GW2: If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try Again… But Also Pause and Think…

The Mystical Mesmer’s latest tales about miserable failure and continuous improvement makes me grin wryly and nod.

While I have chosen to wuss out this time on the Winter Wonderland jumping puzzle (hate the exploding presents – that stage is too competitive for me. Apparently the first to jump triggers the explosions. I am never the first to jump since my latency is usually higher than anyone in NA, so I end up waiting and waiting, and folks just pile in behind me and I never get to jump. If I just go YOLO, and jump, chances are likely I’m going to fall behind and fall through the gaps anyway), lately, I’ve found myself suddenly addicted to Unranked PvP.

T’was a curious conjunction of events that led to this.

First, there’s the new PvP dailies.

I’m usually game to get the easiest one or two, in a single match or two. That broke the initial barrier of venturing into the Heart of the Mists.

Secondly, there’s the utterly disgusting low chance of popping anything good with the Wintersday presents, coupled with guaranteed rewards in the PvP Wintersday track.

RNG and me do not get along. I -still- haven’t popped more than one carapace boots. When a precursor dropped for me last year, it was naturally the cheapest and most unwanted one, Venom.

All my Wintersday stuff this year has been bought. 15 gold for a Magnanimous Bell versus 500 ugly sweaters? Here, take the gold. I get 3-5 gold off the TP daily anyway. Collection starter items? After opening some 100 presents, I still hadn’t got one of them yet. Whatever. TP. Less than a silver.

The only bonus was that I’d apparently gotten all the Endless tonic recipes memorized last year. So I just paid 25 gold or so to Miyani (such goldsink this season!) and crafted stuff to turn into a dancing gift-wrapped box.

As for the Rime-Rimmed Aquabreather… what, rely on RNG to give me one? That’s never gonna happen.

I’d pretty much given up on it when a chance Reddit thread pointed out that the Ultimate Wintersday Gift in the Wintersday PvP track contained a guaranteed aquabreather.

gw2-hotdamn

(Also drool-worthy are permanent finishers as a choice. DAYUM. Those are worth GEMS.)

That was a pretty powerful motivator to seriously consider progressing on the PvP track this Wintersday, especially since the new Unranked arena provides a middle ground between meaningless deathmatching in hotjoin and the super competitive leaderboard climbers in Ranked.

So I broke out my usual ‘safe’ PvP character, my ‘bleed everything, not pro enough to be a terrormancer’ condi necro – whose build I shared with Missy Mojo some time ago and queued for a couple of matches.

Almost immediately, I realized I was in some serious trouble.

It may be that with the number of matches I had on my necromancer belt (290+), the matchmaking was bootstrapping me up to face a higher class of player. Fights on point were hard as hell. The scores for most matches were in the 475 – 500 sort of range, both ways, win or lose… except for the ones that had a premade team wiping the floor with us.

Yet since I was solo queuing, there was no guarantee of receiving any help if I ended up facing a 1 vs 2 on point – my necro can’t run, it can only just stay there, last for a while, and then die horribly.

Worse of all, I had my eye on the grind. I wanted the PvP Wintersday reward track to go up! Winning gives 1500 rank points! Losing only 500! Aaaargh!

I was stressing out a bit too much and taking things way too seriously, since this was my ‘serious’ PvP character, the one I use when I “want” to win. Some of us are prone to obsession in very unhealthy ways, and I knew this was a danger sign. My usual solution is just to play a few matches each day and not worry about it, but but… that is counter-productive to actually getting a rime-rimmed breather! How to resolve this?!

The solution came in the form of a PvP daily the very next day.

Win a match as a Ranger, they said.

You know, I said to myself, I have always been intending to learn how to play another class in PvP.

This would be a great opportunity to stop being lazy, look up Metabattle and copy a PvP build on your lowbie ranger and learn how to play it.

My lowbie ranger, by the way, is merely level 39 or so, a good chunk of that being a level 20 scroll of experience. I have pretty much never ventured beyond Brisban Wildlands with him in PvE. I barely knew how all his weapons operate. Still can’t tell you without reading the tooltips what a good chunk of them do, as opposed to say, knowing by heart guardian or necro skills and able to play them on sheer muscle memory.

Knowing full well my lack of ranger ability, my expectations of success didn’t so much lower as become nonexistent.

This turned out to be remarkably FREEING.

Y’see, there were two ‘meta’ builds available on Metabattle.

Like a masochist, I avoided the obvious easy one – ie. Power Ranger. I’ve seen that one in action. They stay back, snipe a lot and are terribly annoying, but aren’t terribly helpful on control point capture unless they really know the map and have mastered positioning well. I figured I could experiment with it another time.

