I love Guild Wars 2. I truly do. I’ve pre-purchased the game, I’ve participated in every beta weekend and stress test, and I even write the Guardian profession column for Guild Wars Insider. I find the game absolutely revolutionary in many respects. When I encounter other players in the PvE world, I don’t see them as competition trying to tag my mob or steal my copper ore node. Instead I help them out reflexively, cooperating with them for our mutual benefit. In WvW, we have a battle of THREE servers that goes way beyond any stale dual faction offering found in other games. In structured PvP, all gear has the same stats. There is no gear grind. You’ll unlock new armor as you progress, but it is completely cosmetic in nature, meaning winners are determined by skill and execution instead of who farmed up the gear with the best stats.
WHY HOT JOIN SUCKS
Unfortunately, not everything is hearts and flowers when it comes to the game. I think the current state of structured PvP sucks, and is in dire need of changes if it wants to succeed at and after launch. Currently there are two experiences that you can find in sPvP: Hot Join and Tournaments. These are polar opposite experiences, and the only thing they have in common are the maps they take place on.
Hot Join is set up for 8v8 play of random players or pick-up groups (PuGs). You can’t form teams in this game type, not even partial ones. Well you CAN, technically, but you aren’t supposed to be able to. So if there are one or two friends you’d like to play with, you’re completely screwed from enjoying this more casually focused style of PvP. I’ve already recorded a video commentary on Guild Wars Insider detailing why I think all sPvP should be 5v5, but this goes way beyond all that. Currently, the only way to play with your friends is to click on the “Join Friend in PvP” option you get if you right-click on their portrait in the party interface. That sounds great until you’re put on the opposite team by the game’s simplistic auto-balancing system. While I understand the need for teams to be as balanced as possible in any kind of PvP, why the system doesn’t take into account that “Join Friend” means “I’d like to play WITH this person and not AGAINST them” is a mystery to me.
I addressed this in the video I made, and during the interview Guild Wars Insider had with Jonathan Sharp, the PvP guru at ArenaNet. A lot of the responses I get on the subject, including Mr. Sharp’s, seem to be that Hot Join is training mode for casuals to learn the game, and that any sort of grouping mechanic will somehow totally obliterate the sanctity of the system’s inherent randomness. While I agree that fielding a full team of 8 players against 8 PuGs doesn’t make for a fair or enjoyable experience, no one can seriously tell me that there isn’t some sort of middle ground out there. The party line at ArenaNet is that Hot Join is centered on 8v8 because, as Mr. Sharp puts it,
“If PvP was just limited to 5 on 5, new players would be taking away 20% of their team’s power if they are standing still or are just trying to get a feel for a profession. If it’s an 8 on 8, players can learn at their own pace, while having the majority of their team still playing.”
So… if you’re adding 16 people to a 10 person map in order to compensate for keyboard turners, AFKers, and new players, then why is anyone seriously concerned with a group of 2 or 3 people playing on the same team? By the logic Mr. Sharp offers, we’d just be compensating for 2 or 3 other people who can’t manage to find their way out of the starting spawn. That is a far, far different thing than rolling in there as a full 8-man hit squad. The infuriating part for me, I mean the real anger-inducing aspect of this whole subject, is that you CAN ALREADY FORM UP AS A SMALL, 2-3 PERSON GROUP if you are patient enough to exploit the system. In fact, during the final beta weekend I ran into more than one 8-man pre-made comprised of members of a single guild.
Here’s how you do it:
- Have your friend join a random game.
- Use the “Join Friend” option to join that game.
- Did you spawn on his/her team? If so, awesome! It’s working as it SHOULD be intended. If no, then proceed to…
- Both of you leave the match.
- Repeat step 1.
While this aggravating process becomes more and more time consuming the more people you try to bring onto your team, it’s well worth it if you really just have one other person you’d like to play with. After 10 to 15 minutes of jumping through this completely unnecessary hoop, you’ll potentially be rewarded with an hour or more of PvP together until the terrible matchmaking system auto-balances one of you to the other team. (More on that later.) If someone argues that this is somehow against the spirit of Hot Join PvP, then I say they’re dead wrong. I’d counter that the current restrictions go against the entire design philosophy of Guild Wars 2. Every other single aspect of the game makes it easy for you to play with your friends. From down-scaling your level so you can always revisit lower level zones with your buddies, to the very nature of dynamic events and how they encourage everyone to come together for a common purpose, everything is centered on facilitating group play. Hell, even in the Guild Wars 2 Design Manifesto Mike O’Brien clearly states that,
“MMOs are social games. So why do they sometimes seem to work so hard to punish you for playing with other players?”
