Saturday, March 5, 2011

Composition: Balancing a Powerful Team

Everyone competitive wants to play on a good team. When looking to put together a good team, there's one fatal flaw some players make, regardless of how good they are at the game. They ignore composition.

Rather than considering the strengths and weaknesses of the players they're picking up, they choose instead to pick up players who are just perceived as good at the game by their peers.

Before I continue, I am going to go ahead and quote the hundreds of raging MLG fanboys who say "There are no defined roles in Halo."

And then I'm going to call them on their B.S. Playstyles and tendencies lend themselves to roles. In fact, I'd go so far as to say there are as much of roles in this game as there are in MMORPGs like WoW and MOBAs like League of Legends. And may of those roles are the same.

Many players are stuck in the tired labels of "Main Slayer" "Objective Player" and "Support Player" and labels like that -- but there's a much deeper correlation between players than that.

In an MMORPG, there are three primary roles your party typically has:

1) Tank
2) Support
3) DPS

The first category is the most important to have. In a MOBA, the tank's job is to keep your DPS alive by being a big enough threat to draw the opponents' focus onto them. Additionally, their job is to initiate fights. In League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, the tank champions are the ones with a skill set to disable or disorient their opponents long enough for the team behind them to deal a load of damage.

Tanks do not win games on their own, but the lack of a tank can quickly lose games. In a game of League of Legends, not having a tank is comparable to not having your mouse plugged in for the duration of the match. Unless you massively outskill your opponents, you're going to lose.

Furthermore, not following your tank is just as bad as not having one. If you're leaving your tank stranded, you're going to find yourself in awful situations. Even if he's running out into a bad engage, it's sometimes better to go ahead and follow and engage alongside him than it is to let him get caught alone, die, and be forced to fight 4v5 shortly after.

So how does this relate to Halo? Some of you may be going "lulz Scorpion Tanks and Wraiths, yarrr!"

And like I said to the people who cried "Laser!" at my prompt re: Paradiso in the last article:
No, you're wrong. Shut up.

The two most iconic Tank players I can label from the MLG circuit of Halo 3: Walshy, and ToTz.

Some of you may be saying "But Audley, ToTz is BAD!"

Those of you who are, didn't watch his gameplay. Didn't watch his TEAM'S gameplay around him. You weren't aware of what he was actually doing.

His job? To take damage. Sure, he often would die because of this. C'est la vie d'un citerne. He did his job well. He took a LOT of damage and drew a lot of focus to himself. What happened while he did this? His team pushed and slayed the enemies who weren't focused on them.

The thing that made ToTz an excellent tank was his ability to so often be able to get players to focus on him, as well as to always pull those players into a position that his opponents could see them.

You'll also often find that tanks are the players going for the flag most in CTF. Why? Well, what better way to get opponents to focus on you than to grab their flag? If they just ignore you at that point, you've scored. The more intelligently you move with the flag, the longer they'll have to search to stop you -- which means less time they've got to focus on killing your team.

I personally am a tank player. In League of Legends, I main Alistar. In Halo, I'll run into a group of several enemies and armor lock like a bitch just so my team can get a one or two shot advantage on a few different players. I simply love being able to get enemies to focus on me without being able to kill me.

Up next, we have Support players. In MMOs, these are divided into three groups: Debuffers, Buffers, and Healers. The Healer group doesn't apply to Halo (I mean, the best you had for that in 3 was the Regenerator.) The job of all three of these is to help make sure your DPS players are able to get their damage done.

So we're left with the buffer and the debuffer.

For anyone reading this that doesn't happen to play RPGs, a buff is a temporary improvement to your player's stats.

The main example of a Support player in Halo is a Warthog Driver. You're giving a large damage and movement boost to the person in your turret, whether you look at it as buffing the on-foot version of the gunner, or buffing the Husky.

Support players are also those annoying bastards that pick up the Plasma Pistol and actually use it the way it was intended. It knocks out shields, it knocks out engines...It debuffs the hell out of anyone it comes into contact with.

They're also the players who'll drive a Mongoose to go pick up your tank (player) who grabbed the flag. Or put down tons of suppressive fire in the Revenant to prevent movement.

