Evolving Our Metagame
ArenaNet, more than anyone else, knows both the positives and negatives of their game. They work day-in and day-out to polish and develop Guild Wars 2. As a community, we can only be honest with our feedback and remain supportive when it comes to the game itself. This does not mean that we cannot control the future of the game. There are people in the competitive scene that organize tournaments, set up streams, and produce educational content. There are hardcore players who strive for excellence and push themselves to compete at a high level. There are casual players who play for fun and the social experience. All of them contribute to the PvP scene in their own way. But before we take our first steps into becoming a true esport, I believe there is a crucial area we are sorely lacking in. The metagame of Guild Wars 2 is underdeveloped. And the responsibility of pushing it further is 100% on us – the community.
Make no mistake, a metagame exists, albeit a primitive one. Players have theorycrafted various builds which make creative use of traits, weapons skills, and stat combinations. There is basic knowledge of team compositions, matchups, and map rotations. Past these few aspects, however, I believe there is great potential for refinement and emergence of more sophisticated methods of play. I will suggest some of my ideas.
From a micro (controlling your character) perspective, Guild Wars 2 plays similarly to a 3D fighting game. Like a fighting game, there is a large arsenal of moves, such as dodging and casting abilities while moving. Add in cooldowns and buffs/debuffs (boons/conditions), and the mechanics of Guild Wars 2 shape up to something of comparable complexity. As such, we can borrow many ideas from fighting games. For example, we can apply the concepts of the ‘neutral game’ and ‘punish game’ to dueling. What skills and patterns can I use to gain advantages in a neutral situation? What combos can I use to punish openings in my opponent’s defense? How can my opponent escape being punished? These questions may sound self-evident, but they are necessary for a competitive player to consider. Another convention we can borrow is gathering frame-precise data on ability animations. I am referring to finding out exactly how many frames an ability lasts, how many frames are ‘hit frames’, and how many frames are wind-up and wind-down frames. This process may seem excessive, but fighting games have only ever benefitted from this knowledge. With a 1 second window, can I use skills 1 and 2 in sequence before my opponent uses 1, 2, and 3? If I start channeling skill 4 halfway through my opponent’s dodge, will it hit exactly when he lands? Having definite data for these situations is invaluable.
Macro-wise, teams can do much more in-depth strategical preparation before games, since there is limited room for discussion in game. While the best teams have ways to deal with staggered respawns, why do they not have set plays for other situations? A pre-planned tactic will always be better than an improvised call. A proper team could easily prepare for a match by going over different situations with their composition in mind. If they win a fight mid with four people, what are some of the ways they can spread their pressure to the rest of the map? If they win the side nodes, how should they re-allocate their members to holding them? What are ways they can transition into a lord rush on Legacy of the Foefire? After planning them out, they could then assign shorthand calls to execute these set rotations and plays. For facing a particular team they could create a set of counter-plays. The best MOBA teams, the best gridiron football teams, and the best basketball teams all function this way. This kind of discipline in running a team would immensely raise the level of competitive Guild Wars 2.
How realistic are some of these developments in the near future? For one thing, they are all doable. We have seen it in other esports. They often require a level of infrastructure we don’t quite have yet. But I have faith. The fighting game Super Smash Brothers Melee paved a path we can easily follow. Both games are played for fun and for hardcore competition, both have a high skill floor when it comes to competitive, and both have a high skill ceiling. Despite being released 14 years ago, SSBM has, without any balance changes, developed one of the deepest metagames of any competitive video game, all on the back of its community.
ArenaNet has brought us features such as the World Tournament Series, and soon, PvP leagues. They have been giving us more and more tools to grow in the same way. To the Guild Wars 2 community, the ball is in our court. I implore anyone who feels they can help develop the metagame to do so. It may not be overnight, but with the right amount of care, our game can become truly special.
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