One of the more addictive features of Blitz is WG’s commitment to refreshing the “new tank smell” via regular updates (which is obviously a revenue stimulus, but that’s another story). Perhaps subtle in the short term, new content causes incremental and acumulating changes to game play. Much of the underlying dynamic has shifted in the past ~18-24 months in particular as the introduction of light tanks up to Tier VIII, and release or reworking of maps that feature medium/light tank-centric terrain (Rockfield 2.0, Winter Malinovka 2.0, Falls Creek 2.0 and Oasis Palms 3.0 etc) has tilted the balance of the triangle of power (firepower/armor/mobility) toward mobility. Nowhere has this been more evident than in tournament play (Clan Wars and now the Twister Cup), where Russian mediums own the chess board and the Object 140 is the undisputed queen. In addition, versatile turreted TD’s such as the Grille 15 and to a lesser extent the FV215b 183 have become the big stick relied on to deliver alpha-pain from distance. Leading into the Twister Cup, the question pondered at the back of the mind of many an astute tanker was therefore: How are elite teams going to use the heavy tank?
Part 4: Heavy Platoon
In the early days of Blitz the heavy tank roamed constricted zones with impunity (albeit slowly) like the tyrannosaurus it was, devouring all challengers then discarding the bones like rubble in the corner next to their sidescrape. This particular type of dinosaur however has suffered from power-creep at the hands of more nimble predators who can exploit their mobility, swarming focused fire, and sheer dpm advantage to put paid to the armor profile and hit-points of any heavy. Hence the genesis of the stereotype clan vs clan battle featuring a dozen Obj140’s, perhaps a T-62a or a STB-1, and not much else to write home about. Ergo, would big fat slow heavy tanks have utility in the Twister Cup finals? Could they still prove to be a monster in the hands of an exceptional team? Or have heavy tanks effectively been obsoleted into extinction by other tank classes and new priorities in map design?
These questions were answered in spades at the Cup finals as heavy tanks were pressed into service and dominated their niches like the behemoths of old. They were employed in at least three major roles, each with a different objective. (A) The first role was as a base capper on Canal. (B) The second strategy lined up heavies such as the IS-7 with the expected and unsubtle “brass knuckle” position on the front line with the singular intention to smash faces. To be discussed in a subsequent post, what was particularly interesting about the approach were the nuances of the line up and positioning of the team behind the frontline heavy. (C) The third theme in the role of heavies was the use of the heavy tank platoon in a medium tank battlespace.
The most dramatic example of the heavy platoon came from a battle on Winter Malinovka, where going against the grain of the day LGN lined up with two E100’s. It was the first and only battle where dual E100’s were deployed, indicating a strategy designed specifically for a certain map, spawn, and perhaps even a designated style of predicted opposition. Less obvious than some of the team-wide strategies, the heavy tank platoon was nonetheless a recurring and influential feature of play during the finals. In the power triangle of tank characteristics, both the strength of the armor and the vehicle hit point pool contribute to the overall “armor” characteristic in Blitz. The heavy class of tank obviously has both in abundance, but generally suffers in comparison to medium tanks in traverse and turret traverse, dpm and speed. However, two heavy tanks operating in a close and coordinated platoon mitigate many of the risks posed by enemy mediums. Doubling of the local hit point pool and dpm, coupled with the disciplines of tracking and focused fire make the proposition of swarming them a far from forgone conclusion.
On Winter Malinovka the dual E100’s set up at the elevated “TD” location from the South spawn and “dug in” for more than 4 minutes as each team carefully scouted defenses. Arrayed as an anvil for the enemy to break on, the platoon was primarily responsible for the safeguard of the entire northern flank, whilst remaining free to shoot targets of opportunity should they approach the central/cap area. They were not challenged at this site, but working together could have dealt serious damage to any rush from that direction. It may well have taken more than 3 enemy mediums to overwhelm their post, and with 4,600 hit points between them additional help would easily have arrived in time. When the push from C4 eventually came past the cap area, the LGN heavies (with support) lumbered into the thick of the fray.
Of the five enemy mediums in and around the flag, three were destroyed while two retreated down the ramp to temporary safety. The combined alpha damage of the E100 platoon, the inevitable bounces off their armor and their large health pool made for an inexorable punch. Clearly a well conceived strat for the Winter Mal map, it played out to perfection (although it was aided in part by mistakes in C4’s Tankfist).
Less surprising than the E100, platoons of IS-7 tanks were seen in numerous games. One benefit of carrying two of the same vehicle is they have matching characteristics (e.g. mobility, gun depression, double-tap reload timing etc), simplifying how a platoon functions as a semi-independent local power-center within the overall scheme. In the following example on Fort Despair LGN employed an IS-7 platoon in close proximity during rollout which served as the rear echelon on their wide NW corner route. With the arrival of C4 to the flag area, the IS-7’s pivoted to form the northwestern flank of a pincer movement complemented by 5 mediums in the other arm.
On the other hand C4 rolled four heavy tanks in two platoons. Two IS-7’s moved to the cap circle as the front line threat, and 2x FV215b’s hung back in the ruins to provide crossfire. Once the enemy was not spotted within the fort, C4’s three medium tanks swept through the southern route to set up a pincer of their own.
All four pincer arms converged on the cap circle more or less simultaneously and the battle soon devolved into an all-in brawl.
The strategy employed by each team in this game reinforces key features of the heavy tank platoon. Their unadulterated power can be used to anchor a defensive, or offensive line, thus buying any accompanying medium tanks the flexibility to cut, thrust, seize the initiative, or respond to threats knowing they can operate from a base of security. In maps where the enemy can be influenced to engage within a limited area (e.g. around the flag on Fort Despair), and low relative mobility is less of an issue, the heavy tank platoon comes into its own.
The final two examples come from back-to-back battles between LGN and C4 on Canal and again exhibit the versatility of an IS-7 platoon. In each game (i.e. either spawn), LGN pushed their platoon through the middle and to the wooden bridge overlooking the flag. In the first game they positioned at either end of the bridge and as such were relatively protected from targeting from the low ground of the center canal or bowl. If their role was designed to be a magnet for enemy attention, it worked as intended while 5 mediums won the NW corner. As C4 responded and were sucked into the canal area, the LGN mediums pushed through to the now vulnerable rear, eliminating C4’s Grille 15. A two gun advantage was seized and in just over 2 minutes a very successful bait(IS-7)-and-switch(140 fist) was converted to a 7:2 victory.
In the subsequent game, the IS-7 platoon pushed all the way across the bridge and smashed into the rear echelon of C4’s medium train, isolating two Obj140’s. While C4 took the NW corner, LGN played a defensive/stalling style in that 5 vs 5 encounter, obviously intending for the heavy thrust to overcome their prey and close the trap at the corner. Whilst it didn’t pan out neatly, both heavies arrived and very nearly swung the balance in a nail-biter that went to C4. In a final demonstration of sheer power one of the IS-7’s came as close as a reload from winning the end game face off against three mediums.
In a battlefield of unlimited premium ammo it seems clear that the core value of heavy tanks leans more on their alpha damage, bounces via wiggling/angling, and contribution to the team hit point pool rather than more traditional tactics such as sidescraping at chokepoints. Some spectacular strategic play was on display at the Twister Cup finals, and a fair share of it was based upon the broad shoulders of the lumbering behemoths of the field. Far from being fossilized remains of the once feared, a platoon of heavy tanks in particular remains an intimidating and deadly proposition that will roam tournaments and shred their adversaries for a long time to come.