18 September 2008

Battleground Strategies

Last night I ran a few battlegrounds, in an effort to get Alamein a new helm for tanking. Shandris is in the Emberstorm battlegroup, which has a very consistent breakdown: Alliance win Alterac Valley about 75-80%, win Eye of the Storm maybe 40-50%, and win Arathi Basin about 10% of the time. (I know nothing about Warsong Gulch; I've never enjoyed running that.)

I'm collecting some data about what that means for me in terms of honor per minute. As I try for new gear I want to be as efficient as possible. But aside from that I'd rather play the battlegrounds that I enjoy, and that's usually AV and AB. I did a good chunk of both last night and I have a few thoughts on strategy.

The tough thing about losing a battleground consistently is that it never gets any better. Oh, on a battleground holiday weekend you'll get some quality premades and win something closer to 50%. But from what I've seen, the battleground results are very consistent.

The biggest reason for this is that battleground strategies are very organic and depend on everyone independently deciding to do the same thing. It's hard enough to get a PUG to even start with a very simple strategy; once some chaos is in the mix it's almost impossible to get them to regroup and adjust. This leads to reinforcing whatever strategies are norms for the battlegroup — whether they work or not.

Losing breeds chaos. Dying leads to rezzing, possibly at a graveyard far from where you were fighting. More deaths mean more scattered players who are still trying to figure out where they are, let alone what the group should try to do. Players lose cohesion and start running around as individuals instead of groups. As the game gets farther and farther from success, players either give up, or decide to bag the game itself and go for honor killings regardless of strategy.

That said, there is some evolution over time. Players see something that works a bit better and start trying to do it more. Players aren't stupid! They're just struggling to figure out what to do, in the absence of any coordination or instruction. I've seen a couple adjustments that could be made for more success.

Arathi Basin

Alliance on Emberstorm lose AB. Almost all the time. The biggest problem is that Alliance can't adjust after the initial rush. We can pretty consistently take three nodes at the start of a game, but no matter how we defend, one will be lost, and then we can never get ahead again. A good match will be 2-2 or 3-2 for most of the match, with a final score around 2000-1650. A bad match will stay between 3-1 and 4-1 until it's over at around 2000-1100. (At least these are quicker.)

The toughest part is getting squads of people formed up and attacking in groups. It's a lot easier to defend than to attack, and players need to attack in numbers. But instead everyone goes their own way, and attacks are in twos and threes.

There's no easy way to change this behavior; it involves clear leadership and good useful communication. Both are in short supply. But there's a key strategic habit that puts the Alliance at a disadvantage. Usually at the start, Alliance will send one group to the Mine and one to Lumber Mill, conceding the Blacksmith node. The Horde always send numbers to BS; it's much easier to take the other nodes.

But that's setting up for a loss. Blacksmith is unbelievably key: it holds the middle of the map. If you have a group there, you can send reinforcements to a node under attack, or send a raiding party to assail a vulnerable node. When players die and rez at BS, they can get back into the fight a lot faster too.

So: when you're setting initial strategy, try to get one party to go for BS. Send another to either Mine or LM, and keep 3 back at the Stables. Ideal would be 7 to BS, 5 to Mine or LM (change it up), and 3 at Stables. It won't win every round... but it's a much better start.

Alterac Valley

AV has been a different story for Alliance. We used to win somewhere north of 80%, but lately strategies have adjusted and the Horde are winning a lot more. Now it's still an Alliance advantage, but the last couple weeks it's probably down to about 65 or 70% at best.

Two correlated developments are causing this. First, the Alliance has built a consensus to zerg past FWGY and hit RH. Second, the Horde has decided to play defense.

The zerg to RH is a result of how difficult it can be to take RH if the Horde dies early and often. The RH graveyard is very close to the flag (same for Aid Station and Alliance, I believe) so it's really difficult to take if it's defended in strength. It's much easier if you get there quickly, so why not do it first?

The problem is that by skipping FWGY, you're leaving a pocket of Horde strength in your rear. This does two things. First, it makes it tougher to hold IBT and TP until they burn. Second, it ensures a steady stream of Horde going into Frostwolf. In a really bad game, they'll retake RH. More commonly, we'll end up with 3-5 Horde in Drek's keep. When they're smart, these include quite a few priests and warlocks, who fear the living daylights out of the whole raid. It's really tough to take down Drek under those conditions. If the Horde holds IBT and TP too — with their warmasters alive in the keep — that makes it nearly impossible.

The Horde is still not great at taking down Van. That means that the games usually result in a war of attrition, with a race to see who can kill more of the other side. If the Alliance fights in the keep too much, then Drek slaughters us, and reduces our reinforcements quickly. Often, the Horde on offense will do the same thing, and we're more likely than them to win. Still, it becomes more of a crapshoot.

So the key is to take FWGY. The ideal approach is to split into two groups as the offense gets south. One can attack FWGY while the other rushes to RH. Hit both at the same time and you can take them easily. Then it's just a matter of setting up the offense, defending the towers, and getting a good win.

If that doesn't happen, you'll have to regroup which is harder. Usually this means there's a crowd waiting outside Drek's keep. Try to organize a strong party of 5-7 players to go after FWGY. It will be defended and you'll have to deal with rezzers coming back from the graveyard. But a good effort will see the graveyard fall, which can really get the Horde off your back. If you need to, keep the party going north to take TP and IBT; it makes Drek easier and it gets you more honor.

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