How to Win Arathi Basin, and not die trying
I’m going to start off by saying this is a response to the otherwise excellently written post on staying at the flag by Cynwise in AB. It seems even a 50% increase in the honor gained for those who choose to play defensively, or at least intelligently, still isn’t enough to keep people at the nodes. As my friend once said , “Thanks for capping the road for us guys”. As explained by Cynwise, while it is, usually, very useful to bottleneck the opposing faction at a specific location, battlefield objectives decide who wins: capping the road isn’t worth any points.
However, I did have a few problems with the core philosophy of the article: most notably, how to effectively organize a win in a battle ground
One, I’m going to begin by saying that it’s a wasted effort to communicate well reasoned plans in the two minutes of preparation given in any battleground. Inevitably, the plan either: becomes obselete early on if its too specific, or isn’t well communicated enough to sucessfully organize people. What I will be presenting here is a useful and effective strategy that anyone can implement to consistently win battlegrounds, and (rarely) die trying.
Step One: Spec Ops
The core of any good pvp strategy is skill. In a pre-80 BG, this is basically level: the more -9s you have, the more likely you are to win. End of story. In terms of gear and abilities available, it takes a very skilled level63 character to defeat someone six levels above him (and, yes, I’ve seen it happen, see below). That kind of skill is too rare to be relied on. Whereas raiding is defined by gear progressions, lockdowns, and large-scale organization, PVP is designed to allow a player’s inherent ability shine through, and so when everybody hits the (relatively) even plane of level 80, where, given the time investment, most people can put together a decent set of Furious with a little Relentless and Wrathful in between, how good you are at playing your character becomes the most
In the not-so-halcyon days before 3.3.3 went public, if you wanted to win a BG every time you simply made a premade. It is commonly misconcieved that it was the increased communication and ability to coordinate that made a premade sucessful, but the fact of the matter is that most premades were sucessful because they had skilled leaders who kept people in line, and they managed to attract a nucleus of excellent pvp players who could be relied upon to be sucessful in capturing objectives. I’ve seen enough great premades die quickly simply because the leader just couldn’t get his shit together or the liutenants were incompetent.
As with most things, all a premade ever needed was a few really good people loosely coordinating a mob of less invested people basically acting as the filler and distraction*. Regardless, the unequivocable reason why premades so vehemently culled the non-premade characters from the BG was to keep group coherency, to make the less-invested people in the group feel special by excluding those who weren’t in it. However, the vast majority of players in a premade are expendable: five decent characters, who could focus their efforts on a much needed objective, usually won an Alterac valley while the other 35 acted as support and defense, holding objectives and capturing the lesser nodes for their team.
This takes me to the spec ops strategy of BGs. Don’t spend your two minutes communicating a sweeping and group-centric strategy to your 15 perfect strangers who only loosely have a reason to trust you, instead concentrate on convincing a few very good, very reliable teammates (whether they be grouped beforehand and queued together or PUGed and chosen in those two minutes, it doesn’t matter, two minutes is more than enough time to explain something to a couple guys, not 15 people) who can be trusted to listen to reason and let the rest of the players do whatever they do. This group can easily turn a victory in a sides favor just by doing the right thing that the right time. This brings me to…
Step Two: Who need a strategy?
Great chess players might have a set opening, but soon afterwards they abandon all pretense of strategy. Why? Because if you stick to a single concrete plan you’ll die. Being predictable is one of the worse things anyone can do in a battleground, because no matter where you go there will be nine people waiting for you.
The trick, in the words of Sun-Tzu, is to strike where the enemy is vacuous. When most people play a BG, they concentrate on the implementation of concrete plans to . That is, “If we hold BS-Farm-LM (the infamous power triangle) then we can win”. Or “if we rush Stabs and GM we can maybe lock them in their graveyard and five cap”(the wet dream of every horde character). The problem with this is 1) it’s a handmedown of premade logic, where there is a group of people around which strategic decisions can be made and communicated and 2) it relies too heavily on the vast majority of the players in a BG being skilled, and understanding basic shit, like “fight at the flag”. This is an unrealistic assumption, the random nature of a battleground is going to put a large number of unskilled players with a couple decent veterans, because that is the overall makeup of the pvp player base. Most people are going to fight on the road because they don’t know any better and don’t want to. I wouldn’t rely on that sort of road-warrior behavior to ever go out of vogue.
The truth of the matter is, PVP is a game of clutch decisions, a lucky crit can basically decide a battle, and maybe just one extra dude could have been just enough to cap an objective. The only real strategy is to put this aspect of the game on your side, to attack the single objective or character than can unravel the opposing team’s entire plan. To identify and target the opposing team’s shatterpoints: those spots in their strategy that are integral but are (for the moment) vulnerable.
This is perhaps the most important part of understanding AB, or any of these battlegrounds**: in order for the opposing team to capture a base, they first have to leave the base they are defending. To illustrate I’ll use a concrete example. Say you have hit the “troop placement” part of the map, where the horde has BS, LM, and Farm, and now, because they are horde, are going to rush stables. You could, either, face off at the stables’ flag, where the alliance has the defensive advantage, the closer graveyard, and, if they lose the stables, a graveyard literally a fifteen second ride up the hill.