Great point, Mike. I couldn’t agree more.
If you’re going to argue against grouping as something which upsets the balance of Hot Join PvP, then you’d be better off leveling criticism at the horrible matchmaking system which routinely ignores vacancies in active games (some with uneven teams) and places players in game servers where there are completely alone, 1v1 or 1v2. While I would appreciate the addition of an Explorable Mode where I could run around maps solo in order to learn them, when it happens accidentally, it’s a problem. When I can cap every point by myself and get a “win” without another player even entering the game, something is broken.
WHY TOURNAMENTS AREN’T THE ANSWER
So now, after I’ve made the case for being able to group in Hot Join, someone will invariably point out that team-based play is already available in the Tournament system. I even had an ArenaNet employee who was PvPing during the final beta weekend tell me the same thing. For the uninitiated, the Tournament system in sPvP allows you to form a team of 5 and compete in a single-elimination tournament against 7 other teams of 5. This is an amazing form of PvP for dedicated teams. It’s a potentially very hardcore experience, and is the beating heart of the eSport hopes that ArenaNet has for the game. For people looking for that kind of experience, it’s wonderful.
The problem is that it’s absolutely terrible for a group of casuals, or for a partial group of say… 2 or 3 players. Sure, you’ll be matched up with others to form a full group, but it isn’t anywhere close to the same thing as playing on a dedicated team.
The first major problem is that there is no ranking system present in the current Tournament system. There are different divisions, but for people who just want to get together and play, they don’t mean much.
- Pickup: single-elimination tournaments wait for 8 teams to join before starting. This tournament has 3 rounds of eliminations, with winners receiving qualifier points.
- Monthly: Require an amount of qualifier points from the pickup tournaments to join.
- Yearly: These grand tournaments feature the winners from the monthly tournaments slugging it out for the right to call themselves the best PvP players of the year.
- Player-Run: customized by players, these tournaments allow for great flexibility and unique bragging rights.
The only two that apply to casual PvPers without dedicated teams are Pickup and Player-Run, and only Pickup allows for partial groups. The downfall of this system is that you’re going to be placed against teams who are anything but casual, and who are only participating for the qualifier points.
This leads to the second major problem, in which your PuG team waits in the Mists for 10-15 minutes (or longer) for the full tournament roster to fill up and start, and then you get completely obliterated in the first round by a dedicated team. The end result is you spend more time waiting to play than you do actually playing, and that’s not fun for anyone. Without a matchmaking system in place, and/or without a true Pickup tournament category that only rewards Glory without any qualifier points at all (one that holds no incentive for dedicated teams), it’s going to continue to be a very disappointing and frustrating experience for casual PvPers.
When you combine the deficiencies of the current state of both Hot Join and Tournament play, you’re left with two basic decisions that are at the polar opposite of one another:
- Play in Hot Join solo
- Play in Tournaments with a dedicated team of 5
The fact that there is no middle ground is almost inexcusable, and it is a glaring exception to Guild Wars 2 design philosophy.
I try to never complain about something without offering a solution, and this topic is no exception. I firmly believe that ArenaNet can and will implement some sort of fix to this current problem, and I have all the faith in the world in them as developers and designers. If I were invited to their offices to offer my potential solutions, they would be as follows:
- Allow for small groups to participate in Hot Join. A party is 5 people, and if you have 5 people, then maybe Tournaments are the place for you. But… if you’re only in a group with one or two other people, then you should be able to queue for Hot Join with those people. This should maintain a sufficient level of randomness in the Hot Join system while still giving players a convenient way to play together.
- Implement a matchmaking system that accounts for group size, and intelligently fills those slots. There is no reason to place two players on a brand new server when there are games with three open spots. If players are grouped and queue together, then the system should account for this and lock them together – even during auto-balancing.
- Create a true Pickup Tournament category, and rename the current one to “Qualifying” since that’s its main goal. This allows dedicated teams to go where they’ll find the hardcore competition they’re looking for while creating a space for casual groups and PuGs to play.
That’s it. Do those three things and the state of structured PvP would be much better and on par with the rest of the game.
I think ArenaNet has created something special with Guild Wars 2. It really feels and plays like MMO 2.0, and I cannot wait for the game’s release on August 28th. I just want the experience of structured PvP to be as awesome as everything else the game has to offer.