Fight or Kite: Guild Wars 2 PvP – where good intentions and stubbornness meet

I got your thing.

Earlier this month, Guild Wars 2 Game Director Mike Zadorojny had an interview with PCGamesN in which he discussed a number of items – most importantly PvP. I haven’t written much about Guild Wars 2’s arena PvP, or structured PvP, as it’s called over there; yet it once was very dear to my heart.

From Guild Wars 1 on to Guild Wars 2, I played ArenaNet’s vision of PvP. All. The. Time. In Guild Wars 1, easily 80% of my game time was in PvP. The same could have been said about my time in GW2 up until sometime after Heart of Thorns’ release.

However, I’m not here to talk about that. I want to discuss a little bit about how we arrived at the current state of PvP in GW2, the opportunities lost, and how frustrating it is to be a fan of the game and its combat – only to see Mike Z insist that Anet is staying the course.

Guild Wars 2 is hyper focused on Conquest

Let’s start with what Zadorojny actually says.

“With Conquest, the goal was to always have one thing that, if you wanted to be the best at PvP, this is what you went and did. As opposed to ‘well, now there’s actually two things that are going on.'”

I take serious issue with that. At least I do today.

First, why Conquest? Well, as a PvP mode, it’s super common and easy to understand. This is your classic three-point capture mode. You stand in a circle for a certain period of time until you capture the point, then move on or defend it. From Anet’s perspective, this was the perfect mode for pushing when Guild Wars 2 released. After seven years, though, it’s nothing more than just a circle-jerk (stand in the circle like a jerk until you cap it).

At release, the action combat was new and exciting for Guild Wars fans. It was fast, frantic, and intense. I remember watching various streamers and even following a PvP-focused Guild Wars podcast. Players had Hot Join maps to quickly jump in and jump out to test builds. We also had best of three and other tournaments. It was a fun time. But it wasn’t Anet’s vision.

All we had was Conquest. And yet we didn’t have any other meaningful PvP modes (sorry WvW, but you’re a different beast). I remember thinking, “Well this is fine for now. I’m sure in the future they’ll add in some of those great GW1 modes.” However, it soon became clear that esports was the endgame for PvP, all else be damned.

HOT brought esports front and center

Announced with Heart of Thorns in 2015, Anet’s esport ambitions were made clear with the Pro-League and partnership with ESL. Anet went all-in on esports. The studio even offered a cash prize to the winners in 2016. With this I was hopeful that the team was listening and was really going to put everything it had into PvP. I naively believed that this was just the first step. Soon we’d get even more game modes, more diversity of play, and more opportunities for PvP – including more esports potential!

However, it was simply too much, too soon, and too short-sighted. The strategy could have been to develop and test many different PvP modes, options, and then let the community play and discover what works best. After that, Anet could have worked to build esports around what it’d learned. But instead Anet told us in no uncertain terms: Guild Wars 2 esports shall be 5v5 Conquest. The players will certainly love that.

Players did not fall in love with it, any more than we already were. We were tired of the mode and the slow balance updates. The mode was already getting stale. The biggest miss-step here was that Anet forgot that PvP needs to be fun before it can ever be an esport. That you need a healthy population that is enjoying the mode before it can ever be a huge success. You simply can’t force these things out of thin air. It takes time. Listening to the community, iterating to improve the mode and ultimately moving forward when the current focus isn’t working.

Either way, the game’s esports push appears to have come to an end in 2017, when ESL Gaming shut down its partnership. That didn’t have to mean the end of PvP development, though.

The arrival of Jason Vandenberghe

In July 2017, ArenaNet gave me real hope for PvP when it hired Jason Vandenberghe. This was the creative director of For Honor – a pure, hardcore PvP experience. Even though he wasn’t coming in with the direct role of overseeing PvP, there was still a chance that someone with passion and experience from a game like For Honor could get the ball rolling.

I played hundreds of hours of For Honor around release. I thought it was great. There were several game modes, and the combat was very twitchy – I liked it. Unfortunately again, as time has shown us, Guild Wars 2 never moved from its staunch stance on Conquest. Jason’s influence on PvP (if he ever offered any) never made its way to the game.

But Sam, we did get new modes of PvP!

Yes, I know. Technically speaking, a couple new modes were added to the game: Stronghold and Deathmatch. Yet, these modes were mishandled from creation to delivery.

Kind of taking a drubbing here, Tyria. I'm sorry.

Stronghold had some serious potential. It was vaguely reminiscent of MOBAs such as League of Legends and DOTA. Unfortunately, Anet pushed it live and has made few improvements to it based on community feedback.

Deathmatch was certainly tacked on to satiate players like myself who were screaming for some sort of alternative quick PvP mode. Yet, the implementation was atrocious. Had Anet taken a serious attempt at improving this mode from the onset, then it could’ve been fun. Instead, though, Anet dropped it as it was right into the live game and has only recently begun to look back.

The upcoming 2v2 deathmatch improvements are a boon to the game as a whole. However, it continues to be a mode to occupy players between the endgame of Conquest tournaments – not one the studio intends to truly support. Anet needs to stop thinking of alternative modes of PvP as competition with itself and instead think of it as means of bringing more players back into the mode.

Use Guild Wars 1 as a strength not a weakness

It has become apparent with Mike Z’s most recent comments and the past seven years of Guild Wars 2 history that Anet considers the PvP design of GW1 a failure. This couldn’t be farther from the truth from the player perspective. To this day, I consider the modes and balance of GW1 PvP to be some of the best I’ve ever played.

Spam spam spam spam spam baked beans spam spam and spam.

The game had multiple modes, from the quick random matches of annihilation to structured team fights and even alliance and guild battles. Even if I had just 10 minutes to play, I could potentially get multiple rounds of combat in. Rewards varied from long stretch goals to ones earned through accomplishments. In both cases, they were coveted.

Anet truly needs to look back at what it achieved with GW1 PvP as a boon and not a debilitating condition. It may not have been peak esports gaming, but esports wasn’t the giant it is today. Perhaps if the studio took lessons learned from GW1 and applied some of them to GW2 – rather than throwing out the choya with the stew water – then it might actually come up with a mode players love.

Options and iterations lead to a better experience

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Try out new things, take in feedback, and reiterate. PvP fans want rewards, but we want a rewarding gameplay experience even more. Don’t be afraid to try new things. As a wise tiger once taught me, we gotta try new food cause it might taste good. And that applies to PvP too!

Both hands!

ArenaNet, give us new modes! And when you do put new modes in-game (deathmatch and Stronghold), don’t be afraid to iterate on them! If players don’t love it at first, tweak it. And tweak it again. And again. And don’t stop. If after all that, it still isn’t working, then try something new! You are approaching that concept with 2v2, but stop hiding it behind custom maps. Put it out front. Let players compete and let them lead you to a better game experience.

I understand Anet wants what is best for PvP. It really does have the best of intentions. The devs want their players to enjoy it and to be a successful mode. But Anet, you can’t dictate that for us. You buried your head in the sand because you didn’t want to be distracted. You didn’t want to lose focus of the goal you had set out. The problem is that seven years have now passed. Pull your head out and look around: Almost everyone who cared about PvP is gone. Maybe it is time to open up a little and hear your players out. Believe it or not, we’re on your side.

So, spectators booing and chanting with your thumbs turned down, do you see the same miss-steps as I do when looking at Guild Wars 2‘s competitive PvP scene? Would you continue to approach the mode worried about fracturing your playerbase? Or do you think I rely too heavily on hindsight when I criticize the path that has led us to the current state of PvP?

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!
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