Now that the MechWarrior Online World Championships are over, it’s time to both look back at the tournament to see what worked really well, and also to look ahead to see what could be improved for next year. And I can think of no two people more qualified to speak to that subject than the two guys who have seen more of the tournament than anyone else, Ben “BanditB17” and Mike “mdmzero0”, the shoutcasters for the World Championship.
We sat down to chat about their thoughts on the most recent World Championship, the teams, and how things could be better for next time.
Sean (Sarna): Let’s start off pretty simple. For each team, what do you think were their strengths, and what could they have improved on?
Let’s start with the 228th Black Watch. Whaddya think was there core strengths during the tournament?
mdmzero0: Well the interesting part of this answer for me is that it’s kind of a tale of two events. During the semi-finals, 228th was the team that struck me as the most innovative in drop calling and strategy. I honestly think this was out of necessity because when comparing team performance from a purely statistical standpoint (average kills, damage, match score, etc.) 228th did not stack up against EON or EmpyreaL. We saw them try some new strategies and drop decks in the finals that they hadn’t played before, but it was pretty obvious it didn’t work as they expected. So what struck me in the semi-finals as their biggest strength was their biggest weakness in the finals.
Sean: Very interesting. Your thoughts, Bandit?
BanditB17: The first thing that jumps to my mind in the finals is they seemingly had a serious case of tunnel vision. When things aren’t working for you, you have 2 options: you can try to either refine your original plan and execute better, or you can try something different. They kept trying the same decks and strats and it simply wasn’t working out for them as well as I am sure they would have hoped.
I agree though; 228th really seemed to hit us with the “wow” factor on the aggression and strategy in the semis. When we saw similar strategies used in the finals that then resulted in 8-0 decisions, I started to get concerned for them. My hope was in round three they would come out with something completely new and exciting – and they did manage to pull out a win in drop one.
“Strap yourselves in, here we go, the 228th we’ve been waiting for,” and then, unfortunately, the Executioners stuck to their deck and in my mind contributed to their losses on Polar Highlands.
There were of course other factors, they built their deck around closing speed and then failed to close as a group in the first drop and then the second Polar drop they spread out, but then still brought their speed deck instead of a proper trade deck.
Sean: So also maybe lacking in some of the more fundamentals of strategy with 228th?
BanditB17: I would take Battlemasters over Executioners on Polar any day if it came to a standoff.
mdmzero0: It made me wonder if the stage was a bit too big for them. It felt like they were second-guessing themselves, bringing an aggressive deck but then getting bogged down into a trading game.
“To me, EON is a great trading team. From top to bottom, they trade very well.”
BanditB17: Seeing them play year after year, I know they are capable of it. They know the fundamentals – execution just wasn’t there Saturday for some reason.
I really think 228th was just beating themselves. Nothing against EON, they played fantastic, but at this level, on this stage, you can’t be making mistakes.
Sean: Well put. Alright, let’s move on to EON Synergy. What do you think was their greatest strengths and weaknesses in the tournament?
BanditB17: Props to EON for playing more matches than any team in the finals. They certainly had to have some pretty solid endurance to make it 5 entire matches.
Sean: For sure. They looked so tired Saturday night.
mdmzero0: To me, EON is a great trading team. From top to bottom, they trade very well. Da Red Goes DA FASTA is a superb Wolfhound pilot, and he has the ability to peek corners and harass with that ‘Mech as well as anyone in the game. Where they struggle, as we saw against 228th in the semi-finals, is in reacting to a non-trading strategy. That being said, I really felt like they took their game to another level in the finals. That may have been the best we’ve ever seen EON play.
Sean: They very nearly pulled off the upset on EmpyreaL.
“[EmP]’s ability to rotate damaged – but not crippled – ‘Mechs out of the front line and spread the damage they’re taking across every single ‘Mech is phenomenal.”
BanditB17: Several times it seemed like EON was out trading EmP, stacking damage in their favor. EmP did a really good job realizing they weren’t winning the numbers game and made a move that ended up swinging things in their favor. If EON had a slightly better response for EmP‘s forced aggression they very well might have taken the tournament.
The Mist Lynx charge worked once, then EON adapted and it failed the second time around. Seemed like EmP had more innovation and EON was always just one step behind reacting to what they just encountered the match prior.
mdmzero0: EmP also shares damage better than any team in the game, period. Their ability to rotate damaged – but not crippled – ‘Mechs out of the front line and spread the damage they’re taking across every single ‘Mech is phenomenal. So out-trading them may not be enough to win, unless you really take it to them.
