Japanese Server

Japanese server matchmaking anecdotes

A few months ago my wife and I made a drastic change in our lifestyle. We packed up what we could, sold what we couldn’t pack, and moved to Japan. Incidentally, DotA 2 was not of the things I was willing to leave behind. Before I moved I purchased a decent laptop for gaming so that I could still scratch the itch to play. After all, Japanese internet connections are known to be very good even in rural areas right? Other than playing with friends when time zone differences permitted, I was excited to experience what the Japanese server had to offer. Would the meta be different? How about the strategies? Maybe it would be exactly the same as what I was used to in the US?

I was not prepared for what I discovered.

Everyone randoms

Ok, so maybe not EVERYONE, but the practice seems considerably more common on the Japan servers. While I understand the appeal of “randoming”, ranked All-Pick does not feel like the right time or place. Even worse is when the players wait until fourth or fifth pick to random. The roles a team still needs to fill are clear at this point. If your team really needs a solid mid as the last pick, please don’t random into a Terrorblade.

It is difficult to comprehend how so many people don’t seem to care what they play in a ranked setting. Points are on the line, so shouldn’t you want to play your best? Then again, Japan is not a region that has an active DotA scene or following of any sort. The primary twitch channel “JapanDotaTV” has no set schedule, and less than 1,500 followers total. I have tuned into live tournament streams before that don’t even have a caster. Perhaps players in this region take the game far less seriously than those with competitive scenes.

Implied roles do not matter

Not only do players not seem to care what they play, but they also don’t care where their hero is supposed to play. One particular instance sticks out to me. Lanes were looking solid in the draft with a Necrophos mid and a Lifestealer/Lich safelane combo. All I was waiting for was an offlane partner for my Ogre Magi. But of course, it wasn’t meant to be. Our fifth and most wonderful teammate last picks Legion Commander and utters the last words I expected.

“Me mid”

Sure enough, Legion grabbed an Iron Talon and Tangos and strutted down to the rune closest to mid. After fighting over mid for a minute, Necro realized the Legion was too stubborn to leave and shuffled to the off lane to join me. The mid lane went about as well as you could expect it to go against a Sniper with a roaming Spirit Breaker and Clinkz. By 14 minutes, Legion still only had boots and her precious Iron Talon. Dotabuff.com informs me Legion Commander has around a five percent pick rate in mid. This game reminded me why.

Bots are a thing… no really

Japanese Server

Yup, those are real numbers… Image from the Dota 2 client.

I will admit that the previous two issues occur to some degree in all regions. In this case I am only trying to compare the perceived frequency of these kinds of incidents between the US West server and the Japan server based on my experience in both. That being said, bots are something that I never expected.

Their names are usually a random assortment of characters, which makes them easy to differentiate from real players. All they are programmed to do is walk down a lane and attack lane creeps. They have no sense of self preservation and will not fight back as you kill them over and over again. Fortunately they seem to be primarily contained to lesser played modes like Single Draft, but that doesn’t make them any less frustrating to run into. It is easy to see how they ruin games for whoever is unfortunate enough to be paired with one.

A few questions came to mind when I started seeing these bots with some frequency. First of all, do the random cosmetic drops after games really generate enough revenue to be worth creating these monstrosities? This is the only reason I can think of for their existence, and I suppose once the minimal coding work is done, it’s all free money since everything is automated. The second question is why hasn’t Valve done anything about it? Is it because the regions it occurs in have smaller player bases so it never takes priority? As a fan of Single Draft it still disappoints me, but I suppose I’ll have to live with it for now.

Better than nothing

I’ve invited my friends from the west coast to play a few games with me on the Japan Servers. It doesn’t take long before they start refusing my offers. While the less popular servers have their own special issues, I’m still happy to to continue playing DotA on them. After all, playing on US West with 300 ping is more likely to end in MMR loss than any of what I previously listed.


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Does Hearthstone need a Tournament mode?

The reliability of Hearthstone’s official tournaments hasn’t been stellar lately. Disconnects, issues with clear rule communication and venue issues have repeatedly plagued high-level play over the past few months. Most controversial was competitive player Michael Luker’s disconnect whilst winning a crucial match. The dominant game-state during the disconnect and his resulting tilt and losses arguably cost his qualification.

