Wargaming: 5 keys to understanding map strategy

Heroes Alexander “Sarcophaguy” Kiratzis

Bringing an entirely new perspective to the world of HoTS, the new series Wargaming will divulge the methods used by military forces to plan and execute their missions. These methods are not complex, and many of you will be surprised to find that you already do some of these things.

Over the course of the series, you will be given a new way to approach the game of HoTS, a way that will allow you to play every game knowing that you are always prepared to counter your opponent. To a good team, there is no black and white answer for every situation. The diversity of the situations you can encounter in HoTS, and the multiple solutions to each one is what makes the game so complex.

The Loading Screen

What’s the first thing that crosses your mind when the loading screen pops up? If like me, you are 6 games into a great evening and halfway through a Glitch Mob album, you may subconsciously glance at the team rosters, note any interesting portraits, and calculate each team’s average for whichever game mode you’re playing. You sigh as you note that a player with a star for a rank is about to impede your quest to Rank 1. Needless to say, the concept of a loading screen is something that developers today try to avoid, as it is perceived to delay the fun.

Hurry up and read on before this image puts you to sleep.

In HoTS, the loading screen is a gift. It is the window you are given to build a plan of attack. The result of every engagement in your game is decided on equal parts by three things: the Terrain, the Enemy, and You. In this issue of Wargaming, the simple process of terrain analysis will be broken down. You must have the knowledge of why each part of a map is important, if you want to be confident that you are making good choices throughout the game.

There are 5 elements you must consider in order to conduct a full terrain analysis: 

  • Observation
  • Avenues of Approach
  • Concealment
  • Obstacles
  • Key Terrain

As you take at look at each element, remember that this guide isn't trying to teach you facts about the maps, the goal is to understand how the different parts of a map can affect a match.

1. Observation

The first principle you must consider is how the map allows for you to gain an advantage by having observation of the opponent's actions. A prime example of this is the watchtower, a harbinger of death to overzealous characters as the game begins. While not present on every map in HoTS, it is commonly recognized that control of a watchtower grants the holding team an advantage in both offense and defense.

The ability to predict your opponent's movements can allow your team to set up a hasty ambush, and gives overextended or greedy allies the precious moments needed to avoid a gank. Utilizing the element of observation may be as basic as neutralizing enemy possession of a shrine on Dragonshire even if you cannot cap it, simply because you want to deny your enemy vision of you upon your return.

Tyrael could probably do with a lesson on the importance of observation.

2. Avenues of Approach

Awareness of the space Blizzard provides for movement on each map is paramount. Going into every game, you are already aware that the enemy team's axis of advance will be along the two or three lanes provided. Each map varies substantially, however, in the formatting of its jungle area. When playing a less robust character, you want to be responsible for a lane that has less avenues of approach flowing into it, in order to avoid being ganked.

The usefulness of this concept becomes clear when you consider Towers of Doom, where at 12:00 a dead hero can rejoin the fight much quicker via the tunnel exit. Alternatively, many of you have experienced the joy of staging your team around the exit, ruthlessly obliterating an enemy hero as they try to hurry back to their team.

MFPallyTime shows that maximizing his possible avenues of approach can lead to two easy ganks.

3. Concealment

Perhaps the most obvious of the 5 principles to most, the element of concealment probably dictates the results of more than half of all engagements. The purpose of the bushes placed around each map in HoTS needs no explanation. In concert with each maps avenues of approach, they are the fundamental reason for the tactic of ganking.

Veteran Murky and Abathur players already have a special appreciation for the importance of how cover and concealment can impact the match. Your choice of placement when aggressively maneuvering these characters has huge importance to the degree of impact they have on the battlefield. While the impact that the principle of concealment has on your ability to move around the battlefield is obvious, what may be less evident is how it applies to characters with a cloaking trait.

You may be drawn to the appeal of roaming the battlefield invisibly, using Zeratul to steal a free kill, or playing mindgames with the enemy team as Nova. Fortunately, as most of us recognize, these characters are anything but invisible. It requires recognition that these stealthies are surprisingly visible in order to play them effectively.

Veteran Murky's know of this concealed Cursed Hollow niche, no bushes required.

4. Obstacles

As you know, the maps in HoTS are littered with obstacles. How many times have you chased a Muradin down only to have him use his Dwarf Toss, separating himself from you with a barrier of trees. Characters like Anub'arak and Leoric have abilities that let them disregard physical barriers on the map, while Nazeebo and Tassadar can create them. Good players have an understanding of how to position themselves in a fight, not just considering the placement of the tank, but also accounting for how the map can be used to restrict the enemy team's movement. As you begin an engagement, consider whether or not any natural obstacles could provide you with the advantage.

We have all dealt with players who insist on taking the boss as soon as they gain a 2 level advantage, despite the entire enemy team being up. Bossing at the wrong time is a bad decision not only due to the damage your team takes from it. Bosses spawn in locations that act as what the military refers to as a "fatal funnel". If your team is caught in an engagement while positioned inside a fatal funnel, the engagement instantly becomes unfavorable, and it can be next to impossible to avoid a wipe.

Muradin shows why obstacles make it totally okay to toss a dwarf.

5. Key Terrain

Undoubtedly the most important of the 5 components, Key Terrain is defined as
"any locality, or area, the seizure or retention of which affords a marked advantage to either combatant." (FM 5-33)
Understanding why an area is or is not key terrain is the most important thing you can do to ensure you are making strong tactical choices. The most obvious example to most players would be map objectives. The hottest spots on both Blackheart's Bay and Tomb of the Spider Queen should generally be the turn-ins.

However, having a single-minded attitude towards objectives, and contesting them at the wrong moments leads many teams to a loss. An example of this is on Cursed Hollow. Depending on the situation, it may be a smart play not to contest the first tribute, choosing to soak xp instead. Knowing that a tribute is not Key Terrain, and instead taking a level lead could pay dividends later in the match.

A second example is on Dragonshire. The first Dragon Knight rarely accomplishes much, and you can take an experience lead simply by preventing the opponent from capturing the shrine, rather than having to capture it yourself. As the first shrines are activated on Dragonshire, the key terrain is the bottom shrine rather than the dragon statue itself, since it allows you to comfortably soak experience and capture the neutral knights, while simultaneously denying the enemy team the ability to take the dragon knight.

But how does this information benefit me?

If you can successfully integrate each of the 5 elements of terrain analysis into your plan, you will go into each match with an advantage. Your opponent has as much influence on the game's result as you do, but by using the map to your advantage, you will always be one step ahead of him.

Check up soon for another installment of Wargaming, where I will break down how to predict your enemies moves, before they have even decided to make them.

Follow us on twitter @GosuGamersHoTS for more in depth gameplay breakdowns.


How will you use map analysis to dominate your opponents?

Offense: dominating the enemy team with a fatal funnel
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Defense: methodically countering the enemy's every mistake
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Alexander “Sarcophaguy” Kiratzis
Alex is a Blizzard fanboy and eSports enthusiast. Having been stationed by the Korean DMZ for 2 years as both a tank and reconnaissance platoon leader, he is excited to apply the secrets of small unit tactics and leadership to the growing scene of competitive eSports. You can find him on twitter @SarcophaguyHoTS.


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