Sean: That may answer the next question then. The world champs proved they’re not invincible at this year’s tournament. EmpyreaL does a lot of things well, but what do they do best, and what could the improve on?
mdmzero0: To me, EmP does all of the little things (one may say little details, even) better than any other team.
Sean: What would be the little things for those who might need an explanation?
BanditB17: Aim, first and foremost – their accuracy is insane – all of the fundamentals like you mentioned earlier. While most teams have to be really good at the fundamentals, EmP is unmatched in their expertise. They really have gathered the best talent in the game under one banner. Their scouting is phenomenal, their light play in general…
mdmzero0: They spread damage better (as I just mentioned) than anyone in the game. That means as ‘Mechs take heavy fire and components are opened up, they back behind cover while their teammates simultaneously engage the enemy to draw their attention. This spreads their armor across all eight ‘Mechs on the team, and the little bit longer those ‘Mechs stay alive, the more damage they’re doing. But we saw it all throughout the finals, really, with the simple fundamentals like Nova protecting his one remaining leg in an Arctic Cheetah by constantly turning to keep the destroyed leg facing his opponents. Or times like Proton using his Dragon with the right arm constantly aimed as far left as possible to protect it throughout an entire engagement.
It’s the little things that high-level competitive players know to do, but EmP does it constantly. Add to the fact that they’re just flat out some of the best players in the game at aiming and positioning their ‘Mechs, and it’s easy to see how they’re the best team in the game.
BanditB17: It’s more than just hiding, of course. They are still putting out numbers while they are damaged. If you want the killing blow on them though, you have to expose yourself to 2 of their teammates to get it, which typically costs you.
mdmzero0: Exactly. It’s the coordination that comes through hours and hours of practice together. Make no mistake, EmP is very, very good, but they also practice a ton.
“Considering EmP‘s grueling practice schedule, I have a feeling playing 3 rounds over a 12-hour stretch was probably second nature to them.”
BanditB17: I am pretty sure Proton never once lost his gun arm. Any time he died, he lost a key torso and had his weapons intact.
EmP was generally flawless in the semis though. It was nice to see they are, in fact, human.
But just like how they are the best at what they do on the battlefield, they are also fantastic at rallying after the loss of a round.
Sean: So they’ve got that same endurance to come back as EON has?
BanditB17: Considering EmP‘s grueling practice schedule, I have a feeling playing 3 rounds over a 12-hour stretch was probably second nature to them.
Sean: Fair enough. So EmP does a lot of things really well, but where could they improve?
BanditB17: Now you are asking the tough questions, ha! How do you criticize the best team in MechWarrior Online history…
They had a little bit of the same issue 228th had in the round they lost. What they were doing wasn’t working for them, and instead of going back to what worked before or changing things up they just tried to do it BETTER. Tunnel vision, perhaps a “this worked in practice, it should work here” mentality. I know I’ve caught myself saying, “If we just execute according to plan, this plan would actually work.”
Sean: “If only the plan worked, then the plan would work!”
BanditB17: If only there were 8 Bandit’s on the field, we wouldn’t even make it out of the MechLab
mdmzero0: That is a tough question. I’m sure if you talk to the players they’ll point out shots that they missed, or cover they didn’t use as effectively as they wanted. But from our perspective, I think the only thing I could criticize would be some of the repeatability. As they played EON in the finals over and over, they often returned to the same trading positions. For example, bows3r repeatedly parked a Warhawk in an overwatch position of sector D7 on Tourmaline Desert. As Bandit said, it was more of a “just trade better” than “find a better spot”. That definitely adds some risk, and in some of the matches, I felt it may have cost them.
Sean: Predictability then?
mdmzero0: Yes, but even that’s tough to criticize because if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
Sean: Very good point.
BanditB17: In the past, predictability didn’t really cost them because their positions were so strong and supported each other so well. It took months, but MAYBE people started to find flaws in some of those key positions. They were playing a very reactionary game. Same strat every time because they relied on their scouting to dictate their next move.
Sean: Adaptability is key to victory, as they say.
Alright, let’s talk about the tournament more generally. What surprised you? In terms of ‘Mech choices, tactics, anything at all. I know I was personally surprised to see Proton in a Dragon.
mdmzero0: The Dragon was a surprise, but so was the Commando that EmP brought a few times. It really only worked for them in Polar in a capture strat, due to how darn fast those things are, but compared to the other lights brought (Mist Lynx, Arctic Cheetah, and Wolfhound) it’s a bit lacking in firepower.
