A Guide to Tactical Decision Making
Every moment you're engaged in combat you're making decisions. You're deciding what weapon or skill to use, where to move to, whether or not to dodge, etc. Through practice, you'll come to make these decisions without thinking. But what about making decisions for a team?
Team based decision making is quite different. There are many aspects of gameplay that leaders must examine to make decisions for the team. The decisions a leader makes during battle such as changing targets, pushing forward, pulling back, retreating, etc. can significantly impact the outcome of a battle.
There are many different factors that leaders consider when making decisions. Team leaders should consider: the hostiles, their team, their environment, and the flow of the battle.
Factor 1: Hostiles
This factor includes what or who you are fighting. For example, the decisions made against a group of long ranged enemies will be completely different from the decisions made in a battle with melee enemies.
Factor 2: Team
This includes 2 sections: 1) class makeup of team and 2) people on the team.
First, let's look at the class makeup of your team. Each class has certain strengths and weaknesses that must be incorporated into your decision process. Your next thought is "Wait does that mean I need to learn about all of the classes?" Yes. If you're determined to lead a team, you must know the capabilities of each member. This could mean creating one of every class to learn but that can take a lot of time. Your primary source of information on classes you don’t play should come from friends, guild members, etc. They’ll have insights that reading articles, wiki pages, etc. will not give you.
Secondly, you need to know the people on your team. Each person on your team has certain preferences, strengths and weaknesses, etc. Unfortunately, these factors can only be learned by playing with and getting to know your teammates. Once you do learn these, you can then apply the right people to each task. I’ll use a Guild Wars PvP example. You don’t want your best relic runner to be playing a healer.
Factor 3: Environment
As Herni Ducard (Ra's al Ghul) said in Batman Begins, "Always mind your surroundings." Always know where you are on the battlefield and the areas the where the battle could potentially move. Where are all of your players? Where are all of the hostiles? Can you move the enemy team into a small area to make your team’s AoE more effective? Can you move your team into a larger area and spread out to make enemy AoE less effective? The list of potential environmental questions is far too immense for this guide but these examples illustrate the types of questions leaders should consider when making decisions related to their environment.
Factor 4: Ebb and Flow
Battles have a rhythm to them. They ebb and flow. Knowing where you are in the cycle at all times is paramount. Battlefield awareness and communication help you answer questions such as: What are the hostiles doing? When should I push in or pull back? When should I use skill XYZ versus skill ABC? Recognizing the stages of a battle comes only with experience and practice.
The following is a list of tips that will hopefully give you some advantages when making tactical decisions.
Tip 1: Knowledge is Power
Decision making is situational. Unfortunately, that means there is no one right answer. Practice both leading and following. This will allow you to learn from both your mistakes as well as fellow leaders. When a fellow leader decides something that you do not understand, ask why. The more you learn about the game, your fellow players, and the hostiles you're playing against the better prepared you will be to make the right decision for your situation.
Tip 2: Communication
Communication is absolutely essential. There is a lot going on in any battle and its hard for one person to see it all. The team needs to feel comfortable communicating changes to the leader. Make sure your team knows to keep the line free from chatter but that they are free to communicate battle related information.
Tip 3: Advantages
Always look for the decision that will give you the largest advantage. If you've ever prioritized the enemy healer, you have already done this. Without a healer, an enemy can be killed much more easily. This gives your party an advantage whenever the enemy healer is out of battle.
Tip 4: Adaptation
Battle tactics must be fluid. A leader must always be re-evaluating the influencing factors and adjusting their tactics accordingly. If something isn't working for you, do not wait to change it. If the enemy changes their tactics to combat your tactics, don't be afraid to change yours again. Remember that some tactics produce slower results than others. Leaders must learn to recognize this as well. Unfortunately, this is another skill that can only be learned through practice.
Tip 5: Think Ahead
Once you have tips one through four down, you can start working on planning ahead and out thinking your opponents. In most PvE, this becomes quite easy after extensive play. Players can learn the patterns of the AI and begin making decisions based on what they know the AI will do next. In PvP and in newer games where computer AI is more dynamic, this may not be the case but the basic premise is the same.
Instead of figuring out opponent patterns over time, you have to learn to recognize patterns during each individual battle. Recognizing even the smallest pattern can give your team information to use again the opponent. For example, a teammate realizes that an opponent always seems to use his strongest attack after skill ABC. You can then have someone with the ability to interrupt ready the next time his pattern emerges.