt accounts just to badmouth all-comers in open chat while building twenty flame rams in a blind corner or taking all our omegas for a short walk over a steep cliff.

It may be surprising, then, to hear that last night was one of the best nights I've had in WvW since launch. Even more surprising if you look at the scores to see that YB finished third, 41k points behind Dragonbrand in second and 72k behind the overall winners, Fort Aspenwood.

Ah, but what a third place it was! A nail-biting finish that we won while apparently losing by a country mile.

It's all down to the underlying base of WvW, the glicko system, which determines movement up and down the table. On that reckoning it was uncertain until the very last tick of the match whether Sea of Sorrows, who fell to T3 the week before, would replace us in T2 or whether we would hang on to sixth place by the merest sliver.
No need to make a song and dance about it.

By midweek SoS had better than a ten point lead but throughout the last couple of days, while being constantly and determinedly hit by Dragonbrand, both in concert and separately, we began to pull that lead back. We were aided by an inexplicable faltering of SoS's steamroller progress in T3 as Northern Shiverpeaks appeared to rally. There was a chance and we were determined to take it.

For the first time in months I stayed up until reset, which currently comes at 1am for us. Mrs Bhagpuss stayed up too even though she had to be up for work early on Saturday morning. It was just too thrilling to leave and go to bed.

For a given value of thrilling, admittedly. There were no gung ho 20 golem rushes on fortified keeps or huge hour-long battles over Stonemist Castle. Instead, all four maps had teams running PPT (points per tick) on a much more organized level than I'm used to seeing. Timers were being watched, every individual camp counted, people were playing smart.

Just to give one example of the unusual discipline that was in force, at one point I was in a small zerg of 15-20 people that breached North East Tower on one of the enemy borders. We killed the lord and let the ring that indicates a successful capture get to 90% then everyone stepped back. Most of the zerg left to take another objective, while I and a few others waited at the edge of the ring for over three minutes before moving back across the line to fill the final 10% and cap the tower.

The new Lord spawned with his five-minute Righteous Indignation buff that makes him unkillable at exactly five minutes before the tick.That's how you're supposed to do it. Tower secure for the points, no need to guard it, move on and take something else. From our PPT reputation I guess that's how people think we usually roll: it isn't but it's good to see we can when we need to.

All night the scores were so tight that literally every point was vital. With Bloodlust up stomps were mandatory. There were chewings-out for anyone rash enough to burn too fast on a downed foe. Bit tricky, that one, for a full-zerk fire attuned Elementalist, which happened to be what I was playing, but I did my best.

When I'd gotten home from work and logged in we were just under 2 points behind SoS on glicko. As each fifteen-minute tick rolled around I tabbed across to the invaluable Millennium real-time scoreboard to see the impact and for the last 90 minutes relayed it in game. I wasn't the only one.  By just after half past midnight the defecit had been whittled away, in increments of 0.1 to 0.15% per tick, until we stood less than a tenth of a percent short of overhauling them.

And finally, when the final round of the night ticked by, there it was:

Sea of Sorrows  1,888.676
Yak's Bend        1,888.784

A famous victory! We came third better than they came first. Or something. Whatever! It was wonderful!

Why didn't the map look like this the rest of the week, eh?

And now, of course, we have to do it all again. Another week of cheating, hacking and name-calling. And, with the sense of ironic humor for which autonomic systems are so rightly celebrated, ANet's wild-card generator has decided to push Sea of Sorrows up to T2 for a week anyway and drop Dragonbrand to T3 instead!

Where we go from here, who knows? The "victory" was fabulous but frankly I'd be entirely happy to drop to T3 or even T4. That way we might boil off most of the johnny-come-lately server-hoppers who came to us when we were the unexpected dominators of T2 back in the post-Season, before Seas of Sorrows and, especially, Fort Aspenwood decided we were An Abomination. Maybe we could even get back to the 5-6 server equilibrium of last spring's T3-T4. I'd like that.

Or maybe ANet's big reveal in a few hours will contain a line or two about the future of WvW (don't laugh - it could happen!). Something that might make all of this seem like ancient history in a few short months; which, of course, it will anyway.

Whatever happens, chances are I'll be up in those borderlands, whichever they are, fighting alongside my fellow Yaks, whoever they are, against our terrible foes, whoever they are, all for... whatever it is we're fighting for. Because whatever else changes one thing remains the same: The Honor of the Yak. Always the Honor of the Yak.


  1. I was going to go for an "All About the Bass" reference in the title of my post about my garrison, but I thought "No, that is what the kids are into. My 13 year old daughter is running around singing that. Better leave that be."


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