Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Diaries of a Ganker, Part V - Farewell to Arms (Season 14 Wrap-Up)

The release of TESO is now just under a month away (for people like myself who have pre-ordered the early access edition) and with it my days as a rogue ganker on Illidan are coming to an end. This series has just about run its course – I don't think I have too much more to add about ganking as a topic in WoW, but I do look forward to picking the topic up again in the world of Tamriel. People who have slogged through my long winded posts will know that I divide WoW PvP into two basic types – open world PvP and ladder PvP. The former is meaningless and unbalanced due to the lack of strategic objectives, PvE/PvP gear differential and massive faction imbalances tolerated by Blizzard. The latter is very competitive but is really just a MOBA (massive online battle arena) separate from the MMO world it purportedly inhabits. Despite their differences I enjoy both flavours, and as Season 14 has come to an end, I thought this would be a good time to summarise my going-ons in both formats of PvP.

Halfhill Shennanigans on Illidan

Last weekend, as per my desire to bring a gank squad to the Horde dominated server of Illidan, my sister and I managed to rope in two local rogues to go ganking with us in Halfhill. Rather than write about it, I condensed an hour of gameplay into a 15 minute ganking clip and linked it below. My sister brought her restoration druid to the fray, and we were both on Skype so we were able to coordinate our movements to some degree. In this video you can see my messed-up control method, which consists of mouse turning when not in combat, and then reverting back to keyboard turning once in melee. To become a complete mouse turner I will have to purchase a specialised gaming mouse which has buttons for my abilities. What is happening is that I am mouse turning to look around out of combat, but once I engage in combat my right hand (which is my mouse hand) moves to the keypad where my abilities are bound. If I had a Razor Naga I could move those abilities to the mouse instead, and thus be able to maintain mouse turning while having access to my keybinds at the same time. This is what the pros do, and it is something I will have to do if I want to break the 2k barrier in ladder PvP. Luckily I don't even need to be good to kill someone in OWPvP. I can just bring friends, attack people when they are AFK or busy, and we can rack up those kills without any problems. I killed an Arena Master in the session I filmed – he was AFK at the FP and I had two other rogues assisting me – but hey, a kill is a kill, dammit. Right? Right?



Season 14 Wrap-Up

When I'm not ganking around Halfhill I spend my time in WoW pushing rating in 3s, 5s and Rated BGs on my holy paladin. My team mates and I are intermediate players, which means we are above 1550 but below 2000. My 5s team consists of myself, my sister, an affliction warlock named Coronaxtra, and an unholy DK named Ratsac. Ratsac and Coronaxtra are long time team mates. Corona was my 2s partner for the longest time, and we used to play 2s together before the new 25 minute time limit was introduced. The number of 45 minute games we played back in the day are mind-boggling to think about now. Corona is a great player and a very laid back guy - he achieved the rank of Duelist (top 0.5-3% of the active player curve) back in BC but I always poke fun at him about it because firstly, he did it before WoW started recording achievements and so there is no record of him ever doing it; secondly, he did it in 2s which is the most unbalanced out of all the brackets; and finally, he did with a resto druid in an era when there were no such things as diminishing returns. Can you imagine eating 6 second Cyclones and 8 second Fears without any respite whatsoever? People who complain about the game having too much CC nowadays have seem to forgotten the era in BC where you could literally be CCed FOREVER. For the uninitiated or non-PvPers diminishing returns halves the duration of CCs if caught within 15-19 seconds of a similar CC until the player is immune for a period of 15-19 seconds after the last CC is cast. Managing the time between CCs and knowing when to use your escapes is crucial, so much so that Gladius (a very common Arena add-on) tracks not only current CCs and trinket availability, but also diminishing returns (DR) in its display. Using your trinket to escape a double DRed Cyclone (duration of 1.5 seconds) is just plain silly and a waste of an ability which has a two minute CD.

