Opening Moves: Mixing It Up

This is the fourth article our Opening Moves series, where we talk to World of Warcraft esports pros about the meta-game and strategy behind the beginning of every match. Read part three here.

Even with a clever strategy, pristine positioning, and efficient cooldown usage, you may still find yourself on the back foot after the initial clash of your Arena match. But nothing ever truly goes according to plan, especially when you have three opponents trying to disrupt your movements and force you to make mistakes. Alex “Alec” Sheldrick, team captain of the World of Warcraft Arena World Champion team ABC, believes the key to recovering from an iffy start is flexibility.

“If you play one playstyle, and you open the same way every match, you may be caught off guard when someone changes things up”, said Alec. “You need to be able to recognize circumstances and react appropriately. Those skills will come with experience and practice.”

Tempo Storm’s Jason “Pika” Smith agrees.

“If you’re going into Arena with one strategy, and it isn’t working well, you need to look for other ways to win”, said Pika. “Maybe instead of training the healer all game, you try to CC them and swap targets. Be unpredictable and keep your opponents guessing.”

The kill target that your team decided on before the game started might not be dropping. Maybe you’re not even able to get a defensive cooldown out of them. It could be time to consider a target swap.

“Target swapping can totally change the game”, Pika continued. “Your main goal is usually to set up on the same target over and over again, but sometimes you can catch someone out of position and draw out a defensive cooldown.” Creating that kind of quick, unexpected pressure can turn the tides in your favor and open up new kill opportunities that didn’t exist previously.

So what are some considerations for choosing a new target on the fly?

“Try to deduce what talents your opponents are using when making your decisions,
 suggests Alec. “For example, during our [ABC] elimination match at BlizzCon, the enemy team had a Feral Druid that wasn’t our main target—most Feral Druids take the defensive Guardian Affinity talent. However, he eventually cast Solar Flare, which is only available with Balance Affinity, so we swapped to him because we knew he’d be squishier.”

“If you’re going up against a Resto Shaman, pay attention to who they cast Earth Shield on”, says Method Synergy’s Ryan “Trill” Costello. “There’s a six-second cooldown on Earth Shield, so if you can draw it out on one target then swap to another, you’ll have a short window of opportunity to do some unmitigated damage.”

“One of the most commonly picked healing talents is Vim and Vigor, which buffs output by 20% as long as the healer is above 80% health”, Alec points out. “If you can keep the healer below that health threshold, they’ll have a harder time keeping their team up.”

There are plenty of signals to look out for as your Arena matches unfold, and as you continue to gain experience against different compositions, be sure to remember what worked well—and do more of it. The more options you have to respond to pressure, and the more you’re able to correctly identify opportunities to mix things up, the more success you’ll find in the Arena.

“The more information you have, the better your decision making will be.” – Alec

The match isn’t over ‘til it’s over, so stay on your toes, keep fighting, and remain vigilant for the final entry into our Opening Moves series, where we’ll discuss the importance of learning from mistakes with professional World of Warcraft Arena players in an effort to help level up your play.