Monthly Archives: June 2010

Preparing For Rated Battlegrounds

I confess, I was nervous when Rated Battlegrounds were announced as part of Cataclysm. The idea sounded all well and good, but the devil is in the details of implementation. How would ratings be assigned? How would losses be handled? What would this mean for the current setup? I had dozens of questions without any answers.

We have more answers now than we did then, and while there are still many, many unknowns, the shape of Rated Battlegrounds is starting to coalesce into something we can have a conversation about.

So what do we know so far?

RATED BATTLEGROUNDS ARE A RAID, NOT A RANDOM

The defining feature of rated battlegrounds is that they will require you to assemble a full team, like a raid. You don’t have to be in the same guild, but you will have to assemble your team before you head in. You can’t do this on your own.

In other words, rated BGs require a premade.

This shift mirrors the current PvE philosophy, where you can queue for dungeons and heroics solo, but raids require a group. The new reward system (which I’ll talk about later) reinforces this separation, giving the highest tier of points to raids, rated BGs, and arena, and a lower tier to heroics and regular BGs.

What does this mean for us?

  • Playing in rated BGs will require a network. We have to start expanding our friends list to include good PvPers who can fill out your team, much like finding good tanks and healers.
  • Don’t wait; start joining premades now. This is the best way to learn how to work together as a team, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and expand your network. Even partial premades will teach you a lot about working as a team.
  • Start making guild plans now. If there is interest, consider creating a guild BG Leader position to organize and lead PvP teams. Just like raid teams need a raid leader, rated BG teams will need organization and leadership.

BATTLEGROUND SIZE MATTERS

A corollary to treating rated BGs like raids is that the size of your team will dictate which battleground you fight in, not your preference or random chance. So if you have:

  • 10-man: Warsong Gulch, Twin Peaks
  • 15-man: Arathi Basin, Eye of the Storm, Strand of the Ancients
  • 25-man: Alterac Valley
  • 40-man (unrated): Isle of Conquest, Battle for Gilneas

Alterac Valley is currently a 40-man bg, but in Cataclysm it will become 25-man. I wondered about this when it was announced, but in the context of Rated BGs are Raids it makes sense. AV will become the 25-man raider’s battleground of choice. It’s a brilliant move by Blizzard – they needed a BG that 25 man teams could run, so why not take the most PvE-like one and make it available to them? This way both 10 and 25 man raiding teams can hit the bgs on off nights or after a raid. AV is going to remain a popular BG because of this change.

The biggest problem I see is that it appears not all rated battlegrounds are going to be available at all times.  I’ve seen conflicting posts about this.  Some say that they will have a featured battleground, much like the old Holiday Weekend BGs, that will offer extra points and help consolidate players into a single queue.  This would be ideal for constructing dedicated teams.  What would be less ideal is having only a single rated battleground queue available at one time and rotating between them, which would require some tough staffing decisions.

My hunch is that a core of 15 players is going to be the team size of choice for serious PvPers.  This gives you access to 5 of the 6 rated battlegrounds, with the flexibility of pugging for Alterac Valley.

Here’s what this means to us.

  • If you are a raider, get familiar with WSG and AV now, and TP when Cata hits. Your guild may want to run these three as a warmup to a night’s raid, as an alt run, or as a regular event. Rated Battlegrounds will be an easy way to pick up gear and gems, help with guild leveling, and with the new currency system can contribute to PvE gear too.
  • PvP teams should try to size themselves to run 15-mans consistently. That gives you 5 bgs to rotate through on a regular basis, and puts AV within reach with server pugs. When a few folks are out the 10 mans are still available, and if you have 20 you can split into two 10s.
  • If you are practicing or learning BGs, get the basic achievements now. If people start asking for credentials to get into pugs, which I don’t like but am sure it’ll happen, you should at least have a Victory under your belt.  Veteran (100 wins) of a battleground will have a lot of weight, and Mastery of that battleground will make you a hot commodity.

