It’s that time of year again, ‘Mech fans! The MechWarrior Online World Championship is just around the corner. The three final teams have crushed all others to become the best three teams in the world, and we sit down with MWO shoutcasters BanditB17 and mdmzero0 to get their take on this year’s tournament.
Sean (Sarna): First, let’s talk about the state of the MWOWC. As we all know, the rules for this year’s tournament are vastly different in that everything is Inner Sphere stock: no customizations allowed. PGI stated that this was to encourage new strategies, new players, and new ‘Mechs to find their way into the finals. Do you think PGI succeeded?
BanditB17: Well, certainly we saw some new ‘Mechs compared to the meta of old. One of the biggest changes–and obviously this is a bit of a forced change based on the rules they picked–is that there are no Clan ‘Mechs at all. It’s all Inner Sphere ‘Mechs–I believe they had sub-3025 as the year?
BanditB17: So we got to see different ‘Mechs than we had before. Now, in terms of variety from match to match, I don’t think that choosing stock-mode necessarily changed anything on that front in terms of having a plethora of options. In fact, I want to say that there was a loss of options with stock mode because you’re working with a lot of variables that you can’t change now.
You have to choose the variant that fits the role you’re trying to fill. You’ve got your front-loaded damage like the Hunchback HBK-4P, which was in every single drop almost. It’s got seven Medium Lasers in the shoulder and just tears things to shreds with that pinpoint, front-loaded damage. You’ve got the Annihilator, which was in a bit fewer matches than the Hunchback, but it was just a beefy powerhouse. You either had the PPC-variant or the AC/10-variant–I think I once saw the LRM-variant. It was used quite often because it’s got great hitboxes, it’s got a ton of armor, and a massive amount of firepower. Its big drawback, of course, is its speed, so in those instances where we didn’t see it in use, it was because they needed to move faster.
There were a lot of ‘Mechs that were almost predefined for these roles. They say, “What do we want to get done? Here’s the standard drop-deck for it,” and maybe one or two ‘Mechs change. Like, we saw some Spiders in one of the lights because they wanted to go more cap-strat, versus say, a Locust or something. So there were a couple little changes, but for the most part, everybody seemed to be taking generally the same things.
mdmzero0: I agree with Bandit there. I think the one thing that was interesting watching for me is you got to see some play time out of ‘Mechs that you haven’t seen in a really long time.
Sean: Or ever!
“The Awesome got a ton of play because it’s packin’ those PPCs.”
mdmzero0: Yeah, the Awesome got a ton of play because it’s packin’ those PPCs–it’s kinda that pinpoint damage that’s hard to find in stock mode. I haven’t gone back and looked at the stats, but personally from me watching, I feel like there was slightly more variety if for nothing else–like Bandit said–not having Clan ‘Mechs, but also the fact that you couldn’t bring duplicate chassis. It’s kind of a new addition to competitive play.
We were seeing the Hunchback HBK-4P, but we also saw the 4J if teams wanted to go a little more of the LRM strategy. You saw Archers in competitive play which is kind of a really crazy thing. The Archers were actually pretty popular because they not only had a lot of LRMs–which we saw pretty decent play time with–but also Medium Lasers that kind of had a nice blend of LRM long-range fire (which was the only longe range fire in the tournament) with the more pinpoint Medium Laser damage.
I think it was kind of interesting. Like Bandit said, you saw these teams say, “This is how we wanna approach this strategy, we kind of want to be more of a pinpoint damage deck versus an LRM, long-range deck, versus a cap deck, or a little bit of both,” and the ‘Mechs were basically slotted into those roles.
But I feel like we saw a little more variety. In previous tournaments we saw basically domination by the strategy of this long-range pinpoint, ER PPC/Gauss trading, ER Large Lasers, it was all Clan ‘Mechs. There were some teams that decided to come out with this kind of pinpoint ‘Mechs, Awesomes, Battlemasters, Banshees, Annihilators, and then there were teams that brought the Stalker which brings some LRMs to the field, Archer ARC-4J, they wanted to go long range but with the spread damage. And you saw Spiders getting play. When’s the last time you saw a two Medium Laser Spider in competitive play? Never! I’ll tell you that.
Sean: That kind of touches into my next question: were there really new strategies employed besides those of previous tournaments where it was always just long-range trading with ER PPCs and Gauss Rifles? Have new strategies found their way into the MWOWC?
BanditB17: I would say there were more options than the previous World Championship. It seemed because of the decreased speed of the ‘Mechs, a bigger emphasis was put on the cap game. So you could still face-on with your main body and try to wipe the other team off the face of the planet then worry about caps afterward, but it’s less of a sure-fire strat like it was in previous years. It takes a lot longer because of the longer time to kill with the lower DPS and the slowness of the ‘Mechs. You don’t just walk in and immediately wipe the other team off the face of the planet.
