A series discussing various strategies and gameplay on display during the 2016 Twister Cup finals in NYC (20th Nov). While pressuring an opponent via base capture is an obvious feature of random battles, the complexity and depth of intent is much higher in tournament battles.
Part 3: Canal Cap
The flag circle has always been a key element in Blitz, as it provides an avenue to engineer an outcome in games featuring outrageous camping, AFK’s, or end game “Run Forrest” scenarios etc. While successfully completing a capture will be rare in Encounter battles during tournament play, applying cap pressure will absolutely be exploited in certain situations. The primary objective will be to force the enemy out of cover to reset the counter, thereby losing hit-points or even tanks in doing so. The ploy is only viable on maps with a strong element of cover within the circle, coupled with spotting and defensive firing lanes at the approaches. Of the six maps used in the finals (Fort Despair, Canal, Desert Sands, Vineyard, Castilla and Winter Malinovka) a topography that supports the strategy is only really found on Canal. Indeed, in its current configuration it may be the only map where the scheme is a predominant option, with other possibilities such as Middleburg having weaker supporting positions, or too many protected routes of approach. Flag-centric strategies with an intent different from applying capping pressure were also seen in numerous games on Fort Despair, to be covered in a later post.
As described in a recent podcast by Bushka the participating teams were able to nominate preferred maps for the finals. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Canal was a common choice. It is very well designed with a range of terrain features that suit multiple tank classes besides the ubiquitous Soviet mediums, including a central area that can be leveraged effectively by heavies and sniping positions that make alpha-punching TDs a very dangerous proposition. Canal’s design is ideal for tournament play as it lends itself to battles that unfold in a diverse and unpredictable manner. Canal 1.0 with the flag wide open at the bottom of the gullies would not have delivered the full gamut of game play on display in NYC. The 11 battles that took place on the map featured diverse and entertaining strategies. A short summary is in Table 1, the noteworthy point for this discussion is that more than half of the games featured manipulation via cap pressure:
Table 1: Features of battles on Canal
[n] = max cap count, green = semi-final games, red = finals
In its simplest iteration the strategy involves placing a heavy tank with its strong armor profile and a large block of hit points inside the circle (IS-4/7’s being the obvious choice). The capping team attempts to protect it from taking damage for as long as possible, forming arrayed fire lanes covering the suspected angles of approach. Pressure mounts on the resetting team as the cap count tics higher, particularly if they fail to do so from a distance. The typical outcome is that they are eventually forced to push in toward the circle, a confrontation that the capping team is gambling is worth losing the bait tank in exchange for inflicting large amounts of damage on the exposed enemy. Whether there is a successful reset or not, a simultaneous objective is to hold the incoming thrust within the poorly defensible area around the circle itself. For the approaching team the objectives include to reset without taking serious damage, not become bogged down under crossfire, identify the positions of previously unspotted tanks and quickly gain a gun/dpm advantage from which to press toward victory. Leveraging the element of surprise in the timing, direction(s) and strength of the assault contribute toward success of the reset punch. This basic scenario unfolded with a range of different flavors during the Cup finals.
Perhaps the most unusual example was the first (Table 1, game 1). Starting from the south spawn Pramo (blue) had pushed to the NW corner without encountering LGN, who had begun by scouting the eastern half of the map. After establishing firing positions, which included placing a Grille in the elevated corner, Prammo began to capture the base with an IS-4 at around 1:30 into the game. As their reaction was essentially already underway, LGN had moved medium tanks to scout the fringes of the bowl area from both the SW and NE within 30 seconds of the start of capture. When the count reached above 50, LGN pushed 6 tanks (eventually all 7) into the bowl and 5 into the area of the cap circle itself. The capping IS-4 was eliminated easily, but in doing so LGN found themselves boxed into a very tight area with limited cover and subject to various angles of crossfire.
