The Stormbluff Isle Exodus

Recently, ArenaNet implemented their Guesting feature to the game and ended free world transfers at the same time.Considering that it was a promised launch feature, the arrival of Guesting was welcome. The ending of free transfers was also something that the WvWvW community had been asking for so as to stop the bandwagon nature of players trying to join a top WvWvW server, and also a barrier towards the practice of guilds sending a player to a competing server to spy on map chat and player movement. 

The problem for some servers was the timing of this move by ArenaNet. There had been a lot of server switching by major guilds and a mercenary mindset had set into the community at large. This was the ideally wrong time for these changes to finally come for a server like Stormbluff Isle. 

Stormbluff Isle was a little different from the other top tier WvWvW servers in that it was mostly a large pug with a couple of large guilds, but no greater alliance like the other servers had established. We depended more on individual smarts and paying attention to what others were doing, along with a public teamspeak server for the various WvWvW players to join and hear what was going on with the other players. Since we had no alliance with central leadership, we had to find ways to succeed within our assemblage of pugs.

Surprisingly, it all worked out pretty well. SBI had been a tier 1 or tier 2 server for long than any other server up until the announcement that these changes were coming. We had developed a rivalry with Jade Quarry server due to the both of us always being in the top tiers and continually fighting each other. This even goes back to the initial launch month and the one day match-ups.We would be the #1 server for awhile, drop to #2 when another server recruited more players or established a new strategy, and then fight back to the top spot.

But all of this also created a lot of burnout for various players. Initial word of this burnout came months ago from some of the WvWvW guilds. Players were tiring of the same maps and the same exact matchups. They also were investing money into towers and keeps just to see their holdings evaporate over night. There was no second level to the WvWvW game. You logged in and faced a similar situation and similar goal nearly every day. If you wanted stats on your gear other than toughness and vitality then you had to go do PVE. WvWvW rewards were minor and lacked variety. The game needed a way to organize players beyond Commanders and their massive zerg. The WvWvW game needed updates.

The biggest blow for Stormbluff Isle is when War Machine left not only our server, but ran off to avoid the top tier grind and mentality for a smaller server. War Machine was an old established guild of the Guild Wars franchise. They were a top guild in the first game’s PVP and their presence on Stormbluff Isle brought along some of those same top PVP guilds. Not all of those guilds had an interest in WvWvW, but War Machine was large enough to field an important force in WvWvW. They also established the face and personality of the server with their tactics and persistence. They also worked very well with our pug nature and even soloists like myself came to know the differences and tendencies of their Commanders in spite of the Korean/English language barriers.

There were multiple things pushing War Machine towards leaving, many of which are part of the greater list of concerns that the other guilds have had, but it was mainly a sour reaction with another top tier server that made them decide to pack up and leave. They had become tired of all the exploits used in top tier to sneak into keeps and towers, and how abusing issues with the game had become the standard. So one night they decided to abuse them all themselves, publicly admit it, call out ArenaNet for the lack of fixes, and then announce their impending departure from the server and the top tier.

I’m not interested in lambasting War Machine for their behavior or anything like that. I understand frustration. Whether they should have done it in another way or not, as I said, I’m not all that interested in that discussion. I think the main point is that a guild that had been tied to the Guild Wars PVP scene for so many years would essentially bail out for their own sanity.

Following the move by War Machine, there was some discussion of what Stormbluff Isle would do, but the following difficulties in fielding enough players to replace them began the sentiment of decline for the server. By the time the arrival of Guesting and Paid Transfers was to be near, the WvWvW menality of Stormbluff Isle had depleted to a frustrated yawn. Many of the other WvWvW guilds didn’t have interest in doing what WM did and rebuilding in lower tiers. Most, wanting the pride of being top tier, decided to move to other top tier servers. Some followed War Machine to Kaineng. By the final week of free transfers, Stormbluff Isle’s WvWvW population was nearly non-existent. A panic had hit the other guilds and everyone began to act like dropping a couple of tiers was the end of WvWvW. The responses were somewhat understandable, but also very short-sighted. 

Every problem that Stormbluff Isle had was synonmous with the way top tier play was going. The burnout not only hurt the WvWvW guilds but the strays and pugs like myself who do more than just WvWvW. When the PVE game gets more updates and you also play PVE, its easier to spend time in PVE than fighting the top tier grind in WvWvW every day. Perhaps more than some of the WvWvW guilds wanted to admit, the little people who filled coverage gaps and made distract squads were vanishing before the WvWvW guilds, and the WvWvW game success had depended upon these people more than some may think. When those people began to dry up, the burden of success fell even harder on the WvWvW-only players and this lead to more burnout and frustration. 

