sPvP Game Modes: Should ArenaNet Care?

My main purpose with this article is to create room for thought and debate on the topic of supporting new game modes for structured Player versus Player (sPvP from now on). Should ArenaNet care and support different game modes, or should they just focus on Conquest and get the most out of it?

The Experience With Game Modes

There has been, widely speaking, two cases* where the company has tried to expand the variety of sPvP play. The first was Courtyard: it was introduced for limited time in the Unranked Queue, which played as a Deathmatch game mode. It didn’t get “official support” and it was later removed from the queue, only to remain for Custom Arena play.

*There is going to be a third one, 2 vs 2 elimination in Custom Arenas, but it just went live and it’s too soon to give an opinion about it.

The second case, though, was heavily supported. It was (and still is, for whatever reason) a marketing, selling point for the Heart of Thorns (HoT) expansion: Stronghold and its first (and so far only) map Battle of the Champion’s Dusk. Yet, even though many Developer resources were poured into giving birth to this “different”* game mode, it was largely abandoned when the expansion launched.

*They said they were inspired on the MOBA genre and some loved game modes from Guild Wars 1.

We still can play the map in Unranked Queue, since they haven’t removed it like they did with Courtyard. However, the map has seen very few changes since its release and the game mode has received zero new maps. It’s abandoned as well but, at least, ArenaNet let us play it with its own queue.

The Current Trend With Another Expansion Approaching

After HoT launched, ArenaNet clearly redefined his objectives and priorities for sPvP and started changing the trend. With the apparent failure of Stronghold they quickly stopped focusing primarily on it and started building the competitive scene towards Conquest.

Throughout time, they have maintained a competitive scene with League Seasons and Pro League (which no longer exists). They have been updating older maps to make them feel more competitive based on player’s feedback (Skyhammer and Battle of Khylo, for example) and created a couple of new maps.

Given this trend, we can expect the next expansion to focus on further polishing the maps, the addition of more maps to the Ranked Queue and, in general, the creation of new maps and newer systems to promote team play, such as the Automated Tournaments that came to the game, by playerbase request.

It’s deserved to say, though, that the reason sPvP felt empty during Season Six was due largely to the over-nerf of rewards for League Seasons and the lack of support to competitive tournaments, teams, et cetera. However, I’d argue the game’s sPvP is at a rather amazing spot in terms of infrastructure and systems.

The Risks And The Potential For Multiple Game Modes

Nonetheless, creating game mode variety has some potential disadvantages. Or should I say risks, depending on how the process is handled. It cannot be done without certain care, and in my opinion ArenaNet felt the pressure of these possible risks coming after they saw the Stronghold backlash.

Larger Community, Though Split

One of them is community segmentation. If you have different queues for different game modes, there is a risk that you will divide the community behind each game mode, creating imbalance in the matchmaking system which needs the larger audience possible to work better.

However, while that is true, if done right, the game mode diversity will attract many different type of players which will cause an increase in population playing the game type.

You still have fewer people playing each game mode individually, but you have more people playing sPvP in general. This should make more people have knowledge about the game type and have interest in competitive tournaments and such, creating a greater backbone for those events.

The Balance Dilemma

On another note, and maybe the most important point, there are balance concerns. Should balance try to cater to all the different game modes, or should it focus on a specific game mode? What should decide which game mode is the main one? The amount of people playing it, or the amount of competition and teams in it?

Should they even try to add “competitive” game modes? Or should they only add “funny” ones, made for an entertained and relaxed environment? Questioning further, would they have to design them to need as little balance as possible?

The list of questions can go on and on and on. The questions, as I view it, depend on which kind of design philosophy ArenaNet takes if they ever decide to create game mode diversity.

Need For Resources

The third one is that each game mode would need different resources. It’d be useless to add diversity but not later support it, as it has happened with Stronghold and Deathmatch.

So, one of the key elements and compromises that would need to be taken seriously is to promise to continually support and expand the game mode. It would be desired that each game mode was managed by sub-teams of Developers that would control the needs, content and evolution of each one.

This can be a pain to organize internally, but it can enrich the experiences of the sPvP Developers team, giving them more knowledge about mechanics, interaction with players in the different maps, et cetera.

Distributing Risks

The last one I’ll mention is the diversification of risks (for a lack of a better term). This is good and bad. For the latter, it means that any balance change, patch or whatever, has the potential to “break” a game mode, given they will need different aspects to work (each game mode would have different needs and many diverse things can go wrong).

However, this aspect is good as well because, if a game mode becomes unpleasant or obnoxious, the players would have different options to choose from, reducing the pain until everything gets fixed. Of course, that would depend on how accessible each game mode is.

Conclusion: My Stance

Needless to say, everything I said can be extended, or simply wrong. These are just my broad ideas on the matter and the critical points I see on the topic.

In my honest opinion, on the current state of the game, I’d love to see ArenaNet creating and supporting different game modes, especially “casual-friendly”. Something simple, yet entertaining and fun that can attract many players to sPvP and act as a softer entry level to the game type (since Conquest is pretty punishing and restrictive).

However, I’m aware about the current balance situation and cadence of balance patches which most likely could not sustain effectively different game modes. Moreover, I find that they don’t have the adequate content cadence for sPvP. If it is indeed a hard and slow process to create maps or change them, creating even more game modes would just make the situation worse.

Yet, I think that a good start, a serious start on this line would be to rethink the core foundations for Stronghold and Deathmatch, give them both official and continued support and see how the numbers and the reaction of the community evolves.

It’s as well exciting the news of a new gamemode added to Custom Arenas, but we’ll have to wait and see if the playerbase likes it and if ArenaNet develops upon it.

Anyways, I hope that whether ArenaNet chooses to support more game modes or not, we still get steady updates to the systems and infrastructure, especially regarding team play, which is urgently needed.

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