On The Edge of Irrelevance: Guild Wars 2’s PvP Nosedive

I am going to toot my own horn, but it’s a really sad tune I’ll be playing. I was right, but I really didn’t want to be right about this.

We Saw This Coming

One of the main complaints from the PvP community about the choice of Conquest as sPvP in Guild Wars 2 is the Capture Point rule set. This doesn’t mean that capture point games aren’t common or unpopular, but that they rarely become the accepted test of skill in PvP type games.

And once you neutralize or capture, then there is no benefit to hanging around. There is likely a contested area or node that needs you more at the time. It is possible that you could design your team to have sets of two players who feature a highly supportive and defensive player with someone of decent damage output to take a node and sit on it. The problem then becomes that the battle is a war of attrition. Prolonged battles and over-balance are two of the major reasons the Guild Wars PvP scene died off after being so healthy for years. If your ruleset and map dictates prolonging fights to preserve nodes then it shrinks the type of builds and strategies to use.

In larger head-to-head battles you have more room for builds to specialize into different roles and for players to coordinate their playstyle with the playstyle of their teammates. What this means is that you could have a six on six head-to-head battle with different team makeups on each side, as opposed to a standardized Cap Point team.

In Capture Point, if you try to stick together as a single swarm, then you’ll likely lose. You can’t force large battles in Conquest. If most of your team is at one spot then you give up the other two nodes. Running, delaying and interfering matter most. What the PvP community wants are those team vs team situations where the battle is all out, and it’s a matter of supporting and controlling both sides. Players want to be sized up against the whole of the other side. They don’t want to succeed at their node running, just to realize they’re losing because of something that is happening on the other side of the map for which they have no input on or access to. Players also want the extra strategy of team builds.

What ArenaNet risks by going fully in with just Conquest is alienating the playerbase that would make the sPvP attractive. You can’t be bigtime without the respect of the community because you won’t draw the community to care and be competitive about your game. You will get, and forgive the elitism here, the second and third tier players to fill in the gap of talent. In other sports, there are minor leagues and spinoff leagues. There has been basketball leagues that use trampolines and favor dunking because it has a high entertainment value. These minor leagues don’t ever rise above the level of sideshow because nobody truly respects them. They don’t draw the top talent and thus don’t draw the big attendance. I feel this is the same for E-sports. ArenaNet can’t go out there and try to push E-sports while being PowerDunk Ball.

–  The E-Sports Charade

I wrote those blocks of text over a year ago on May 24th, 2012. It was a warning about the future of PvP in the game if they stuck with Conquest. I think the PvP community will find those “warnings” extremely relevant right now, especially the final paragraph.

The Tournament Finals Swansong

At the one year anniversary bash, ArenaNet held their tournament final between the top European team and the top North American team. If I could describe the feel of everything about this in two words, it would be “awkward” and “depressing”.

The Anniversary Bash stream was above 5k viewers during the early parts of the event. People watched the opening address and the Q&A. The final part of the event was the match between Car Crash and Sync for the PVP championship. At this point, the twitch fell below 5k viewers, and then loss more viewers as the match went on.

However, it was already awkward before that. The devs kept trying to pump up the match, but the live audience issued a muttering of applause, seemingly clueless about the two teams, or just not interested in the event itself. When it came to Q&A time, a lone player from Crystal Desert asked why there wasn’t more modes for PvP in the game, and where the beloved modes from Guild Wars 1 were to be found in the game. In response, the Dev Panel looked at each other, somewhat clueless and scared. There was not a single spvp dev on the panel. The closest person to this was Devon Carter, who handles WvWvW. After the group sat quiet a second, Colin Johannson jumped on the “grenade” of a question, and effectively dodged it with a rambling bit of PR.

Meanwhile, the entire twitch stream was filled with people spamming “GvG” in the chat for the entirety of the event. The entire thing felt like a trainwreck for PvP rather than the showcase ArenaNet intended it to be.

The Victory Funeral

Following the championship, players took to the forums and expressed their issues with the handling of the PvP question, and how generally uninteresting the match was itself.

Players complaining on forums is nothing new. However, long time sPvP player, and large contributor to the cause Xeph announced his retirement from the game the following day. He said his reasons were numerous, but you could sort of tell the Anniversary Bash and its recent news was a tipping point.

The post was deleted, but the damage was done.

