The tactics used by players in Random Arenas are often counter-intuitive and defy all tactical logic. It is this uncertainty that makes RA more painful than it should be, and winning teams are those that maintain their cohesion.
The purpose of this guide is to outline the basic tactics used in RA that are more likely to succeed, as well as considering how RA matches will often involve combating bad tendencies of the average player. Note that this guide aims at discussing the tactics of the RA battlefield - movement, action, and coordination; not a diatribe about builds and maps, though they are certainly relevant.
RA is obviously not known for its skillful and tactical play, but there are still some things that are important to understand in order to play intelligently. In the ideal world, every player will have a basic understanding of how matches play out and adapt accordingly. The problem is that the average RA player is not interested in anything other than pressing the Enter Battle button, running in, hitting their skills, and most likely dying. This differs from organised PvP, in which teams can select the players they know and often have voice communication. Because so many players have misunderstandings about the mechanics of the game, this guide will identify how to cope with bad players in order to gain the best chance at winning.
Unlike other PvP modes, the quality of builds and players in RA covers the whole spectrum. Therefore, a team does not need a perfect balance of great builds to win -- the expectation of players to run a build that actually functions is sadly unreasonable. A team that has players whose builds are "good enough" has a fair chance of winning. For example, a monk that can catch the odd spike; a warrior that can apply some pressure; a ranger that can interrupt half the time. It's a dismal thought to be stuck in a team with players who can't fight their way out of a paper bag, but these are good odds compared to what you're likely to be up against.
Facts and fallacies
In RA you'll often run into people who complain about everything -- calling other players lame, insisting that tanking is a good option in RA, and claiming their build is indestructible. A few minutes standing in the RA staging area and you can easily see the average intelligence on a Random Arenas player. The worst situation is when these players swear by the "facts" they have fabricated and expect others to adhere to the same principles. To iron out these misconceptions, this section will outline some of the common beliefs about RA and whether or not they are actually true.
- Bring a res: With the exception of healers, all players should carry a resurrection skill. This is typically Resurrection Signet, although fast-cast Mesmers may be able to get away with a hard res. Flesh of my Flesh and Death Pact Signet are typically poor choices. While some players will insist that hard resses win the game, and indeed it is possible for a team to win simply because they out-ressed the opposing team, if your team is dying so much that you have to use a hard res, you're probably not going to last against a competent opponent.
- On the contrary, healers must never carry a resurrection skill. If the healer has to resurrect a fallen teammate, the healer has already failed at its purpose, and resurrecting means that the healer is not doing any healing for several seconds.
- Winning isn't everything. Many players go through RA to get Gladiator points for their title, or simply because they want to go through as many matches as they can in a short period of time. Experienced players, especially those who play GvG, HA and Codex, will know when a match reaches the point of being "unwinnable". For example, your team has two healers and you've already lost a player. You might be able to res that player, and your team might avoid being wiped, but without the damage to take out an opposing player the game is essentially a stalemate, which you end in defeat because of your morale disadvantage. Rather than waste time trying to make a difference, the expedient thing to do is to resign and let everyone move onto the next game. Constantly ressing teammates and fighting to the last man is a waste of time when the team clearly cannot make a dent. Some experienced players will declare a match to be unwinnable before it even begins, such as identifying a team with an unusually balanced team build.
- Healers aren't necessary. Most teams crumble without a healer. That is fact. However, all a team needs to do is to survive long enough to kill the opposing team, or do enough damage quickly enough. A team without a healer technically has an offensive advantage, and teams with competent players can capitalise on this extra support or damage to overwhelm balanced teams with healers. Such a team would certainly not be robust, but it is more than possible to scrape 10 wins without a dedicated healer. Indeed, a team with four decent attackers will usually defeat a team with three attacks and a sub-par monk.
- You can win with 2 healers. Many people will instantly give up upon having 2 monks on a team. These teams have a considerably lower amount of pressure than other teams, and will often result in stalemates, thus they are frowned upon. If you, however, notice that the remaining characters might be able to push kills due to their combined amount of damage (and perhaps shutdown), it might be worth a try. A combined team of a Backbreaker Assassin and a shutdown mesmer can well be able to push kills, while having insane defense in two monks.