The problem with leaving for greener pastures is that every top tier server in the same situation as SBI was. If I had to put money on the next burnout, It would be on Jade Quarry. The situation won’t be resolved by players. It’s an issue of updates and advancement of the game that must come from ArenaNet. The panic stricken exodus of Stormbluff Isle is just a sad tale of a good community growing bitter over one part of the game.

As for SBI now, it still has some good players, but we struggle to fill up maps with enough people to win our current match up. I didn’t leave because I had two guilds on this server already and I didn’t really want to leave a server full of nice people. It’s just unfortunate that the server has been a bit tainted by what happened.

WubWub Pink Power: WvWvW Mesmer Guide Part 2

Hide and Sneaky

Not everything in WvWvW needs to be a part of the “zerg”. An important part to taking another server’s keep or tower is denying supply lines to that area, choking off their ability to build defenses and repair damage. For this purpose, you may find yourself in a small squad of four or five players on a mission to interrupt reinforcements and supply.

Good Friends To Have

While I recommend playing with your friends regardless of their class, I do understand some people might be looking to assemble a specialized squad. If you’re a Mesmer then what classes might you be looking to bring?

The two-headed gank monster of WvWvW is the Mesmer and Thief. The main reasons for this being burst, deception, stealth and get-away speed. In regard to speed, the Mesmer itself is not as fast as either an Elementalist or Thief, but they can use portal to bypass this disadvantage of theirs. Portal can also help you and your squad escape a bad situation.

The Thief and Mesmer can trade-off stealths to increase their survival time, but need to focus targets together. The Thief’s burst is some of the highest in the game, but glass cannons don’t tend to live long. The Mesmer can survive longer, but takes much longer to kill a single target. If focused and adaptive, the Mesmer/Thief duo can cause havoc even while outnumbered. I have torn through 2-1 and 3-1 odds with some of the better thiefs on Stormbluff Isle.

When I assemble a friendly squad, I do not worry too much about classes, but I have found the Engineer, Elementalist and Guardian to be great assets to go along with skirmishing style of the Mesmer. These classes bring area heals and instant rezzes, but also great control and buffs.

Hit N Run

Hit and run is the typical small squad playstyle. Your primary targets will be supply yaks and snagging lone stragglers between points. I would say it’s not always a good idea to attack strays if it would give away your position. An example of this is if your group is doing a run of continuous supply camp capping in a borderland. The commanders on the other servers will be watching what’s getting hit and if they see crossed swords and people calling out your position between targets, chances are you’ll run into a larger force sent to wipe your squad out.

This makes learning the layout of the map important to a gank squad. There are often more than one way to enter a camp and taking the quietest route is often best. Your movement is also important to the rest of your server-mates and their movements are important to you.

Was that a DUH statement? Yes, a bit, but it can alter which route you take into an objective. If you know the larger group of allies will be running towards your position then you can plan for that by leading straggling into the larger group or leading foes away from the group. If the large group is coming in the bckdoor to a supply camp then you can trap any fleeing defenders by going in the front door. For these reasons, it’s always good to take a quick look at map talk and ally movement on the map before heading off to your next target.

We Dine On Yak Tonight

Supply Yaks are an important target that even a solo player can take down. As a Mesmer, it’s best to bring a build that has burst and snares to slow the Yak down. Generally, I like to solo Yaks when they are directly beyond the reach of supply camp guards or along an otherwise empty area between supply drops.

For Yak Slapping, I tend to always equip Portal for one of my utilities, along with Mass Invis as my elite. The key to these hits are stealth and escape, so taking these sort of hit-n-run skills is vital. You can often find a safe, hidden spot near a Yak’s route to drop your Portal Entre before going into hit the yak. Any large rocks that hide you from the road or areas hidden below cliffs are great Portal retreat areas. If you find yourself suddenly joined by three or four enemy players you can drop a Portal to quickly escape, wait a second to heal and then Portal back to finish off the Yak. Since the enemy players won’t see the other Portal you went to from their position on the road, the misdirection will allow you to hop back into battle with a second or two to spare before they recognize where you are.

Skirmishing Stragglers

Fighting stragglers solo or with a pair involves the Encounter Rules shown in the previous guide. What I would add to this is that doing this solo or in a pair needs a lot more attention directed towards counting and recounting your number of foes. Just as its easy for you to sneak into battle via teleports or stealth, it’s easy for your foes to jump on you while you’re engaged in what was previously an even numbers fight. As you get better at WvWvW, you will die less and less often from losing open duels and more from not paying attention to your odds.

