State of the Game—May 7, 2008
Meet Dark Alley [dR]
Special note: Each State of the Game 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.
When I interviewed Rebel Rising [rawr] in January, they talked about how "Err Jesus loves [rawr]." During [rawr]'s multiple winning streaks in automated tournaments, opposing players would sometimes disconnect, while [rawr] was fortunate enough to experience minimal connection trouble.
On the other end of the spectrum is Dark Ally [dR]. Regarded as one of the best guilds in the game to never have won it all, [dR] has suffered from disconnecting players when loading into GvG tournament matches. But in an ironic twist of fate, [dR] finally took home the top prize, beating out [rawr] in the finals of the Rawr Cup, a tournament sponsored partly by [rawr]! Also, this interview was conducted before the April tournament, so [dR] once again proved they have what it takes to come out on top.
Shortly after their win in the Rawr Cup, members of Dark Alley sat down to reflect on where they were, how they got there, and where they were headed. These members included: Augie, Daemon, Doji, Ensign, Famous, Tommy, Windforce, and Langola. A final member, Divine, was not available.
Dark Alley was formed primarily from former members of Idiot Savants [iQ] and Team Quitter [QQ]. Although the guilds had been fierce rivals in the past, the declining player base of elite PvP players made it difficult for them to fill their respective teams, so they decided to combine into a new guild instead. [iQ] had several well known pick up guilds (PUGs) that had been collecting PvP players, and they decided to pull some of these people into the new guild as well. Of special note is the fact that each of the members of [dR] had previously been a guild leader, and thus were used to making decisions for themselves. This fit well with [dR]'s playstyle, as each individual must decide and act independently in a match.
The name "Dark Alley" has origins going back to the old Idiot Savants [iQ] guild. An old [iQ] member, Zrave, had a humorous habit each time the guild faced an opponent with a guild name written in a non-English language. Whenever this occurred, Zrave told the team he could translate the name. After a pause he would inform them that the name meant "Dark Alley" in the language. After about the fifth or sixth time, the rest of [iQ] caught on to his ploy. When asked about the meaning of their name, [dR] members will frequently say "It means ‘Dark Alley' in English. The reason they chose [dR] instead of [DA] for a guild tag has to do with their play style and build philosophy. At the time [dR] formed, hyper defensive builds were abundant, with some teams bringing one or even two copies of Defensive Anthem. [dR] didn't want their guild tag to be the abbreviation for a skill they disliked.
Builds and Strategy
[dR] hates super defensive builds and prefers instead to run builds that are very offensive and are designed to kill. Because most teams they run into either don't have the tools to split, or don't know how to do so effectively, [dR] emphasizes split play. This allows them to dictate the game more, which they find to be rewarding and fun. Because most of [dR] has been playing for a long time, this emphasis on fun is especially important. [dR] doesn't feel they have to prove anything to anyone in terms of the builds they play, so they just run builds designed for their opponents and the maps that the matches are played on. On non-split friendly maps, overload builds will typically beat balanced builds in an 8v8 fight, so [dR] is not afraid to break out hex builds, condition pressure, or even spike builds. If the match is on a splitable map, they will typically run a variant of a balanced build, as they feel the point of a balance build is to enable it to split if the opponent is running a gimmick or overload build of their own.
Thus, while people may say that [dR] plays "build wars," the reality is that they play builds appropriate for the opponents and maps they face. Running different builds all the time is also more fun for them. [dR] likes to keep their builds a mystery to their opponents. The threat of several different build styles forces opponents to adjust to [dR], something [dR] can often take advantage of.
[dR] prefers builds that force their opponents out of their usual game plan, with one of their favorites being a three Warrior, two Necro build that incorporated Sight Beyond Sight, Foul Feast, and Plague Signet. One of their older builds, with a Glyph of Energy/Gale Mesmer and Elementalist/Devish with Mindblast, helped counter the metagame and forced teams out of their comfort zones. They also like to be creative with their Monk builds. They feel that Monk skillbars are fairly static in the current meta. [dR] ran five or six different Elite Skill combinations on their Monks throughout the Rawr Cup – basically a different combination for each game. [dR] players experienced the "Golden Age" of Guild Wars where there was a lot more variety in team and individual builds, so they prefer to have more build variance when they can.