The best way to describe a support player in Halo is by this: they protect your primary DPS as well as paint his targets. Support and Tank players have an area of overlap -- they also want the focus on them rather than on your DPS, but they are typically there to draw focus AFTER the battle's begun. Tanks attempt to draw focus to start a battle.

Most of the players who say there are no "roles" in Halo are the ones responding to other players labeling Walshy and ToTz as Support. Which they are not.

Examples of some Support players from MLG Halo: Ogre 2, Destin, Chig, ElamiteWarrior, Heinz. Players like this tend to become unsung heroes behind their DPS (barring Ogre 2, of course, as his repeated success puts him in the limelight.)

These players didn't try to draw focus on them constantly, but knew when and what to do to keep their teammates alive. And that is the mark of a good support player.

...Which brings us to DPS. Damage Per Second. Whether it be wielding iron fists, bows, machine guns, sniper rifles, swords, or a fan that summons bees that shoots guns that shoot swords...DPS are the players you want to be dealing your team's damage and picking up most of the kills.

There are two divisions of DPS champions in most MMORPGs and MOBAs: there are physical DPS and magical DPS.

In MOBA games, physical DPS champions are made to inherently scale better with items, so you're encouraged to attempt to funnel the kills to them. A carry in Defense of the Ancients can almost single-handedly kill an enemy team if they were supported well early on.

Magical DPS on the other hand, are powerful from the get-go and often pull your team through the bulkier, more difficult midgame.

In Halo, there's not really "magic" damage, and your damage doesn't change throughout the course of the game, so DPS are funneled into two main categories: Power Weapons, and Power Vehicles.

Snipers, Rockets, Laser, Scorpions, Wraiths, and Banshees. The people who specialize in this are usually DPS players. There's some leeway, as some players still focus on consistent long-range DMRing. They are also DPS-style players, just less reliant on support to do their job.

People want to kill your DPS. They have to. Otherwise they're going to die a lot. This is why tanks and supports are important. Drawing focus off your Sniper or Laser for even a second is a play that can snowball. Saving your laser person's life once as he secures it can lead to four kills later on as they are allowed to set up.

If you have a Sniper in a power position, you've become one of the scariest beings on the map in Halo Reach. The Sniper is POWERFUL in this game. I mean, it kills a Banshee in five frickin' shots (without any help from teammates... which you should have)! FIVE SHOTS!

Wraiths and Scorpions can completely shut down movement in a given area. Banshees are agile bastards who can quickly strike down anyone they please.

When it comes to team composition, having players that wield those weapons with confidence and expertise is important. It gives you obvious benefits to have a player with a Sniper who can land every headshot. It's elementary, even.

DPS players are the rockstars of your team. They're going to get the stats, and they're going to look good. Neighbor, FearItself, Cloud, Snipedown, Strongside, Naded. These players deal a TON of damage and look good doing it. They're known to be strong players. But would you ever put any four of those on a team together?

Anyone who just said "Of course! Dude, that'd be awesome!" is missing the point of this article.

You need balance on your team. If you had players who are not accustomed to being without those power weapons, they're probably not going to be as efficient when it comes to attempting to protect the player who does have it. They're used to sneaking around the map, taking routes that get them to the strongest position safely.

While players CAN be proficient in multiple roles, you really want players who can cleanly fulfill roles that synergize.

Take Triggers Down from late in the '10 season for example -- They went from being SK-Hysteria-Neighbor-Pistola to being Hysteria-Best Man-Neighbor-ToTz.

A lot of players criticized them for dropping Pistola for ToTz. I mean, Pistola was a rock star DPS... but so was Neighbor, and to a degree, so was Hysteria. SK was somewhat of a tank, somewhat of a Support, but did not shine in either role.

They replaced a hybrid SK and a DPS Pistola with a Support Best Man and a tank in ToTz. And their placings improved (compared to their placings earlier in the season)...they never did reclaim their Top 2 splendor from the '09 season.

ToTz and Neighbor's playstyles synergized very well. Neighbor likes to sneak around and clean up kills from odd angles. ToTz likes to herp-derp into the open, dealing a little damage and taking a lot more. While those two worked as a great duo from their opponents' side of the map, Best Man was able to keep targets from rushing Hysteria by keeping their shields low as they attempted to push off the ToTz/Neighbor-occupied side.

