Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Calling the Shots: Part 1 - Taking Aim for Victory

I recently wrote about how shotcalling is difficult, and often can directly inhibit your mechanical skill.  However, having one or two players on a team dedicated to directing the show can make the path to victory much more clear.  Although I make no promises on the consistency of releases, I'm going to be doing a series of blogs on what it takes to be a good shotcaller.

The first thing a good shotcaller needs is the ability to determine win conditions.  You may think, "Well, if I'm playing a game of Team Slayer in Halo, my win condition is to get 50 points.  That was easy."

No, shut up, you're wrong.  The win condition in Slayer is not "Reach 50 points."  That's a game-ending condition, but it is not required for victory.  In order to win a game of Deathmatch in any first person shooter...you simply have to have less deaths than your opponent.

The first condition of victory in a game of Slayer is to get a lead.  We'll take Halo 3's Pit Slayer for example.  Let's say you get the initial set of rockets, but somehow your opponent ends up with 2 Snipers.  You're up 6-3 after the initial battles settle.  At this point, your win condition is no longer to acquire any kills.  It's to avoid deaths.  You don't need a single other kill in order to win the match.  And, due to Pit's hallway-style map design, and your opponent having 2 Snipers, you shouldn't even be leaving your side of the map for the time being.  Anyone on your team getting sniped is one strain further on your lead.

When it's time for the rockets to respawn, your victory condition is to prevent the enemy from getting those rockets.  Should they acquire them, they'll have an asymmetrical weapon advantage (2-3 Snipers + rockets to rockets+1 Sniper at best)...at which point they can press their advantage and whittle away at your lead, and your victory condition changes to "Stop the bleeding." or "Clear our side of the map and stall for next rockets."

In a King of the Hill match, if you are trailing by 10 points as the hill is 20 seconds away from moving...your victory condition should not even include "Milk the current hill." but rather "Set up for the final hill."  If you get 45 seconds of the final hill uncontested, your opponents no longer have any route to victory, even if they milked the 20 seconds of the previous hill, so establishing full control of the final hill in those 20 seconds while you have a 4v3 offers a higher-% chance of victory than attempting to milk yourself to close the gap.

Now that I've given a few examples of how victory conditions are dynamic, rather than static, let's focus on how you determine what your current victory conditions are.

The first criterion is obvious: Do we have the advantage?

If you have an advantage, you don't need to make risky plays.  Figure out the safest way to press it and do so.  In most cases this is to continue doing what you were doing before.  In League of Legends, this usually means "DO NOT GO FOR BARON." though that can change depending on team composition and current state of vision control.  In a competitive shooter, an 'advantage' doesn't necessarily mean a score lead; numbers advantages in teammates alive are just as important as the scoreboard.  You don't want to try pushing up 2v4, as letting 4 members of the enemy team onto your side can eventually lead to being trapped in your spawn and losing any score lead you may have had.

Sometimes that first criterion can be hazy.  So you may need to parse other information to determine what's important.  Ask yourself, what is the most important task at hand? (Focus: Immediate impact.)

If you're in the above situation of being 2v4, your pressing task is likely to secure a safe spawn for your teammates and push back out.

In League of Legends, this depends almost entirely on team composition.  If your team has Jayce, Lucian, and Nidalee...you don't really want to fight the enemy team around Baron or even Dragon.  The most important task is to keep your enemies huddled around a tower so your team can siege and poke them down.  Generally, these towers are the ones in middle and bottom lane (you want to keep your enemies as far away from Baron as possible, in case anything bad happens with your siege...and be close to Dragon to take an easier objective once you've poked them down beyond safe engage range.)...but if your composition has a lot of champions with good dueling potential, you want to stay split up across the lanes in order to set up those duels, or force your opponents to give up side lane towers for free.

Along the vein of the previous criterion, you also want to ask: What is the safest play?

In order to answer this, you have to know the current status and limitations of your team (which, will be the subject of a future article...eventually...).  Making risky plays is not a path to victory.  In poker, you don't need to bet all your chips when you've got the most at the table.

The previous two questions go along with an adage that is oft repeated by Tasteless and Artosis (and other casters) when casting StarCraft 2... "When you're ahead, get further ahead."  But if you're behind, your win conditions are different.  You have to find a way to get ahead.

Ask yourself, what can we take from them without giving up something bigger?

Sometimes this may involve sneaking a Baron while you lose an inner tower.  Sometimes it may mean killing an inhibitor in bottom lane while giving up a Baron.  Gambit Gaming are notorious for baiting their top laner to die to a jungle gank while they immediately pounce onto the Dragon for an easy objective pick-up.

