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Blood Sport: Knowing thy ground

V'Ming Chew

Every Thursday, V'Ming - who thinks that gnome warlocks are travesties of nature and need to be KOSed - shares thoughts and ideas on becoming deadlier at the Arenas. He also dabbles in the dark arts in Blood Pact.

Your team is randomly ported to any one of the three maps when a rated match or a practice skirmish starts. Given the frenetic brevity of Arena matches (other than this Shaman-Druid standoff), most players learn the lay of the land the hard way - through matches.

Of course, you can size up the terrain by visiting two of the arenas in Nagrand and Blade's Edge Mountains. Unfortunately, this is not an option for Ruins of Lordaeron, which does not have a 'real' world location and is only accessible through the Arena Battlemasters.

Each map has its unique terrain and tactical implications, and players quickly develop their likes and dislikes.

To prevent stealthy classes from prolonging a game inordinately, Shadow Sight powerups spawn on two opposing sides of all maps after 90 seconds of combat. This 21-second powerup allows you to see both invisible and steathed opponents, but deals 2% shadow damage every three seconds. Some players deliberately take these to become temporarily 'immune' to CC effects like Polymorph, that break with damage. Anti-shadow buffs like Shadow Ward, are reported to reduce the DoT component of this powerup.

Ruins of Lordaeron

The only arena without a 'physical' location in the world, it is also the newest - released with patch 2.1 last May. "We've taken some of the lessons we learned in the two other arenas," said Tom Chilton in this article. According to the lead designer, LOS-breaking objects are moved to the center to encourage engagement.

Lore - the ruins, sitting on top of Undercity, is a haunted monument to the power of evil Arthas and the Scourge. Dead citizens of Lordaeron roam the ruins, still mourning the fall of the former Alliance capital. The reason for designating this forlorn place for gladiatorial combat is unknown - perhaps Undercity decided to leverage on its surface real estate. Or perhaps Lady Sylvanas likes having people stomping on her roof ...

Terrain - the central sarcophagus and recessed starting pits are the main LOS breakers in this map. A column stands in the middle of each entrance. While the column can provide cover, the space is generally considered too confined and the column too small to do a proper 'pillar-dance'.

Ranged classes can stand on top of the sarcophagus, giving them almost unimpeded LoS over the courtyard, at the cost of losing all cover. This can be a good way to counter a pillar-dance around the sarcophagus. I've seen healers using the sarcophagus to good effect, climbing over it to dispense heals and ducking behind it to avoid fire. Note that you do not need to jump onto the sarcophagus, simply run up the benches as shown in this picture:

Note: Stand off to one side of door while waiting for the match to start; you don't want to run into the pillar when the doors open.

Ring of Trials (in Nagrand)

One of the two original arenas, the Ring is simply a flat circular area with four pillars. Two pillars stand on each side near the starting pits, creating natural hiding positions at the start of a match. Many teams use these as staging areas, especially ranged classes, while they figure out their opponents and work out a plan. Depending on the teams' strategies, these staging areas can greatly prolong the inital 'stand-off' time, where neither team takes the first move.

Lore - ancient orcish proving grounds near Garadar, home base of the original brown-skinned orcs in Outland. I guess this is where the orcs had good old-fashioned fun before Mannoroth convinced some orcs that it was easier being green.

Terrain - unlike the Lordaeron ruins, the starting pits in the Ring are shallow and do not provide much cover. The pillars have enough girth to provide full cover to an entire team if needed, without too much phoneboothing. 'Pillar-dancing' is the tactic of running around the pillars and using them to constantly break LoS as much as possible. This prevents ranged classes from using any ability that requires casting time, as they will need to constantly adjust their positions to get a clean shot. Healers seem to benefit the greatest from this tactic, ducking out to heal and ducking in to avoid fire.

The pillars also provide plenty of cover to set up an ambush - having one toon baiting an opponent into his or her teammates lurking behind the pillars.

The center of this arena is a flat, open area where players can focus on combat without struggling with geometry or LoS.

Note - make sure you are facing the right door in the starting pit. It's the light-colored one.

Circle of Blood (in Blade's Edge Mountains)

Probably the least-liked arena (according to this poll), Circle of Blood is also geometrically the most complex - with a bridge, ramps, AND pillars! Many players feel that they are fighting the map, rather than their opponents.

Lore - touted as an "Ogrish arena", it's proximity to various ogre camps suggests that it's a Friday night hangout for ogres. Given the simple brutish nature of ogres, one is hard-pressed to explain the complexity of the arena; you'd think that ogres would like a flat fighting area with perhaps a mud-pit in the middle. Perhaps it was designed by a goblin engineer, who thought that fat ogres lumbering around pillars and jumping off bridges would make good TV ...

Terrain - the central feature of this map is the bridge, with ramps leading up to it on either side. Getting on the bridge gives you good LoS coverage, except for the areas immediately under the bridge. Jumping off the bridge is a quick way to break LOS and neutralize a cast, especially if you see an opponent powering up a big nuke at you. It cuts both ways, as your healer might lose LOS to you if you fall off the bridge in the heat of battle.

There are four pillars here as well, two supporting the bridge and two free-standing pillars. Fighting under the bridge means contending with the pillars getting in the way, and like Ring of Trials, these pillars are wide enough for 'pillar-dancing' to be a viable (and frustrating) tactic. You can jump on top of the two free-standing pillars from the bridge. These perches serve as spawning points for the shadow sight powerups, as well as good sniping spots against opponents 'hiding' under the bridge.

The starting pit areas are also sufficiently deep to offer cover from certain angles and can be incorporated into your strategy to thwart ranged classes. As you can see, Circle of Blood offers a TON of LOS breakers, which can mean protracted battles for teams adept at exploiting this map. Instants, DoTs and HoTs, as well as slowing and snaring abilities, become more important as the opportunities for clean shots are few in this Arena.

Note - like Ring of Trials, the starting pit has two sets of double doors. The light-colored doors are the ones that open into the Arena.

Which is your favorite arena and why? Does your team have different strategies tailored to different maps?

These are the latest numbers from last week's games:

We see hunters finally breaching the 5% level in 5v5 games - is the class finally making its mark in the top teams? Other class represetations remain largely constant, with warlocks, warriors and druids shining in the 2v2 bracket. In terms of absolute numbers, approximately half of the top 100 2v2 teams have a Warlock, Druid or Warrior in them.

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