We’ll have to see how the queues are really implemented before we can plan our teams out.  Having a flexible roster, rotating people in and out through the night, splitting teams, and getting good puggers will all be important skills of your guild’s battleground leader.

NO RATING PENALTIES FOR LOSING

We don’t know much yet about how ratings will be calculated, but we do know that losses will not lower your rating. This is a very good thing.

If you join a team that is struggling, it doesn’t lower your rating. You can try out different combinations, experiment with different strategies, and be a social networker without it affecting your score.

I’m really encouraged by this. By removing the penalty of failure, Blizzard makes it easier to bring casual PvPers into the game and makes losses more like a raid wipe. Imagine the opposite scenario: what if raid wipes caused loss of your raiding ability or standing, say by destroying gear?  Other games have incurred that sort of penalty, but we’ve thankfully moved on in WoW.

Speaking of gear…

GETTING PVP GEAR

The PvP gear grind in Cataclysm continues the trend we’ve seen in Wrath of consolidating tiers in both PvP and PvE , with PvE moving towards a point-based system.

In short:

  • Hero (PvE) and Honor (PvP) points will be the low tier, easier to get rewards from normal battlegrounds and dungeons.  There will be a cap on how many you can own, but no cap on how fast you can earn them.
  • Valor (PvE) and Conquest (PvP) points will be the high tier, harder to get rewards from raids, rated battlegrounds, and Arena.  There will be both a cap on how many you can own and how many you can earn in a period of time.
  • You will not be able to stockpile Valor and Conquest points between seasons/raid releases.  When a new tier of gear comes out, your high tier points will convert to lower tier points.

So far, these changes unify the two systems and honestly don’t introduce a lot of changes in how you gear for PvP.  Regular BGs will give you honor points to get started, and Rated BGs/Arena will give you top end gear.  A nice benefit is that you won’t lose your Arena, er, Conquest points when a new season comes out, but that they’ll convert to Honor points instead.  So you can go buy gems or something.

About that top end gear:

  • Personal ratings will no longer be required for top-tier PvP Armor.  (And thank goodness, since this was a huge barrier to participating in Arenas.)
  • PvP weapons will be divided into two tiers, equivalent to those gained by raiding on normal or Heroic difficulties.
  • Normal PvP weapons can be purchased with Conquest points and no minimum personal rating.
  • Heroic PvP weapons can be purchased with Conquest points and require a minimum personal rating.

Removing the personal rating requirements for PvP armor is huge.  HUGE.  This levels the playing field between players for both Rated and Arena play.  The rating requirements on armor in the current system created a self-perpetuating gap between those with it and those without; this removes that dichotomy nicely.  Keeping the rating requirements on 3 slots (instead of 12) means that the rating will reflect more on your skill than on you outgearing your opponents.

The caps discussed above are welcome changes to PvE, and already familiar to PvPers. We’re used to having the Honor Cap (and hitting it all the time).  Having to spend those Triumph badges means I’ll have to finally buckle down and either get those last few heirloom shoulders, a bevy of heirloom trinkets, or … what, Crusader Orbs?  (I assume I can turn them into cash somehow.)

The other cap, a cap over time on the Valor and Conquest points, are in place to limit the amount of upper tier gear you can get in any given week.  Ghostcrawler described it as making the system “less grindy,” which I think it does.  Once you’ve hit your cap for the week, you’re done.

No word yet on if PvP gear will be available in Tol Barad, the new PvP questing zone, like there was in Wintergrasp. Crafted PvP gear, however, should be quite good at the start of Cataclysm.

STATISTICS CHANGES

The stat changes in Cataclysm are huge.  Dizzying.  Some stats are going away, others are going to be used differently… here’s where we still don’t know enough to make good plans.

One thing we do know, though, is that there will be more Stamina on armor.  A LOT more.  Health pools are going to increase in relation to damage output, which is great news for battlegrounds.  Burst damage in PvP has been a problem throughout Wrath, and a slower pace will be a welcome change.

