One of the main problems experienced by “low” - “mid” teams is a failure to understand when an opportunity presents itself. Often when spectating or ringing, I see a team crawl through yard 6v3 and give up a 15s charge advantage, or push mid 6v6 even uber, or leave a demo and soldier on last against 2 freshly-spawned scouts. The words “should we push?” echo through the mumble as the 5s window to take a position closes and the round slips away. So, with the CEVO season underway and ESEA just around the corner, I figured I would write a bit about how to recognize and take advantage of opportunities. If you feel that you have to leave someone on the last point before you can move up, or if you don’t know why you can roll a round in 2 minutes then spend 20 failing pushes to last, read on.
The easiest way to keep your team coordinated is to, for the most part, follow the plan of one player without question. Your comms should revolve around feeding information to the caller and reacting to what the caller says. Of course, anyone can make a call when they see a good opportunity, but the caller has the power to cancel anything and have their plan followed. In my opinion it’s best to have the medic call, as he can easily track uber and the health of your team, but in practice anyone can do it.
Unfortunately, with your entire team following 1 person’s calls you will inevitably get a bad call at some point and wipe. This is not a reason to question calls. This is a necessary sacrifice to have your team stay coordinated. It’s much better to all follow a bad call than half follow a good call. As your caller gets more experienced this will happen less and less.
So, how does the caller know what calls to make? This is where we really get into it. For the most part I will avoid “how to push” and stick to “why/when to push”.
The Basics - Picks, Uber, and Spawn Advantage
Whenever I play, I keep a number in my mind to determine if we should be pushing or they should be pushing. I calculate this number by counting the number of players alive (treating the demo and med as 2 each), adding 1 for uber advantage, 1 for spawn advantage, and 1 for a sticky trap. Other factors aside, being even indicates that neither team should push, +1 indicates that you can push but success is 50-50 (push but don’t overextend), and +2 or more indicates that you can roll through.
For example, the map is badlands. Both teams have uber, 6 up, and your team is holding mid. You have the spawn advantage (+1), but if you don’t know where the trap is (-1), you can’t really push. So, say you have your roamer sit in house while one of their scouts decides to be dumb and run in there. You’ve now got a pick (+1) — if you can figure out where the trap is or make the demo pop his stickies, you’ll have +2 total and a solid push on spire.
Let’s flip the situation around. Still badlands, you’re defending yard. Your scouts push up, get lucky, and kill a scout. You have a pick (+1), but they have spawn advantage (-1) and if you don’t know where the trap is (-1), you definitely can’t push (-1 total). The fact that this represents is that it’s pointless to be make aggressive, risky plays when you won’t be able to capitalize.
Another example: you’re defending badlands last 6v6 with even ubers. Their demo runs in like a fool and dies. That’s +2 for the demo pick, -1 for spawn advantage. You know there’s no trap so it’s +1 total — you can make a push on spire if you want. Of course, if you attempt that push on spire while leaving your demo to watch last, you’re really pushing at -1, so you’ll fail miserably. Point: pushing 6v5 out of last is viable as long as you man up and cover exits.
Now for a few considerations. While checking the scoreboard to see who’s up is a good idea, remember to consider the position of those players as well. If they just got spawns, particularly soldiers/the demoman, you have a window of time where those players are still useless (and in the case of the demoman, a longer window where there will be no trap). Additionally, having an advantage does not mean you can always use the same push. Imagine you have 6 up, spawn advantage, no uber, they have only a soldier and medic with uber. You have +5 on this push, but if you just blindly charge forward you’ll get popped on and lose. Being in a situation like that still indicates that you should attack, but the focus of your attack should be on forcing the enemy charge and not dying rather than just taking territory. It is for reasons like this that tracking the enemy charge is important beyond just calculating whether or not to attack. A 3s charge advantage can be used to pick the enemy medic at 95% if you know you have it and they’re not careful.
