Welcome to Community Outreach, where we here at Sarna reach out to learn more about other BattleTech communities and the people that shape them. This week we interview Doyle, the founder of the Mercenary Review and Bonding Commission (MRBC) league for MechWarrior Online. Enjoy!
Sean (Sarna): So, to start off, how about we begin with “who are you?” Briefly introduce yourself.
Doyle: I’m Matt Doyle. I’ve been playing MechWarrior pretty much since the start, competitively since the start. I’ve been involved in top-level European competitive teams since very, very early on. Ex-SJR [ed. Steel Jaguar], we broke away to form our own unit, which its current iteration is 9th Sanguine Tigers, and of course, I’m the founder of MRBC League.
Sean: What is the MRBC?
Doyle: Well, I would say it’s the most accessible and biggest, player-run competition these days in MechWarrior Online. We’ve been around a long time, so I guess we’re now the longest running as well. And yeah, it works as a league, hence the name MRBC League. It’s accessible to teams of all levels from the very bottom right to the very top. You can always enter at the bottom division and have fun, just as you can be a top-level team fighting it out for the title of Division A as well.
You can always enter at the bottom division and have fun, just as you can be a top-level team fighting it out for the title of Division A as well.
I’d say it’s major appeal is accessibility. We set out to basically try to do things bigger and better than everybody else out there when we started. There wasn’t really a whole lot of choice in the comp scene at the period of time when we decided to set this up, and it’s been going from strength to strength ever since. We’ve been breaking our own record for number of signups season after season. Last season’s record was 75 teams signed up, which we were very, very pleased with. We’ll see if we can beat it for Season Nine, but it’s a big hill to climb.
Sean: When did you start the MRBC?
Doyle: Our first season was probably February of 2014, something around then. But, obviously, we started work on it in 2013. Kind of end of 2013 because it took some time to come up with exactly what the rules would be, the website itself, how we would do things, how it would all work. That took some time, and originally, at the very beginning, it was just pretty much myself, Frost Pendragon (who still plays for SJR, he’s part of the North American side of SJR) and my girlfriend Michelle who did all the coding for the site. So, originally it was just us with a few helpful inputs here and there from other members of what was then SJR-EU, who we kind of conferred with over what our ideas would be. Then we took it from there and I’ve run it ever since with various people helping along the way.
Sean: What made you want to start the MRBC?
Doyle: So everyone at the time knew Run Hot or Die. That was the league. That was what we did, and aside from that, there were one of two other little things that ran. One of which was Last ‘Mech Standing, and we used to play that and Run Hot or Die. And then Last ‘Mech Standing died, and it was just RHOD. And at that point, we kind of looked around and went, “Well, what else can we do here? We don’t just want to play RHOD and nothing else.” The Magician – who’s the guy behind RHOD who’s also leader of SJR, the unit I was in at the time – great guy, great league, great thing that he did there to get things started, but I looked at that and the website, and I thought, “You know, we can improve on this. We can make this more professional, more accessible.”
You know, we could do this better. We could show people how it’s done.
I’d seen the problems RHOD had had with new teams. They would come in, they’d have to play against all the big boys as well as the smaller teams. They’d get horribly, horribly beaten, and then a fair number of them would never come back again having had no fun. And I thought, “You know, this isn’t good. We want the scene to grow not flounder and shrink or just maintain, a handful of top units and then there’s everybody else who doesn’t have any fun.”
And I just thought, “You know, we could do this better. We could show people how it’s done.” It sounds quite arrogant to say, but nothing great ever comes from setting out to fail, you know? And I think that’s really helped the MechWarrior Online comp scene to thrive rather than struggle, because we’ve allowed the smaller teams to have fun, the lower skilled teams to enjoy themselves and feel like they can win something without just going up against the best teams in the world and getting schooled and then saying, “Well, sod this! Why are we bothering?”
Sean: How did you come up with the rules for the MRBC? Because they are kinda different from a lot of other leagues in general, not just for MechWarrior but for other online competitive gaming.
Doyle: Well, it was kind of a collaboration, but at the very core of that collaboration was Frost Pendragon. When I asked around everyone in the unit, I was like, “You know, I wanna do this. Who wants to help me with it?” Frost was just immediately very enthusiastic, and he even originally set up an engine website. We ended up immediately scrapping the website that he’d spent a bit of time working on, bless him, which felt a bit bad, but I think it was worth it in the long run.
But as far as the rules go, he got really excited about that as well, and he was drafting up all sorts of ideas, and we kind of took other ideas from, as I said, other members of the SJR-EU team at the time. People like Haree78, who was the leader of SJR-EU team at the time, put forward ideas. But Frost kinda came up with what is still now the core, which is the drop decks that we use. So, we have five drops, and each one of those drops has a slightly different drop deck, and it progresses from very light to much heavier in terms of the weight of the ‘Mechs as you go through the five drops. And that core idea pretty much came from him. What I did was…I call myself a ‘shit-filter’, basically. I kind of sat there and filtered out which ideas I thought would work or be practical and which I thought wouldn’t. And I’ve done that ever since.