Interestingly, the place where I’ve seen this slower pace the most has been in the level 19 twink bracket, where health pools are also huge in comparison to the damage done.  If you want to get a feel for how Cataclysm battlegrounds are going to play, visit that bracket.

CROSS-BATTLEGROUP BATTLEGROUNDS

Battlegrounds, rated and unrated, are going to pull players and teams not just from your Battlegroup, but from all servers in your region.  This should even out the queues and give you someone to play pretty much all the time.  It should also erase faction imbalances within a battlegroup, which is freaking awesome all around.

My only concern is with latency, as this potentially adds another leg between you and your opponent (between your server and theirs.)  There are a lot of technical ways around that, though (moving both clients to a neutral server, peer to peer, etc.) so it remains to be seen if this has any impact on actual play.

And for twinks?  This makes freezing your experience viable again.  No more destination battlegroups!  If you want to try experience-capped brackets, but don’t want to change servers, now’s a good time to start making a twink.

BATTLEGROUND SCRIMMAGES

Blizzard calls it “war games mode,” but that makes me think of a nice game of chess, so I’ll call it scrimmage mode.  Scrimmage mode lets you challenge other teams to a battleground fight.  Faction doesn’t matter.

The experience and feedback you can get from this is invaluable.  Set up two 10-mans and run Warsong Gulch or Twin Peaks — and then compare notes.  Who did what well?  Who did what poorly?

Scrimmage mode — fine, WAR GAMES mode — is going to really be a powerful tool.

Even if it makes me want to play chess.

GUILD LEVELING

Guilds will progress in Cataclysm, gaining perks and… other… stuff?  as their players do stuff with the guild.  The details are kinda fuzzy, but one thing is clear — PvP will contribute to guild leveling, hopefully on equal footing with PvE.

If there was a case to be made for harnessing your guild’s latent PvP tendencies under a guild Battleground Leader, this would be it.  Do PvP with your guild, help the guild level.

Seems like a good thing to me!

(Now if only we knew more about what those levels actually do…)

CASUAL BATTLEGROUNDS ARE STAYING

The most welcome news to me is that causal, non-rated battlegrounds aren’t going anywhere.

I like being able to log in after a hard day of work and relax in the battlegrounds.  I don’t want to stress out about it, I just want to PvP to unwind.

And I still can.  Thank goodness.

CATACLYSM IS COMING

Right now, each week seems to bring us news on Cataclysm: new changes to classes, professions, game mechanics. A lot of it seems to be a tease, something to keep players interested as Wrath winds down.

But enough information has come out now that you can start taking steps, even simple steps, to get ready for Cataclysm’s inevitable release.  You can start thinking of battlegrounds as a group activity instead of a solitary one.  You can start networking with other PvPers in your guild an on your server.  You can start putting together premades, or even found a PvP guild.

Rated Battlegrounds are coming.  In a few short months, they’ll be here.  When they were first announced, I was nervous.  Now?

I can’t wait.  Bring ‘em on.

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A Different Kind of Battleground Map

In 1931, Harry Beck created the first version of his revolutionary map of the London Underground. Instead of accurately overlaying the train routes over a geographic map of London, Beck presented the topology of the Tube, divorcing it from the complicated, messy reality of the physical world and giving the logical connections between stations instead. This innovation has been rightly copied on metro transit maps throughout the world — presenting the flow of bus routes or subway systems is much more useful to a traveler trying to find the right line and stop than knowing where those lines and stops are in relation to the real world.

Topology is different from topography. Topography deals with the shape of the land, and is often seen in geographic maps. Topology deals with spatial flow. A topographic map will show elevation and surface structures; a topological map will show how different points relate to each other.