[dR] pays close attention to skill changes and estimates the impact they will have on the metagame. If they think skills are going to be nerfed before the next mAT, they stop using them in ladder play and daily ATs. Instead they attempt to predict where the metagame will shift, and stay ahead of it as much as possible. They pay close attention to the map rotation for the ATs, make builds that are strong for each map, and practice the a lot. By the time the mAT rolls around, they usually have four or five builds designed and practiced, along with modifications for each designed for specific opponents, based on the map rotation and current metagame. If a build does not work on a particular map, they feel it is worthless and won't practice it further.
Prior to the mAT they post builds on their forums and do practice runs. [dR] engages in lots of strategy and build discussion, and they attempt to get good match-ups to test builds and strategies. Usually they can only really test in daily ATs or in scrimmages in order to get sufficient quality competition. What they find is that top guilds are often more willing to scrimmage before mAT for the same reason.
A new build for [dR] typically takes shape as a basic team build idea, and then individual players fill in the specific player builds. All of [dR]'s players are experts in their roles, so there is considerable individual effort. The players tweak their own skillbars to synergize with the overall concept of the team build. Similarly, [dR] does not have one overall strategy caller in a match, instead since everyone knows their role and how it fits into the overall strategy and they act and play accordingly. Again, the fact that all members have previously led guilds pays dividends. In order for this strategy to be effective, the team must play builds together frequently. Sometimes if they need a quick and dirty proof-of-concept test for a new build, they may use a smurf to play on and get quick matches, but normally they just play on their main guild.
In order to beat [dR] you have to play multiple styles. If you don't threaten with a variety of builds, you won't win. Specific builds don't scare them, but teams that run multiple builds well do. Often teams that they don't know and that run robust builds can beat them. This is because they are not able to create a specific build to face the team and thus must outplay them with skill.
Friends and Rivals
[dR] feels that there are no major rivalries in the game like there were back in the [iQ] vs. Treacherous Empire [Te] or the [iQ] vs. [QQ] days. Most of their current competition comes from European rivals that they are not very familiar with.
Before they recently went inactive, Not Another Reform [NRF] were good friends and regular scrimmage partners for [dR].
Some members of [dR] consider Hawk Smash [ZFQ] a friendly guild and enjoy playing with them, but [dR] doesn't have a regular scrimmage opponent anymore.
[dR] misses Delta Formation [DF], and felt they were the most enjoyable opponent to play against because of their specific play style. When [DF] was still an active guild, they felt there was a triad of top North American teams composed of [DF], [rawr], and [dR], and all three helped define the metagame with their particular style of builds and play.
[dR] has noticed several up-and-coming North American guilds. They feel Profession Athletes [HGH] has come long very well, and I Victory or Death I [VoD] is a good example of a team making a strong effort to improve. [VoD] maintains a core of players, consistently practices and drills, asks for advice, and has a solid group without any real all stars.
[dR] offered some general advice for guilds and players. For guilds, they advise against cycling through players. Instead, they suggest attracting and keeping people who are serious and consistently seek improvement.
For players seeking to get into top-tier play, they suggest going to competitive forums, talking on IRC, getting into top alliances, as well as getting involved in PUG play.
If players improve and talk with others, they will get noticed. They suggest being a leader, and not just a button pusher. There is a lot of politics, so players need to make the right friends. This may mean leaving behind old friends to move up to the more competitive ranks. Most importantly, they think players should not follow the metagame – instead, they should think for themselves.
Many of the players in [dR] intend to be around for Guild Wars 2, but whether or not they do so as a guild depends on their real life situations.
Billiard is a Senior Moderator at GuildWarsGuru.com and TeamQuitter.com, and leader of Team Love [kiSu], a PvP mentoring guild. Billiard can be reached in game as Billiard The Bold, or by private message at www.teamlove.us.