“Come gather around pilots
Wherever you play
And admit that the tiering
And accept the new system
Well, it’s here to stay
And if the game to you is worth playin’
Then you’d better start adjustin’, don’t throw it away
For the matchmaker is a’changin'”
Okay, so that’s probably not the changes Bob Dylan had in mind– or hell, even David Bowie for that matter. But in our little microcosm of War Robots, we’re living in an era of turbulence all the same.
The matchmaker system that rolled out a little over a week ago for those of us on iOS devices finally caught up with our poor peers on Android this week- a substantially larger userbase- and the Sturm und Drang of the first wave has now been amplified by the second.
All of this comes at a time of great changes to me as well, both in the game and in the culture surrounding it. Ch-ch-changes indeed!
Let’s start with the matchmaker. The early days were the Wild West, with me getting thrown in with hostiles way above my ability to make an appreciable impact on the match. This has been the first inkling of change for many, as they drift into the Wiki Forum in a state of shock and, in many cases, frustration. The scene on social medial is little different. This has been a bit of a bombshell.
But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. While I feel for our Android brethren who are just now staggering their way through this, my matchmaker sorting process seems to have come to an end this week.
Sure I’m fighting for every place on the table. I’m being made to pay for stupid mistakes in ways that bring the end of my contribution to the match alarmingly closer. I’m having to populate my hangar with mechs that I need to run as much as mechs that I want to run. I’m having to learn the ways and means of a whole host of new mechs I haven’t faced before, and the lessons are often painful.
Like when I blasted a mech coming around a wall at 300m on Dead_city, heading for my beacon, and charged it with the Thundorkan Boa. It just stood there, taking the hits which didn’t seem to be doing anything, firing back at me. I got closer, and closer… and as the smoke from my rockets cleared, I realized I was nose to snout with a Rhino. A moment later I was picking my next robot.
There appear to be three main reasons why people are unhappy with the change, outside of the obvious early settling period where people are being thrown up against outsize opposition. There’s merit to this- I’ve created an Android account to collect some low-level data, and by level 5 I’d already faced a Leo. With my Cossack and Destrier. The struggle is real.
But beyond that, let’s take a closer look at these three primary reasons against the matchmaker.
I wish I could take credit for the Ozzy joke here, but alas sharper wits than mine got there first.
I’m not alone in being saddened at the passing of the Tier system, though. I loved being able to have separate and reasonably-defined game experiences, and I’ve contended before that their disappearance is something of an opportunity missed for Pixonic. A number of people really seem to enjoy dropping down into different Tiers not for clubbing, but because it happens to be fun to pilot all the different bots the game has given us rather than just a handful of the “most competitive.”
A lesson can be taken from Magic: the Gathering, which has not only endured but prospered thanks to a variety of different “formats” which allows players to approach the game in different ways. Whether its Standard or Legacy, Pauper or Commander, or any of a number of others, the same game offers endless variety. While a recent blog by Pixonic gives some hope to being able to play at different strata of the game, anything significant is sure to be a ways away.
Next, a lot of the frustration pilots are having is that their previous (and comfortable) dominance has vanished, now that they’re up against “real” competition. Again, I’m not talking about clubbing, but rather simply veteran players knowing the ins and outs of their tiers, and being able to regularly rank high in the standings as a result. Believe me, I can relate.
But there are two ways to respond to that. You can rage against the machine that moved your cheese, or you can use the opportunity to improve. Athletes around the world in any sport will tell you that if you want to be the best, you have to play the best, and it’s no different here. I am now constantly punished for bad decisions, and lethally. Before, against less-experienced prey, I might just lose a bit of health, maybe occasionally get meched. The margin of error now is so much less. You learn on the job, or you die.
At this point, my matches are about two-thirds wins or losses where I’ll occasionally contribute, and the remaining third are really competitive, delightful games where I have to constantly be on my toes. A lot more matches are going the distance these days, and that added time allows for a bit more narrative. We might surge forward early and cap beacons, but the beleaguered enemy fights back tooth and nail, meching us out. We might get pounded in the beginning, but manage to hold on to the bitter end for a beacon win.
I’m having a lot more of these kinds of games than I did under the old system. I feel for those who are frustrated at the loss of the comfort zone, but it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.
Ultimately, the matchmaker change is about more than just an adjustment to how your opponents are selected. It represents a change to the entire paradigm of how we approach the game.
Under the old system, gear was the determining factor in who you faced. This enabled a input-based environment, where you could face people of approximately equivalent bots and weapons and expect to see skill carry the day. Put another way, if we are all given the same tools, the ones that prevail are the ones that use them better.
Now, gear is either a much lower consideration, or not considered at all, depending upon who you talk to (playerbase research is ongoing). Instead, your previous success determines who you face. That’s an output-based environment, relying on what you’ve managed to do with those tools you’ve been given. This is a significant difference.
Many of those unhappy with the change are indeed lamenting the ability to demonstrate themselves superior by facing inferior competition. To them, competitive games are a proving ground, a crucible where the skilled are separated from the unskilled. It gets to the very heart of what competition means.