Practitioners of engineering, both Gnomish and Goblin, will recognize this type of map in circuit and network diagrams. The physical layout of the network is not as important to understanding how it works as the topology. Engineers need to know what connects to what when troubleshooting a design problem, not neccessarily where those things are located on a circuit board or network. Often elements of the network can be completely glossed over because the details are irrelevant to the discussion at hand — the concept of the Internet as “the cloud” comes from this reduction.

I’m used to looking at geographic maps for battlegrounds. The in-game maps show terrain, the location of objectives and obstacles, and your position with accurate scaling. These maps accurately reflect the battlefield and are useful tools.  Every twist of every path is accurately documented.

But there are times that these maps fail us. They present a lot of information you don’t need when thinking about strategy. They don’t convey the objectives of the battleground, or the flow from goal to goal. They aren’t good tools for new players to learn from, either — much like a geographic metro transit map, there’s a steep learning curve to know where you are and where you go next.

In talking with Nibuca on the Twisted Nether Blogcast, it occurred to me that the maps are part of the barrier to entering (and enjoying) the battlegrounds. “It’s not obvious what you’re supposed to be doing,” she said, and I agree completely. While dungeons are, for the most part, linear affairs, battlegrounds are not. The objectives are not clear when you first zone in, and — here’s the kicker — knowing where to go next is never obvious. Nearly every battleground has a symmetric map, which means there are no cues like “follow this corridor.” Battlegrounds are more complicated than that.

Using the London Tube map as an inspiration, I think looking at the battleground maps logically and topologically, instead of geographically, can help overcome this barrier to entry. And with rated battlegrounds coming in Cataclysm, more and more guilds are going to be looking at setting up strategies and teaching people to fight in these instances. Hopefully these maps will prove useful for both groups.

Normally, I present maps to illustrate a strategy.  Here, I’m just presenting maps to give you a different perspective on each battleground.  I expect you’ll see me use them again in later strategy posts.

READING THE MAPS

I’ve tried to keep each map simple, sometimes absurdly so. This is deliberate. There are complexities to each battleground that are confusing to the new player, and as such have been avoided. There’s a vast amount of tactical knowledge that you pick up running a battleground that can completely influence the fight, but the purpose of a topological map is to point out the flow, not the terrain.

The legend for these maps is:

  • Large circle: an objective players can capture.
  • Small black dot: a graveyard players can capture.
  • Dot within a circle: an objective with an associated graveyard. Control of one implies control of the other.
  • Red node: Starts under the control of the Horde.
  • Blue node: Starts under the control of the Alliance.
  • Colored dot: A graveyard that cannot be captured. Usually, but not always, a spawn point.
  • Solid line: bidirectional path between nodes.
  • Arrow: one-way path. Usually involves jumping.
  • Square: Resource that can’t be captured, but can be used by one side or another.

Let’s take a look at the simplest battleground map of all, the Eye of the Storm.

EYE OF THE STORM

There are five nodes you can control in Eye of the Storm: the 4 bases and the flag. The four bases at each corner have graveyards associated with them, so they have the bulls-eye symbol associated with them. Each node has only two approaches.

The flag sits in the middle of the battleground, again with only two ways to access it. There is no graveyard associated with controlling this objective — instead, it’s something you have to capture and then return to a controlled base.

Each side starts with one graveyard that cannot be captured; these are the spawn points and cannot be captured by the other side. Players must jump down from the floating rocks to reach the main battleground, represented by the colored arrows.

There isn’t any way to circumvent the routes shown here: this battleground floats in the Twisting Nether and you would need to fly in order to traverse it. So control of routes is absolute.

Make sense?

Next, let’s look at a slightly more complicated map: Arathi Basin.

ARATHI BASIN

Arathi Basin has 5 nodes, each with an associated graveyard.  These are the places where you really should fight at the flag.  There are two spawn points that cannot be captured by the other side, but can be accessed and camped, at either end of the map.

The orientation of the geographic map sets the flow of the map along a NW/SE axis, which can be confusing. The bases are set out with one close to your starting point, one far away, and three in the middle.