The other was Condition Survival. Gee, that sounds a bit like my necro. Stack bleeds, be bunker-y, seemed like familiar ground to go with.

So I faithfully copied the meta build, barely understanding what eveything did, slowly reading each skill and trait as I slotted it in.

OK, I said, for my first few matches, I am not even trying to win, I am just going to figure out how it all works and gels together.

(As for why I didn’t do it in hotjoin, don’t make me laugh. The amount of side switching and stacking means you never get 1 vs 1 or 2 vs 2 matchups that really stress test your build – all you normally get is zerg or be zerged. Also, I was keen on seeing if the matchmaking was intelligent enough to detect that I was on a class that I’d never used in PvP before and match me with closer inexperienced equivalents.)

A few matches were actually won, but I suspect I had very little to do with those beyond the odd assist or two.

The bulk of it were losses as I ran around, noobing it up, seriously stress testing the survival abilities of the build while trying to figure out how to actually hurt anyone with it.

Survival was actually good, but I was fairly dismayed to only hit 6-10 bleeds on average on most people. I just couldn’t seem to get behind them enough, and their natural reaction is, of course, to face their opponent.

It must be my inexperience, I kept thinking, I just need to figure out the rotation and get better at execution. The only way to do it is practice. So keep pounding that Next Matchup button and keep going! Each loss is still 2% on the reward progression track!

And I had a more immediate improvement goal to keep my mind occupied and off the fact that most of the matches were losses. The goal: Get better at playing ranger. Actually progress to ‘passable’ and maybe even win a 1 vs 1 matchup.

(I was also supremely curious to see if the matchmaking would adjust, and see “oh, this fail ranger has lost like 8 matches in a row, let’s match him with equally horrific players…”)

It turns out that a losing streak makes it very hard to judge the quality of later matches, as the level of overall cooperation from players on your team seems to drop as well. (Makes a certain amount of sense that soloists who can’t seem to figure out map mechanics or the fact that control points are important for score would be in a lower bracket.)

What ended up deciding which team would win seemed to merely be luck of the draw, as in, which side had more randomly sorted players who understood teamwork slightly better than the other team.

Eventually, the streak of losses got to me and I actually paused to think, rather than just hitting the ‘Unranked’ button and leaping right into the next match.

I was aware that I wasn’t playing at a similar level as I could have on my usual necro. I just wasn’t winning 1 vs 1s consistently enough. Hell, I just didn’t seem to be doing any significant damage in any fight. 5-6 bleeds is nothing.

I knew from prior fights with the necro that I’d encountered a lot more dangerous condition rangers who could stack 18+ bleeds with seeming ease, tossing them on even as you cleared them.

Maybe I’m just not getting the movement and rotations of condi survival correct, I thought. Maybe I should check if there are high-level PvP pros whose movements I can try to emulate more. So I googled for “condition survival ranger.”

Turns out it wasn’t a terribly popular build and I couldn’t really find videos of anyone using it at a very high level (might be just my google fail)… but I did find one video which suggested some condi survival variants that weren’t at all traited like the one I found on Metabattle.

Hrm…

Maybe, just maybe, I should stop assuming that I am too much of a noob with ranger to tweak a build and actually take some time to -read- my other traits and try to craft a build (or at least tweak the meta variant more to my liking) like what I did for my necro?

Problem 1: I am simply not getting enough bleeds onto my opponents.

The video I found suggested two solutions. Sharpening Stone the utility skill, as well as Keen Edges – a trait in the Power line that fires off a Sharpening Stone when someone hits 75% threshold… You know what, I don’t have enough bleeds… I’ll take both.

What to give up? At my low level of play, I wasn’t facing enough condi pressure to really worry about having my pet take all my condis… besides I rather not have my pet dead all the time. I’m already running a trait that clears 2 condis with each Survival skill used. So I just pressed the “subtract” button twice and added 2 to the Power line to pick up Keen Edges.

As for the utility skill, I just didn’t think I was using Signet of Stone appropriately at my level of play. Being invulnerable to damage is nice, for both me and my pet, but if I’m getting focused to the point that I need to pop it, it’s like a 4 vs 1 fight because all my other teammates have already died. Not very useful ultimately. So what the hell, less toughness, more pewpew. Bleeds, anyway.

Problem 2: I just can’t seem to figure out how to operate this stupid dagger offhand.