Some would blame Blizzard’s organisation for this. But the issue may run far deeper. Perhaps the issue lies in part in the Hearthstone game client itself. How can Hearthstone support esports without a tournament mode?

A matter of functionality

tournament mode

If you opponent disappears in a puff of smoke, pros should be able to resume their game

Currently, all of the rules, functions and quirks of any given tournament have to be organised within a limited Hearthstone client. Things like rules, decklists, bans and play orders have to be sorted manually. Naturally, this leaves greater room for error. It also places more administrative strain on the organisers.

Potentially, a Tournament mode or client in Hearthstone could automate this admin. It would also be less prone to error than human organisers.

What’s more, potential Tournament-friendly features could be added. The ability to restore a game to a prior state from a disconnect could be invaluable, especially in earlier stages of tournaments. A tournament mode could also provide post-match stats on demand for interested viewers.

Better rules, easier enforcement?

A tournament mode could also make for easier enforcement of anti-cheating rules. Currently, smaller independent tournaments have dilemmas when it comes to players potentially cheating via in-game chat. When pro player RDU received in-game messages stating “Hi mum” mid-Tournament in a game vs Amaz in a 2014 tournament, some believed it was code for Amaz drawing Leeroy. However, Hearthstone has no way of preventing players receiving messages outside of clearing out friends lists; a time-consuming and irksome task for all involved. The only alternative is to either tolerate potential cheating or disqualify those who receive messages (which would be equally open to abuse).

Similarly, intentional or semi-intentional disconnects are very hard to police, especially in venues with poor or unreliable web connections. A tournament mode with a resume feature would prevent this potential abuse.

These methods of preventing cheating would not only prevent wrongdoing, but also free up organisers that otherwise would have to devote time and effort to scrutinizing players.

Bridging the competitive gap

There may also be knock-on benefits for a Tournament mode or client. Though it would likely initially only be available to authorised partners, such a client may eventually be expanded to Fireside Gatherings. This would allow enthusiasts a far easier time of setting up small community tournaments without the hassle of organisation, bracketing and rule enforcement. Perhaps the mode could even be extended to those seeking a more personal, involved and strategic series of games than the traditional anonymous single matches of Ladder.

As well as opening more avenues for players to enjoy Hearthstone, it would also help to close the divide between Competitive and Ladder Hearthstone. Currently, the experience of tournaments is very different to that of most players. It’s hard to train for, enjoy and engage with Tournaments when the fundamental day-to-day Hearthstone experience is completely divorced from it. If players get to experience line-up balancing, bans and the tactics of a Best of Five, they may find themselves enjoying watching Tournaments more. Engagement would also translate to a greater pool of talented Hearthstone players.

tournament mode

Ladder doesn’t always satisfy those looking to get a competitive experience

Benefits for the average Jaina

All this wouldn’t just help the competitive scene. There would be potentially tangible benefits even to casual players. For one thing, a separate mode may allow tweaks to cards. This would mean that crucial balance changes would no longer follow the dictates of Tournaments. What’s more, it even opens the albeit unlikely possibility that certain cards could change for Competitive but not ladder; perhaps the most obvious example being Yogg-Saron.

A healthy competitive scene is the sign of a healthy game, and Hearthstone is no exception. Though Blizzard may be content to rest on their laurels of Hearthstone’s massive commercial success, they should not become complacent. Striving for greatness and skill motivates a significant proportion of their paying customer-base, and they deserve a strong, supported competitive scene to inspire them.


Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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ban

With the upcoming changes in Season 5, should another ban be introduced?

Repetitive drafts

One complaint you get from spectators in Smite is that teams have the same Gods being played over and over again. This is a complaint you get in a lot of MOBAs. You see it frequently in Smite and Hots. The things these MOBAs have in common are a reduced hero pool and less bans compared to the big two Dota and LOL. Smite has a decent hero pool of 91 Gods, while this doesn’t quite match up too LOL and Dota which are in the low 100s. It is not a bad start, maybe going into Season 5 when smite will have a roster of 100 or over is the time to look at adding the extra ban . Adding an extra ban will hopefully increase the amount of Gods that see play, because teams will have more bans to play obviously. The question is would this just mean we would see all the same God’s banned but just more, I think probably not. As once we get into 10 ban territory we start to move out of S+ and S tier gods. Thus allowing for more of the teams own flavour and thought process to be shown.