As a Solo Player…

As a solo player in WvWvW, I like to flow in and out of zerg combat and into small squads or solo mischief. (This was a lot easier to do with the Phantasm build before the engage time on Phantasms was reset to molasses-slow in the last fix.) When and where I make these hops depends on the battle and map, but also the strengths of your server. If you’ve been trying to siege a Keep for your server and been getting nowhere, it may help your allies more to split off and pick off yaks and player reinforcements.

Early PvP Tips

ArenaNet finally announced the next Beta Weekend Event for June 8th to the 10th. In preperation for that, I am offering some PvP tips for people who are just now joining in on the Beta experience or for those that spent the first weekend knee deep in PVE and are spending this June event in the e-peen glory of the Mists. First, I’ll give some general tips and then I’ll note some things to watch for when fighting against certain classes.

Of importance here is that all class tactic discussion is based on the game and classes as they appear in the first BWE. Certain changes could throw things out the window, but I imagine some things will remain true until release. Also, I won’t be talking about WvWvW as that sort of has its own, grander strategy and I feel I have an invalid amount of experience with that part of the game. At least not enough experience to dish out some worthy tips.

Any player can plop directly into a Conquest game from their Hero Panel. The Hero Panel is also the quickest way to get to the Mists. If this is your first time trying PvP, I highly suggest going to the Mists before using the Conquest hotjoin option.

In the Mists

The Mists is the lobby area for PvP, consisting of a short tutorial area and then the larger zone beyond. The tutorial area will give you tips on resurrecting others and using your finishing move on downed foes. These are basic, quick tutorials. You can skip them if you want and head straight to the Asura gate in the back which will take you to the actual Mists lobby area. The first thing about the Mists that you’ll notice is that you’re hopped up to level 80 and have access to all skills and traits. This means there is no grind in the sPvP beta. You can be what you want and how you want immediately.

In the lobby area, you will find two important Asura Gates, PvP vendors, a NPC offering a Game selection screen, and a grander tutorial area beyond. One of the Asura gates will take you to the central map of WvWvW. Once you port into your server’s base in the central map of WvWvW, other Asura Gates will be present for you to hop into the different zones of WvWvW.

The Vendors in the Mists Lobby offer various gear, weapons, runes, amulets and gems for your PvP experience. For the purpose of the Beta, these will only apply to Conquest’s Structured PvP mode. Looking into your options for gear is highly important and will grant you more immediate satisfaction with your sPvP experience. The game provides you with a basic build and some gear to go along with it, but these are very general builds that won’t be as enjoyable as playing the way you want with the sort of gear that accentuates your style.

On that note, the amulet is currently one of the biggest and most important pieces of gear in the sPvP game. If you are playing in a way that relies on bleeds and conditions to tally your damage then switching to the condition damage amulet will make a large difference in the effectiveness of your build. Beyond this, there are runes that offer set bonuses and weapon enhancements that offer bonuses on such things as weapon swaps or chances to proc air damage. Honestly, the immediate rush of stat choices and modifiers is a bit of a shock after you’ve been playing low level PVE with gear that has two or three stat attributes. I would suggest putting on gear and weapons that roughly reflect your build and then working from there.

Your “build” then is what you make out of your weapon and skill choices, along with your traits. You can instantly refund your traits at no cost, so play around with them and look at all your options. The trait lines often have a tell as to what weapons they more naturally work with. Some may offer more power with a sword equipped or more toughness with a mace equipped. These clues will help key you in on where you may want to spend trait points if you plan on using these weapons.

Beyond the immediate lobby area is a surprisingly helpful tutorial area. While many are likely used to dummies as target practice, in the Mists, the Asura Golems stand in as practice targets. They come in different armor classes and they also come in as dodge tutorials. One Golem will spin its arms around to help you practice dodging out of aoe attacks. On a rise beyond the dodging Golem, a selection of NPCs representing each profession in the game await you. These NPCs will fight you and exhibit certain skills and styles specific to them. For example, the thief NPC will use stealth and move aorund, while the Guardian NPC will hold the middle of his area and use bubbles. If you fight these NPCs and lose, they will stop to resurrect you. It’s a useful tutorial for new players with little risk involved.

Fighting the real thing

There are certain things I feel every player should know when fighting against certain professions in the game. This is a quick rundown of some tips.

The Engineer

The Engineer has no melee weapon option available to them, so the first thing you should realize is that an Engineer will likely begin fighting you at range. This doesn’t mean that you should disregard an Engineer coming towards you in melee range, as the toolkits of the Engineer can be devastating at close range. For example, the Flamethrower is an aoe and control nightmare. The main attack on this toolkit sprays fire in a frontal cone. The weapon can also be used to suck in and blow out foes. If you’ve played TF2 then the concept may be familiar: don’t stand in front of the Pyro. Mines can be quite powerful as well, as can bombs. An Enginner can often spam these explosives on the ground around you, so watching where you step versus an Engineer is very important.