Now, standing in the game is a much more personal thing. I’ll continue to face stiffer opposition while I win, until the point where I stop winning. It also has the effect of making gear more relevant, because no matter how skilled you are in your Destrier, you’re going to be in trouble if you run into that top tier bot. This is the basis of the “cash grab” complaints against Pixonic.
Personally, I am enjoying the new system, but not unqualifiedly so. Mileage, as ever, will vary. Now, speaking of bots…
I’ve played a number of different bots and configurations since coming to the game at the end of last year. I started with a Destrier, learned the Cossack, then bought a Gepard– a story familiar to many. Most recently, I redid my hangar wholesale towards a “brickfighting” Boa strategy, but in light of the apparent removal of Gold/Workshop bot penalties and the apparent diminishment of hangar strength as a matchmaking consideration, I’ve started diversifying a bit.
Here are some of the highlights.
Thundorkan Boa – My “leadoff hitter” every game, I still love the brickfighting tactic even if I’m not quite as effective at it now thanks to the upgrade in matchmaking. Midrange mechs seem to be a lot more common now, and the challenge of knife-fighting and ambushing is that much greater. If I can kill two of the enemy before I lose the Boa, I’m a happy pilot. That used to be my bare minimum.
At the brickfighting peak, I ran two Thundorkans and a Taran Orkan Boa. I’m now down to one Thundorkan.
Aphid Thunder Leo – There’s been some talk of a resurgence of the Leo in the wake of health buffing, so after a decent run of Lights and Mediums, I bought my first Heavy. I don’t love the Leo, he’s a bit slow, and I’m not a big fan of Aphids either. But I’ve been doing more overall damage since adding him, even if I tend to bring him out a little later in the game.
Plasma Gareth – I ran the Gareth awhile back, after becoming intrigued by the bot with Lloyd Le-Mar’s superb videos featuring it. Because of the BritBot matchmaker penalty, however, he nudged me up further than where I wanted to play, and I had to bench him.
Thanks to the new matchmaker system letting us run pretty much whatever we want, he’s gotten a second lease on life. With his newly-buffed speed upgrade, he’s a solid option later in the game when I want to start tying up some beacons.
Plasma Galahad – This was the big purchase, using the rest of my reserves from the days when Gold seemed to come a little more easily. And I’ve absolutely gotten my money’s worth. This thing is an absolute beast, able to withstand a pounding while dishing out some very nice damage thanks to the Taran and pair of Magnums. I notched eight kills when I debuted it (not all my doing, but rather building on the hard work of my teammates), so I took that as a good omen. It hasn’t let me down yet.
RDB Griffin – I go back and forth on this guy. Griffins are a staple bot at this level of play, but I don’t love it. It’s a bit slow, with a lot of downtime between firings of the Pins and Tulumbas. That was never a problem with the Pinata Gepard, whose speed and agility could whisk it away to safety, but the Griffin lumbers.
No small amount of this is simply down to the fact that I’m used to a smashmouth style of play, and am needing to learn the nuances of the bot. Watch this space.
Stalker – Every now and then I’d get the itch to go eat at Denny’s. Eventually I’d give in, and go have a meal there, usually the pancakes or some other breakfast item. And invariably, when I’d get the check, I’d be disappointed. The food wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, and it certainly wasn’t worth what I was shelling out for it.
That came to mind when I finally took my Stalker off of active duty. It was a fun little bot to play, and the feeling of steering it the first time as it raced along was exhilarating. But I could never quite figure out how to best gear it. I tried Pinatas, but they didn’t seem to do what I wanted. I then went for the most popular choice, Magnums, but I found them ill-fitting for the Stalker’s playstyle. The Stalker wants to hit-and-run, and Magnums aren’t that kind of weapon. So I settled on Aphids,and those worked fine enough.
The problem I noticed, though, was that equipping the Stalker that way made me want to go stalking, rather than beacon capping- and the capping was what I’d assigned the slot to do. That’s no fault of the Stalker, but it just didn’t contribute quite enough to justify holding the slot. I gave its Aphids to the Leo, put it in mothballs, and have tried not to regret too much the spending of those precious Workshop Points.
This week’s honor goes to Hellfox123. Like many veteran players, I’ve come to take a fairly poor view of artillery Natashas camping on the backline. They tend to stay in a small radius of spawn, belch out area of effect damage, and contribute rather little to the game.
Hellfox123 was the very rare exception. Sure they were piloting a Natasha outfitted with Noricums and Zenits, two weapons one doesn’t expect to get a lot from. But this pilot’s tracking and positioning was spotless. This wasn’t random damage, but rather very well-placed blanket bombing that caught me time and time again.
And it didn’t matter where I was. Hellfox123 clearly didn’t put down roots in a single spot, but moved to where they could be best-placed to inflict damage. As a result, Hellfox123 took third in damage, with four kills (at least one of them your humble author), and gets a call-out for Pilot of the Week.