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First off, accept my apologies for writing a guide that's impossible to adhere to. Even I can't always follow the principles I'm going to lay out. We're only human, after all, and the entirety of this guide is going to ask you to go against your human flaws, wants and instincts. Rather than try to follow the guide exactly resulting in disappointment from the inevitable failure to do so, think of the guide as a lofty set of ideals to strive towards. The closer you can get, the better off you'll be, but make no mistake - like the Ten Commandments - or whatever religious or moral code you follow - total obedience is not possible.
First and foremost, do not "Play-to-Win":
This is going to go against everything you've heard, and all of your preconceived notions of what you think is right, but one of the worst mistakes you can make in STO is to adopt the so-called "play-to-win" attitude. This is so destructive that it will all but guarantee that you will never win against a team that follows the principles of this guide.
-Winning at all costs means using pay-to-win where one can afford it. It means running cheese. It means that you're abusing whatever broken things you can get your hands on. It means you were running five copies of fleet shields when they were broken and gave 50% resist. It means you were running ten copies of torp spread when they were broken and able to one shot multiple enemies even with defensive buffs. Obviously this works in degrees, and most people have a line they draw somewhere. Regardless, a play-to-win attitude will make you and your team more susceptible to "I-Win" buttons and items when they present themselves. All of these serve as crutches, and while they might offer short term gain, in the long run they will hobble you.
-Playing-to-win is usually accompanied by it's more sinister sibling: 'Playing-to-not-lose'. Playing-to-not-lose means being careful about only picking fights you can win. It means ducking out of matches against better teams, either by remaining silent when someone from a better team asks "any premades on?" in OPvP, or refusing to queue up as a team when you suspect a superior group is in the queues. Again, playing-not-to-lose comes in degrees. A lesser degree could be "We don't have the right five players on right now, so we aren't going to face those guys" or, "Oh, it's that team. Let's all slot on Graviton Pulse Generator / broken item of the week! " A more extreme degree would be simply warping out against teams you are afraid of losing against.
-When winning is your primary motivation for PvP, you risk creating an atmosphere of stress and anxiety. Assuming you are able to win, everything is fine, but losing ends up being an emotional drain. I've seen teams tear each other apart after a loss, blaming each other for poor performance and getting flustered. This is toxic, and if repeated often enough will doom a team to mediocrity. While you can make the argument that it's possible to adopt a play-to-win attitude without a culture of stress and blame, I've found that there is a definite correlation, culminating in games like DOTA and LoL where players don't seem to care about anything but winning, yet act hatefully and are lightning quick to assign blame and turn on one another.
So if everything you've ever heard is wrong and playing-to-win is a terrible idea, what's the right thing to do?
Simple. It's called "Play-to-improve":
-The simple idea behind Playing-to-improve is approaching PvP as a constant learning experience. This means removing obvious crutches, and resisting the temptation of "I-Win" buttons. For example, if a skill is mistakenly changed into a one-shot ability, buck the trend and don't use it. Using it might help you win in the short term but it won't make you any better - it'll probably make you worse. On the other hand, playing against teams that are abusing broken things is only going to make you work harder, provide more of a challenge, strengthen teamwork, and help you understand the game better as you conjure up strategies to counter the cheese everyone else is running. You can take the idea one step further and give your team a handicap. Flying in lower tier ships could even make matches against pugs - that would otherwise be brainless stomps - a challenging and rewarding way to get practice. Just be careful not to fall into the trap of excusing a bad build or team composition as a way to get practice via handicapping yourself. Using lower tier ships or items won't change the fundamentals your team needs to work on, but running an engineer in an escort (at least with the current metagame) will. Even though the engscort may provide some fringe benefit of making matches more challenging, fielding one will warp your team's play style and cadence towards a strategy that doesn't work, and is ultimately self defeating.
-By playing-to-improve, you avoid the spectre of playing-not-to-lose. In fact, you should seek out teams that you expect to lose against! Those fleets that you're scared of facing in the queues? Well, they're usually bored to death and looking for premade matches. They'll play you as often as you ask them to. Even if they keep beating you 15-0, ask for another rematch. If they'll consent to it, try swapping one of your players for one of theirs. Rotate each player on your team through, and when that's done reset each side and play them again. I guarantee you'll do far better than before. If there's one thing you can do that will make the most difference in the shortest amount of time, it's this. Every day seek out teams that can stomp you, challenge them to private matches until they can't stand you anymore, and you will quickly rise to their level.
