Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lone Wolf: The Ambiguous Fourth Role

So last week, I talked about three roles players are typically divided into based on their playing style. And generally, a strong team will be balanced with those three roles.

I also hinted that there was one more role I did not discuss.

It's tricky, but there is yet another role that is often crucial to completing a team's composition: The Lone Wolf.

I'll first make a quick comparison, once again, to League of Legends, where even if you have a tank, two DPS, and a support champion, your team composition has one more role to fill: the Jungler. The Jungler in LoL is much like a Lone Wolf player in Halo.

A Jungler's job, from the start of the game, is not to venture into the lanes with the rest of his or her team. Instead, the Jungler ventures into, well, obviously the jungles... where he or she will level up and gain buffs (I touched on Jungling briefly in my article about Movement.)

In addition to the experience benefits having a Jungler nets your team as a whole, there's one more excellent benefit -- the Jungler is given the freedom to roam. This means they can show up in any lane to help their team at any time, and possibly secure a kill or two. They can show up in the opponent's jungle to interrupt, intercept, or just engage the unprepared or weaker jungler. Not having a Jungler sets your team behind on levels, but also means at any given time, all your players are accounted for.

Generally, your players with specific roles are going to gravitate to specific positions, specifically the ones that allow them to perform their job the best. Tanks will have standard routes they take. DPS have power positions that allow them to cover the most ground and deal the most damage. Support have positions that allow them to cover the most area necessary to protect the DPS and set them up for kills.

In League of Legends, the Jungler is not restricted to being a DPS, a Tank, or a Support -- as a few champions from any of those roles can be a passable jungler. Likewise, a Lone Wolf-style player is not restricted to a single role.

Don't mistake that statement as "Lone Wolves are never just one role." That's not true either. Some Lone Wolves are tanks. Some Lone Wolves are DPS. Some Lone Wolves are support. The difference is that Lone Wolves have a completely different mindset in doing so.

A traditional tank will often be constantly communicating to his team where he's pushing or when he's about to bait, and pull his team along with him. The Lone Wolf tank will instead go where action is necessary and draw attention to himself in whatever way possible. They'll want players shooting at them, but unlike a more traditional tank, the Lone Wolf tank is often a player who expects to triumph over at least one (usually more) obstacles on their way to their objective.

A traditional support will often control specific zones of the map, depending upon where best allows them to protect their DPS or weaken enemies. A Lone Wolf support will instead drift from DPS to DPS or engagement to engagement, softening up whomever they can wherever they can.

The traditional DPS and Lone Wolf DPS are the closest in appearance. Both somewhat expect their team to play around them (in the case of a traditional DPS, the team SHOULD be playing around them, period. Everyone else's positioning should be in a manner that allows their DPS to do their job.) Lone Wolf DPS are a bit more difficult to specifically set up around -- unless your team's composition is also built around it.

Lone Wolf players are usually excellent route-takers. Look at any FFA winner from an MLG event, and you'll see a pattern: They know how to move around the map to stay alive, but still have vision where they need it. Pistola is a prime example -- he was fairly well known for his FFA abilities in Halo 2, but in Halo 3 he began to shine on teams. A large part of this came from his dynamic duo partner, Heinz, but even after the two were forced to split, Pistola continued to shine as he was partnered with another versatile teammate in Ogre 2.

Lone Wolves by name may not seem to be a positive attribute to a team, but they allow your team to be more dynamic in its gameplay and less at risk to fall into a stagnant, predictable pattern. They are often more reactionary by style, while remaining proactive, whereas more traditional players are more apt to follow a similar pattern game after game.

It may seem like I'm saying "You must have a Lone Wolf-style player to win any game ever, otherwise people will always know what you're going to do before you do it!" Well... No, shut up, you're wrong. (Anubis says this should be my catchphrase.)

I'm not saying Lone Wolves are absolutes in their necessity for a balanced team composition, nor am I saying players who aren't Lone Wolves are inherently counterable.

Lone Wolves are a huge boon to a team's ability to adapt to multiple circumstances and playstyles. They are less prone to being metagamed by opposing teams. However, because of their more reactionary nature, they are also players who tend to benefit the team less as the team as a whole begins to underperform. This doesn't necessarily mean the Lone Wolf will play poorly -- often, it's the exact opposite and the Lone Wolf will continue to put up impressive stats. But, unfortunately, their skillset is not geared toward pushing a snowball back up a hill.

The Lone Wolf's permanent state of flux acts against a team in the case where teammates are underperforming, as the necessary catalysts for their reactions increase in number.

Lone Wolves are just another role that should be considered when attempting to assemble your perfect dream team. If, upon looking at your team's line-up that you believe it to be heavy on players with extremely predictable or molded styles, a Lone Wolf would be an excellent addition to your team, allowing one amoeba to float among your prokaryotic team. If your team seems more dynamic by nature, or more tactical as opposed to strategic, then a Lone Wolf would likely fit into the group like a glove.

However, if your team relies on strict teamwork, with all units working as one, a Lone Wolf would go against this grain, and be a risk toward dissent among the group. Exercise caution.

(Note: Some of you who read my articles are also League of Legends players, and you'll probably make the observation that not having a Jungler is a STUPID idea in 99 out of 100 cases. While this is true, I believe it to be more of a balance issue with experience in the jungles and the overpowering strength of the Jungle Buffs. In Solo Queue, not having a Jungler is a death sentence, just like not having a Tank.

In a more organized setting, there are additional benefits toward not having a jungler. You are able to zone the top lane, negating their EXP advantage, and often you're also able to get the early tower kill on that lane. Strong zoning champions like Alistar are excellent alternatives toward a Jungler in this case. Additionally, you can still fill the role of a permanent roamer with champions such as Poppy or Evelynn, so long as they continue to get kills, but without the time spent in the Jungle.)

Audley Enough, despite me talking up the Lone Wolf in such detail compared to the other three roles, I am NOT a lone wolf myself. I'm a traditional tank in the most traditional sense of the word, with a little spice of Support mixed in. While I can Jungle in League of Legends (I'm the inventor of the Cloth Armor + 5 Potion opening. I've Jungled as Twitch. I know my way around those jungles.), I do not find it to be my preferred playstyle of choice, and typically underperform when asked to do so.

Be sure you check back tomorrow night. There will be an extra special Audley Enough article, with a preview of the Defiant Map Pack, complete with pictures.

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