Sean: When did you get into BattleTech?
BattleTech just kinda passed me by up until the MechWarrior computer games started coming out.
Doyle: Well, I was never a BattleTech player. I used to be into tabletop stuff when I was younger, but BattleTech just kinda passed me by up until the MechWarrior computer games started coming out. And I can’t remember which title it was, but I remember years ago when I was in high school, one of my friends had a MechWarrior game. I remember being around his place and watching him play that. I thought, “Oh, that’s pretty cool. Big stompy ‘Mechs shooting each other.” Of course, the graphics back then were horrendous, but the game itself was pretty interesting. And then it was only when I was at university, pretty much, that I had some friends that were quite into MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries. You remember that title?
Sean: Oh yeah. Played that one a lot.
Doyle: I think definitely one, maybe two of my friends played competitively at some point on that game, but I never did. I just played it for fun. And then when MechWarrior Online came out, I’d been playing World of Tanks at the time and as soon as I heard MechWarrior Online was coming I was like, “Right, World of Tanks is getting dropped the second I can play this game.” That’s exactly what I did, and I’ve never looked back.
Sean: Now the all-important question: what’s your favorite ‘Mech?
Doyle: Oh, that’s a difficult question. I’ve got over 300 ‘Mechs, I mean you’re not asking something easy here! Yeah, I’m pretty much what would be described as a ‘whale’. But yeah, out of those ‘Mechs… oh god it’s really hard. I mean, my first ‘Mech that I really got to love was the Cataphract CTF-3D, and again that was because back in the jump-sniping days that was like the king of the heavy jump-snipers. These days it’s completely rubbish. Nobody uses it now! These days I more prefer, like, a Night Gyr or a Timber Wolf. I mean, they’re both pretty flexible, pretty decent ‘Mechs for what they do. My preference is definitely the heavy category, though. Not so much assaults, not so much lights, but heavies and mediums I quite enjoy.
Sean: Besides MechWarrior Online, what other parts of BattleTech do you get into?
What I love the most is actually playing it in a computer game and blowing stuff up, you know?
Doyle: Oh, I watched the old cartoon. I’ve seen all of those. I even rewatched that not so long ago, embarrassingly. But no, I never got into the novels, and I never played the tabletop. I have preordered the Harebrained Schemes turn-based game that they’re working on for BattleTech. Very much looking forward to trying that. And I do love the whole idea of the lore and the universe and the ‘Mechs and all of that, but what I love the most is actually playing it in a computer game and blowing stuff up, you know? That’s the biggest amount of fun for me.
Sean: How has the MRBC collaborated with other content producers, like Piranha Games?
Doyle: So, in terms of that, we did quite a few seasons initially where we had very little contact with PGI. I mean, we tried, we tried, but we didn’t get very far with them, and then I think around Season Four, maybe? There was kind of a change happening in PGI. They suddenly started taking more of an interest in the competitive scene, and they’ve been providing prizes for us for several seasons now, which we’re very grateful for. From my point of view, I think a competitive scene that’s healthy and thriving helps the game to be healthy and thriving. Helps the games get extra advertising and extra visibility to the public. So I think the existence of a comp scene is useful to PGI, and I think they now realize that themselves. Obviously, last year they put on the first of their own tournaments, which was a big deal.
Sean: Yeah, long overdue.
Doyle: Yeah. It was a big deal with a big prize. They didn’t do everything exactly how I would’ve, but they got through it, and I think they learned their lessons and they’re gonna have another crack with number two coming, I believe, this year. But, yeah, I mean, the person I deal with the most who’s connected with PGI is Bombadil, or Daeron. He’s amazing. Very easy to get hold of, to talk to, to work with. And, I don’t know, I sometimes think without him there wouldn’t be quite the support that we get, because I know he’s really pushed things from within for us, which we’re very grateful for, and long may it continue I hope. But yeah, he’s a great guy that I think the comp scene definitely owes a debt of gratitude for getting us on PGI’s radar and keeping us there, really.
I think a competitive scene that’s healthy and thriving helps the game to be healthy and thriving.
Sean: Let’s talk some numbers. In terms of size, how big is the MRBC?
Bandit (Doyle’s tech assistant): Just to note: pilots that play for the league do not need to register on the site. It’s typically just the team leaders, so I’m gonna try and find how many pilots are actually in rosters because it’ll be a vastly larger number.
Doyle: About 1700 registered members, but of course there’ll be more than that in terms of people that play, because as Bandit said, not everybody that plays has to register on the site. I mean, I think the last estimate was just over 2000 people playing and involved in it, which I think is quite a lot considering the size of the game.