It’s Not the Incentives

Xeph felt the PvP lacked incentives to attract players, but that’s never really been a big part of highly successful PvP. Most of the reward comes from winning and the winning actually meaning something. Ultimately, there must be some pride in the accomplishment of winning. Guild Wars 2 lacks that feeling. It lacks is because Conquest mode is Powerdunk Ball. it’s not what people care about, and ArenaNet never listened.

And now their planned high moment is a depressing final death cry.

Can it be saved? Sure. It’s not like ArenaNet is facing any real competition in the MMO PvP space. However, they need to focus on what people care about in MMO PvP. Don’t be a MOBA. Don’t spread small skirmishes across a map. People are getting that already, and there’s a whole other audience being ignored. That audience wants tactical, skilfull, and gear balanced team fights. It doesn’t have to be deathmatch. You can establish a goal to fight over, but that goal must involve two teams fighting together.  People watch MMO PvP for the group play, Remember that.

The Advantage of Choice

A Dredge Mole

Guild Wars 2 Debate

This isn’t ice cream.

This entry is brought on by the general debate over ArenaNet’s decision to change their trait system from a free and open choice to a tiered and more restrictive system. Mainly, this post is about the idea of “The Illusion of Choice”. The Illusion of Choice argument basically states that though a system may allow you to take another trait or skill point over another, the fact that certain traits or skills are obviously better makes any choice but them a poor choice. In the end, you will end up taking what’s best rather than taking the what is worst. Thus, there really is no choice, but only an illusion of choice.

This is an idea, I imagine, born from World of Warcraft players who were told of the idea to explain talent changes, and partly held up by Guild Wars players who never got deep into “Build” Wars. For as much as build making was fun and creative in Guild Wars, most of the playerbase never really took part in the experimentation, but rather just co-opted the popular builds to themselves, and in doing so, saw the system as nothing but a meta game that produced powerful builds that left them with no choice but to play them. The problem with this view of Guild Wars is that people who took this route robbed themselves of choice by never pushing the limits of what they could do. It wasn’t that there was no choice, but that they abstained from the process by which such “build wars” were produced.

Yes, that sounds a bit elitist. Yes, it casts some assumptions upon the public. But stick with me, for I have an important and valid point. Namely, that the illusion of choice only exists in a vertical progression game. In a game of horizontal progression, choice is everything.

A Quick Historical Example

Guild Wars featured a tournament PvP mode called Hall of Heroes, but it was also once called Tombs and eventually retitled Hero’s Ascent. In this PvP mode, teams of 8 (sometimes 6) players formed a party and entered the tournament. They began by fighting a group of NPCs for a morale boost, as sort of barrier of entry into the tournament and test of coordination. After this, they faced off versus one or two other teams, round after round, participating in deathmatches, flag running matches and king of the hill type game modes. All of these matches included a Ghostly Hero, which was often involved in the other mades and offered a morale boost for the team that killed another team’s Ghostly Hero. For a team to succeed and reach the Hall of Heroes, and then go on to win, it must include tools to deal with all of these game modes while still being able to defeat another team straight up.

Rather early on in Guild Wars lifespan, certain easy to play but hard to master team setups began to emerge. Air Spike was a tournament team build made up of at least five Air attuned Elementalists using the Chain Lightning skill in unison. This is where the “spike” term from Guild Wars comes in, for to spike means to have all dps players hit their one spike ability at the same time, thus firing away at a target in unison, causing a coordinated and instant attack to eat through any lifebar. This was normally accomplished via voice chat, with a target caller and spike caller using the game’s targeting system to select a single target for the whole team and then giving a countdown to the spike moment.

Spike created a healing meta to counter it and other such changes in the game, but that’s not the point here. The point is that the power of this build was not permanent. A group of players from the Penny Arcade forums stumbled upon the ability to continually stack Ranger spirits on top of each other, creating a wall of area wide buffs and effects that could be used to their advantage. This created a new situation for every other team to deal with in the tournament. It also hampered the Smite builds, which were based off an Elemantalist/Monk’s ability to stack enchants on itself and then spam quick enchants to trigger zealot’s fire on friendly Warriors. For each of these builds, the healing monks featured different skill setups. Smite Healers were in for longer matches than Air Spike healers, but both healers had to be ready for Air Spike damage, but Spirit Spam Rangers needed healers who didn’t use enchantments, removing the importance of Healing Seed from the game. Though spells like Healing Seed helped heal through focus fire and Smite pressure, Protective Spirit helped with spike builds by limiting the amount of health a friendly target could lose. These were always better choices than other healing skill choices, but when faced with Spirit Spamming rangers that constantly removed enchantments and slowed enchantments down, they were no longer the best choice. Thus, Word of Healing monks were important for Spike pressure because they were not an enchant based heal, as did Infuse Health monks (which became more popular later on).