Pressing 5 may or may not land some miserable amount of bleeds on a player. I couldn’t ever seem to get close enough to land dagger 4 properly. Not that a bit of poison seemed to be doing that much either.

Well, Metabattle also suggested a torch offhand variant. Maybe I’ll try that. Seems to be some burning, and a fire field. Fire fields are always good, I could maybe shoot through it for more burning or something…

Problem 3: I am just not getting any mileage whatsoever out of this stupid spider. I lose track of it more than half the time, it never seems to immobilize when I want it to, or be in range when I need it to be.

The wolf was ok. It acted like how I expect a ranger pet to act, running into melee range, getting into people’s faces, and I actually managed to set off its fear once or twice.

So… eff the spider. New pet.

I really have no clue here… but you know what? I need more bleeds! And I’ve seen my guild leader (who mains a ranger) use birds before! They do decent slashy slashy damage, I think!

So I looked through the whole stable of pets and found a hawk with lacerating slash for even moar bleeds.

And because I really wanted a theme going here and wasn’t getting much mileage out of the Sigil of Doom’s poison anyway, I put a Sigil of Earth (60% chance of bleeding on crit) and a Sigil of Geomancy (apply bleed to anyone near you on weapon swap) on BOTH weapons.

If I sit on a weapon and autoattack, I want it to apply bleeds.

If I swap a weapon, you got it, it’s gonna bleed anyone near me – maybe I’ll -actually- get it to land on someone now that I don’t have to remember which weapon to which weapon switch applied the bleed. (Dat’s too high level for me.)

The difference, when I got back to queuing for matches, may not have been night and day, but it was certainly more like dawn with clear skies versus a depressing foggy London evening.

Suddenly, I was stacking anywhere from 10-18+ bleeds.

Apparently, people panic when they suddenly get too much bleeding on them and turn away from you, causing even more bleeds to stack.

The amount of bleeding I was putting out was giving me a LOT more confidence to dive in and take on 1 vs 1s (or even 1 vs 2s), allowing my 900 range shortbow and axe to connect more consistently, and even get into near melee range to land guess what, even more bleeds, and here, have some cover condis like chill and cripple to boot.

I got braver and launched more Entangle elites, and discovered that torch was in fact a dream weapon. The fire field appeared to do a decent amount of damage to already wounded inviduals. Not only did it make thieves more reluctant to close in and melee when a circle of fire erupts under their feet, I could basically recreate a City of Heroes fire tank farming scenario where they would immobilize a bunch of mobs and then place a bonfire on them.

This created a catch-22 situation where my opponent first had to deal with the distraction of getting a ton of bleeds, then suddenly halted in their tracks with a Binding Roots entangle (which they’d either have to break, or react fast enough with an appropriate condi clear or movement skill) and while they were still trying to execute that, here’s a bonfire merrily ticking away under their stationary self to worry about too.

Not many get out of this without falling over downed.

Also, I could just dump a fire field on demand onto a thief’s shadow refuge, where previously I’d lose target and look around helpless, or drop a fire field on a downed person to keep them down while messing around with a second player.

The bird, meanwhile, seemed to be a decent enough distraction that got in people’s faces and chased them around, so that was good too.

I started winning a decent number of 1 vs 1s – which in my book, is a good enough basic yardstick to measure a build against and not find it wanting.

This then means that if I wander over to a point where a 1 vs 1 is already taking place, I can expect to actually apply enough pressure to quickly down the opponent, instead of getting bogged down forever in a useless 2 vs 1 fight in which we lose pretty much every second that person keeps two people occupied playing with him and not killing him.

Again, queuing for matches became interesting, regardless of the final result.

As I kept playing, I started developing a bit of a theory of sPvP matches. Imo, some games are just lost games, where the other team is patently more organized and better than your team.

If you get out-rotated from the beginning, where someone just barges into your home point and successfully prevents a fast capture of that point, while his team caps their home unmolested, and the teamfight at mid is being held off equally, or worse, actually LOST by your team, you pretty much know that your team cannot match theirs in a teamfight.

(There was one highly memorable and embarrassing match where I actually managed to lose a 1 vs 1 on home against an ele, while watching our invader to their home lose his fight to the home defender, and then got to watch the 3 in the middle wipe within split seconds of each other. Result: 5 people respawning, 3 control points in the other team’s favor. WELL. So much for that match.)

For whatever reason, I totally don’t mind it when I’m on my ranger.

It’s like the ranger has been designated in my mind as my ‘play for fun’ PvP character. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have high expectations on a ranger I have zero PvE experience with. Maybe it’s just that he’s a roly poly asura and you can never be serious while an asura cavorts around on your screen.