“I would say there were more options than the previous World Championship.”
So because there’s a lot more knock-down, drag-out fighting going on, you have a longer main body engagement and while that’s going on your lights are off capping. If you put all 8 ‘Mechs into that fight and they only put 6 ‘Mechs in, they can last long enough for those other two ‘Mechs to run around and five-cap you. And because the tickets are tickin’ away, and you’re still in that fight and you’re not getting it finished in time, you end up losing on caps. We saw that happen quite a few times.
I think we found that the team either had to commit to that big brawl and get it done quickly, or they had to just try and survive the main body engagement to try and control a single or two points while the lights did a lot of the work. We saw a lot of light play being the key between winning and losing for a lot of these teams.
mdmzero0: Yeah, I think again Bandit hit it right on the nose–it was all about caps in this tournament. The nuances of strategy really came down to timing. Previously we saw this concept of “map control”, where teams like EON Synergy and EmpyreaL–the best two teams in the game, last year’s top two teams–establish this long-range map control where they just spread out, and eventually they would take away areas of the map where you could hide behind, basically. Instead, we saw a map control where you tried to establish a position which had overwatch over one or two, or hopefully even three cap points, and instead of trying to just literally take away sections of the map, you were trying to maintain your cap point lead.
“Teams were basically telling their main body to just stay alive long enough so that their lights can do their jobs.”
We saw this kind of nuance in strategy where teams were doing different things to try and win the cap game either by having fast mediums–a Phoenix Hawk, something like that–as kind of a roaving wolf pack to try and take out the other lights, or putting that Hunchback HBK-4P–which we talked about as very popular–as a kind of anti-light, just sitting him at a cap point with all those Medium Lasers.
Then it was kind of like the main body was almost an afterthought. It made for a really interesting time trying to even cast the matches. As Bandit said, teams were basically telling their main body to just stay alive long enough so that their lights can do their jobs, or the main body was almost ignoring the other team and just trying to help out with the lights. And the teams that we saw that were very aggressive unless they had the timing down really well and they focused really well, more often than not they didn’t have enough time to take out the enemy team and take out the lights to get the caps flipped.
Really, it was kind of a flip from what we’ve seen in the past in some ways. But it made for some really exciting matches and for some really close matches. We saw some crazy positionings and strategies to kind of take advantage of this concept of your primary focus being the cap game and not the enemy team.
Sean: Certainly, some games were really close and down to the wire, but it can seem a bit anticlimactic for the viewer to see this big, brutal engagement and then watch one team win that firefight but still lose on caps. Do you think there might have been another game mode that would have had a better mix of cap-play and larger, brawling-style engagements?
BanditB17: In that case, we have to be very careful to not allow history to repeat itself. Competitive leagues have survived in MechWarrior Online for a while. They used to play things like Skirmish mode in the past, and it came to light that there needs to be a game mode that forces combat because there’s always going to be that one team that realizes, “Why should we go fight you in this place where we are not in an advantage when we can make you come to us and fight in this corner where we can set up a beautiful firing line?”
“The nice thing about Conquest is that it can force teams to play in positions to control different points.”
The nice thing about Conquest is that it punishes stagnation. If you decide to hide in a corner and wait for the other team to push you, they can simply not push you and then play the cap game and win. You need to have something as an alternate win condition to force combat. The nice thing about Conquest is that it can force teams to play in positions to control different points. We saw that on Grim Plexus where some people would play between Theta and Epsilon, some people would fight over Theta with their main body. Not too much of a variant, but they still had options as to how they wanted to control sections of the map.
Domination game mode works in that same way. Domination, you’re just forced to go to the middle of the map in some way shape or form, and in 8v8 it can get a little bit messy, or more often stale. There’s not a lot strategy involved as much as it is just run to the center and beat up on each other. But you have to have something because we’ve seen many times in the past with Skirmish where the teams would stare each other down in their areas which they know are superior to fight in, and nobody wants to budge. And then matches can take an entire 15 minutes and you’ll have ‘Mechs alive at the end of it.
Sean: Well, MDM, do you have any thoughts on this? Are there any changes or perhaps different game modes that might add a little more variety?
Sean & mdmzero0: laughing
BanditB17: Just kidding, just kidding.
mdmzero0: No, please no.
I honestly think Conquest is the best competitive game mode for the reasons that Bandit described. It’s the ability to force teams to engage because there’s an alternate method of victory for being passive, but at the same time, unlike Domination or even, gosh forbid, Escort, there’s not one singular passive objective. The cap points are passive objectives, they’re not fighting the enemy team unless you’re fighting over the cap points, but there are multiple points which allow for different strategies: playing different sides of the map, playing different areas, etc. Having a singular point really isn’t it.