So, right away, you see that due to GW1’s lessened use of vertical progression, the illusion of choice was more a matter of what you were facing rather than what skill rises above all. Healing Seed was very popular, as is Protective Spirit. The constant removal of enchants made these less powerful. The meta changes and so on and so on. This isn’t the limit of the historical example though.

IWAY was a build coined for a single skill called I Will Avenge You. Every Warrior in this team-build brought this skill and when they hit the skill, they did a textual shout of I WILL AVENGE YOU! Players facing off against this team quickly noted all these large bruising fellows shouting the same thing and coined the build IWAY.

But I Will Avenge You was never seen as a PvP skill. Up until the point it became popular, it was seen as a PVE only skill. What the skill did was give the Warrior a regen and attack speed boost for each dead ally.There was no choice of bringing the skill because it wasn’t good enough for PvP, because if your team was dead then what use was the buff? You had lost by then. The idea of the skill was far too situational, at least according to popular opinion and the Illusion of Choice viewpoint. IWAY belonged to runner builds or PVE tanks who wanted to survive their team dying around them.

IWAY was created by a guild messing around with a Team Arena build on a larger scale, bringing in a bunch of Warrior/Rangers with Axes into the tournament mode game. Initially, the entire team was made of Warrior/Rangers, and slowly a monk or two was added, but the healing power always remained focused on moderate party-wide heals rather than large focused heals. After a few goes, someone decided to toss IWAY into their skillbar on a whim, and the discovered that it was suddenly more useful with all these bodies laying around. The advantage was that pets counted as allies, so the Smite teams eating up the bodies of the War/Ranger pets and the fellow War/Rangers dying from a lessened amount of direct healing was quickly powering up the IWAY skill, turning a basic pressure build into an overwhelming pressure build that was able to eat through the then powerful smite balls.

But this didn’t make IWAY Warriors the best Warriors, because Smite builds still worked best with Hammer Warriors creating knockdowns for the smite pressure to be spammed through. The only thing that lessened Hammer Warriors was the advantage of the armor heavy IWAY builds against their overall team build. Yet, even the guild that popularized IWAY didn’t run those type of Warriors in its GvG games. For in GvG, what is important changes and the battle is lengthened, making survival better and battles split between points. These different situations made the IWAY warrior not as effective and the IWAY skill was no longer the best choice.

The point being that the idea of best and useless is subject to change in a horizontal system with a lot of choices. Someone can take the “useless” and find a way to force it into usefulness, changing everyone’s assumptions about what is best. This would not happen in a situation in which one trait or skill is the same as another, but just improved statistically. In games where one trait or skill has different effects or different conditional uses, then choice does matter and the choices made changes the game, and thus, choice is then important.

So That Was More Than a Quick History

Yes, I went on for a bit there, but I hope it gives some background for where Guild Wars players are coming from and the experience they speak from. Now it’s time to examine Guild Wars 2 traits and the actual problems there.

There are a few traits that are mere vertical progressions, like traits that improve your power when wielding a sword or rifle. In a battle of straight up damage, these traits will tend to be most important. There also traits that directly increase the damage of a skill such as Mind Wrack. If you’re going to play a shatter based Mesmer, then this damage increasing trait will always be desirable. The question is whether sPvP is entirely about damage and whether the problem is the ease of access to these traits or that such vertical progression traits exist.

