Filling Your StarCraft Downtime: MLG's Shooters

Written by WellPlayed
Oct 07 2011, 12:24 PM EDT

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September’s over and October is well upon us, which means it’s time to start thinking about the next installment of perhaps one of the best eSports competitions around: Major League Gaming. The next event is taking place next week in Orlando, Florida, and the lineup is as amazing as ever. Even Group D, with its ridiculous amount of PvP, promises to be exciting, so be prepared to get your dual-screen rig set up for the four StarCraft streams that MLG will be providing this time.

Even with four streams pumping out content there’s still bound to be considerable downtime between matches. Some weaker spectators may use these breaks to do things like run errands, or eat, or use the restroom, but those of us who don’t feel like killing eSports will loyally remain in our seats (or on our feet, if you’re in a standing-room-only BarCraft setting) and watch the streams.

No, I’m not telling you that you have to watch the crowd milling about brandishing their various cheerfuls (though that can be entertaining for a while). I’m saying that you should take the time between matches to go check out the other games that have helped make MLG what it is today, specifically Halo: Reach and Call of Duty: Black Ops.

Now, I know that sounds like crazy talk – those are FPS games, and console-based to boot! Anyone who watched the Redbull LAN and had the misfortune of seeing the ePeen measuring contest between the Halo players and the StarCraft players is all too familiar with the dynamic there. The general consensus for the StarCraft fans seemed to be that Halo, and by extension any other console shooter, is inherently inferior because of its lack of strategic depth and its simplistic gameplay, while the console gamers think of StarCraft as a boring, elitist game with over-complicated controls.

Simply put, both of these opinions are just wrong. Obviously we all know that StarCraft is an incredibly exciting battle of wits with a near-unending number of possible strategies and dynamic match ups between the races. By the same token, Halo is a far more exciting game than most StarCraft players give it credit for. With their long list of weapons, game types, and player roles, both Halo and Call of Duty demand a different kind of strategy and have the added complication of communication and teamwork, which the 1v1 format of StarCraft does not require.

But even if StarCraft spectators did feel inclined to watch these streams, it can be pretty daunting to step into a game you have little-to-no experience with and try to make sense of everything happening on the screen. Well, concerned reader, fret no longer because this article will show you the ropes and open the door to the exciting, fast-paced world of console shooters.

Halo: Reach
We’ll start with Halo: Reach since that’s probably the higher-profile of the two FPS games at MLG. The basic premise is simple: shoot your opponent in the face more times than they shoot you in yours. Of course, much like reducing StarCraft to the simple terms of “kill your opponent’s structures before he kills yours,” the interesting part is in how players accomplish this goal.

There are three game formats in MLG’s Halo tournament: Team Slayers, Team Capture the Flag, and Team King of the Hill. Slayers mode is the easiest to understand and follow; it really boils the game down to its essence of just trying to straight up get more kills than your opponent.

But even in this simple mode we get to see at least two main archetypes of players in action: the slayer and the support. The slayer’s role is simple and intuitive; they grab the power weapons and rack up as many kills as they possibly can.

Halo: Reach

The support players on the other hand have more intricate tasks and come in a couple different flavors. They can be sniping support or short-range support. The sniper’s job is to perch in a high position and rain terror on unsuspecting passersby. And while they are obviously going for kills themselves, they also have the added difficulty of remaining undetected, meaning that they have to keep moving -- it’s pretty easy to figure out where the bullets are coming from after the first couple of shots.

In addition to going for kills the sniper is also tasked with reporting enemy movement to his teammates on the ground. He lets the slayers know when a lone player has just walked into a vulnerable position and when a group of three or four is advancing towards an ally. Information and vision are just as valuable a commodity in Halo as it is in StarCraft, and they can be the difference between winning and losing a game in Slayers mode.

The other type of support player is the short-range support. His job is to push enemy players into unfavorable confrontations with his team’s slayer. He can use himself as bait to lure unsuspecting enemies into an ambush or try to pin a player down behind an obstacle while a slayer hits them from another direction while they are distracted.

The dynamic between these roles is a pretty cool spectacle to watch and it takes a lot of team coordination, but it only gets more interesting with the addition of an objective like in Capture the Flag. This game type is pretty self explanatory as well; be the first team to retrieve your opponents’ flag and return it to your base. The same roles as those in the Slayers game type exist here, but two more support roles are created as well – the objective support and the guardian support.