In the latter days of Halo 3's run on the MLG circuit, on Construct Slayer, teams began retaking top control on Construct by lifting 3-4 people at a time up the purple lifts.  They'd give up 2 kills to a team with the score lead, but gain map control as a result, and begin to regain the lead.

On the flip side, the enemy team could be asking, what can we do to keep our opponents from retaliating?

Back on Halo 3...GhostAyame had an excellent strategy for Narrows CTF.  Whoever had the sniper on his team was told to sit in the pocket of top middle and watch the lift-side spawns as a flag was taken.  Sure enough, players would spawn there...but Ghost would tell his teammate, "Don't kill them."  Wait, what?  You don't want to kill the guys so you can run a flag?  Nope, just shoot them in the body.

He would tell them to do this so they wouldn't be able to go anywhere -- after all, they're one shot from death...they can't fight.  But, because they're not leaving lift side, their other dead teammates will continue to respawn there, unable to contest a flag run.  Had a player been killed at lift, they would've spawned in positions to better contest the flag.  So, while the metric of victory in Narrows CTF is "who scored more flags" the condition GhostAyame utilized was "Keep the sheep in their pin."

An important question to ask to set up the previous four, what is my opponent's next likely play?

While this can lead to several layers of Yomi (reading your opponent) and predictions of predictions and reactions based off that, generally you should know what your opponent's short-term goals are.  If you can hammer that down, you then ask any of the following questions:

  1. Can I beat them at that play?
  2. If not, can I stall them out of making the play?
  3. If not, what can I do to trade value of the play?  (i.e., can I take something of equal value?)

In some cases in League of Legends, a trailing team can completely out-position a team with the lead and ultimately end up turning the tables.  A great example of this is the recent game between Alliance and Fnatic, where after posturing over a Dragon, Alliance forced Fnatic into their bottom jungle while a few other members of Alliance just pushed the mid lane.  Fnatic lost one member of the team while their two melee members stayed to defend mid lane and their two ranged members went to bot lane to try to base race Alliance.

With no one ranged left to defend the base, Fnatic's two living melee members had to sit idly by and watch as Alliance pushed the base 5v2...which was much faster than the two other members of Fnatic pushed.  As the mid inhibitor turret fell, Alliance killed yet another member of Fnatic and put Fnatic into a situation where they would've absolutely had to have both ranged players recall in order to defend, but the call was made for Rekkles to stay bot and keep pushing to answer back for an inhibitor...at which point Alliance just pushed down the Nexus instead and won the game, despite trailing for the majority of the game up to that point.

Fnatic had skipped the important second question above, "Can I stall them" -- because had their shotcaller asked the question they would've noticed "We only have melee champions defending, which means we have no waveclear.  We can't stop their push." or, possibly, they did ask the question and made an equally poor call of thinking that they could trade the value of the play by taking an inhibitor of their own with less people pushing than what Alliance had.

The final question to ask is "Can we close the game out now?"

The question isn't always relevant (CoD gametypes like Blitz without a score limit don't allow it), but in most cases it should be considered any time you're deciding on a play, even if the answer is No.  If there's ever the ability to close the game out, rather than let it continue to drag on, it's better to do so to prevent leaving any room for a comeback or a throw on your own part.

Even if you're attempting to close the game out, you should re-ask yourself the question several times in the process in order to avoid putting yourself or your team in the position to overcommit to doing so and end up losing your foothold or the game as a result.

To recap the questions that help you determine victory conditions all in one place:

  • Do we have the advantage?
  • what is the most important task at hand?
  • What is the safest play?
  • What can we take from them without giving up something bigger?
  • What can we do to keep our opponents from retaliating?
  • what is my opponent's next likely play?
  • Can I beat them at that play?
  • If not, can I stall them out of making the play?
  • If not, what can I do to trade value of the play?  (i.e., can I take something of equal value?)
  • Can we close the game out now?

The most important thing to stress regarding victory conditions is that, despite what single player games may lead you to believe, your victory condition is not the task that brings your current mission to its end.  Victory conditions are a series of decisions that lead to advantages accrued, and decisions on how to press those advantages without giving up things of equal or greater value to your opponent.  Contrariwise, when trailing, your victory conditions are how to reobtain the lead you lost or at least close the gap to set up for a pass later on.

Audley Enough, you'll find that keeping a level head and weighing the options for how to press your lead with these questions will increase the amount of times you keep a lead secure and by extension, win games.  That's all for Victory Conditions; I'm unsure when the next part of the series will come, or which facet of the skill gem knokwn as shotcalling I will cover, but rest assured, it will come some day.

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