I put forth that vertical progression traits become mandatory for anyone looking to use the skill or weapon they improve. An Eviscerate Warrior will always go 30 points into strength for the Axe Mastery trait. Tiering them doesn’t change this, it just forces players into going 30 points down a line and then picking the best traits along the way. This quickly becomes a cookie cutter build scenario. That is not to say that the previous trait system didn’t have popular builds with pretty common trait setups, but there is a big difference between the two. If every Warrior must go 30 points into Strength now, that leaves less points leftover to create variations on a common theme. You might have a lot of Eviscerate Warriors in either system, but you will have more variation on that Eviscerate Warrior in the previous system due to there being more “leftover” points. Leftover points being the trait points you have leftover after you get the primary 4 or 5 traits that make up a build. In the previous system, most builds topped out at 5 mandatory traits, some maybe six. In the last BWE, six mandatory traits seemed to be the standard due to new tier restrictions. This left 10 leftover trait points, with less options to spend those 10 points on. This pushes the game closer towards illusion of choice. If you have 30 points spent in two different lines because you have to get those two Grandmaster traits to make the build function, then you are faced with picking the best of a much smaller litter.

Previously, if I had 20 or 30 points leftover, I could experiment with either trying to squeeze any extra damage I could out of a build or provide more utility to my build or provide better survival for myself or even increase my mobility. At 10 points leftover, I am far less likely to have that many options. Since sPvP is based on Capture Point, all those other options have their strengths. Mobility matters, survival matters and damage always helps.

ANet wanted to compare their trait change to ice cream, saying you could have an ice cream parlor with 300 flavors of which only 2 are good or an ice cream parlor with 30 flavors but 6 are good. First, this is a false dichotomy, but secondly, its just a horrible analogy. Ice cream flavor is a matter of opinion. Some people love mango and some people do not. The debate here is about viability. There will always be popular builds that people swarm to adopt.

I’d rather compare it to a pizza parlor and the idea that people like pizza and that pizza is popular, meaning that a popular build is equal to pizza.  You will always have crust, sauce and cheese on your pizza for that is what makes it pizza. You can either have a pizza parlor with the 7 most popular toppings or you can have a pizza parlor with 35 toppings. In any scenario, the more toppings offered the greater variety of pizza you’ll see. If you’re a vegetarian, the 35 topping place will have more options. If you’re on a diet, then you’ll pick healthier toppings rather than the more popular pepperoni and sausage type of toppings. If you’re vegetarian but allergic to mushrooms and olives, you may be out of luck at the 7 topping parlor. Eventually, you’re pleasing less people at one parlor than the other because of your limited choice. Everyone is still having pizza, but people are having less types of pizza when you offer 7 toppings in total. You are assuming what everyone will want and what will always be best for everyone. You’re excluding people by having less topping options and you’re leaving yourself prone to burnout once everyone gets sick of pepperoni and sausage for the 100th time.

I’m not saying my analogy is much better, but it at least accounts for the fact that the game changes and nothing can be absolutely known for sure. But I feel I’ve gotten off-track, as the point here is horizontal versus vertical progression.

The Fledglings

There are certain traits in the game that have extremely limited use. These are the “on downed state”, “when reviving”, “upon rallying”, and “when taking fall damage” traits. Nobody is taking these traits due to how situational they are and how minimal their impact is on the outcome of the game. As I mentioned, you can force situations that make useless skills suddenly useful, but it’s hard to see where these traits will become increasingly valuable. For example, there is really only one point in the sPvP maps where you can take fall damage and not nearly kill yourself, and the areas where you can do this are not really high traffic spots that would make the fall effect trait worthwhile. In tower defenses in WvWvW, an “on fall damage” trait might prove more effective, but it also plops you right down into the heart of a zerg more often than not.

So when traits like these face the battle of being chosen over other traits, they will almost always lose. This is the illusion of choice, but it’s not because there’s too much choice, but because the traits themselves are poorly designed. Tiering them helps them in no way. Improving them or removing them actually does.

So what would you have instead?

If you’re going horizontal progression, which I think ANet hopes to be doing, and what I feel is best for PvP balance, then you need more traits that add functionality to an existing ability and less traits that simply increase damage of an ability and less traits that simply have too little advantage to them. For example, the Mesmer has access to traits that make Glamour skills cause blinding, and skills that make blinds cause confusion. These sort of traits evolve the functionality of Glamour skills to a new purpose and they would be desirable skills if the Confusion condition wasn’t so weak.

You have traits that make Warrior shouts heal allies, giving the Warrior more utility. These are the choices that are interesting while not being absolutely better. They improve shouts, but you may want to go in another direction with your utility skills and seek to add functionality to your weapon attacks. Both are legitimate choices. You could have shouts add a stack of might, which then makes them more viable for damage builds. It’s all a choice though whether you want to eek out more damage or provide more utility.