- Don't stay stuck on one target. Many RA players will ping the enemy monk or another caster and expect their team to gank it. The immediate problem is that not every player has an appropriate build to gank a target with -- some players are hex pressure, others are specifically off-target. More commonly, the target is likely to be capable of sufficient defense to nullify a gank no matter how many players are involved. It is very important to eliminate monks first, but three warriors tackling a monk won't achieve much if that monk is able to get prot spells up. Target-switching wins games; experienced players know that and will occasionally be criticised for not maintaining pressure on the monk. The principle is to keep the monk off balance by pressuring the rest of the team before ganking, and it doesn't have to be the monk that needs to fall first. It's best to switch targets whenever the target gets its defenses up; not only will you keep your DPS up, but you'll also draw the energy required to set up the defenses for little or no cost to you.
Making your own RA build
There are a few things to take into account when constructing your own RA build:
- Add a Resurrection Signet on your bar. Monks are doing their job wrong if they need to use a resurrection skill, so they don't bring one.;
- Select a few attributes to specialize into. Commonly one attribute is maxed for full damage/heals, the profession's primary attribute is specced into up to a level of 8-10, and a third attribute for utility and defense, depending on the situation. Not sticking into manners can be very important.
- Bringing some defense is preferable. /W, /A, /D are popular for blocking stances, shadow steps and damage mitigation. Prepare to invest up to a level of 8 in a defensive attribute, such as Tactics or Shadow Arts. Take note on how the skills scale, either making a high spec necessary or redundant.
- Balance your build...
- Reserve 1 to 4 spots for utility. Melee characters are forced to invest 2 skills on IAS and IMS, and additional slots on utility.
- This leaves 3 to 5 spots on your tray for pure damage output. Picking an elite skill and choosing 2 or 3 other skills that complement that elite is an effective choice.
- Remember to focus your build. A ritualist healer throwing spears will have a hard time finding time for both offense and defense, and will also lose out in not having any IAS.
- Depending on your build and profession you might also need a skill for energy management. RA fights can be over in a minute, but if you run out of energy, you are worthless.
- Specialize in being a Generalist
- It goes without saying that you assign your Attribute points in such a way that you can use your weapons and skills efficiently.
- Try to stick to a limited number of Attribute groups so your Attribute points and skills are not over-spread, resulting in a weak overall build.
- Use only Minor Runes, unless you need to hit a vital breakpoint with a Major Rune.
Working with (and against) your team
Debatably, the hardest thing to overcome in Random Arenas is not the opposing team, but getting your own team to do what they need to do. As mentioned above, one player might be spamming the team chat to get everyone onto the enemy monk, but in many cases that monk is fully protected and the team can't achieve anything productive. On the other hand, a player might call for a target switch to finish off an opponent, but no one on the team is willing to assist. What to do? It's important to know when to listen to your team, ask your team for assistance, or just go your own way.
Things players tend to do
- Individual players will often charge in without any regard to the rest of the team.
- Teams will naturally hang back and walk backwards to avoid combat rather than actively seek it.
- Players are likely to fire off their skill chain on the first target that comes into range.
- Players will run the moment they come under pressure, regardless of whether they can actually handle it.
- By extension, players will also run away from the team, and also away from their own healers.
- Players will typically stick themselves onto a target until it is dead, if ever.
- Teams will normally travel via the shortest route, often going through choke-points recklessly.
Basically, players tend not to think about anything other than the moment. There is no regard for anything beyond or after the match, nor is there any critical reflection on the match itself. In general, winning teams are the ones that manage to work together. This isn't to say that cautious play is a bad thing, but when a team has a solid backline and strong offense, there's little reason to hesitate.
Tactics to consider
With the knowledge that players tend to be blind and self-centered, we still need to tackle the problem of how to get the teams to actually fight. If you're lucky, you'll be on a team with player(s) who know what they are doing and are not arrogant about it. Otherwise, you'll need to adapt your tactics to reduce the chances of your team falling apart.
