State of the Game—January 3, 2007
GvG Ladder: The Old and the New
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.
GvG Ladder Overhaul
We know that the entire GvG ladder system will soon undergo an overhaul, making it more streamlined and reducing the importance of free play. The ladder is shifting to more of an historical record of a guild's strength and performance over time, rather than brief periods of wildly spiking rank. While guilds will still earn ELO points from matches during free play, these points will not be weighted as much as those earned during daily qualifying tournaments and the monthly and annual championships. Consequently, some of the old methods of climbing the ladder may not work as well, while other methods will continue to have relevance.
When trying to improve your skill I think you should first look at where you (or your guild) are currently and decide, based on your past performance, where you should be. Are you a highly competitive team with winning potential? Or are you just having fun? Do you have knowledge and skill but can't seem to crack the top 100? Do you want to qualify for tournaments and someday go to an annual championship? Answering questions like these will help you set goals for your group.
If your guild is a group of friends who play well together, but like to try fun builds, you may need to take your builds more seriously if you want to climb the GvG ladder. Or maybe you have strong winning potential but you change builds so often you can't get into a comfortable groove. Improving in Guild Wars takes work and dedication, and honestly evaluating your goals can help motivate your team to attain a better rank.
Your next goal should be to play more games. A lot of the guilds below the top 100 could be in the top if they played more games, and setting this goal will help improve your experience. Plus, the more games you play, the less that your wins and losses weigh on your rank. By playing enough games you can even out and, hopefully, end up with a higher rank than before.
GvG Ladder Mechanics
It's always important to know how the ladder mechanics work during the season. The prior ladder rewarded playing as many games as possible. Guilds that realized this were able to use that knowledge to help them break into the top 100. Guilds at the top often got there by sheer number of games played. Some guilds in the top 100 ended a season with over 100 losses. But they had over 200 wins! This meant that if you were playing as much as you could, you not only improved your skills and gained valuable experience, but you also moved up the ladder because you played more than the guilds behind you.
But all of that will change. This ladder reset is the final one—it will never happen again. As time progresses, forming a new guild and playing as many matches as possible won't be enough to climb the ladder by leaps and bounds. However, any new guild can still earn qualifying points during daily tournaments to play in monthly tournaments. The wins during free play will help you earn qualifying points as well, but not nearly as much as the daily tournaments. These tournaments will also affect the ELO rating of a guild much more than matches during free play.
Top teams have admitted to playing certain types of builds to "farm" rating or faction (farming refers to repetitive play to accrue some reward). In the weeks following Nightfall's release, overwhelm-style builds like Searing Flames were exactly this type. Teams played a one-sided build simply because it won more games than it lost. The goal was to enter as many games as possible, win if you could, and resign or die quickly if you were going to lose so you could play more games.
This style of play teams also allowed guilds to gain experience playing builds they weren't normally used to playing. However, they had to expect losses playing these unfamiliar styles. Top teams can often out-strategize a weaker team even while using a one-sided build. So just because the rank 4 guild used a specific build didn't mean you would get rank 4 by copying them.
In the new system, farming the ladder won't help very much, so expect to see guilds placed on the ladder more accurately to their level of skill and with less correlation to their extent of farming.
Build consistency is another aspect that might not be as well understood as some would think.
Changing builds every new match is a sure way to rack up more losses than wins. There is a lot to be said for consistency in a build. Run what works for your team, even if someone beats you from time to time. This paid off in the past by gaining wins with that build over time and climbing the ladder, and it can still work in the new system. Instead of playing a build simply for the sake of farming the ladder, teams can now practice the build during free play to get ready for tournaments.
What this means is that teams should not panic when they lose a match to a build they didn't have a counter for. There are so many skills in the game, it's impossible to design an efficient, balanced build that accounts for every major skill out there. Over-thinking counters is something a lot of players tend to do, and they too often change builds constantly because of it. For example, if you build some Hex removal into your build - say your monk has Holy Veil and a Mesmer has Inspired Hex - it is still possible to lose to a Hex overload build. If the enemy brings 15 Hexes on their build you won't be able to remove them all the time.
This is where strategy comes in; specifically this is where you can learn new strategies to counter a build you weren't prepared for. If you split against that Hex team then perhaps their Hexes won't be as concentrated, their pressure will slacken, and you can try to gain an advantage. What will not help is losing the game and then changing your build to add five new Hex removal skills. The chances of running into another Hex-happy build are slim, unless of course that's the current popular build in the metagame.
Bringing counters to skills prevalent in the metagame is helpful, but what I'm saying here is that you can't counter everything with skill choice alone. You might need innovative strategies to counter certain builds or even take the loss and move on to the next game. There is always another day and another guild to fight. Consistency allows your players to better learn the build you are playing and get more creative with strategy. Switching between builds deters players from refining the ability to play a certain build, because they have to reset their thinking as they adapt to the skills and dynamics of the new build.
One last note on keeping builds consistent: it allows people to save templates and load up characters very quickly. This gets you playing much faster when it comes time to getting a group together. That can go a long way in your climb to the top and heighten your chances of placing higher in tournaments!
Scheduling and Observer Mode
Lastly, let me reiterate points discussed in the past: out-of-game scheduling and Observer Mode.
Simply put, if you want to improve, you need to play more. If you play more you will probably lose a few more games. If you lose a few more games, especially in qualifying tournaments, then you have to win to compensate for the losses. And in order to win you have to play. It's a somewhat obvious circle that, nonetheless, people don't always immediately grasp. Once you have your team and are dedicated to moving up the ladder and playing in tournaments, you should design a schedule to play as much as possible.
This is much easier when you have a way to keep in touch with people outside the game. IRC, Messengers, email, forums, websites, voice chat—all these things can help make a better team. This doesn't mean you have to go all out and make Web pages with wiki-style forums for your members. But having a way to keep in touch with the members of your guild outside the game translates into more games played, more wins, more experience, and more fun.
And lastly use Observer Mode to your advantage. Watch those close wins and pay attention to the hard-fought losses. See what other teams are using to counter your strategies. Watch how effective (or ineffective) your own strategies are. Talk with your team about what you can do to improve. But remember that each of those observed matches is an individual case. What you saw in that last match might change completely in your next one. So try to build up your wealth of knowledge about the game in general, specific skills, the metagame, the ladder, and the tournament system.
Guild Wars is always changing, and very soon the ladder system will change. Even though it paid to play as many games as possible in the past, this type of farming will become obsolete, and it will become more important to learn from each match in preparation for automated tournaments. Doing Guild Battles as often as possible during free play will certainly strengthen your experience and limit your chances of running into unfamiliar situations, but its relevance to climbing the ladder will lessen. In the past it's been a hard climb up that ladder, but dedication and practice always made it easier. In the new tournament system, this dedication and practice will remain the keystone to accomplishing a New Year's goal of being a top 100 guild!
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. You can find him in game under the name Saidin Writer.