But ANet doesn’t seem to understand the power or functionality of their traits so far. The initial tier system for Mesmer made little sense. The Grandmaster tier for Illusions provided a 12th trait that heals the player on a shatter. This is not a trait that benefits Phantasm builds more, but a trait that adds functionality for any build that may use shatters. In fact, if you spend a ton of trait points improving your illusion damage, you are less likely to shatter and thus less likely to benefit from that trait. By isolating such a trait at Grandmaster status, it makes the trait less desirable due to the traits a player is forced to take in order to acquire it. What was once a good trait that many different builds could use is now an unused trait for it doesn’t work into enough viable builds. Immediatly, the attempt at vertical progression through tiers creates an illusion of choice where there was once actual choice. Maybe last BWE, you were picking between shatters healing you or shatters crippling your target or shatters causing more vulnerability. Now you’re not picking that first option at all. It’s no longer worth the investment. It’s not an actual choice.

Give us flavor

So, if you’re trying to argue that something only has the illusion of choice then make sure you understand where the illusion of choice comes from. There is an illusion of choice if you’re picking between having your house repainted or having your house lit on fire, but the color you paint your house is an actual choice. Preferred playstyles and roles within a team can benefit from horizontal progression. Game length benefits from horizontal progression. Vertical progression is the illusion of choice, but a GW2 system with properly designed traits will feature less direct power battles. Instead, you’ll ideally find options that provide further functionality to the base of a build.

Ghostly Shootem-up

Duelist Damage

5k damage on medium armor…

Duelist Damage

…7k damage on final shot?

Woops?

For some reason, when properly traited, the illusionary duelist is doing obscene amounts of damage in BWE2. I am posting these screens here to later reference them, This is 7k damage on medium armor with little to no cooldown on shots fired from the phantasm. The damage also seems to escalate with each hit. It maxes out at around 5k damage versus heavy armor.

I am not sure if this is an intended balance to the nerf of mind wrack and clone damage, or if something isn’t working properly. Either way, it’s been free wins in sPvP with the duelist build.

UPDATE

The combat numbers in these screenshots may just be an oddity created by the way combat text is currently displaying channeled skill damage. It seems some skills are having their multiple hits tallied up into one damage readout. I have also heard that combat text for channeled skills is just plain bugged and giving silly number readouts. Either way, Phantasmal Haste trait does seem to be out of whack and I farmed glory with these crazy phantasms until I got a nice little Greatsword and PVP outfit to feel a little different from all the other Mesmers.

Magical Greatsword

This Greatsword came from a Treasure Chest reward for reaching a new rank in PVP

The E-Sports Charade: Part Two

The A.B. Problem

One of the main complaints from the PvP community about the choice of Conquest as sPvP in Guild Wars 2 is the Capture Point rule set. This doesn’t mean that capture point games aren’t common or unpopular, but that they rarely become the accepted test of skill in PvP type games.

So what is a Capture Point game? It’s your basic node and resource control map. In World of Warcraft, Arathi Basin is the second battleground you gain access to and is a Capture Point ruleset and map. There are five nodes to capture and when you capture a node, your score begins to go up. In Guild Wars, the Capture Point ruleset was called Alliance Battles. The maps in Guild Wars were larger and since the game stuck you into four player squads, the battles quickly became a game of running from node to node, moving around in circles. Tol Barad in Cataclysm is a Capture Point battle of a larger scale. This map had people running from point to point as well. Of course, this running around is sort of the issue with the whole Capture Point system.

Capture Node

Standing around and scoring points.

All By My Lonesome

In the two Conquest maps shown so far, the rate at which you neutralize a node is much greater than the rate at which you can capture a node. What this means is that if you run around to a node held by the enemy team, its fairly easy to neutralize that node and make it so that it doesn’t contribute points to either side. Staying around and capturing the node takes two to three times as much time. This may be done to stop the running around issue, but so far, it doesn’t really accomplish that. People will take what’s easiest. Often you will find yourself as the only person at a node. There is no fighting. You’re just sort of standing there until a bar changes. As you may imagine, this sort of activity doesn’t really excite the PvP community. While hanging around to capture it may lead to enemies coming to stop you, there is no assurance of this. Further, neutralizing a point can often be effective enough on its own. If you have a lead of 50-100 points, neutralizing is all you need to do. You can sit on an equal amount of nodes captured and win.