Unlike Eye of the Storm’s map, it is possible to move outside of the lines in this map, though it almost always involves either going very slowly, falling off a cliff, or both. The Lumber Mill is on a cliff, so characters who can slow fall, levitate, or parachute can go directly to the Blacksmith. Same going from the Blacksmith to the Gold Mine. Going from the Farm or Stables to Blacksmith requires swimming or water walking.

All of those are ‘difficult’ paths between nodes, so I omitted them.  Chalk them up to “quirks of the terrain.”

STRAND OF THE ANCIENTS

Strand of the Ancients is interesting because it’s the only half-court battleground in the game. One team fights to the Titan Relic while the other defends, and then everyone switches sides. So the flow of the battle always goes from North to South, from the beach to the relic.

Strand has a lot of little touches that make it interesting. Teams start in different places (landing ships for offense, south GY for defense) than their fallback graveyards (beach and courtyard). Control of the graveyards gives control of resources, not the other way around.

Seeing Strand like this really highlights the importance of graveyard control in this fight for both offense and defense. More on that in a later post.

ISLE OF CONQUEST

The Isle of Conquest has a deceptively simple flow. This is a battleground where terrain, elevation and lines-of-sight matter. The different abilities and vehicles each node grants your team make this a far different place than Arathi Basin, where all nodes have equal resource value. You can win IoC with control of a single node, for example, something you cannot do in Arathi Basin.

That said, IoC has a typical circular map.  The three nodes in the center force you to divide your forces to focus upon the objectives.  In this aspect it’s very much unlike the other 40-man battleground, Alterac Valley, which is a linear map that doesn’t require tremendous coordination to run.  Let’s look at AV next.

ALTERAC VALLEY

Alterac Valley is a monster of a map no matter how you look at it: there are 24 points of interest spread out in a long North/South battleground. Because the graveyards are separate objectives, graveyard control is its own game within AV.  Knowing where to station defenders is paramount as your forces are sent all over the map.

However, despite the complexity of content, the flow of Alterac Valley is relatively straightforward.  This is not a circular map like EotS, AB, or IoC — it’s linear.  Alliance rides South while Horde rides North.  Teams can establish chokepoints and restrict the enemy from moving any further up the map.  It’s a fascinating, unique battleground, and the map is no exception.

Okay, so I love Alterac Valley.  Like THAT’S a surprise.

WARSONG GULCH


Remember how I said Eye of the Storm had the simplest battleground map?

Well, despite what you see above, I still think it does.  Warsong Gulch has the simplest topology, but not the simplest terrain.  There are 4 different approaches into each base, each with strengths and weaknesses.  Learning the ins and outs of the bases is essential.  Learning the terrain of midfield is also essential. But when I look at the terrain of Eye of the Storm and compare it to Warsong Gulch, it’s a far simpler place.  There are two approaches to each base.  There are few obstacles between each.

But in terms of the goals and logical flow of Warsong Gulch, it is as simple as this map makes it.  There’s your flag, and their flag.  Everything else – ramp, tunnel, roof, balcony, midfield – is immaterial.

If there was a zen battleground, Warsong Gulch would be it.

WINTERGRASP

Though it’s not a fully-instanced battleground, I’ve also made a Wintergrasp map in the same style. Wintergrasp is still relevant to many players, and the points in my Introduction to Wintergrasp still apply.

I altered the keep layout a bit to illustrate the flow of the outer ring defenses — breaking into one of the outer keep courtyard doesn’t reduce any of the others, and you have to go through at least one before getting to the inner keep.

LAST WORD

I said at the top of this post that I didn’t have a specific strategy to illustrate by presenting these maps.  That’s mostly true.  I think that looking at the logical flow of a battleground is vital to understanding the strategy behind it.  But it’s also vital to learning it and making sense of those first crazy runs across the map.

I hope you find these maps useful.

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