Sean: I think that’s quite a sizeable chunk of all the player base.
Doyle: Yeah, yeah. And as I said at the beginning, I think because we try to make it as accessible as possible and as enjoyable as possible that goes a long way towards that success that we’ve had with it. And we try to listen to feedback, we try to make the right calls on the direction we go with it and try to maintain everyone’s enjoyment, really. We just wanted to make something that the community could be proud of, that they could enjoy, and that felt more professional than anything else that was going on. I like to think we’re doing okay on that, I hope.
Sean: I think your history speaks for itself.
Doyle: I hope so! I hope so. We put a lot of time into it, anyway. We put a lot of effort into it, a lot of debate, a lot of discussion, a lot of meetings, a lot of time, and of course we do it all for free.
Sean: What’s in store for the MRBC in the future?
Bandit: API [Application Program Interface]…
We just wanted to make something that the community could be proud of, that they could enjoy.
Doyle: Well, Bandit said, “API.” That’s one thing. We’ve been talking with PGI about that for quite some time. Bandit’s been pushing for API for quite a while. I think that they are going to bring that in at some point, and that’ll be a great help. It’ll certainly make gathering the data a lot easier. At the moment, people have to put in their match results. Wouldn’t it be great if all you had to do was put in a match code, and then all your results would just update themselves, screenshots and all? That would be awesome. So, that’s one thing.
Beyond that, I’m just hoping that we continue to do a good job that the community is happy with, that they can keep playing it, you know? We used to run three seasons a year, now we just do two, because obviously the PGI tournament takes a big chunk of the year and there are other player-run leagues and things to fit in as well. We’re hoping to incorporate other leagues into the site. So, the first one was MWA, which was run by Silken. He’s been trying to get that off the ground. And we’re trying to get Battle for Midway in and the Invitational, two other things that happen. The holdup with it is that we just have one coder, and that makes things take time. It’s hard to find the time to get it all done, but we want to help the competitive community beyond ourselves to have, you know, a more established, smoother-run website, and to get everything under a hub, really, with us being the hub.
Beyond that, obviously, for MRBC I want to see Season Ten, I want to Season Eleven, I want to see Season Twelve. I’m hoping we can keep going for as long as there’s a MechWarrior Online game. And of course it would be great if, in the future, MechWarrior Online 2 comes out and we’re still going, you know? I’d love for that to be the case, and I’d like to see it keep growing and expanding.
Sean: What do you think of the MechWarrior Online Skill Tree Enhancements being indefinitely delayed?
For MRBC I want to see Season Ten, I want to Season Eleven, I want to see Season Twelve.
Doyle: I think PGI’s most recent announcement regarding the skill trees shows that they are listening to feedback and moving in a positive direction. Picking out what feedback to listen to and what to ignore can be a very difficult and delicate process, it’s not easy for anyone. It’s a bit disappointing that the patch will not happen before the MRBC season but of course I would prefer a good system rather than a rushed one, so now it’s just fingers crossed that it lands after season 9 rather than during it as that can be very disruptive for competitive teams.
I know I’m not on an island when I say I represent one of the many cheapskates who owns hundreds of ‘Mechs but fewer modules and simply swapped them around so I’m pleased that they announced that there will be no undoing of the progress that people with mastered ‘Mechs have made. The initial plan for skill trees may have been a bit mediocre but moving forward things are looking far more positive than they had been in the last few days.
Sean: How about the upcoming Civil War era technology being added to the game?
Doyle: The recent announcement of new weapon systems and ‘Mechs is pretty cool and probably a much needed distraction from all the recent negativity, and yes, I do want to buy a ‘Mech pack! I hope the new weapons are thoroughly tested and well balanced before release but I imagine as always balance will be an ongoing process so I hope there are no riots when they’re released and that people understand that anything that seems overpowered initially will be fixed as soon as possible. Balance in a game like this will always be an ongoing process and while I’m not suggesting we should ever settle for a broken game, we do have to understand that achieving balance is not as easy as it might seem from the outside.
Sean: Alright, well that’s everything I had. Was there anything else you’d like to share, or anything you want to get real promote-y with?
Doyle: Well, obviously we’re in the signup period for Season Nine right now. That’ll be open until the end of March, so any plug on that will be greatly appreciated.
Sean: Everybody, signup!
Doyle: Yeah, basically. What have we got now? I think we’re already up to 27 [ed. It’s 46 and climbing!] teams signed up, which is great, but, you know, our record is 75 so we’ve got a long way to go. I hope we hit that. So, yeah, that’s for the next four weeks. Aside from that, just thanks to you, really. Thanks for reaching out. Thanks for the coverage. Really appreciate the exposure. I think it’s awesome that you’re doing it.
Sean: You’re very welcome, and thanks again so much for agreeing to speak to me, and giving this wonderful interview.