“Stock ‘Mechs move SLOWLY–much more slowly than people are used to with the optimal builds and so on–and that changes all of your timing.”
I honestly think the biggest change in gameplay that we saw more than anything else, in my opinion, was the mobility of these ‘Mechs. One of the things that I’m sure any veteran of MWO is familiar with, you get a new ‘Mech and basically the first thing you wanna do is put a bigger engine in it. Stock ‘Mechs move SLOWLY–much more slowly than people are used to with the optimal builds and so on–and that changes all of your timing. If you are used to playing a competitive match on Conquest and you eliminate the main body of the enemy team, there’s a point of no return based on how many caps are yours, how many caps are the enemy team’s, and how many tickets are left–that point of no return changes if you simply can’t get to the cap point as quickly as you used to. I think that made a big difference.
The other thing that makes a difference is there’s a little less firepower on the field just because the ‘Mechs are not necessarily optimized. They’re all lore builds, and if there’s one thing everyone knows about lore builds is that these ‘Mechs are designed to fight at every range known to man. They have one of each weapon system because that’s the most all-purpose build you can do. Obviously in MechWarrior Online, as with almost every competitive game out there, specialization is better than being an all-purpose build. So between the combination of not having the mobility and not having the firepower, it slows everything down so much that suddenly these conquest points become such a big deal.
But I really don’t know if there’s a good solution in terms of game-mode for that.
Sean: Well, the other thing that PGI wanted was new players, and I see heading to the finals are two familiar faces–EON Synergy (EON) and EmpyreaL (EmP)–but we have one new team to make it to the finals: The First Jaguar Guards (JGx). I know they’re a pretty big name in the MRBC but were typically eliminated before reaching this stage of the World Championship. How did JGx become one of the best teams in the game?
“JGx just figured it out.”
BanditB17: Practice. That’s all I can think of. They were in the semi-finals last year and I believe they got knocked out early on, I’d have to go look at the bracket again, but one year later they seem to have put together a pretty solid team. I know there are a lot of familiar faces on that team, but maybe it was because they were able to figure out the intricacies of stock mode better than the other teams, or maybe they just really put their head in the grindstone and figured it out.
It’s hard to say that the other teams came down to their level because teams like EON Synergy have basically the same exact roster as last year. They didn’t lose skill level or anything like that. Even Blackwatch had the same players as last year. I wouldn’t even consider that as being a factor. JGx just figured it out.
Sean: MDM, do you have anything to add?
mdmzero0: I do wanna say though that JGx–like you pointed out–not an unfamiliar face in the competitive scene. I think the thing that’s held them back is not necessarily talent so much as, in some ways, chemistry. It’s well known that there have been some roster issues in the past with JGx and related teams. That being said, it was one of the big upsets in the tournament when JGx beat EmpyreaL, the two-time defending world champions, to get into that top three.
“It was one of the big upsets in the tournament when JGx beat EmpyreaL, the two-time defending world champions, to get into that top three.”
They really felt like they had a better grasp on the intricacies of stock play in that they had their lights moving around the edges of the map taking control of cap points, wound up losing the main body engagement to EmpyreaL, but held on long enough and captured enough tickets and enough cap points that EmpyreaL couldn’t take those points back and swing the match in their favor. Which is a very viable strategy in this tournament and we’ve seen it time and time again.
That’s almost surprising to see because if there’s one thing that folks know, it’s that EmpyreaL has intelligent leadership. Celyth and its other members typically are very very good at drop calling and getting the right strats, so they were in some ways almost beaten at their own game in having a better strategy than what EmpyreaL was bringing.
That was really impressive to see out of JGx. It’s not something I necessarily expected to see–EmpyreaL getting out-stratted basically–but it worked for them. And I don’t think there’s any question in my mind that they absolutely belong in the top three.
Sean: Let’s talk about EmpyreaL for a bit. They were winners in 2016, winners in 2017, I vaguely recall them saying they weren’t going to be in the tournament this year, but here we are again EmP being in the top three. However, they lost this time–I actually did catch the match between EmpyreaL and JGx, and it was kind of a definitive victory for JGx. I never thought at any point that EmP had the game in the bag–as you said, they always won the main engagement but always lost on caps.
Do you think that EmP is still the shoo-in team for this year’s tournament or do they have to step it up to win?
“[EmpyreaL] were missing a lot of very familiar faces and a lot of powerhouses in MechWarrior Online competitive play.”