Playstyles typically dictate your movement around the map. Your movement around the map will reflect your role and job to the team.

And if your team is loaded with support players and tanks, without anyone confident or as proficient in dealing the MAD DEEPZ, your team will suffer.

Likewise, if you're too concentrated around MAD DEEPZ, without any support, your team will suffer.

A lot of players criticize RuffGonja, A Team, NamelessHero, and BoneGrindinPain for their playstyles, but they were dedicated tanks who helped their team to numerous victories they would not have otherwise had if the team was attempting to all strong-arm their way versus a team that had better slaying power or control.

Tanks disrupt slayers. Supports keep slayers alive. Slayers then kill other slayers. Once those slayers are down, the enemy tanks and supports are but chaff before your thresher.

So if you ever find yourself trying to build a team, or watching MLG and wondering why a team line-up that looks strong isn't performing as well as it should, take the team under the microscope. Look at their roles. Try to figure out what it has, then you'll see what it's missing.

Audley Enough, you'll find that nine times out of ten, a team that isn't performing that SHOULD BE, is failing because of an overconcentration of rockstar DPS, or an underperforming tank.

See you guys next week...where I'll talk about the one role I didn't mention this week.


  1. The meta in LoL currently supports teams that stack tanks or tanky dps with maybe one ranged carry. Does that parallel onto Halo, where if your entire team is good at starting a fight while doing some good slaying that you're likely to win over a more 'standard' composition revolving around Tank/Support/DPS?

  2. The Meta in LoL between actually high level skilled players in no way gives any benefit to teams that stack tanks or Tanky DPS.

    In high elo games, the team with a more balanced, better-executed team composition generally wins.

    "Mass tanky Deepz" is a symptom of uncoordinated play, where players do not understand how to deal with that team composition properly.

    Additionally, with the stronger minion waves, and Tanky DPS generally having weaker farming/split pushing capabilities compared to some of the DPS champions of the game, the latest patch significantly weakens the 'bruiser' champion line-ups.

  3. I understand it doesn't work that way in high elo, but a theory like this holds true at any level.

    A good, balanced team should (with some semblance of coordination) win everytime, however that is not true. The bruiser line-ups quite often just win because they are simply left standing at the end of most fights.

    Also, Irelia (and until a while back, Xin) are still considered decent picks at high elo.

    My logic really was, that assuming you went into a Halo game with less than a full party; Would having randoms that played a 'tanky dps' role be infinitely better than having a 'support' player who you couldn't strategize with?

  4. Well, you could make the parallel that an extremely talented Banshee pilot alongside a team of Lock-Baiters would undoubtedly be an excellent group compared to one of players who all attempt to just keep their distance and fight...

    However, it's really not smart to attempt to play in that manner -- if you don't have someone who can Snipe (or stay alive with your Snipe), then your Banshee's not going to be able to stay up much.

    In Arena-style maps, it becomes even more of a problem if you have everyone trying to draw fire and no one trying or able to fire back themselves.

    The Tanky DPS syndrome is more a game balance issue than a "this is strategically sound" as Bruisers have high base damage and in the past had excellent itemization choices for CDR, that allowed them to not only become tankier but also scale their damage multiplicatively -- thankfully, the nerfs to Visage and Randuin's helped the cull this (although they buffed Glacial Shroud in the process by making it even more cost efficient.)

    Xin'Zhao and Irelia are both Melee DPS (not really tanky DPS by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, Tryndamere is tankier than either of them...and Warwick beats them both in base stats and has better self-healing mechanisms.) Xin and Irelia have high base damage values on their skills that allow them to not be item reliant for their damage, as well as very easy mechanisms to enter a battle and dish out that damage, which is why players tend to choose them.

    However, the primary focus of this particular blog entry is toward organized play -- the disorganized play in LoL that lends credibility to a Mass-Bruiser Line-up, and filling out teams of randoms in Halo aren't really relevant to the audience that would find this article beneficial to their thought processes.

    It's all about building synergy with your team's line-up.