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The Art of War(craft): Preparing for rated battlegrounds

Zach Yonzon

Zach brings you the weekly column The Art of War(craft) where he talks about good, old-fashioned PvP. He's also a huge NBA fan, so he's taking this opportunity to remind you that Game 4 of the NBA Finals is on right about now. Which means you should probably read all this during halftime. Or not, since the StarCraft 2 commercial should be debuting during the game.

Last week's column generated quite a bit of a stir when I recommended taking a break ... even during an ongoing match. A lot of you took exception to the suggestion, noting -- with much merit -- that being away from the game has a detrimental effect on the ongoing match. I agree, although as unreasonable as this may sound, I still think it's no big deal. Make no mistake, I'm strongly against AFK play or soaking up honor while deliberately not doing anything. That's just abusing the system. Most of you downranked my responses to blackness, which is actually an encouraging sign for me because it means there's a lot to look forward to when Cataclysm unleashes rated battlegrounds.

I'll say right off that I don't take current battleground play too seriously because the environment simply isn't conducive to true competitive play. I would have said neither should you, but clearly many of you feel otherwise. This is a good thing. I still think arenas are currently the better environment for intense PvP competition, but it was promising to read your opinions because it revealed that many of you actually do get invested in the game and that you keep your focus clearly on the match -- even with a PUG! That's perfect, because rated battlegrounds will be the environment to do just that.

Blizzard created rated battlegrounds precisely because there are players who prefer the battlegrounds to arenas but crave more organization and challenge than currently offered by the PUG environment. Let's face it, as much as you and I love the battlegrounds, trying to get a real challenge from it as a serious PvP player is a tall order. Forming premades and queuing as one will result in inordinately long queue times as the system looks for an appropriate match in another premade. The current practice of forming premades and using an addon to queue allows premades faster queues but against PUGs, which is hardly a challenge. It's fun, sure, but only because you're an organized unit facing a rabble.

Today we'll take a look at how we can prepare for truly competitive battleground play. Needless to say, I won't be recommending any form of distraction in this environment -- nor tolerating it. When running premades, booting unresponsive players is standard procedure. This brings me to the first rule of a proper premade.

Communication is key

There's simply no compromising this. Every member of the team must have a Voice over Internet Protocol communication program such as Ventrilo or TeamSpeak. Barring those, the game also has Voice Chat, an in-game solution for voice communication that will do in a pinch. Voice Chat indicates who is talking in the interface, allowing players to easily identify the speaker, something that third-party programs can't do. On the other hand, getting disconnected from the game or having WoW crash will also result in losing voice communication, which can be problematic. Using third-party software allows players who have been disconnected from the game to keep in constant communication with the rest of the team.

Although there are free servers that players can use, paid subscriptions are always best because of their reliability and scalability. Not everyone will need a microphone or a headset, but everyone does need to be able to listen in, which means at least having working speakers. Third-party programs take a modicum of technical know-how to set up, from setting up an account to navigating channels to adjusting sound input and output levels, but they also provide the best experience for voice communication.

It's important to have everyone on the team listen to and follow instructions. One of the ways by which to catch players who aren't listening is to inform everyone through voice to type "no" when you ask if everyone is ready on raid chat. Inform them that players who type "yes" will be kicked automatically. It's guaranteed to catch players who aren't listening in through voice chat.

Voice communication is always faster than typing it out, and in a battleground match -- or PvP in general -- faster usually means better. This means getting to nodes faster, grabbing the flag faster, tagging the bases faster ... It's all about being faster than your opponent. This is why you need to call things out, keep in constant communication with your team. Call out enemy movement when you see it -- where they're headed, how many they are and even their classes. Call for help before it's too late, which means you shouldn't underestimate your opponents and you shouldn't overestimate your own abilities. Obviously, calling for help when you're already dead or the flag is already captured is useless. The worst thing in a battleground is reading a teammate needs help at the farm just as the battleground alerts you that the enemy has assaulted it.

The raid or battleground leader can opt to assign response teams, but players are eager to respond to calls for help even in a PUG, anyway. Coordinate usage of vehicles, especially those that carry passengers such as Demolishers. Ranged classes, for example, should ride as passengers rather than drive, because they'll be able to attack. Voice communication also allows you to coordinate focus targets, such as healers or flag carriers. Combat will and should be more coordinated, almost -- but not quite -- like arenas.

Know the battleground

Needless to say, it's important to know the map and how to play the game. Understanding basic terminologies for the map is mandatory, so you should know where the gold mine is in Arathi Basin or the mage tower in Eye of the Storm. Each team member should know how things work, so players tasked to air drop in Isle of Conquest should know they need to proceed to the hangar, or capture it if necessary. It's important to know that towers in Eye of the Storm are captured through proximity and numbers, and players should be aware of how far away they can be for the tower to start converting to their faction.

Small things such as strategic positions all over the map can give your team an advantage -- there are a lot of spots in the battlegrounds where ranged classes can snipe away at opponents without their being able to retaliate. In Isle of Conquest, it's easy enough to use the airship to land atop the enemy base and attack players on the ground. Since the only way to get to that spot is through an air drop, enemies can't get to you. Players who know strategic spots on the different maps can gain an upper hand in combat, but always keep the bigger picture in mind. Know what the team objectives are and stick to them, such as knowing which nodes to assault and defend in Arathi Basin (since holding all five is unlikely against another premade).

Learning the map is critical, even if the game play is the same. Take, for example, the new Twin Peaks battleground, which appears to be another capture-the-flag battleground similar to Warsong Gulch. The rules are similar, but the map changes team strategies. The map is split in half by a deep but crossable river, making abilities such as Path of Frost and Water Walking actually useful, as opposed to Warsong Gulch. The bases are different from each other and the map is more asymmetrical, so strategies for the Horde and Alliance will be different. Knowing how to play the battleground is basic, but understanding the nuances of the map gives your team an edge.

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