And once you neutralize or capture, then there is no benefit to hanging around. There is likely a contested area or node that needs you more at the time. It is possible that you could design your team to have sets of two players who feature a highly supportive and defensive player with someone of decent damage output to take a node and sit on it. The problem then becomes that the battle is a war of attrition. Prolonged battles and over-balance are two of the major reasons the Guild Wars PvP scene died off after being so healthy for years. If your ruleset and map dictates prolonging fights to preserve nodes then it shrinks the type of builds and strategies to use.

ANet has tried to get around this with features like the trebuchet and bosses. These are meant as equalizers against heavily guarded nodes. A trebuchet shot can take out an entire group if it hits right. Downing the mini-bosses will net your team 50 points and a buff. Yet the issue with all of these things is the small size of the encounters. A boss killer and trebuchet player is often out on their own, not interacting with the team. This isn’t a new element to Guild Wars, as GvG had flag runners and split squads, but those small size roles were always balanced by larger scale battles elsewhere. One of the major issues with the current Capture Point system is that there will likely be no larger battles seen.

Where Depth Disappears

In larger head-to-head battles you have more room for builds to specialize into different roles and for players to coordinate their playstyle with the playstyle of their teammates. What this means is that you could have a six on six head-to-head battle with different team makeups on each side, as opposed to a standardized Cap Point team. For example, one side is carrying three melee characters, but there is a ranged character supporting those melee characters by snaring their target and buffing their allies speed. Perhaps one teamhas a Guardian and  a Warrior paired together with hammers. The Guardian snares a target within a restrictive circle, and the Guardian and Warrior both unleash hard hits to the trapped target. The other side could have an Elementalist and a Mesmer set up combo fields for Ranged characters to shoot through. The strategy of the melee team forces the other team to use more control fields and snares, encouraging the ranged attackers not to get stuck together and caught in the same trap.

While Guild Wars 2 encourages people to be a master of all things, the ability to focus in an area to the greater benefit of the whole is an element of strategy that fades away in a spread-out Capture Point map.

This doesn’t mean that I encourage straight deathmatch systems for sPvP in Guild Wars 2. Dueling for the purpose of training and testing will likely find its way into the game, but Arena deathmatches have their limits, too. You can still create setups where you have room for both small skirmishers and larger skirmishers. Control Point maps, where you must fight to control all nodes at once to win, create this sort of situation. It is the procession style of these maps that cause the larger scale battles. If you still had the equalizing elements of trebuchets and mini-bosses, then split squads have a place as well. GvG maps and rules had larger battles with options of flag running and split squads as viable tactics.

In Capture Point, if you try to stick together as a single swarm, then you’ll likely lose. You can’t force large battles in Conquest. If most of your team is at one spot then you give up the other two nodes. Running, delaying and interfering matter most. What the PvP community wants are those team vs team situations where the battle is all out, and it’s a matter of supporting and controlling both sides. Players want to be sized up against the whole of the other side. They don’t want to succeed at their node running, just to realize they’re losing because of something that is happening on the other side of the map for which they have no input on or access to. Players also want the extra strategy of team builds. They want the strategy of what you sacrifice from the team to run off and do small skirmish tasks in order to help your chances to win. The carousel of Capture Point maps has never excited the PvP community. It’s a “fun go”, but that’s about it.

You Can’t Be Big Without The Respect

Blizzard put a lot of effort into legitimizing their Arena tournaments as a legit e-sport. The problem was that PvPers knew the game had major balance issues and the balance issues only became worse as the scale of combat shrunk down. I took Guild Wars PvP seriously enough. I understood that the card-deck system meant that nearly everything had a possible counter. I worried less about balance. Succeeding at Guild Wars PvP meant something so it mattered to succeed. Succeeding at Arena never mattered to me for it was becoming obvious that success depended greatly on gear and which classes had the power advantage. If you weren’t the right class then it wasn’t the right game for you. That or you would have to reroll and level the “winning” class.

What ArenaNet risks by going fully in with just Conquest is alienating the playerbase that would make the sPvP attractive. You can’t be bigtime without the respect of the community because you won’t draw the community to care and be competitive about your game. You will get, and forgive the elitism here, the second and third tier players to fill in the gap of talent. In other sports, there are minor leagues and spinoff leagues. There has been basketball leagues that use trampolines and favor dunking because it has a high entertainment value. These minor leagues don’t ever rise above the level of sideshow because nobody truly respects them. They don’t draw the top talent and thus don’t draw the big attendance. I feel this is the same for E-sports. ArenaNet can’t go out there and try to push E-sports while being PowerDunk Ball.