This would also filter into ranked as most of the time there is a definitive ranked ban meta. We all know the heroes who are going to be banned at the beginning of a draft and the ensuing riots and GG’s in chat that will follow if not banned. At least with three bans at the start, some flavour and thought could go into the bans, instead of the current cookie cutter.

This would also encourage wider God pools from competitive down to ranked. If a player is known to have a weak God pool then it would become much easier to ban them out. Under-performing because you were repeatedly banned out is not something any competitive team would allow for long. It also should reward teams with more strategies and who are fundamentally the better team due to having to be more versatile.

Ban

Image courtesy of esports.smitegame.com

In ranked, God-spammers would be in a far more precarious situation. The fear of having your favoured God banned in that third spot would be significant. Also a third ban in the first phase would free up the second ban phase a lot more. Roles that haven’t picked could be targeted more because anything particularly powerful that has not been picked would probably already be banned.

Draft theory

Draft theory is something that would only really be noticeable in the competitive scene. Adding another ban just creates more variables and makes the draft a more interesting mini-game to watch. When you take more off the board early it creates interesting situations. One way this interaction works is through teams’ first picks. With first pick only picking one and second pick having two, the question of banning power picks takes real importance.

Is the second pick going to target ban in hopes of leaving multiple strong heroes on the board? How is first pick going to try and get value off that first pick? Is it going to be target banning the other team or trying to remove Gods they consider powerful regardless? While we see some this already, that extra ban just intensifies the game and adds more to depth to it as another phase would have to be added and probably the second ban phase having to come earlier.

It would also allow for much more focused comps, with the ability to ban out 5 Gods teams could really specialise their comp in a draft.  Being able to remove some of the bigger burst and then into anti-heal God’s if you are trying to build a healing comp would be incredibly helpful. Watching this unfold and how teams tried to hide their strategies deep into the draft is something that would be great to develop even further in the SPL.

Balance

One possible knock-on interaction this gives is the mid-low tier Gods will be put into focus when it comes to balance. There will be more playtime and demand for the mid tier Gods as the top tier will be banned out. The greater demand should encourage Hi-Rez to look at some of the Gods who are weaker to try and make them viable again. Hi Rez doesn’t want Gods who are never played. We all know the curse of having one of your favourite Gods get buffed too heavily and realising it’s going to be a month or more before you get to play them in ranked again. This would also become more apparent because with five bans a really overpowered God should never make it through the draft. Overall another ban should through necessity, hopefully create a narrowing of disparity in God strength.

Top image courtesy of forums.2p.com

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The New Halo 5 Matchmaking Update Won’t Punish You for Bad Teammates

In a community update yesterday, 343 Industries’ Josh Menke shared details of new matchmaking updates coming to Halo 5. These recent updates make life a little easier for players in ranked playlists when teammates decide to quit. Additionally, ranked playlists will see some balance tweaks to competitive skill rating (CSR) and matching times. This article breaks down the latest changes, and explains their importance to ranked Halo 5.

The “Soft Forfeit”

In his update, Menke introduces the concept of a Soft Forfeit for ranked matchmaking games. The premise of the Soft Forfeit is to not punish players for leaving matches if someone has already quit out of the game. Previously, quitting a ranked match under any circumstance automatically decreased CSR, and put the player at risk for a matchmaking ban. These bans ranged in time due to the frequency at which players left ranked games.

Players will no longer be banned for quitting after teammates. Image by Youtube.com

The new system will still net players a standard CSR loss for losing the game, but will not ban players who leave ranked games after someone has already quit. Menke explains that while leavers will always lose CSR, players will not be unnecessarily punished for unsporting teammates. The first player to leave a ranked game, however, will be subject to extra CSR loss, and a potential ban.

This update will surely have ranked playlist-goers rejoicing, as many felt punished for having teammates that don’t stick around. Halo 5 as a team-oriented arena shooter needs balance to operate correctly. An advantage in numbers almost always throws games askew, and now players won’t be forced to finish those games.