-When your primary motivation for PvP is self improvement, you avoid a lot of the ugly feelings that come from playing-to-win. Losing to a worthy opponent is a learning experience, even something to look forward to, and is never something to feel shame over. Instead of passing blame around, players are more likely to take responsibility for their weaknesses and mistakes. When a team member does point out a fault he sees in another it tends to tends to be constructive - not condescending and rude. This helps the team to identify and improve on weak spots. In order to improve in a constant, iterative fashion, players should analyse themselves and their team mates after each match. Even a landslide victory can provide clues on how to improve for the next engagement.
STO fleets have an endless variety in how they're structured and organized. On one extreme there are rigid and militaristic fleets - they have a leader with a great amount of centralized power, a second in command below him, and various ranks that go down in importance and influence from there. On the other extreme you have fleets with very little or no structure, where there is no set leader and members function as more or less equal parties. There are an infinite number of variations along this axis, and most fleets are closer to the former than the latter. This is unfortunate, as nothing destroys creativity and potential for a PvP team quite like a rigid hierarchy. The reasons for this are too numerous to list in full, but I'll do my best to explain the important ones. To begin with, a hierarchic system creates a level of bureaucracy that impedes growth. Influence is based off of rank as opposed to merit, with higher ranked players having more weight to throw around behind their wants and ideas. Rank will worm it's way into team composition with senior members more likely to make it onto any given five man team, even if their inclusion hurts team make up. Even in a perfect world where lower ranked members are encouraged to speak their mind, a higher ranked player is more likely to have his viewpoint accepted - agreeing with a superior officer is more likely to result in promotion. In the unlikely event that a hierarchic fleet is able to avoid all those pitfalls, they still have to deal with increased drama and stress that go along with rigidity. Admitting to mistakes and weaknesses is easy among equals and friends, but in a rigid, militaristic unit showing weakness risks hurting your chances for promotion. On the other hand, demonstrating those tendencies in another fleet mate could put yourself ahead politically.
If you want to be a great PvPer and you're in a hierarchic fleet, the best thing you can do is leave and find a better group to play with. If you're the leader of a hierarchical fleet that wants to move into PvP, be aware that you will be doomed to mediocrity unless you loosen your grasp over your fleet. While this section may sound highly theoretical, in practice the ideas are quite concrete. It's no coincidence that the top PvP fleets in STO are structured loosely. While a more rigid fleet comes into prominence now and then, it's always a fleeting glory. Eventually, they all crumble under the weight of their own bureaucracy.
Less is more:
The fewer members you have in your fleet, the easier it is to make a PvP team that plays at a high level. The ideal team, though not easily attainable, is five people on the same play schedule. It will be easier to build a good premade if you recruit no more than is needed to get steady five man teams of the proper composition. For sure, you can have a larger fleet and still field a successful premade - you just have to work significantly harder the more you include. As you increase the number of players that might be included in a premade team, you'll have an exponentially harder time keeping track of and integrating everyone else's play style and cadence. For a group of players just starting out I strongly advise keeping things small at first, and wait until you attain a high level of play before expanding.
While there's such a thing as too much information, it's an issue that most teams will never encounter. Rather, you are much more likely to have teammates that aren't communicating enough. My advice is to communicate as much as possible, and if excess chatter ends up being an issue address it when you come to it. Regardless, always try to keep communication as concise as possible. For example a simple "Shockwave out on (target)" is preferable to a more verbose "Ok guys, I'm heading up to (target), and I'm shockwaving off his extends." As a team, figure out what needs to be called and what doesn't. For example, subnukes, science fleets, and alpha strikes all need to be called. Every single torp spread from a science vessel doesn't. The most important aspect to get down is coordinating your escorts and science ships with each other - having alphas timed properly with science debuffs, and having a subnuke order set between the science guys.
Passing the right information along is only half the battle. The more everyone on the team refrains from excitement and shouting, the more calm and stress free you can keep voice comms, the more effective your team will be. Now, it's easy to stay calm, cool, and collected when you're wiping the floor with the opposing team. The real challenge is to keep that demeanor intact when your back is against the wall. You aren't going to manage a comeback if your communication breaks down. Conversely, it's far easier for the other side to manage a comeback against you when you're easily flustered. Strive for an almost conversational tone.