The E-Sports Charade: Part One

Guild Hall

You must defeat your foe’s Guild Lord to win in GvG

“We are seeking/pursuing/enthusiastic about…

ESPORTS!”

I used to watch Guild Wars 2’s Hall games and GvGs in the game’s observer mode whenever I had been out of the pvp game for awhile. (Let’s say months.) This was a way for me to see what builds were being used and how people were playing. A few months ago, I watched a couple of top 25 guilds battle it out in an extended GvG. One team was using an effective split build, going around the central area and in the backdoor with a Elementalist/Monk and a Dervish to take down NPCs and bleed-n-burn down the other team’s Guild Lord. The split strategy, rather common in the first Guild Wars, forced the other team to either split their own team up, move the batlte to where the split was or try to win while allowing their NPCs to die.

My first guild would revert to this strategy whenever we were losing and at times it worked. When being pushed back at the flag, we would send off two or three warriors to take down as many NPCs as they could and then fight the team’s Guild Lord all by themselves. When it worked, the other team was pretty pissed. We “ganked” the GL or we “ninjad” the win. The truth was that this was early on in the game’s life, before split builds became more popular and accepted. Honestly, we were just making it up as we went along. On the other hand, the true split build exists in a way so that larger group left behind can survive for extended times versus a numbers disadvantage. It wasn’t until the Factions expansion came along that these sorts of builds started to appear more commonly and in a more intelligent fashion. The Assassin’s teleport ability and the Spirits of the Ritualist provided both the ninja ability to sneak in and the delaying strategy of limiting damage to a group of people.  These things, along with new skills for all the professions, made split builds a more viable tactic. When the “Victory or Die” rules came in, taking out NPCs early meant even more in regards to your team’s chance at winning a GvG match.

As far as we know, this sort of game will not be appearing in Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet has devoted all structured PvP attention to their Conquest mode. The Conquest mode is the hot-join game players see when they hit “Play Now” on the PVP tab of their Hero window. When you hit the Play Now button, you literally do play then and now. The game ports you directly into an already active game. It’s sort of like joining a random game of Team Fortress 2. This, along with the instant boost to max gear and level, makes the GW2 structured PvP game very easy to get into. Before getting into my polite little rant, I’ll clarify what Conquest mode is like.

Conquest mode is your common resource capture point ruleset and map. There are two maps showcased so far and both have three capture point spots, along with team size limited to around five or six per side. The PvP community hasn’t exactly been thrilled by this. There was a capture point game in the first Guild Wars but it was not popular, and garnered nowhere near the interest that Guild vs Guild or Heroes Ascent/Hall of Heroes did. To be honest, it’s always been tough for Capture Point maps and rules to be taken seriously as true tests of teamwork and skill by PvPers. I’ll get into why that is later, but I feel the next thing I should address is why the community is stuck with Conquest when it doesn’t seem to want it.

The True Heart of E-Sports is Corporate

From a broadcasting and sponsorship perspective, there were a few problems with the original Guild Wars PVP game. One, the depth of builds and skills was something that required a devoted interest in the game by the audience. As well, many spells weren’t all that visually apparent. By this, I mean what was going on in a sixteen player battle wasn’t easy to tell by just watching the battle from afar. You could see a Monk get interrupted by a spell, but unless you were watching the castbars of the other team, you couldn’t tell where it came from. Often, it might be a Mesmer on interrupt duty. It might be a Power Block skill or it might even be the product of some hex being triggered. Sometimes you had Rangers with interrupt skills. To understand the action on the field, you had to know the way the game was played and you had to switch around to look at people’s skillbars and guess at their basic build, come to a general idea of who would be doing what and then try to comprehend the overall battle.

This is difficult for a broadcaster to easily translate into the sort of  vibrant, excited wave- flow of phrases that any new audience can understand. On top of this, since there are eight players on each side, there’s a lot of names to remember and many important events that happen, namely the important moments involved which shift an ebb and flow of multiple players reacting and responding.  The game also featured spikes, which were synced attacks meant to make any health bar go from 100% to 0% in the flash of an eye. There is no way for a broadcaster to be able to ancticipate these spikes without listening in to the voicechat feed of both teams. In this way, a broadcast of Guild Wars almost needed a broadcasting team, and then audio from both team’s voice chats to fully visualize what was going on. These things made the first Guild Wars very demanding on broadcasters and it did not translate well into the sort of flashy entertainment package that a company can easily sell to someone who was an outsider to the Guild Wars PvP world.