 

CSR Economy and Wait Times

In addition to the soft forfeit feature, Menke details some troubles with high-skilled players in matchmaking. Previously in ranked playlists, high-CSR players sometimes received matchmaking ratios (MMR) that are a little too high for their actual skill. These inflated MMRs created a wider gap between players, resulting in greatly increased wait times when searching ranked matchmaking. Menke explains that while these adjustments improve search times, players won’t be placed in extremely uneven matches.

Image by Halowaypoint.com

To combat ranked playlist inflation, the update will tighten up CSR boundaries. The pool of Onyx-ranked players will now be more exclusive, and the elusive “Champion” rank even harder to achieve. These changes will place competitors into ranks that better represent their skill level, while also lowering incentives for smurf accounts.

To represent just how drastic the CSR adjustments are, a comparison between seasons for Champion-ranked players is necessary. Prior seasons required players to earn CSR scores of 3,000 or higher to reach Champion. Currently, the top-ranked champion player only has 1,874 CSR. This score, If applied to prior seasons, would place players in the low-middle tier of Onyx.

 

Conclusion

Although the wait for fair matchmaking treatment has been lengthy, players can now relax a little more when trying to rank up. The changes are another step in 343 Industries’ process to prove to players that feedback is certainly being heard. Rather than being punished for jerk teammates, players can now leave an uneven game without fear of excessive penalties. As a result, players can hop back into more even ranked games, and have a healthier, less rage-inducing matchmaking session.

Featured image by Halowaypoint.com

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Will Ranked Floors Be Good For Hearthstone?

Mammoth Changes

The Year of the Mammoth isn’t just bringing card rotations and a new expansion. It’s also making a fundamental change to the way the the Ladder system operates, by introducing Ranked floors. Ranked floors act as a “lock”, or minimum on how far you can fall back down after losing streaks.

Similar to how Rank 20 and the Legend Ranks prevent you falling too far, there will be similar stops at ranks 15, 10, and 5. Since so much of Hearthstone’s play takes place in Ranked mode, any change to incentives is sure to have a major impact. But will it be positive?

More Fun Decks

Ranked can often feel like an unrelenting assault. Climbing, or even not falling, requires consistent play with a “meta” deck once you get into the higher ranks. As such, there is little room for experimentation. Since losing is punished so harshly, you are heavily discouraged from playing anything other than tried-and-tested Ladder staples.

This can make Ladder feel intensely predictable and monotonous after a while. You’ll often queue into identical deck after identical deck, playing the same openers and the same combos over and over. This hardly makes for fun and diverse gameplay.

Ranked floors might help switch up the deck variation. By preventing losses from being too punishing to your rank once you hit a certain level, then it becomes less disheartening to experiment. If you don’t drop stars, that silly Murloc Hunter or Blood Warrior that the meta’s not right for might be more tempting. As well as often being more entertaining to play, more variety in opponents will help spice up the ladder experience and make the game more exciting.

“Fun” decks provide diversity, but may just encourage more Aggro Shaman

Greedier Decks

There is a price for this, however. As anyone who’s fallen to the lower ranks of Legend or taken a trip into Casual can confirm, it’s often far harder to win with the highly-tuned anti-aggro Control decks that often succeed at high Ladder or Legend rank.

As people care less about win-rate, decks tend to get “greedy”; more focused on long-term value. For many people, fun decks means decks packed with big impressive threats; and none of those boring AOEs, early board presence, or lifegain. This can pose a problem for the slow decks that tend to struggle against those that are filled with absurd amounts of value.

The end result then might be an effective buff to aggro, as the anti-aggro control decks struggle to make it past the greedy fun-lovers. As aggro already tends to be over-represented on Ladder due to game speed or deck cost, this could further funnel players into aggressive playstyles, to the detriment of diversity. Not only that, but it will also encourage anti-control decks like Jade Druid to prey on the “fun” slow decks, which will in turn reward more aggro.

Less Grind

Hearthstone’s economy can be thought of as a pool of stars, divided amongst the players. Stars are generated in two ways; bonus stars from winning multiple games in a row; and when a player who can’t drop rank loses. Currently, that means that only winstreaks, Legend players, and Rank 20 players add stars to the system. However, Ranked floors will add huge numbers of star generators to the system. At every rank one is implemented. There are a huge number of players at ranks 15, 10, and 5 at any given moment, and all of them will soon be helping their opponents rank up faster.