Struggling to avoid attritional damage and without an advantage to press the attack, LGN instead initiated a retaliatory flag capture, a very insightful move given the disposition of the fight. They lost a tank in the process of making cover, but in doing so essentially seized the initiative back from Pramo. The count reached 57 before Pramo pressed an assault to win the match 7-3, primarily as they had fared better during the initial hit-point exchange on the first reset attempt.
Throughout the tournament, Team ID unleashed a frenetic aggressive style that was difficult to for opponents to withstand. Far from being a one-dimensional proponent of Tankfist however, they utilized some form of cap pressure on Canal in 6 out of 7 games (winning 3/6). Given the roughly symmetrical nature of the spawn points and cap area they also attempted the ploy from either starting position and were the only team to do so. In their first match up against C4 (Table 1, game 4), ID began the capture immediately, but failed to entice C4 to challenge early. After probing the fringes of the bowl C4 (in red) instead swept six tanks to the south and positioned to attack from four directions: 4 tanks from the south, 1 from the town, 1 from up the center canal, and 1 from the north. Their rush began with around 5:20 left in the game and resulted in a dispersed melee in the bowl area.
ID won the brawl fairly convincingly, in part because they were able to fire an opening salvo from cover at the sides of the 4-tank rush. In the follow-up game (Table 1, game 5), ID also initiated an early capture while C4 set up a spaced arrayed formation on the SE side of the map. C4 made the mistake of sending a piecemeal reset effort, sacrificing an STB-1 to prepared fire, then endangering a second tank in the exposed central canal. If the intent was for a strong reset push perhaps it was foiled by poorly executed timing. Despite the appearance of a relatively even game in terms of remaining tanks ID held the initiative from that point on. One moment of indecisiveness doomed C4 as they were picked off essentially 0ne-by-one as they approached the hot zone without particular coordination.
C4 and ID met again in the Finals. In their first game on the Canal map (Table 1, game 10), C4 demonstrated their ability to learn, adapt and exploit their opponents game plan. When ID (red) again set up their cap pressure formation, C4 positioned tanks with the potential to reset from three distinct angles: at each spawn and a centrally located peek-a-boom STB-1. Importantly, unlike the previous example, all of their tanks were close enough to participate in a decisive rush. After 3 minutes of patient jockeying and resetting, C4 caught ID off guard with a strong 3+1 medium rush up the central canal, timed perfectly with pincer movement from the positions at each spawn point. The northern tank served to block ID defensive movement, while the two southern tanks added their dpm to the encounter at the flag.
The answer to Bushka’s insightful question “Are ID going to be in a position to put guns on targets?”, was an emphatic “no”. Using this coordinated thrust C4 caught ID flat-footed, gaining a 3-tank advantage and deciding the outcome of the game in less than thirty seconds.
The regular version of capping, taking the base to force the few remaining tanks to engage, was not observed in any game. There was only one realistic opportunity for it, in a game on Desert Sands also in the final itself. It was a battle that had swung wildly: C4 had caught out the ID “bridge move”enroute, but ID had fought back to gain a 3:2 tank advantage. Given the high stakes, both teams elected for a conservative strategy and fell back on either side of the rail line to play out the draw. Located at the edges of town with a gun advantage but fewer hit-points, ID had nearly 4 minutes press for a regular caping victory. In hindsight it may be a costly decision, as they won the next game but C4 won the tournament the one after.
The above examples highlight the range of play that comes from the cap strategy on Canal, it’s strengths and weakness, and to a lesser extent what may unfold on other maps. While a capping team holds the cards of an unlikely points win, prepared defensive positions, and ambush from camouflage, they are certainly not immune to surprise attack and mobile punches. An indecisive resetting team plays into the hands of the defense and runs the risk of becoming isolated in the cap area or central canal. As demonstrated in the Twister Cup, Canal is an outstanding map for tournament play and hopefully a template that WG build upon in a seemingly continual quest for “balancing”.