I just chalk it up as, ok, forget the match result, time to wander off to a point that doesn’t have anyone and hope I draw 1 or 2 opponents to practice my 1 vs 1 or 1 vs 2 skills on. These give me little mini-successes, even if the match is a total wash in terms of score.

If I do end up drawing 3 or 4, then urm, practice like hell my juking and dodging and evading and running around obstacles and rolling off from heights and changing the Z axis as much as possible before I die horribly. Who knows, maybe it’ll actually help my team get some score elsewhere. (If the team really sucks, then usually not.)

But in general, I’m feeling the tide shift back to a more balanced 50/50 win-loss ratio, and that suggests I’ve actually managed to get the build to a point where it’s no longer a detriment to the team.

And some days, the shoe is on the other foot. This was a patently won match, where everyone on the team

And some days, the shoe is on the other foot. This was a patently won match, where everyone on the team was winning their matchups consistently against their opponents. I ended up running sentry circles around the outside of the clock tower – a place I’ve never really had opportunity to go to before – just watching the fights at both ends – having frightened away 3 individuals from coming back to mid with 1 vs 1 kills – feeling like rotating to any other point would just be too much salt in the wound.

All that match repetition while learning the ranger has also caused me to look upon sPvP as something akin to a TF2 match or any other FPS match, where you just play and restart, play and restart, some you win, some you lose.

The Unranked category is a real godsend for me as I can treat matches this way without worrying that my carefree, casual attitude is fucking up someone’s leaderboard ranking.

The amount of toxicity that I’ve seen is also pretty low.

Haven’t had any whispers directed at me yet (though I’d pretty much just block and ignore, since I staunchly say a total of zero words in PvP all the time. Typing equals can’t fight, y’know?)

Generally, the only thing I’ve seen is a couple people passively-aggressively venting about a miserable team over map or teamchat. (Since they are no doubt part of the problem, I can’t really take their complaints seriously. 😛 Just bad losers being bad losers.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here, looking to score just -one- kill so that I at least look semi-dangerous, or a decent enough challenge.)

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GW2: Fun Need Not Necessarily Come From Winning

No doubt in my last post, you could tell that I was trying to shake off a significant self-inflicted “demoralized” debuff.

Most of it prompted by possibly too optimistic expectations. Guild War 2’s WvW scoreboard is extremely easy to pull up, and crystal clear on how many points exactly are being accrued by each server, and how much of a lead each one has.

When you play with a goal to try and nudge your server to the top of that lead, there’s a fairly high level strategy that has to be thought about – on how to best take points away from the other servers, how to keep your points, and how, if at all possible, to do this with the force you have available to you and can bring to bear.

When you’re playing solo, the typical state of affairs of an MMO player, sans those already with a regular play partner or group of friends, this can make you feel exceedingly helpless to affect anything on the scoreboard. Mostly you can’t, unless you’re really lucky and patiently try to wear down a supply camp that is unwatched by anybody (and how likely is that?)

When you’re playing within an aimless, unorganized pug zerg (or militia, if you’re feeling kind,) there’s the distinct sense of every man for himself, morale is shaky, and everyone is liable to either stay locked in combat (or spawn camped) for hours or wipe themselves attempting to autoattack a door down while defenders indulge in a happy shower of arrows from carts. I apparently learn faster than some other folk, because the futility of such a tactic becomes too obvious to me, and I end up hiding behind a wall sighing, wondering what now, or breaking off and ending up alone again.

When you’re running with a guild zerg, things get better, but can become just as frustrating if the communication isn’t clear, or if the strategy is poor or ill-chosen, leading to multiple wipes or failed attempts or even counter-productively affecting the scoreboard.

I bet members of raiding guilds would recognize similar problems, I’ve just never really been into the whole raiding scene.

Solutions apparently range from working patiently with the entire guild, teaching and hoping practice makes things improve, dumping them and jumping ship somewhere else, instigating conflict and drama through violent disagreement and anti-social actions, giving up and accepting that one’s guild is simply out of that league, etc.

Of course, the typical suggestion to an individual to make the effort, read guides and strategies, work on oneself, become good, get into a good well-organized guild (that somehow matches your play times exactly), get voicecomms, get a mic, etc. etc. so that one can achieve one’s goals and all that.

I had the luck to listen in on a very decisive leader running a small team out in WvW (he was bringing in pugs because he needed the numbers) and was very impressed with the organization and the plans and strategies. Not all of them worked out, but there was always a goal placed on the table and folks were doing their best to keep newbies up to speed, out of trouble, rescue men down, and basically, it was exciting and purposeful. It was fun.