You could assault the GM, which has at best two people. This is a perfect example of understanding the basic concept of how the mind of an AB team really works. The moment someone says ‘inc 3m farm’, you know that they had to leave the GM in order to be able to assault that base. Three skilled characters can easily capture GM and change the psychological terrain of the entire battle. By capturing GM, you’ve 1) taken enemy attention away from the farm attack: suddenly they are attacking a position they have to capture in order to remain strategically viable, or they get sent halfway across the map to stabs. 2) made the only effective graveyard spawn stables: a spot that is already experiencing pressure from lumber mill. Now, the enemy team is struggling to break even, to cap a base just to get back to 2-3, sure, they are now suddenly concentrated at stabs, but now their behavior becomes predictable: the obvious course of action is to attack GM, which is still contested, but capping and keeping GM will only get them into a less losing position. By capping GM you’ve made it so that the alliance with one partial cap, has gone from a tenable, attackable position to basically square one, stuck at stables, trying to figure out where exactly to go next. It’s this kind of crippling assault, to suddenly and violently foil what was to be a winning strategy so completely that you’ve not only injured their position, but their confidence as well. I guarantee that after that attack two things will happen: either they will become pointlessly defensive and be stuck with one or two bases for most of the battle, or, will become hopelessly aggressive and zerg, a strategy where more than 2/3rds of the team engages each objective in a sort of nomadic marauder group***.
Now let’s look at what we’ve done. With one integral attack from three guys we have been able to isolate their farm assault party, 4 cap, and successfully revert the alliance back to their starting position. Keep in mind that, other than the three guys who attacked GM, everyone else was doing what they would be doing normally. Three guys just so happened to be at farm, and, while they weren’t aware of it, were able to capitalize on the effect that the assault of GM had on the alliance farm group. The seven guys who attacked stabs just did what all guys at stables do, annoy people (on both sides), the group on defense at BS and LM (or just LM), didn’t need to do anything other than stall and call incoming groups, which they will do. Nobody other than the three characters who organized, recognized, and captured the most important objective had any sort of higher organization other than the typical battleground chatter.
Note that this sort of erosion of their position, forcing all of them to mass into one group, with a 1-4 disadvantage, will not inspire coherency, but rather the opposite. Their counterattack will either be diffuse and unfocused, or too highly concentrated: it’s a manipulation of your opponents fear, an understanding of the dynamics of your opponent’s mob. This sort of attitude leads me to…
Step Three: Fear and Psychology
This is why everyone should play a rogue in at least one battleground or pvp situation. Psychology is everything. Sapping a guy then running away is going to freak him out, make him pop some AOE abilities to try and root you out of stealth. 90% of what makes great rogues great isn’t leet deeps, but the threat OF leet deeps, forcing characters to behave irrationally because of a percieved attack. To play a rogue in a duel is to cheat, in the most creative sense of the term, rogues have to use their stealth and their ability to manipulate the fears of their opponent. My favorite story about this was when my old arena teammate (who at the time was a 63 rogue, with fresh outlands gear) dueled an enhancement shaman 6 levels above him. My friend was subletly at the time, and opened up with his best offensive abilities to try and burn down the shaman’s health before he could get out of stun lock. Of course, the shaman, freaked that more than half of his health pool had evaporated, popped spirit wolves. My friend simply vanished and waited for the wolves to despawn, then went back to burning down the shamans health. After the rogue won, the shaman insisted he had cheated: he shouldn’t have waited the 45 seconds or so for his wolves to despawn. The shaman had spent the majority of his time and mana trying to reveal a character that wasn’t there (magma totem, fire nova, etc.). By the time the wolves had disappeared, he was less than an easy kill.
This is the kind of cheating I’m talking about, the creative, patient, and mischevious manipulating of the other side: forcing them to rush around, forcing them to makes mistakes, extends to the battlefield was well. It isn’t a plan: it’s an understanding that no plan is the best plan of all. It’s finding where the weak points, the vacancies, of the enemy team’s bases are, and forcing them to constantly question every attack they make. If, moments after a group has left GM for farm, their base gets capped, then suddenly they HAVE to cap farm in order to keep the balance in their favor. This sort of urgency forces the opposing team into a position in which they aren’t prepared, and makes them take risks they have no chance of successfully accomplishing
And this sort of cheating uses the psychology of both teams to its advantage. Understanding, nay, accepting, that horde is going to concentrate irrationally on stables is an integral part of being successful in these battles. Outlining battle strategies to the whole group with under two minutes to speak is only going to encourage defection, and, frankly, drain attention from the goal of capturing and defending objectives. More time will be spent trying to get the team whipped into a group than actually concentrating on winning a battleground. However, if a small number of characters act in tandem and take the objectives that need taking and win the fights that need winning, then victory is an assured success. Let the majority of people do their thing, fight in the road, whatever. Just get the smallest semblance of organization around which good players can form, and I guarantee you won’t be let down.
*For a better understanding of how groups like this function, Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky is a very detailed examination of what causes groups connected by the internet to be sucessful.
** with the exception of Warsong Gulch. Fuck that battleground, its a crapshoot. Its an FPS BG that somehow got into an RPG. It doesn’t fit, doesn’t work, and most importantly, is impossible to figure out, because there is nothing there to figure out.
***I’ve only ever seen the alliance Zerg (organizing herd can be compared favorably to herding cats), though maybe its because I’ve never actually played alliance in an 80-bg. However, Zergs are notoriously easy to outflank, and I’ll speak later on the exact strategy of identifying and marginalizing the crippling effect of the Zerg.