This is before we even consider the complex rule sets of winning a Guild versus Guild battle. The basic point is to kill the enemy Guild Lord, but map differences, flag captures and NPCs still alive in a draw matter as well. The GvG maps were not small either and the game demanded you follow the whole map with the roles of split builds and flag runners.

Now consider how easy it can be to tell who is winning or losing in a fighting game match being broadcast. Maybe you can’t see all the technical skills being used, but a landed punch and a decreasing lifebar is visually telling all by itself. A fighting game match lends itself to excited reactions and concentrated commentary. There’s a major combo landed or a counter, and the game involves all of two people. This is far easier to broadcast and market than your average MMORPG and their corresponding llist of skills, builds and players.

So the braodcasters concern is the company’s concern. They want something that will draw an audience as large as possible. The game companies want broadcasters to support their game, because having their PVP put out there helps sell the game and gets money flowing their way from the various other companies associated with the event.

Sponsorship

Broadcasters aren’t the only money involved in the E-Sports game. Accessory and hardware companies help support E-Sports by sponsoring players and tournaments, and for this sponsorship, they get their logo and gear advertised with the tournaments and their products associated with high level play and high level players. Like any company, the E-Sports sponsors want a good deal. They want as high an exposure they can get for the lowest cost to themselves. In this way, sponsoring teams of eight players plus alternates can be pretty expensive for the companies. The truth is the more players they sponsor, the less they gain from their sponsorship. A sponsor gets just as much publicity from sponsoring a two player team at a tournament and getting their logo put on a sponsor board as they do sponsoring an eight man team.

Of course, sponsoring five players is much more cost effective than sponsoring eight. So the more the team size shrinks, the happier sponsors are. MMOs will always be more costly because they often rely on team structured PVP and Guild identities. Still, by going towards Conquest and smaller teams for their tournaments, ArenaNet is working to appease. possible E-Sport sponsors. And by providing the Capture Point map, they appease the broadcasters. Why?

Conquest gives a readout of points scored and points attributed to players.

Tiny  Battles and a Scoreboard

Capture Point maps and small teams create a situation where players must split up and keep moving. I mentioned split squads and tactics in this entry’s opening, but these split situations in a Capture Point map are different. A GVG split squad is organized to split, a tandem or a trio of players who know they will be sticking together and have builds that support each other as a split squad. The splits in Capture Point demand singular splits and multiple splits. Basically,you go where you’re needed on the map. You cannot rely on someone on your team to always be with you, so your build must prepare your character for life as a solo survivalist.

What the Capture Point ruleset creates is the One on One fights familiar to fighting game fans. When you have a skirmish at a capture point, the broadcast can focus on that particular fight and those particular players. They don’t have to worry about the build of each team or interacting builds, but instead, the broadcasting team can focus on what one player is doing versus the other player. This includes the camera, the announcers and the studio guy in charge of directing the action. These small skirmishes are the sort of spotlight situations that work for television and streams.

Also, the Conquest game mode has a running score at the top of the screen, so that no matter where the action is going on, the viewer can get an idea of how the overall battle is going. People understand points even if they don’t understand how those points are being made.

This doesn’t mean the work being done towards making Guild Wars 2 an E-Sport will succeed or even that fans should want the game to become an E-Sport in this way. In fact, I think any MMO player should be worried about their company talking about E-Sports.

Why For You Mad At E-Sport?

The problem with the whole reasoning and explanation of ArenaNet’s situation is that nowhere along the way did the consumer and the playerbase become an important factor. Everyone involved is seeking to profit off the performance of the PVP community, but that player community isn’t being considered in the design of the game. At least not considered at the same level of importance as the sponsors and broadcasters.

Despite being accommodating to a supposed audience, there is something very anti-consumer about the E-Sports pursuit. There is also a patronizing view of the audience, and I would argue an exaggerated projection of the real value of competitive gaming to the public.

And worst of all, all the planning and pleasing comes tumbling down if the playerbase rejects your PVP game.

That’s the issue I will be getting into with Part Two of this discussion.