BanditB17: Well, out of all the top 3 teams–even the top 6 teams–I think EmpyreaL had the biggest roster turnover of all the other teams. EON was completely consistent, Black Watch was very consistent, but EmpyreaL only had 4 members on their roster that were on the team last year. So them saying that they weren’t going to participate again this year is kind of a half-truth.
We saw Celyth, the leader of the team, he was there, and he was playing a vastly different role than I think we’ve ever seen him before. We saw him in a light ‘Mech a lot, but we were missing a lot of very familiar faces and a lot of powerhouses in MechWarrior Online competitive play: Heimdelight, Twinky Overlord, prtN_spz, to name a few, those guys are unbelievably good pilots, and they were not in there this year.
Watch MWOWC 2018 Semi Finals – ISENGRIM vs EmpyreaL from PiranhaGames on www.twitch.tv
EmpyreaL still has the stigma of being able to absorb talent from other teams. For people who move up through the ranks in competitive play, the really good players end up in EmpyreaL. They’ve made a name for themselves. That’s kind of the big leagues for a lot of players, where they want to play for a very established team with a lot of history.
They still have a lot of very talented pilots–I don’t want to take that away from them. But bottom line, you got essentially a year to prepare after you had such a strong, consistent team in the past. Now you’ve got all these new players–even though they are very skilled players–and getting them to play with each other and know how each other work and be able to trust each other… To get that chemistry takes time. And I think we saw a little bit of that in the qualifiers–I know Isengrim took a game off them in the qualifiers–and that was kind of a wake-up call, I think
They were able to come back and become a top-three team again but it almost feels like because of the vastly different roster they seem a little bit more human than before.
Sean: That’s a good way to put it. MDM, anything to add?
mdmzero0: I mean, to me the team to beat in this year’s tournament is EON Synergy. I think–with what Bandit said–the roster turnover on EmpyreaL… They absorb good players, but they lost some of the best players in the game. Last year, the duo of prtN and Twinky Overlord basically holding down their assault ‘Mech positions for two years in a row–they were just unstoppable.
“Celyth, basically the team leader playing in a light… That’s hard to do!”
I feel like with the roster turnover, some of the uncertainty in Celyth, basically the team leader playing in a light… That’s hard to do! I think a lot of people who don’t play competitive don’t realize just how hard it is to drop call, period. When you’re playing in a light and you’re out of the main body engagement and you’re relying on communication from your team members to help fill you in on what’s going on, and you’re also just trying to pilot the fastest ‘Mechs in the game, it becomes that much harder.
I don’t know if that’s a necessity of the players that they have available, but I think it’s a weakness in the team–for whatever a weakness in the two-time defending champions is worth. But I think looking at the rosters, the fact that EON Synergy basically is bringing back the exact same roster from last year, and some people forget this: they came very close to beating EmpyreaL last year in the finals. They took ‘em to a second round–
mdmzero0: Yeah, they took them to overtime. They won the first matchup with EmpyreaL, took ‘em to overtime basically, before losing in the finals. You take that with the fact that it’s the exact same team coming back, they’ve had another year, the fact that EmpyreaL is showing a few cracks in the armor, and JGx is sort of a newer, unknown quantity at this level, I think you have to give it to EON Synergy.
Bandit: I tell ya what though, I am extremely excited to see how this turns out. I’m just predicting that this is gonna be the closest finals between three teams that we’ve ever seen before.
Sean: Are you going to throw out a prediction? MDM is calling for EON Synergy, what about you?
“I have a feeling though that when those World Championships start up we’re going to see everybody playing at 110%.”
BanditB17: Well, I do think EON is kind of the team to beat. I know EmP is the team that everyone wants to beat since they are two-time champions, but EON was looking flawless throughout the entire semi-finals. I saw nothing wrong with any of their gameplay. It looks like they’ve been doing this before and they haven’t forgotten anything. I do think EON has not shown weakness yet–it might still come out in the world championship, but… I am also excited to see what JGx can bring to it, though, because they were playing very clean themselves. And I don’t think we’ve seen enough of them to really be able to gauge them.
I have a feeling though that when those World Championships start up we’re going to see everybody playing at 110%. We don’t have any latency issues to worry about when you’re on LAN, so it all really comes down to who adapts the best, who shoots better, who comes up with the best strats, all that stuff that makes competitive MechWarrior Online so interesting.
With second-place veterans playing in top form, reigning champions who seem to be slipping, and a complete wildcard, this year’s MechWarrior Online World Finals are sure to be the most exciting ‘Mech action this side of Solaris. Be sure to tune in for the finals at this year’s Mech_Con starting December 1st over on Twitch.
And of course, a huge thanks to BanditB17 and mdmzero0 for their insight on this year’s tournament. Our intrepid casters will be at Mech_Con to bring that insight to the World Finals.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.