My other team mate Ratsac is another great player in both formats of the game. He used to be a Heroic raider, but got introduced into PvP during Cataclysm and has never looked back. I actually think that Ratsac is a 2k player - he just hasn't found the right team to integrate into. In a sense, I think I am holding him back, because I really believe that he could slot into a 2k team and the team wouldn't lose a beat. People could say that he is being carried in this scenario, but in the 3s format carrying 1/3rd of your entire team's effective strength is actually harder than people make it out to be. Having two stronger players will lift the weaker player's personal rating but each combination of players has a cap they will eventually plateau at based on the combined strength of the team, and the weaker the weakest link is, the lower this cap will be. It's easier to carry someone in Rated BGs where the team is only carrying 1/10th of their effective strength. I know some players who could never be carried to 2k in 3s – despite the best efforts of the other two players the handicap imposed by the weak player would be insurmountable. Unkind, but true for some, and perhaps applicable to myself. Ratsac, however, could jump into a 2k team and acquit himself without any problems.

My sister Lelle (her main) makes up the final part of our regular foursome, and I had previously considered her the weak link of the team (I hope she never reads this, otherwise she is going to kill me). Recently, however, she has hit form big time on her warrior and her restoration druid, and the pressure is on for me to keep up with my team mates and not be the weakest link. My sister and I have similar temperaments, and some of our biggest quarrels have occurred in the context of WoW PvP. It might be laughable to say WoW can be a tool for personal growth, but after a particularly vicious argument I took a long hard look at myself and decided that I was an asshole. Since that incident I have never argued with team mates ever again, and backed off from trying to micro manage the whole team. It's funny thought how things which you tolerate in strangers and casual acquaintances are magnified when it comes to family. My sister and I have had nonsense arguments about small things which I wouldn't have cared about with other people. I have become aware of this peculiarity of human relations, and take great care now to keep an even keel when playing with my sister. If I do lose my rag (which is happily becoming a much rarer event nowadays), I switch off my mike and vent, then get back on once the moment passes. I drove away my sister's best friend Rykester (his old main) from WoW by being a bastard Rated BG leader, and I am resolved that this will never happen again. I am getting a second chance in TESO (our old crew is reassembling to play that game) and regardless of what happens in that game I am determined that people who group with me will never have any cause to regret it. I have learned (or am constantly trying to learn) to cultivate Zen by playing computer games. It is a retarded thing to say, but there it is.

This season, however, has been a particularly good one for our team ratings-wise. We established a number of personal bests in both 3s and 5s, and broke through a plateau we had been stuck on for a long time. The timing was quite ironic as I had already pretty much lamented to my team mates that this was as good I was going to get, and that I might as well call it a day for ladder PvP. The very next session we got the 1750+ achievement in 3s, which was the personal best for our whole team in that bracket. Ratsac, Lelle (on her warrior Qualar) and I ran a TSG comp (DK, warrior and holy paladin) and in this session I did everything I normally don't do – I abandoned cover in favour of aggressive CCing, I didn't save my CDs, and most importantly, I put my faith in Ratsac and Qualar to get the job done instead of trying to control everything. Our plan was just to bum rush the enemy, preferably a healer, and get a kill in less than two minutes because I could guarantee that they could stay alive and completely aggressive for that amount of time. If the game went on any longer than two minutes we usually lost, but it was surprisingly effective most of the time. I shut up, did my job, and the net result was that we broke the plateau and got the achievement in 3s. I believe we could have pushed further, but that session was our last 3s push for the season.

The session after our 3s push we hit our personal bests in 5s, and ended the season at approximately 1850+. I have unofficially pushed up to 1900+ in the past, but our final rating of 1853 in 5s is a new official (meaning it is recorded in the statistics page of our character's Armoury profiles) personal best for all of us. It makes me really happy that we got it as a team and not with people we don't regularly play with. Our biggest problem has been finding a 5th, and we have tried various people in the slot, with varying degrees of success. We tried bringing a good friend and guildie in a role, but he was simply not good enough, and our combo capped out at about 1600+. This is the problem with ladder competition. Ladder PvP in WoW is structured in such a way that the player base is splintered into small groups based on skill level. This is a natural consequence of ladder competition – you naturally group with people around your own skill level. Better players than yourself generally want better team mates, and vice versa – you don't want to play with players whom you consider worse than you. This is fine if your primary goal is pushing rating, but poses problems if you simply want to play with your friends due to the spread of skill levels. The only possible way to play with friends in a ladder competition is to play at the lowest level of the group, and work your way from there. In TESO I am looking forward to playing with friends of mine who love computer games but have woeful hand-eye coordination which precluded them from playing Arenas and Rated BGs. By the same token it will be good to play with other friends of mine who I keep in touch with on Real ID but don't play with because they have far eclipsed me in terms of PvP rating and skill. In open world PvP numbers are a tangible advantage. Everyone counts, and that is a wonderful thing for games. We can all contribute, and this type of cooperation creates strong social bonds and factional identity. Ladder competition is very stark in that it illuminates exactly where you are on the bell curve. Furthermore the small team sizes keep socialisation to a requisite minimum, and you end up socialising with people based not on real life considerations such as character, demeanour or attitude, but rather on how well they can push buttons in a computer game.