These explosivse and flamethrowers are all utility skills and that means they are a tell to the type of build your foe is running. For example, if you come across an Engineer with multiple turrets set up around them, then you likely don’t have to worry about those explosives and flames because turrets are utility skills as well. So seeing a bunch of turrets can be a tell that this Engineer isn’t so well equipped for melee battles, while seeing a bunch of strange clouds on the ground can mean the Engineer is relying on an elixir gun that you’ll want to dodge past  the spray zone of or stay beyond.

The Mesmer

First things first with fighting a Mesmer: the illusions. Don’t worry about the clones, they do minimal damage. You only have to worry about them if you get stunned or they run at you. But how do you tell which is the real Mesmer? Look for the Mesmer that is moving the most; look for the Mesmer that actually looks worried you’ll hit it. Beyond that, you can currently check the health bar of each target for the Mesmer class icon. If your target has the class icon then it’s the real thing. If it doesn’t then it’s a clone.

So why should you worry if you get stunned? The Mesmer’s Mind Wrack shatter spell can hit for a ton of damage if traited properly. We’re speaking in the 10k range of combined damage. In order to get this amount reliably, many Mesmers carry stun skills to keep their target in place. Since you can see those clones suddenly rush at you, its rather easy to hit your dodge and let the clones explode for zero damage. In order to stop this, the Mesmer will stun on a Mind Wrack, creating a clear tell that the damage spike is coming. If you have a skill that lets you escape from stun, I advise using it against a Mez and following it with any damage avoidance available.

Outside of the Mind Wrack, Mesmer damage is rather mundane and their strength relies in prolonging fights and getting you to chase their nonsense. Their second best source of damage is the dueling phantasm, which you may want to line of sight. In general, focus the Mesmer and avoid their Mind Wracks and you can be alright.

The Thief

The thief class has immense burst right now. Key to surviving a thief is dodging their initial burst. Often this will come from a backstab and some 3 skill attacks. The 3 skills on a thief are skills that change based on the weapon combo the thief is wielding. For example, dual pistol’s unload can create a significant amount of damage, so simply kiting a thief won’t do. You have to be ready to avoid the big unleash, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to see when it’s coming.

What to do versus a thief then is to keep moving and dodging, but also put pressure on them. The thief isn’t extremely durable and can’t take a lot of damage. Once you unload on a thief, they will likely use a stealth skill to give themselves time. Use this space in combat to beef yourself up as well. Certain thieves live on a 30 to 40 seocnd timer of buff skills to kill, so keep this in mind if your foe tries to reset the encounter with stealth.

The thief, along with the Elementalist, is also the most annoying class to finish off in PvP. They will vanish and port away in downed state, so don’t let yourself get too low before a finishing move. They can reset your Finisher and manage to kill you.

The Guardian

The Guardian will take you awhile to kill. They’re just built that way. If a guardian is playing stationary and prolonging a fight, then it may be better to just skip out and take another objective. If you catch a guardian between points and get them to chase, then you can get them outside of their protective aoes.

One thing to keep in mind with Guardians is that they normally carry a lot of boons. Necromancers may have a better time versus them than other classes as stripping their boons away takes away some of their defenses.

Fighting defensively versus a Guardian may not happen often. If you are fighting a Guardian with a greathammer, I would watch out for their fifth skill which can trap you in a little magical prison while they swing away at you. Also, greatsword Guardians can trait to be healed on greatsword attacks. If you see that big sword and your foe’s health constantly ticking up, it’s time to kite or disable them.

The Rest

I’ll probably get into the other professions after the next BWE. I could give some general tips on them, but I feel they wouldn’t be as specific or detailed as the rest of these notes. (Not that these are outstanding strategies I’ve included.) I could give you these basic tips: Don’t stand near enclosed spaces versus an Ele, just kite the Warrior, good luck vs a Ranger, and Necromancer’s Death Shroud is bloody annoying.

Good luck.

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.

It’s not all about making the bandits miserable.

Things a mole ought-ta do

The first Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Event coincided with a out of town trip that I had planned months before. I had figured that I would only get one day of play in, but I did manage a bit more playtime thanks to getting the beta up and running on my somewhat miserable laptop.  Still, my next foray into Tyria will likely involve more devoted and extended playtime sessions. So in preperation for that, I am making a list of things I missed out on the first time.

Explore. Discover. Find your own way.

