State of the Game— March 5, 2007
By Christian Brellisford
Special note: Each State of the Game article presents the opinions and insights of one game observer. These observations are personal in nature and do not reflect the opinions of ArenaNet. While ArenaNet does review each State of the Game article to assure that it offers content that is respectful of all players, we intend to allow our reporters the freedom to inject some personal opinion into descriptions of the current atmosphere of competitive play in Guild Wars, and to express views based on their experience and observation.
And they're off! The largest tournament in Guild Wars history began recently with over 280 guilds participating. They are currently competing in fierce rounds of Swiss style tournament action. When the dust settles, 16 guilds will emerge at the top. Those top 16 will then play in a single elimination tournament to determine the Celestial winner. The victorious team receives shiny new video cards and bragging rights as the current best in international competition. The rest of the top 16 guilds receive runner-up prizes and transmogrify potions, as well as permanent posterity in the archives on GuildWars.com. While the exact nature of the potions is still unknown, tournament fans have their own chance to get their hands on these concoctions by predicting tournament outcomes at the Xunlai Tournament House.
It is early indeed to evaluate the strengths of participants, but already some guilds are emerging as strong competitors, and the pairings are heating up. With third round matchups like the Powerpuff Boys vs. Black Emperor and Timeless Resolve vs. Forlorn Savior, the tournament is sure to deliver an exciting month of GvG combat.
Familiar faces like iQ and cow have entered with a bang, as well as previous tournament competitors such as Mostly Harmless, Esoteric Warriors, and Peace and Harmony. The random matching system of the first round may have pitted some of these veteran guilds against teams with less tournament experience, but as the tournament moves forward, winning guilds must one another as the rounds become more and more balanced.
There have been quite a variety of builds in play. Gimmick builds have been effective for some teams as it's hard for opponents to prepare to counter every potential gimmick a group of 8 players can run. We've seen a lot of 2-0 victories with few rounds requiring the full best out of 3 games. This suggests that a lot of guilds have found a build that works and have made minimal changes from game to game.
Some popular builds have included Hex pressure and the recently popular Discord spike builds. While more effective with Heroes than humans, Discord remains a very large source of damage in the current metagame. Teams can bring many copies of this, although it is possible to use a Discord spiker in a pressure or balanced build. But those builds still tend to include heavy Hexes from other Necromancers or Illusion-based Mesmers. Additional Condition pressure stems from Disease or from a Ranger spreading a combination of Burning, Bleeding, and Poison.
Alert teams, however, have dealt with this spike build by recognizing and halting the conditional aspect of Discord (to take damage, the target must suffer from a Condition AND a Hex or Enchantment). On top of that, the Discord build generally works better with Heroes than it does with humans due to the quick and precise targeting abilities of the AI. Consequently (because Heroes are barred from tournaments) this build may not see as much tournament play as one might think. Ritualists, however, remain a viable option for both regular ladder builds and tournament builds. The recent buffs to the Channeling line has allowed teams to spec heavily into support skills like Union and Shelter while still maintaining a quality spike using Lamentation and Spirit Burn.
Teleport skills have also become incredibly popular in the regular ladder and top teams use them frequently. The ability to retarget quickly, teleport, and then spike, however, is difficult for less-coordinated teams who have a harder time pulling it off. Plus, saving allies from such a spike requires wise usage of skills and fast reaction times by Monks. Teleporting melee characters do fit into balanced builds a lot easier than some other gimmicks, though, because skills like Shadow Prison can act as a snare during split situations and is also helpful during spikes when fighting 8 versus 8.
Teleporting Warriors have also been used in pressure style builds, easily meshing with the ever-popular melee train. These trains can involve multiple Warriors, or a mix of Warriors, Dervishes, and Assassins. Teams often use a Mesmer for disruption and perhaps a Ranger or Paragon for split or utility. These relatively balanced teams can be modified slightly between tournament games to counter whatever the opponent brings.
Home Field Advantage
Another interesting aspect of this tournament is the nature of the best-of-3 games and the home field advantage that guilds can have. It is randomly determined which team selects the map for the first battle. One team chooses a map first, then when that battle ends, the other team picks a map for the second battle. If there is a third battle, the loser of the second battle chooses the map. The Jade Isle has become favored for running gimmick builds like the Hex overload or various spikes. Much like the Burning Isle, the Jade Isle punishes players for splitting and makes it harder for balanced teams to tactically counter spikes. Also, the close quarters of the bridges and flag stand make it ideal for AoE Elementalist skills and Necromancer Hexes.
However, with over 280 guilds in the tournament, teams should prepare to fight in almost any hall because of the massive range in talent and experience in the competition. Top guilds will recognize this, and prepare, possibly selecting a more neutral map, but an inexperienced team may pick a non-standard guild hall like the Jade Isle to rely on a temporary home field advantage.
The Celestial Tournament involves guilds from all over the world. This has proven both advantageous and complicated as teams are given times and contact information to set up their own matches.
ArenaNet has given the competitors the opportunity to match up against each other at times that are as convenient to both teams as possible. This has been seamlessly simple for guilds in the same region, but has proven more difficult for teams from widely separated time zones around the world. If two teams are mutually unable to determine a time, the official fallback time must be used. The fallback time, however, is a last resort, designed to occur in the early morning or late at night when players are less likely to have other obligations such as school or work.
As a result of these scheduling difficulties, some matches have been determined by default. If a team is unable to meet the time required, or doesn't have enough players to play at an arranged time, then that team loses. This does not necessarily herald the demise of those guilds in the tournament. There are plenty of further rounds scheduled and more opportunities to gain points to make the top 16. Additionally, as guilds play in the matches, some have realized the difficulty in getting the original 8 (or 10) members from their rosters together for each match. As such, ArenaNet has made it possible to update rosters with a one-time substitution of 4 new players, provided they've been in the guild for 30 days and an original core team of 6 still exists from the first roster.
The Celestial Tournament is the last of its kind, and the largest of its kind. It has experienced growing pains, but it will surely bring out the dedication of Guild Wars players and at the end, when the winner is crowned, it promises to be a well deserved victory!
In the Celestial Tournament we've experienced widespread competitive Guild Wars with a large and diverse group of teams. This has given us the chance to see GvG as an arena for taking competitive play to a wider player base. Though we haven't heard much about automated tournaments since the initial announcement, given what we've seen so far with guilds communicating with one another, an automatic process for scheduling these matches and tournaments will surely be a welcome feature to Guild Wars.
These automated tournaments might even take the place of regular ladder competition. We can already see competing guilds using the regular ladder as a playground for experimentation for build selection, player training, and experience. If automated tournaments prove as popular as the Celestial Tournament, then competitive GvG will certainly become much more exciting!
Christian Brellisford is a college student currently studying video game design in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in hopes of pursuing a career in the field. A gamer since an early age, Christian has been involved with Guild Wars since the E3 for Everyone Event in 2004, and currently leads the Spirits of War guild.