I’m watching the Grand Finals of World of Tanks’ largest tournament, the WGL. This should be the most exciting bit: a chance to see trained, professional tank commanders battling it out, a chance for heroism and tactics and drama.
But it’s boring. Of the five games between the finalists, three have ended in draws. In the two hours of games there’s only about ten minutes of actual action. The teams are playing cautiously, each player sheltering behind cover, keenly aware a single shell could take them out of the game, leaving their team mates at a disadvantage that could mean missing their collective shot at the $60,000 prize pot.
In professional World of Tanks, camping is simply too sensible a strategy.
Wargaming think they have a fix. It involves explosions.
World of Tanks wasn't conceived as a esport. It was built to support two teams of 15 players working to eliminate the enemy. Its levels are large, its tanks have long health bars, and they move slowly. In the World of Tanks games you or I will play online, cautious play is rewarded, and rewarding. With 30 tanks on the field, it doesn’t take long for players’ nerves to shatter - and an opponent rushing into your gun sights.
Games are won by either destroying all the tanks on the enemy team or by capturing their base. If the round’s ten minute timer reaches zero but both teams have tanks on the field and retain control of their base then the game ends in a draw.
The esport Wargaming.net want to create is hobbled by the game’s rules.
In the esport version of World of Tanks, teams are made up of only seven players, less than half the number the game’s designed for. These players have trained together and, if they’ve made it to the grand final, know how to hold the line. That leads to a stale set of strategies: in the opening phase of the game both teams rush to good positions and then wait.
Every hill and bush becomes a potential ambush. Players choose to wait instead of advancing. With a ten minute timer on each match they can wait until the last two minutes of a round before making a move. Why two minutes? If your team mounts an assault on the enemy base and it goes south then you simply run away, hoping to keep one of your team alive long enough for the round timer to reach zero, causing the game to end in a draw.
You can see an example of this from the WGL Finals. In the second round Na’Vi were playing against Virtus Pro on a map called Ensk. Leaving it till 1.40 on the clock Na’vi attacked Virtus’ base, Virtus pushed them back and Na’Vi managed to run one of their tanks to the maps northwest corner to end the game in a draw. Prior to that assault was eight minutes of camping, which is slightly more entertaining than watching a fly clean itself.
Elimination rules don’t help. There are no respawns in World of Tanks. Like Counter-Strike, once you’re dead you’re out of the game. If you’re playing the main game that’s not much of a problem, you go back to your garage, select another tank and hop into a game. In a tournament with money on the line it could see your team lose their shot at $60,000. Taking risks costs.
Even World of Tanks’ line-of-sight system causes issues. Your enemy doesn’t appear on the mini map unless one of your team can see them. On maps that are full of buildings and visual obstructions tanks can hide from the enemy all too well, lying in wait to ambush you. This puts players off moving from their safe spots because around the corner of every street could be a string of T-32s.
That’s what happened to Na’vi in fourth round of the finals.
With 80 seconds left of the game Virtus made a push up the streets of Himmelsdorf unseen by the Na’vi scout. It was a well played advance but badly timed. They just didn’t have enough seconds on the clock to take out Na’vi. The match ended in a draw. Again.