This way of calculating advantage applies to most maps and most points, but not all. Freight last is an extreme counterexample; I would put -1 to any push on to freight last and -2 (-3 considering spawn) to any push off of it (I also consider a trap to be -2 on this push — it’s almost impossible to cap 2 back against a demoman). Pushing from gran mid to gran yard is also an interesting case. You can’t really push it if it’s 6 up on both sides with no ubers to speak of, and you have to be very careful with how you uber in. You have to be aggressive enough to not let the enemy hold charge, but careful enough to get your medic back out. This is why you often see teams spend a long time poking around for an opening before pushing to gran yard. But wait, people rarely ever gets picks from spamming those doors. So why do they do it?
Momentum - Position, Health, and Ammo
I’m sure everyone has experienced those awesome rounds where you chain pushes together all the way from 2 to 5, crushing their team in every fight without giving up a frag. Why does this happen? It is often a matter of constantly fighting 6v3 as their spawns overextend and die, but the same thing happens in 6v6 situations. Fast pushes against a retreating enemy constantly hammer on their health and ammo, never giving them a chance to recover. A soldier who retreats with 50hp takes 10s to re-buff if you keep chipping shots at him to block crit heals. 10s! That’s 25% of an uber, where the medic is healing nobody but that one lit soldier.
The position, health, and ammo of the enemy is much more fleeting than the big constants behind a push, but these are much stronger motivations for fast attacks and retreats. If you’re 3v6 but all of them have 10hp, go in and you will win. If you’re 2 down and falling back, but their demo overextends into your combo with his combo 3s behind him, you stop and frag that demo. If you’re 1 down and don’t really want to push, but the enemy demo pops a trap he just set, it’s a great time to rush in (he can’t fire stickies). Mistakes in position and low health/ammo are reasons to discard everything I wrote in the previous section and go for damage/kills.
Since temporary health or positional advantages are harder to read and much more situational than things like picks, I can’t offer a formula that tells you when to take advantage of them. Essentially, you should exploit the enemy’s position as much as possible to put on as much damage as you can while not taking too much damage, and you should exploit the enemy’s health as much as possible to get as many frags as you can while giving up too many frags. If you’re fighting with 1 soldier against the entire set of enemy heavies, it’s worth staying in long enough to put a few spam rockets on (damage them while not being damaged) then retreat. If there are scouts around to threaten a frag on that soldier or you’re in a position where their superior numbers will let them hurt you more than your spam can hurt them, it’s time to get out. The more experience you have paying attention to these situations, the more you’ll be able to recognize and take advantage of them.
Now, to answer the question posed in the previous section. Why do people sit at chokes (like granary mid->yard) and spam? The reason is to pressure and watch for any mistakes from the opponent. If the attacking side gets the worse side of the spam (which they usually do), they can pull back and heal up, sitting comfortably on top of their spawn advantage. If, however, they gain an advantage of any form — health, ammo, position, a pick, etc. — they can immediately capitalize on it. This is the concept of taking actions before committing to a push to make that push easier (why push at +1 when you could push at +2?). This idea is where suicide plays, overloading one side of the map, and basically anything that avoids fighting combo vs combo comes from.
I feel that a lot of teams don’t really understand this. It’s as if players watched an invite match where there was a mid-yard stalemate on granary, and figured, “Oh, when EG caps mid, they sit on it and spam the yard for 4 minutes before pushing. Next time we cap mid, we should sit on it and spam for 4 minutes.” All too often I watch a team let their advantage slip away, because they get caught in the routine of cap -> move to choke -> spam -> move up without paying attention to the status of the other team. Or, they’ll get a soldier knocked down to 100hp and wait to heal up, even if the enemy had 2 soldiers at 50. Gauging the damage the other team takes in comparison to yours and acting appropriately is extremely important.
I hope you’ve learned something by reading this, or at least found it interesting. Feel free to drop a comment asking a question, or saying how wrong I am, or complaining about my writing.
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