So what does this mean? Essentially, getting to the rank you want will become easier. Rank resets will become less painful, and you’ll have to spend less time each month playing to get that cardback and golden cards. Considering the massive time investment required to get to certain ranks (especially Legend), this is a definite improvement for those who have less time to play.

We’ll see a lot more players with Legend cardbacks

Less Legendary Legend

However, making ranking easier does have its downsides. For one, if everyone finds it easier to rank up, previously considerable achievements may be devalued. Currently, hitting Legend, especially with a homebrew or non-meta deck, was impressive. Doing so would often warrant attracting attention and a degree of prestige. The Legend cardback has proliferated greatly since its introduction, but it still commands a degree of prestige.

With the proposed changes, it may be possible for almost anyone to hit legend with a degree of dedication. Note that making it easier to hit Legend has an exponential effect; more Legend players means more stars generated as they lose to those on numbered ranks. In short, Legend may no longer be worthy of note though.

While some may see this as an improvement, it is lamentable that “Legend” will no longer require any where near a “Legendary” level of skill.

No More Ladder Anxiety?

Like reaching a save-point in a tough game, buying insurance, or guaranteeing a passing grade in an educational course, there’s something intensely relieving about mitigating the consequences of disaster. Hitting Legend is rewarding not only due to the achievement, but also the guarantee that you won’t fall out of Legend, regardless of how many loses you get.

Many players report feelings of “Ladder Anxiety”, where the stakes of ladder and the threat of losing hard-earned stars make Ranked play too intense to be pleasant. The result of this can be stressful play, tilt, misplays, or simply avoiding ranked altogether.

If players feel like they have less to lose if it all goes awry, it might help them relax, focus on playing, and have an overall better experience.

A Promising Start

Whatever the impact on ladder, it’s incredibly refreshing and promising to see the devs trying out solutions to the problems people have had with ladder for years. Even if Ranked floors don’t fulfill their stated goals, experimentation with different solutions is far more encouraging and potentially fruitful than previous non-communication and inactivity.

This could pave the way for other changes, like increased monthly stars, longer seasons, or altered rewards. The current situation is so stale that almost any alteration is necessary. Whatever happens, the Year of The Mammoth is looking like a good year for positive changes and dev communication.

Title image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

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Top five heroes for getting out of the trenches of ranked dota 2

Image courtesy of user MikeAzevedo on deviantart

Image courtesy of user MikeAzevedo on deviantart

If you’re like me, you started playing ranked Dota 2 when you had just barely started playing the game itself. This lead to you being placed in a lower MMR bracket than you feel like you now deserve, with all your experience you have acquired. Well what if i told you there are some simple ways to get out of the trench and back to the higher tiers of Dota 2 where you belong?

 

Well if I were you I would jump at the chance.

 

So here is my list of Dota 2 heroes and strategies to get yourself out of the trenches (as of patch 6.88).

 

Number 5:  Ember Spirit

Image courtesy of user fantazyme on deviantart

Image courtesy of user fantazyme on deviantart

Ember spirit is a long time favorite of mine. He’s seen buffs and nerfs throughout his time on the scene. Many pro players use him for his extreme early game damage and carry potential.

The trick to playing Ember spirit is to max your ganking potential by getting a point of sleight of fist early. This combined with maxing out searing chains gives you an extreme amount of reach and damage. Not too well known is the combo of using searing chains while channeling sleight of fist. Essentially giving your searing chains a 700 range bonus. Just make sure you don’t have too many targets for your searing chains to hit.

The next tactic for playing Ember well is to always leave a fire remnant in a safe location when pushing or farming. This gives you an instant escape from most ganks (if you react quick enough).

The instinctual action when using Ember spirit’s ultimate ability in fights is to throw all of your remnants at a target and activate them. While this may do 300 – 600 damage if you get lucky, it’s actually a bad idea and can get you killed, or worse, you could miss out on the chance to secure a kill.