Since this isn't a guide about specifics but rather an attempt to bring the you as close to an ideal philosophy and attitude as possible, I'm not going to spend time with example builds that will be obsoleted in a few iterations of the metagame. Rather, my goal is to teach you how to create and evaluate your own builds. Creating proper builds is one of the most common failings in the PvP community, as well as the rest of the STO playbase, and it doesn't help that players are often fanatically defensive of their builds. There are large confirmation biases at play that effect PvErs in Galaxy-Xs and seasoned PvPers equally. The proper attitude to adopt is the exact opposite: Assume that your build is flawed in some way and that you can improve it. Think of your build as a constant progression that flows forward as you gain new insights and the metagame evolves. This way you will be less susceptible to crippling confirmation bias.
Try to measure your build up against similar ones - If another player on your team is flying the same career and ship, but he heals more, does more damage, and dies less it's probably safe to say his is the superior build. If he can only accomplish two of the three there's probably something there for you to take home. Even if you beat him on all fronts there may be something to learn, though it's less likely.
It's common for PvPers to test a new build in a controlled environment - usually a small private game with one or two friends. There's nothing inherently wrong with this practice and it yields useful information, but often too much importance is placed in controlled tests. The ultimate test is always a series of premade battles, and some ideas that don't seem good in a 1v1 test could end up being powerful in a 5v5 environment - of course, the reverse is also true. Never be afraid of testing something new, even if it seems ridiculous and silly (some of the most unique and powerful setups have been discovered this way), but always try to maintain a healthy skepticism.
A good general principle to follow is that a team focused build is preferable to a selfish one, with the possible exception of a 'carry' (though it's certainly arguable that such builds are still 'team focused', just in a less than obvious manner). Another principle is to look at each teammate's build as one piece of a larger puzzle. In other words, the 'build' is the entire team, with each player comprising a small portion of it. For example, some skills have diminishing returns the more you have on your team. Other skills are force multipliers, and others you can't possibly have too many of. By looking at the entire team as a single build, inefficiencies are easier to see and correct. For example: Player A has two copies of Extend Shields, and no copies of Aux2Sif. Player B has an Aux2Sif, but doesn't have a copy of Extend Shields. In a vacuum, either build might appear to work well, but taken together it's obvious that player A needs to drop an Extend and gain an Aux2Sif, while Player B needs to drop his Aux2Sif and slot an Extend. The result is that hull healing remains constant, while shield healing potential increases by one third and more flexibility is gained in the application of the Extends. The beauty of this process is that even outside of the team - or if both players are put on separate teams - these builds are arguably still stronger than they were before the adjustments.
A last point to keep in mind is that the number of potential teammates that might make up your premade will often dictate the amount of specialization you can fit into a build. If you're always playing with the same four friends, you can really get down and optimize each and every build to function together as a single unit. On the other hand, if your team is made up of you and any four of a dozen or so possible players you may need to use a more generic setup. Often times, you'll be able to switch between generic and specialized setups by changing around a few items and bridge officers. It's a balancing act to be able to pull off both without sacrificing either, and ideally you will figure out something that doesn't involve making sacrifices in your skill tree.
The "Not-So-Great-Man" Theory:
One time I was on a team that was relatively successful at PvP, but when we ran up against very high level teams like TSI, QEW, and FS we were always swiftly and spectacularly beaten. I had it in my head that if only -if only- the rest of my team would do what I told them to, we would easily rise to the level (beyond even!) that those fleets were playing at. Of course, I was totally wrong. This is a common misconception, usually borne of pride, and to this day I have friends in the PvP community who are still struggling under it.
A PvP team that relies on the strength and wisdom of one player to guide it is structurally hollow, and always in the same situation: a leader who is frustrated with teammates that are never able to meet his expectations, and a host of players whose potential for growth and creativity is stymied. Nothing destroys a person's ability to achieve greatness like being excessively micromanaged. This is true in PvP as well as life. Therefore, even seemingly realistic expectations that are placed on a micromanaged team member may prove impossible for him to fulfill. A team with multiple would-be leaders who want complete control of team composition and strategy is a special type of hell I hope you never find yourself in -- take it from one who contributed to creating exactly that situation in the past.