To solve our 5s conundrum I tried swapping to a DPS toon and finding another healer on OQueue, but that only got us up to 1700+ and we hit another plateau there. On the last weekend of Season 14, however, I fished around in OQueue for a good warrior and was lucky enough to find one around our level. Like the rest of us, Themerciless was an intermediate player who hadn't broken 2k. Unlike us however, he had come pretty bloody close (1995 in 3s and 1879 in 5s), and he was the final piece of the puzzle. We kind of stumbled into our composition (we all have a gazillion fully geared alts we could use) and our tactics, but somehow the combination worked, and we got better as the games progressed. Our overall game plan became applying dot pressure on the whole enemy team with Ratsac's diseases and Corona's DoTs, while Themerciless applied single target pressure with his warrior. Lelle and I would also attempt to CC enemy healers whenever we could while keeping our team alive and offensive. Corona was our main CCer on paper, but in practice he was the tank because he was always the primary target of the enemy. Our big go-to combo (which again, was not pre-planned, but evolved over the course of our games) was for Ratsac to use Gorefiend's Grasp to grip the whole team to Themerciless, who would then Bladestorm around him for huge AoE damage. Corona would try to follow with an AoE stun on top of the clustered enemy, meaning that they would have to sit in the Bladestorm for at least 3 seconds. It was a vicious combo, and it served us well when it worked. I have recorded some of our games and posted it below – you can see the tactic evolve over the course of the games (i.e. watch the first and last games).


Season 15 and Beyond

I was going to quit WoW after Season 14, but the lure of the 2k achievement remains very strong. I will definitely play TESO because I have roped in friends and family to come with me, but I may not unsubscribe from WoW just yet. This season is significant because for the first time players are ranked together by region instead of Battlegroups. This means rank one means exactly that. Previously the top players in each group were ranked first in their own respective Battlegroups, which meant that there were plenty of “rank one” Gladiators in North America, who then proceeded to talk smack about the relative strengths and perceived weaknesses of the various groups. No longer. Rank one means rank one in North America (and Oceania, since the two are merged), not rank one in Vengeance or Bloodlust or whatever Battlegroup the player used to belong to. Similarly PvP titles will now be region wide, so any titles won will be a true reflection of one's standing in the region. This is why the last weekend of Season 14 was such a hotbed of frenetic activity on Twitch TV – all the rank one aspirants were frenetically trying to get pole position before the season came to a close. There are a lot of familiar names in the 3v3 leaderboard - 2012 World Champions Snutz and Venruki are placed first and second respectively, and I also recognise Chanimal at 7th, who was in the 2013 World Championship winning Skill Capped team.


Final standings in 3v3 (the tournament format) at the end of Season 14.


On a personal level the 2k achievement remains the Holy Grail of WoW PvP for me, and it has never seemed as achievable as it has been recently. I would really like to get the title of Rival, too. I have gotten Challenger consistently since Season 6, which puts me squarely in the top 10-35% of the active PvP player base, but getting Rival would make me one of the top 10%. The information on Arenamate.net states that the cut-off for Rival in Season 14 was 1829 in 3s (and 2156 in 5s) – this is eminently achievable for our team given what we have done this season (we reached 1755 in our last push), and is something to shoot for in the future if we keep playing ladder PvP. Realistically my best chance at getting a 2k rating will be in either the 5s or the Rated BG format, and the Rival title if I work on my 3s and push to the mid 1800s. In terms of OWPvP, however, my days of ganking on Illidan are coming to a close with the imminent release of TESO. It looks like I will have two different games to scratch two different itches – WoW for the ladder PvP, and TESO for meaningful open world PvP.

Just when I thought I was out - they pull me back in...

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