I am big fan of games that include an adventurous vibe, a world that invites you and the challenging invitation of letting you investigate and explore that strange new world. This is part of the reason I became such a rampant Metroid fan. This is why I can enjoy Dear Esther while not qualifying it fully as a game. But you don’t care about that stuff. You’re reading for GW2 info, so let’s get to the point.

Guild Wars 2 is a game that remembers that MMOs once had that same sense of exploration a long time ago, well before the rush to raiding and quest optimization. However, I was not so used to this being in my MMO, as I too had come not to expect any reason to explore.

Browsing through various beta impressios and videos, I discovered what everyone else had discovered while I was trying to min and max my time between leveling with my friends and trying out short bursts of PvP. What other  beta users had found was a world full of jumping puzzles, strange characters, high dives, giants of a less than jolly green sort, and somewhat familiar underwater ruins. Now, while I did find the sunken ruins of Lion’s Arch and the cute Quaggan creatures by their homes, I never realized there was a diving platform waiting up above at the top of a climb of stairs and wooden structures.

I discover Quaggan by their homes

These are the Quaggan. Don’t call them Snorks. They hate that.

PEH VAY PEHHHHHHHH

I didn’t spend as much time in PvP as I would like. I do have a PvP entry to come, namely one about the impact of Esports on game design, but for the purpose of really delving deep into what PvP has to offer in GW2, I am being reserved.  The main reason is that I really didn’t touch much of anything beyond some pickup games of Conquest and some bad experiences with WvWvW.

First, WvWvW needs to have a community established term. I nominate WubWub, but it seems Dub v Dub has become the quick reference for WvWvW. The problem is neither of these terms shorten the name to an acceptable level of conversational laziness. We’ll probably settle on Dubvee and congratulate ourselves on further reducing our need to read or converse. Yay, gamers. =/

Anyways, I ventured twice out into the WvWvW world and my first experience far outweighed the second. Both experiences suffered from my server choice though. To put it bluntly, the Henge of Denravi server didn’t give a rabid monkey nut about WvWvW for all but the last half-day of the BWE. We were getting our butts kicked before the Friday downtime and after the Friday downtime. One particularly frustrating moment involved having three gates out and all three gates taken. This is a problem that the game could still have despite ArenaNet’s efforts to avoid the issue by matching servers up with similarly ranked servers every week.

My first experience was defending the basic WvWvW spawn point for my server versus a green team that had pretty much taken over everything. Despite this disadvantage, these combat skirmishes helped me improve my play and decide on a play style. I was learning how to survive and dodge-roll at the right time. The familiarity with unlocked skills helps in WvWvW, while the sudden availability of everything in structured PvP is overwhelming at first. Despite figuring out a particular build I wanted to run before the BWE, I couldn’t just step right into having a skillbar I had no experience with and function fully to its intended purpose. In WvWvW, players will be bringing whatever they have in PVE to the battle, just upgraded to a level 80 status.

On my second attempt, I brought two friends along with me. One of them had hardly played any MMOs and the other more experienced but never a PvP type of player. We ran into the same wall as before, but at this point our side was starting to take down the door directly in front of us. We had no resources for siege tools. Everything was left up to basic character attacks to dwindle down that wall of a front door. We fought repeatedly for awhile that felt longer than it probably was. Once we knocked that door down we discovered yet another door behind it. The collective expression of everyone involved was “GWARG DIE DIE DIE I’M OUTTA HERE”. And then still, people kept pounding away at the next door. We did not.

So when it comes to the next BWE, I plan to go deeper into both Wub-Wub-Vee-DiddleDee-Dub and Conquest. I didn’t really touch any of the gem or armor options that are available for customizing your character for structured PvP. I didn’t venture into any of the other WvWvW portals at Lion’s Arch in an attempt to invade enemy lands. I discovered through the magic YouTube fairy that WvWvW had a massive jumping puzzle.

The Fountain of new Lion's Arch

Lost in the City

There were three race-based cities and one additional city in the last beta. I did a brief tour of Lion’s Arch and used Divinity’s Reach as I would any other MMO town. This means I just shopped and hopped, and left with purpose. Next time around, I plan to wander without purpose.I’d love to discover some nooks and crannies in the city districts. I’d like to visit the lodges of the Norn. I’d like to pose for some photos on those Charr Hot Rods.

Hopefully the mini-games are opened up next BWE as I’d like to try those as well. I certainly plan on doing some roof jumping and I’ll try to talk a friend into a game of hide n seek. I feel that there’s a lot of city life to be had.

And then after I’ve mapped the schematics of the city, I dig a hole and let the Dredge in for the Moletariat revolution.

Of course.