Before the fight
It helps to know what you're up against before you run into it. Some maps are small enough to allow you to tab through enemy targets before the match starts. Take note of their professions; you can discern what the enemy team is generally capable of. If the enemy team has Assassins, expect shadow-stepping spikes. If they have Rangers, expect interrupts and be mindful of Distracting Shot. Also check to see if they have monks.
Certain profession combinations may give away what their character is capable of. For example, R/Mo will likely be a BHA, Magebane, or BA ranger with Mending Touch; R/W is almost always a Thumper (Pet is a giveaway); a Mo/R is probably a Melandru's Resilience Monk; and any caster with /W will probably have Shield Bash or Disciplined Stance. Knowing the composition of the opposing team means you can prepare against possible attacks, especially if you're playing as a monk. Just be careful, for RA players can have what at first looks to be a meta build (A/W with daggers is likely to be Palm Strike) but turns out to be a completely random build (Way of the Assassin with Bull's Strike).
Opening the fight
Typical scenario: both teams are idle on their side of the map. Neither are willing to cross the middle ground -- it's no-man's land as far as anyone is concerned. Players want to let the other team make the first move and react accordingly. Let's get one thing straight: there's no inherent advantage to wait for an opponent to move in first. If anything, being aggressive and rushing the enemy as a whole team puts them on the back foot; if your team is proven to be confident and competent, you are already one step ahead. If not, there are several ways to deal with this opening stalemate:
- Provoke the enemy. Disciplined and experienced players will know when to rush in. The 80% of RA players who don't know better will take the bait. Make feint rushes; wander close to or into their casting range; shoot arrows, hurl spears and wand foes. Most teams will have at least one player who can't resist taking the bait, and when one person goes in, the rest of the team is obliged to join the fray. It isn't uncommon for experienced monks, knowing that their own team is hesitant, to aggro the other team.
- Drag your own team. Just as opponents are obliged to support their own, your own team members are likely to hold back until the fighting begins, believing that "someone else" should go in first. Most RA players are more inclined to follow than to lead. With this in mind, you will probably want to be first in your ragged formation, not more than one aggro bubble away from the rest of your team. The aggro bubble roughly represents your own team's casting range, especially your healers'. Also be wary of when you make contact with the enemy casting ranges. Too far ahead, too soon, and you will overextend and get ganked.
- Just do it. Good old Nike slogan. Seriously, if you've already got their attention and your own team is still hesitant, just fight. If the rattle of battle is not enough to get your team to join in, you probably won't go far with that team anyway.
During the fight
- Prioritize your targets. Monks are commonly attacked first, but taking down Mesmers, Necromancers and Ritualists is also important. Save the targets with much armor or defense for last, and if you notice that a target is useless to its team, you can attack a more important target first.
- Switch targets frequently. If you can't kill someone outright, especially if they're covered by a monk, swap targets and work on someone else. Take note of which targets your teammates are pressuring, and assist them in spikes. Pressure is what dominates the Arenas, so adding your own firepower to another target under pressure may be enough to out-damage the healer. If ganking doesn't work, switch targets to throw the monk off, and switch back. Poor teams will stay stuck one target even if they cannot kill it, allowing the opponent to freely pressure the rest of your team. Killing the monk first is desirable, but if that cannot be easily achieved, kill off anyone you can kill. Teams fall apart when any of them start dying, not when the monk drops.
- Resurrect fast!. If someone on your team drops, you've virtually lost 25% of your team's force. It is essential that you get your teammates back up as soon as possible, because the opposing team will have a huge advantage over you for every second you are a man down. Call out your res so that your teammates don't stop what they're doing and res the same teammate. Resurrect when you're not under pressure -- there's often no point in resurrecting someone when doing so will get yourself killed. Try to use terrain to cover yourself from interrupts. A team can easily come back if they get their players back up as quickly as possible.
What to not do
- Avoid running if you are the last one standing. It's a waste of your time as well as the time of others'.
- Don't leave your team if you think it's hopeless. It's disrespectful and you will become dishonourable. If necessary, leave after your team has won.
- Don't disrespect your fellow team-members or members of the other team. Not only does it make you look like an idiot, it's also completely pointless.