Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Zoning: Victory through Eminent Domain

One mistake novice players will often make in competitive games is assuming combat needs to be constant, that only through killing or attempting to kill someone can you accumulate advantages. More experienced players know this not to be true, but most aren't able to verbalize what it is they're doing that separates them from the lesser skilled kill chasers.

But that's why Audley is here to explain what that thing is...and it's an important term you'll hear often in League of Legends, but rarely hear it applied to First Person Shooters, even though it is used in almost an identical fashion. That term is Zoning.

Zoning is controlling an area of the map and forcing your opponents to react to you rather than their actual target. You'll see it often used effectively in laning phases of a LoL match. One player will have an advantage, but not enough of one to ensure a kill. What do they do? They put themselves between the enemy and the minions, forcing the enemy to either take damage to get farm, or back off and concede farm. You'll also see it in team fights of LoL where a tank or bruiser will stare menacingly at the enemy AD Carry to prevent them from joining a fight, or force them to deal with the tank first while the rest of the tank's team deals with the AD Carry's front line.

Zoning is an important part of high level League of Legends, but it's also an important part of Halo that goes completely overlooked, both by audience and even by some pro players.

So, “Audley,” you ask, “How the fuck do you zone someone in Halo?”

The most obvious answer to this, and often the only time you actually hear the term used in the context of shooters, is through grenades. Although Halo doesn't have Smokes or Flashbangs which are designed with that sole purpose in mind, its frag grenades are strong enough to force a player to reconsider moving in the direction they wanted. Seeing a grenade indicator in your path will force you to either stop or go somewhere else.

But zoning through grenades is elementary. Anyone can pick up the concept of “Oh, let me grenade down this hallway that guy's probably going to go down so I can beat him there or maybe damage him on his way out.”

The level of zoning most players don't consciously acknowledge, even if they do manage to pull it off from time to time, is more based on their positioning. Let's take an example from H2A, with recent application.

Warlord King of the Hill. Hill is at Blue, about 10 seconds in. The camera is on Contra for OpTic gaming. Where is he? Yellow flag, near Health pack. Ha, noob, quit statting kid! But wait... someone has spawned at Red. And they desperately want to get to Blue to clear out Contra's teammates from the hill. What are their options?

  1. Push across top middle. WELP CONTRA'S GOT SHOTS IN THEIR SIDE.
  3. Drop low and sneak across the bottom? STILL SHOTS IN THEIR SIDE FROM CONTRA.

On Warlord King, on any of the side base hills, you almost always want to have a player in the base counter-clockwise from the hill. The reason for counter-clockwise rather than clockwise is just related to the angles, sightlines, and available cover for shooting toward the hill, but especially in the case of Blue hill, there's the added bonus that the hill rotates directly to you at the end of its countdown.

For Red and Blue hills, having a player hang near the Health pack of Green/Yellow respectively gives you a clear sightline on the hill, cover from anyone in the hill or top middle, angles on anyone leaving the base directly across from the hill (the most likely spawn), and puts you at an angle that forces them to turn AWAY from the hill in order to deal with you or dislodge you from your power position.

Back to the example, Contra managed to stay alive at Yellow all the way until the hill moved there, where he was finally taken out, but he'd managed to keep the enemy out of the hill and allow his team to gain time. Underdeveloped Halo IQs would just assume Contra was stat-whoring, when in fact his positioning is what was securing the hill.

Let's go back to the example and play out the scenario a different way. The player elects to try Ramp Portal, but Contra gets 2 shots into them. They back down into Red Nades. Between the options of “Throw a grenade and kill that motherfucker” or “Leave that person there.” what should Contra do?

If you said throw the grenade, you're failing to understand the importance of Zoning. You have a player that is more useful to your team alive than dead with their positioning there. At no shields, but alive, they aren't going to (usually) pop out and try to fight you or your team...and since they're alive, they're exerting spawn presence on the spawns around them, increasing the odds their teammates will spawn near them and reducing the probability any of Contra's teammates will spawn there. If you kill the player, that enormous negative spawn weight to keep your team from spawning there is removed AND you've added an additional negative weight to reduce the chances of the otherwise trapped player's teammates from spawning there, probably forcing them to instead spawn Green and be able to shoot at your person in the hill / be safe from your position at Yellow.

In King of the Hill and Oddball, leaving players alive at low shields in awful positions is a valuable tool. They are unlikely to challenge and are stuck dealing with the pressure they're exerting on spawns which will harm their team when you've left that player and use your 4v3 advantage to go kill the teammates.

Let's take another hypothetical. The hill is about to move to B on Lockdown (top BR). You're at BR2, and you've heard a call there are two people bottom middle. Your teammate JoeSchmoe227 is already back BR prepared to move up top for the hill. You have another teammate in Library, and the final teammate is stat-whoring at Snipe tower with Sword+Snipe. Where do you go?

There are two positions where you can go to effectively zone the opponents running across bottom mid from where you currently stand – you can drop to BR1 and just waste their time (but be on the same level as them, and thus risk death) or move to the Library bridge and try to shoot them as they come out from under glass toward BR1 (but give up the ability to cut them off from Open ramp if they ignore you and rush.) While both have their drawbacks, they have the enormous advantage of ensuring those players will not be reaching the hill full shields, allowing JoeSchmoe227 to clean them up and keep accruing hill time.

The final way you see Zoning used effectively in H2A is with regards to flag runs, especially on Shrine, but also on Warlord at times. The flag is across the halfway point after your teammate has run it through their hut, across your car, and into your rocks. But now the opponents have respawned in their rocks and rushed to try to get that clutch last second stop. They have two guys pushing your pillars and praying for a kill.

But you were clever and read this blog about zoning. You waited at your bonfire for them to get close, and as they pushed into the pillars, you leapt out into their BRs. They had to shoot you instead, or would die on your side with nothing done. Your flag carrier is free to run, while Tweedledee and Tweedledum are shooting some random idiot who was hiding bonfire with the intent to die. Flag captured. Game over. You won, because you escorted the final flag back and forced the interceptors to deal with you, rather than the objective. You zoned them. Good job, buddy.

There are far, far more applications of Zoning in competitive games than mentioned here, but I'm writing this solely to highlight the aspect of gameplay, because it doesn't get mentioned often, despite how enormous of a deal it is for setting up or even dynamically reacting to game situations. That's all for now.

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