BanditB17: The Executioner was a surprise for me. I really thought Panicbutton was doing well in the Supernova but they switched him into an Executioner for the entirety of the finals.
They must have seen something in scrimmages that lead to that, but it’s really hard to deny the power of the Supernova at least in this particular tournament build.
mdmzero0: Honestly, as much as I dislike criticizing the teams as I feel they were all very deserving of making the top three, the lack of aggression from 228th Black Watch was surprising. If for no other reason then they brought a more aggressive deck than in previous games, and repeatedly in the finals started with an aggressive movement, but it felt like they constantly bogged down rather than pursuing that aggression.
“I look forward to hearing some of the feedback on the tournament structure from all the teams that participated as well as the fans.”
Sean: I got that feeling too.
BanditB17: 228th won the match that they actually were extremely aggressive in, too:
drop one of round three.
Sean: They seemed to have a good, aggressive push, and then EON or EmpyreaL faded around it and 228th just never had any follow up.
BanditB17: They forced EON back onto a stage where Krizzman was waiting in the spire.
Edmeister in the Mist Lynx was fresh enough to basically eliminate the remaining EON ‘Mechs on his own with those machine guns, practically.
Sean: Very true. And now my final question, how can the MechWarrior Online World Championship improve?
BanditB17: Well, I look forward to hearing some of the feedback on the tournament structure from all the teams that participated as well as the fans. Already seeing a lot of stuff I agree with.
Not surprisingly we saw a lot of Tourmaline Desert and Canyon Network. As casters – and I am sure the fans as well – we want to see more maps in play. The teams were given the ability to ban, but it seems like most teams wanted to play the same maps.
The qualifiers could also use some love, in my opinion. I am glad they found a way to make a WORLD tournament actually include online cross-region play to get the top three teams in the world to the finals. I don’t want to go back to the regional finals system dictating who gets on the plane. But it seemed tough to get teams to actually drop in queue to get in their qualifying matches.
I didn’t mind having a scheduled qualifier, it just can’t involve 80 matches. There has to be a better way, like a group based round robin or swiss pairing. It doesn’t need to be extremely accurate, just enough to seed a semifinals bracket
“This year and last year’s qualifiers felt like the opposite end of two extremes: 2016 was overly scheduled, 2017 was not scheduled enough.”
mdmzero0: I have to agree with what Bandit and others are saying. Seeing new maps (preferably by letting teams only compete on each map one time) would be ideal. I actually don’t mind the 2/2/2/2 weight class restrictions, but I think new maps would dictate some drop deck changes, and we already saw some new and exciting ‘Mechs in the finals as well. Besides, by having a very open set of drop deck restrictions (such as the 2/2/2/2 rule), I believe it indicates the state of balance in MWO and hopefully can be considered in future balance paces.
Sean: I certainly agree with the map thing. We need to force teams out of their comfort zones to see them play on HPG Manifold or Mining Collective.
BanditB17: Forcing new maps would be interesting because it really tests a teams ability to adapt. They will have to spend more time on every map instead of perfecting their strategy on one or two.
mdmzero0: Yeah, I agree with Bandit. This year and last year’s qualifiers felt like the opposite end of two extremes: 2016 was overly scheduled, with far too many matches that caused difficulties for teams to participate. 2017 was not scheduled enough, where there were teams struggling to find matches and other teams that could actively avoid participating in matches versus certain teams.
It’s my hope we can meet somewhere in the middle for 2018.
BanditB17: Having more balanced competitive maps to choose from would definitely be a plus. I am excited to see how Rubellite Oasis and Solaris 7 are received by the competitive scene before next year, but PGI revisiting some of the less balanced maps will be a plus.
The favorite maps are chosen typically because they are considered the most balanced and dynamic in the game. I’d like to see more maps added to that mindset
Sean: Let’s make sure PGI hears that message loud and clear from the competitive scene.
BanditB17: From my conversations with the Devs, they seem very open to receiving feedback.
I am excited to help provide that feedback in a constructive manner. I’m not trying to #SaveMWO. I just want MWO to be the best it can be.
mdmzero0: Yeah, I’m optimistic about the future of MWOWC too, I just hope they can continue to gain support and make it even better next year.
Thanks so much to Ben and Mike for agreeing to sit down with Sarna and discuss the latest MechWarrior Online World Championship, and here’s to an even more thrilling tournament in 2018!
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.