The International is underway and once again my sleep cycle is completely ruined for it. Every Summer for a week, 4 years in a row now, my night becomes my day and everything is backwards. Still, I will watch TI because I enjoy the reality that there is a massive tournament centered around gaming. Moba’s require a great deal of attention and practice I am not prepared to dedicate myself to to achieve the skill required to perform well. Instead I appreciate that at the highest level of play the ‘teamwork’ required to win is so impressive, which makes it fun and entertaining for me as a spectator. Some of these teams have such a link between each other that they can anticipate each other moves and ability usage. It’s really quite amazing to see such cohesion among people live and spontaneous during DOTA2 matches.
I believe that I appreciate this sense of teamwork more this week because recently my friends and I have been playing Dawn of War 2, specifically Last Stand. And while not nearly on the same level as those currently in Seattle, watching The International started me thinking about my own gaming groups teamwork and our own synergy or “hive-mind” like thinking that I thought I would share here.
Our small group of 3-5 depending on the day or week manages to play together on average once per week for a few hours, our game choice normally being based on who is online and who is not, though the Dawn of War franchise has been a solid choice of our group regardless of who is online for the last decade. That’s a lot of time spent hearing lines like “Fear denies faith”, “Orks! Orks! Orks! Orks!”, and “Do you hear the voices too?”. Strangely we’ve only just begun to play Dawn of War 2 together (despite each of us owning it for years), as during a search for new games my friends suggested the Last Stand mode. It’s actually perfect for us because we start to get a bit competitive if we get beaten by the AI, which quickly changes our mood from “meh” to where we can become more focused on becoming better at a game. And we enjoy that.
The Last Stand in DOW2 will beat you over and over until it deprives you of common sense and care. It’s designed to put each of your individual heroes through a really tough test facing against huge waves of mobs with absolutely no rest or mercy until you quit or win. Winning requires a good deal of skill, a good deal of luck, and most importantly a good deal of teamwork. Even if you have all of these, this game mode is so damn difficult that it feels impossible to win.
The waves of mobs increase in difficulty and race variation but are not randomized, that is, wave 5 is always Tyranids, wave 6 is always Orks. It becomes easier to remember how to deal with each wave once you learn the pattern and behavior of each type of mob. Though for our group 20 waves is quite a lot to remember and prepare for, so a general strategy for our 3 person team is preferred. something where we can do more or less the same thing in each wave, adjusting as we need to but nothing too drastic or allowing for dramatic errors that cost us our precious game time.
Searching for this general strategy became the focus of our efforts. My friends heroes are the Space Marine Captain and the Eldar Farseer, whilst mine is the Ork Mekboy. (These character heroes are available in the base game just fyi). After testing various builds, abilities and having lots of fun, it became clear that the less active abilities we had the better we played. So we got together and designed new builds with the wargear we had available (none of us were higher than level 14). The roles of the Space Marine and Ork were to behave as damage sponges, just soaking up the damage whilst returning it in the form of melee damage, our trick here was to keep our Eldar Farseer out of harms way so he could give damage reducing bonuses and group teleportation. So for example the current wave would be faced in one of the 4 spawning areas as the Marine and Ork stood in the entrance blocking the wave of mobs, perma-tanking everything, whilst the Farseer hung back in the rear giving buffs and getting ready to teleport everybody to safety and catch a quick pause to recharge and prepare. Admittedly this strategy relied too much on the Farseer being on the ball, our strategy also took far too long to kill everything, and was not the most active of play styles so became a bit stale, however it did give us the opportunity to get past our previous best which was surviving to wave 13 before being crushed. This time we made it all the way to the final wave 20 before getting crushed, a huge improvement. We don’t really know how to beat wave 20, it seems impossible but we’ve only tried it once, have you beaten it?
My point here is that even if we’re not the best, we feel that we play well together and have fun, winning is fine but the fun matters the most. For example despite sacrificing the abilities we each individually find the most fun, we could never have gotten as far as we did, helped each other as much as we did, and performed some “clutch plays” that became great moments in our game and thus fun was had. Designing our builds together to perform as one unit also brought a sense of fun and pride in our efforts There were of course moments where things went very wrong for one of us but without a word being said the other 2 knew what was happening and were there on the scene performing exactly what was needed to recover and continue our momentum. Those moments where it feels impossible to win, become instead moments where something miraculous happened When these moments occur between the three of us we all make sure to talk about it in happy amazed terms afterwards. It’s these sort of moments where we help each other out, thus collectively helping us as a team, that we recall later as being great moments between us. It’s not that these moments are so rare that we feel the need to preserve them, but we want to acknowledge when we’ve been awesome as a team, pointing out when one of us did something awesome or really helpful. It’s a really great feeling to know when we’ve achieved hive-mind type behavior and I think that’s an important social factor in a good gaming group.
As I said, while not nearly on the same level as those DOTA2 teams, the best bits in these matches are always when you can see just how well they work together. Fantastic plays coming together that would never happen if every individual on the team performed for their own interests, their own glory ahead of their team. The best moments are always when one person is helped out by another to perform better, so that all can achieve their goals, so trust is built, and so all enjoy playing together. Trust. Fun. Teamwork. Awesome.
List of websites to buy Dawn of War 2: http://isthereanydeal.com/#/search:DAwn%20of%20War%202;/scroll:%23gamelist
Ork Mekboy Wargear: http://www.tomneko.net/articles/last-stand-wargear-ork/
Detailed wave list: http://dow.wikia.com/wiki/The_Last_Stand/The_Bloodied_Colosseum
Funny overview of The Last Stand (NSFW): http://1d4chan.org/wiki/Last_Stand
Dawn of War quotes, for fun: http://warhammer-game.narod.ru/wiki/Dawn_of_War_Quotes.html