If you find yourself in a position where you are training a group of players, you will achieve greater results through a light touch combined with teaching the philosophy of this guide. Avoid dictating specific builds and playstyles. Feel free to offer advice, but always let the trainee do the heavy lifting. Think of government welfare -- a small amount of it strategically placed can have a profound effect on someone who needs to get back on his feet. An absurd amount is all but guaranteed to breed sloth and dependence.
Getting a player into a proper build is of virtually zero benefit to making him a better player. In the worst case scenario pushing your ideas too aggressively can lead to indoctrination, which serves as an anchor holding back progress as soon as the metagame changes. On the other hand, it is vitally important that a trainee learns to create and iterate his own build and playstyle. Mastering the idea of self improvement is the only way to become a great PvPer -- skipping steps risks not just delaying, but dealing serious damage to that process.
It's possible that reading this guide so far I've given you the wrong idea: that being competitive is a hindrance, that you really need to achieve some sort emotionless zen state. It's true that a competitive spirit can help lead to many of the pitfalls I've talked about, but that doesn't mean you need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Outside individuals who are gifted at birth, greatness in any field requires an intensely competitive mindset. In PvP, competition is the root force that drives one to improve himself. A highly competitive player who conducts himself opposite to this guide in every way will never be a great PvPer, but the reverse is also true. True greatness is only possible when you couple the correct philosophy with a competitive mindset. The key is to harness and control your competitive instincts. Don't let them control you and drive you into adopting bad habits.
Be sure to set your sight on the right target. Measuring your team up to the top fleets in the game could prove discouraging -- it's possible for your group to improve several times before getting a single point on the scoreboard. Rather, pick more realistic targets that are more at your level -- the fiercest competitions don't take place against mismatched opponents, but against equals. Nurture friendly, playful competition among team members -- who was the best healer of the match, who can dealt the best spike damage and so forth. If everyone is attempting to follow this guide, it shouldn't create drama, but will nurture competition and continual improvement.
After Reaching The Summit:
Assuming you and your team take this guide to heart and are mostly able to follow it, I don't doubt that you will soon find yourselves a fearsome premade! Men will want to be you, Women will want to be with you, and other PvPers will hide at the sight of you! Unfortunately, this degree of infamy presents the problem that groups who don't follow the guide will stop wanting to play you. Many will outright insult you for no better reason than petty jealousy and wounded pride.
If there's a lack of competition you run the risk of becoming too comfortable and complacent. It happened to Pandas, it happened to TSI, and it could easily happen to you. With any luck, you will reach the summit at the same time as other teams who are using this guide and have plenty of high level competition. If you find yourself alone at the top, I can think of a couple ways to try to avoid stalling out: if your group is large enough you can play 5v5's internally. You can also attempt to limit yourself to whatever rules your opponents devise without adding your own. The later especially helps you to become incredibly adaptable and not too reliant on any one tactic.
The highest pinnacle you can hope to reach is to become the driving force in the evolution of the metagame. If you come up with a strategy that nobody can counter, and you find a way to best it in an internal match you've put your team at a significant advantage. Ideally you are able to evolve the metagame internally at a rate where other premades cannot keep up. This state is as close as we can hope to come to PvP perfection.
My greatest hope is that you help carry the torch and join in teaching the rest of the playerbase. Everyone benefits from a stronger community, but high level teams benefit more so. The higher the skill level of a match, the more rewarding it is for the players in it, but a mismatch is hardly ever rewarding. The more people we can help to a high level, the more enjoyment everyone can get from PvP.
Until next time PvPers, goodnight and farewell!
Last edited by hurleybird; 04-01-2013 at 12:52 PM.
Perhaps it could have been mentioned also how it can be helpful to also know if some one perhaps might be more suited in a specific ship vs. the ship they might be flying on a usual basis..
For example, if a player likes to keep his allies alive, he probably shouldn't fly a Damage dealer.
Or if a player has "tunnel vision" when it comes to targets, he might not make a good healer.
Of course there are always exceptions.
I also didn't see any information concerning how Awareness of your surroundings can be the difference between life and death.
Just my thoughts.
Such specifics are outside the purview of this guide. Rather, the point is to lead the readers towards a mindset that will result in a rapid expansion of PvP ability in a team setting. More of teaching a man to fish than catching one for him, if you will. I feel like such additions would serve to dilute the whole and distract from the more important aspects.