The objective support’s role is to accomplish whatever the object is (capturing and returning the flag, in this case), while the guardian’s role is to protect the objective player at all costs. It is not unheard of to have a guardian stick himself with a grenade in order to Baneling-bust his opponents in the name of protection. If somehow the objective player should fall and the guardian remain alive, though, the guardian has to immediately take up the cause left behind by his fallen comrade, while the previous objective player will transition to the guardian role upon respawning. Keep an eye out for these duos because they are often in the center of the action in Capture the Flag.

The last game type is King of the Hill. The “hill” in Halo is an ever-shifting target area marked by a translucent perimeter. The idea is to get your team inside that perimeter and keep the other team out. This game mode forces the teams to put their space control and coordinated attacking skills to the test. Power-ups become more important in timing attacks - very similar in concept to timing attacks in StarCraft - than in normal Slayers mode. The idea of a timing attack is to strike the opponent when you have some kind of short -term advantage. In this case that means you can have two or three of your team grab buffs from around the map simultaneously (which they have been guarding from the enemy team) and perform a coordinated assault to press the advantage.

Call of Duty: Black Ops
Call of Duty: Black Ops shares many of the same concepts with Halo, like the idea of player roles, the importance of controlling space, and the necessity for coordinated strikes to accomplish tasks. However, like the difference between WarCraft and StarCraft, CoD's gameplay forces teams to do things in a slightly different way.

The roles of each team member, for instance, are still support and slayer-type players, but the objective of these roles is slightly different. The support roles in Call of Duty are generally organized more by the range at which they fight rather than concepts like the guardian in Halo. There are long-range support players whose job it is to snipe other players and seek out enemy snipers, medium-range players who excel in the traditional gunfight scenarios within rifle range but outside of pistol range, short-range players who use pistols and shorter range rifles in enclosed areas (turning corners and entering doorways), and point-blank range players who work best with hip-firing and other tactics requiring incredibly close ranges.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Another big difference is the perks system in Call of Duty, which gives each player three slots in which he can put a passive buff. Some of the more popular perks to use are Flak Jacket, which reduces damage from explosive weapons like grenades; Sleight of Hand, which allows you to reload much faster; and Ninja, which reduces the noise you make when walking around, allowing for much easier sneaking.

The game types for MLG’s competition are Capture the Flag, Domination, and Search And Destroy. The first mode should be easy to follow with your new understanding of Halo’s Capture the Flag modes, but Domination and Search And Destroy are quite different.

In Domination there are three capture points, or flags, and the goal is to capture and hold more of these flags than your opponent (Similar to Dominion in League of Legends. Holding two of the three will cause your score to rise slowly, and holding all three will cause it to rise more quickly, though it will be harder to defend your flags. The general roles for this game include the slayer, as usual, but adds the possible roles of “capper,” “defender,” and “griefer.”

The capper tries to stay mobile and will punish an opponent for not guarding a flag closely by taking it from them. He may also charge flags that are guarded just to harass the enemy and keep them on the defensive if his team deems it better to stall and hold two flags. The defender’s role is fairly intuitive - he stays at a flag and makes sure that the enemy capper cannot easily snatch it out from under them. The griefer’s task is to cause general mayhem and confusion by disrupting coordinated attacks and generally harassing the enemy’s spawning area.

The last game type is Search And Destroy. This is perhaps one of the more stressful games because, unlike any other game type in either Halo or Call of Duty, each player gets only one life per round.

The game starts with one team on offense and one team on defense. Both teams have two win conditions. For the attackers, they can either plant a bomb in a designated area and defend it for 45 seconds, or they can kill the entire defending team. Likewise, the defenders can either defuse that bomb or kill the entire attacking team.

This game type gets particularly tense when the team sizes dwindle, creating the potential for amazing upsets if a solo player can perform miracle kills in a many-versus-one situation to snatch a game from the brink of failure.

Games like Halo and CoD helped to form the foundation of MLG and provide an excellent source of entertainment, even for those who are not as inclined to play FPS games themselves. Take the time to check out the streams for these games, particularly on Championship Sunday when the competition is at its best and the players' skills are at their peak!

by RockBobster