If only it wasn’t an NA guild 12 hours transposed from my timezone… So attempting to join that on a permanent basis is out of the question.

Then again, I’m not sure I have or want to make that sort of commitment either. I avoided raiding because I didn’t want to be locked into a weekly schedule, and it’ll seem more than a little daft to aim for trying to be a hardcore professional on a WvW squad when it may involve much deeper commitment than I’m willing to make.

So… am I screwed? Doomed to an eternity of horribly, depressing losing and getting thrashed by people with more numbers on their side, more timezone than thou or whatever else the whiners claim?

It took some deep thinking to work through this, but a revelation eventually hit me. All I really need to do is work on reframing my perspective.

It’s useless to be upset by the actions of other people or how circumstances turn out, especially if you did your part in trying to make things better.

If you didn’t, and were casting blame elsewhere, then um, time to take a harder look at yourself and figure out what you can do.

Since I can’t affect the scoreboard very much at all by myself, I need to be more focused on the moment and improving my own play in that moment. I win when I do better than the last time, based on my own gameplay. It’s far better than trying to hang my ego on a combined score that changes like the wind beyond my control.

With this perspective, I’ve been having a much better time in WvW.

I asked myself, in the worse possible situation, what can a soloer do in WvW?

Hit and run attacks on dolyaks – better if they were due at some place where supply was needed, but even if not, it is personal practice for how quick you can kill one and be out of there. (Because the organized guilds / zergs will come to check on it eventually.)

Or assassinate a lone reinforcing straggler or two, better if in a spot where reinforcements someplace were needed, but again, practice, and some people like ganking.

Some PvE dynamic events and if you’re really lucky, a supply camp that is unwatched by anybody (barely ever happens.)

I proceeded to amuse myself for a good hour or so in a Borderlands with the Outmanned buff. It mostly consisted of farming nearby PvE mobs (with magic find gear, lol!) while waiting for a dolyak to pop and ninja offing it in between the camp and sentry, and quickly teleporting back to waypoint if things looked too scary (like a horde coming to check on the camp.) Once or twice, I even met a friend and we flipped the supply camp momentarily.

Why not? I’m not blocking anyone from queuing with my random playing around, the outmanned buff said loud and clear no one wanted in, and it was kinda thrilling. Like PvEing on an open world PvP server, where you have to constantly stay on alert. And it was useful for curing my fear and sense of demoralization, sort of like taking some power and control back.

I even made plans to get a more suitable profession, likely thief or mesmer, to do such things more easily when I feel like it. But hey, my chunky Charr Guardian with humongous spikes on his shoulders and a -flaming- sword while fighting managed well enough – talk about the epitome of unstealthy.

Now what about group fighting? Well, it is possible to focus on playing better as an individual even within one.

Yes, the strategy sucks. Yes, we are all going to die in horrible ways. Yes, some (a lot of) people won’t listen and will do stupid things and go off and rambo somewhere. Yes, the score won’t move worth a damn in the direction you really want it to move, and will probably go the other way.

But well, if you’re committed in some fashion, let’s say as part of a group action, why not work on performing your best while you’re there?

This can involve listening to orders better, doing them as quickly as possible, fighting better, dodging better, controlling better, identifying squishier targets and focusing better, not running into enemy AoE better, using friendly AoE fields better, weaving in and out of combat better, trying not to die better, and perhaps even flanking and pushing better (it’s fascinating how effective flanking can be sometimes, people tend to panic when getting hit from an unexpected direction and give ground.)

And even when you’re giving ground, there’s always choosing the next spot to retreat to better. Even as an all out rout, it can be a sort of moral victory if you pull five guys away from their main objective just to freaking hunt you down. Who knows, one day, it could be those crucial few seconds for your team hold out elsewhere because the reinforcements didn’t get where they were supposed to in time because they practiced the habit of ‘chase blindly into everything, omgz0rs, so many krait!’

There’s experimenting with different weapons or skills and learning how to use them best, and playing around with builds and traits in one’s spare time, or steadily upgrading one’s gear.

And when I think like that, I feel happier that I’m getting more personal practice in, even if it has to end up with me faceup on the ground eventually with nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.

Of course, it’ll be better once more folks get smarter, but that takes time and practice. And one can always begin with making oneself smarter through consistent play.

P.S. Karma count is now at 95k. If only that exotic armor karma vendor I’m eyeing wasn’t bugged this particular patch…