Finally sleight of fist itself is your core late game skill. With two battlefuries and two daedalus’s you will be killing entire teams with one or two uses of SoF.

Number 4: Kunkka

Image courtesy of user longai on deviantart

Image courtesy of user longai on deviantart

Kunkka brings a huge amount of damage and sustain to the table. His toggle ability, tidebringer, unleashes cleave damage in a cone in the direction you are facing when you attack an enemy creep or hero. This is an excellent tool for zoning your opponents out of lane or getting them low enough for the kill. Toggling it on and off to keep your opponent guessing and out of lane is an effective way of using it. Do not mindlessly push your lane with it, instead turn it off until an enemy hero gets near and let loose the tide. This ability also helps Kunkka scale into late game, giving players the ability to get a rampage on a team with just a single swipe, following the most popular item build (HINT: Build damage and not stats).

But Kunkka’s bread and butter, Ghost Ship, is his best and most powerful ability.

Now I know what you’re thinking, big AOE, easily avoidable, not that much damage, what are you talking about? Well the answer is Rum. Rum is good.

Ghost ship provides allies with a Rum buff, that blocks 50% of all damage against you until after the fight, leaving you with a slim 1hp to run back to fountain with.

A common trick with Kunkka’s X marks the spot are to X yourself, Shadowblade, then run deep down lane and strike enemies or creeps with your Tidebringer and shadow blade bonus damage. By the time the enemy can react you will be safely back to where you started.

 

Number 3: Necrophos

Image courtesy of user kovah on deviantart

Image courtesy of user kovah on deviantart

Necrophos is often played by new players as a Support. However this hero is meant to be played as a Core or even a Carry.

Death Pulse is a free spammable mechanism, your Heartstopper aura takes HP away from the enemy just by standing around, and your ultimate can be used to secure kills and keep the enemy from respawning quickly. The key to playing Necrophos correctly is to max out Heartstopper’s aura and Death Pulse as quickly as possible. This means playing the hero Mid or solo Offlane for that bonus XP.

In fights you’re going to want to spam Death Pulse and be in the center of the fight at all times. You may run out of mana quickly this way but a trick is to build Bloodstone early so that never happens.

Your ultimate ability, Reaper’s Scythe, deals damage based on how much HP the enemy is missing, so it’s common to use this ability when the enemy is below 50% or less HP. After Bloodstone you’re going to want an Aghanim’s Scepter in order to maximize the damage your ult does. It’s also a good stun for stopping channeled ultimates such as Witch Doctor’s Death Ward or Crystal Maiden’s Freezing Field.

 

Number 2: Omniknight

Image courtesy of user biggreenpepper on deviantart

Image courtesy of user biggreenpepper on deviantart

Omniknight is the most celebrated carry support in all of Dota 2. Featuring a 60% winrate in pub games it’s not hard to see why he made this list.

His skills lie in a AOE Nuke/Single Target heal called Purification, a magic shield, an AOE passive movement slow, and his coup de grâce, Guardian Angel.

Guardian Angel has got to be one of the most broken moves in all of Dota 2. A Global(with Aghanim’s Scepter) physical damage immunity makes him a great pick against characters like Phantom Assassin and other damage carries.

 

Number 1: Zeus

Image courtesy of user Bubaben on deviantart

Image courtesy of user Bubaben on deviantart

Finally we have Zeus. This hero is a veritable combination of damage and utility.

Your signature spell as Zeus is Lightning Bolt, and it packs an impressive punch. Not only can you weed out those pesky Wards your enemies place, but you can kick ass doing it. With 350 damage maxed out, you’ll be killing all sorts of Rikis and Bounty Hunters alike. Just don’t overuse it or you might run out of mana.

Secondly you have Zeus’s ultimate, which incidentally requires extremely good map awareness to use effectively. The trick is to keep an eye on enemies health bar, and when they drop below the threshold, press R and throw your arms in the sky for that rampage.

Zeus is classically played middle, and you’ll want to build Aghanim’s Scepter + Refresher as soon as you can. If you’re running low on mana in fights, a Bloodstone will help. I personally use this hero to skyrocket my MMR in ranked Dota 2. I hope that you can too.

And that’s it, my definitive list of heroes to get you out of the trenches and up in the air. Good luck!