Earlier this week, Jonathan Sharp outlined some of the features that will be added to structured PvP in the near future in an article titled Structured Player vs. Player: The Iceberg. His post largely focused on the current free tournament system, and how paid tournaments will differ once implemented. Rented arenas were also mentioned, and will hopefully offer a great tool for players who enjoy the structure of tournaments, but want the ability to test out builds or various tactics in a more controlled environment before spending tickets to enter the paid tournaments.
One aspect of structured PvP that wasn’t really addressed, however, is the night and day difference between playing on the hot-join versus the current free tournament servers. I’m going to offer my own thoughts on the matter here, but before I get started I’d like to offer the following bit of advice to anyone who is curious about sPvP but hasn’t made the plunge into the Mists just yet:
Don’t step into hot-join matches for your first sPvP experience – create or join a free tournament roster instead.
Both can be joined solo (with tournaments providing match making to round out full teams of five), and are even played on the same maps. However, your experiences will be vastly different, and to be quite frank with you, hot-join matches are just as likely to discourage new players as they are to get them excited to participate in tournaments.
Here is a quick side-by-side comparison so that you know what to expect between the two current options:
As you can see above, there are a number of differences between quick tournaments and hot-join sPvP. While both have their pros and cons, perhaps the biggest issue currently is that team sizes in hot-join can vary wildly. As such, they can also greatly skew your perception of what sPvP is all about once you get into more organized play.
Hot-join can also be very much like a pinball, in that it offers players a means of following the path of least resistance. Even though glory and rank points come much slower in hot-join matches, that doesn’t mean some players won’t attempt to game the system to rank up faster or farm glory. This is commonly done by creating a glass cannon build (thieves are commonly used for this purpose) and focusing your energies on defeating enemy players rather than on coordinated team play or the capture points.
A recent game update addressed the issue of constantly shifting team sizes, and how it impacts rebalancing mid-match and the rewards you receive. Prior to this fix, it was a major source of frustration to make a major contribution to the winning team only to be forcefully switched to the losing team just before the close of a match. The full notes from that update are as follows:
Player versus Player
- Games will no longer autobalance after one team has reached 80% of the maximum score if the game ends by score.
- Games will no longer autobalance when within two minutes of the end of the game if the game ends by time.
- Autobalance functionality has been updated to give a new volunteer bonus to any players who volunteer for balancing, as well as giving any players balanced the winner bonus. When volunteers are lacking, random selection will be used. The text for this system has also been updated.
That update helped illustrate that ArenaNet is indeed interested in improving hot-join as much as getting the paid tournaments and e-sports aspects of sPvP off the ground. However, there are still a number of ways hot-join could be improved, or at least given a greater purpose than the instant gratification option it currently provides.
For example, I've never quite understood why hot-join teams can consist of more players per team. As a result, you're not going to approach the maps the same way as in 5v5 matches, so it's not a very good testing ground for builds or team interactions prior to diving into tournaments. It would also greatly improve the disparity of team sizes from match to match if there were more servers running a full 5v5 rather than a lot running 8v8 and the remainder running 3v3 or 2v2 which is often the case.
Tournaments need to remain the more rewarding option, but that doesn't mean that hot-join couldn't have some additional incentives added into the mix. For example, why not add a chest or other bonus rewards (additional glory or rank points) for consecutive wins? If nothing else, it would help encourage better team play since winning would matter more in the grand scheme of things.
To keep the time commitment low, consecutive wins could also be tracked per account, and not require the player to complete all wins in the same gameplay session. That way you would never feel forced to keep playing for a longer period than intended just for the sake of keeping a win streak going.
While I'm very excited to see some of the other features on Jonathan's list addressed (leaderboards, spectator mode, larger tournaments, and streaming) it does seem like hot-join also needs some more attention to give it a more clearly defined purpose. In the meantime, free tournaments remain the best option across the board.