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Opening Moves 3, 4: Cooldowns and Flexibility

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The opening moves series continues, in WoW as it does in HotS, and we have two new entries dealing with cooldowns and the trading thereof in the third installment, and the importance of flexibility in the fourth. Following the advice of these arena pros will definitely up your game, so make sure to read the entire series when you get a chance.

Blizzard LogoOpening moves #3 (source)

This is the third article our Opening Moves series, where we talk to World of Warcraft esports pros about the metagame and strategy behind the beginning of every match. Read part two here.

Once the gates have opened and the target’s been called, the fighting begins! Swords clash, spells fly, the competing teams test each others’ mettle, as well as their own. But this initial skirmish isn’t just about trading blows—it’s about trading cooldowns.

Each player has a variety of defensive and offensive ability cooldowns, determined by their class, specialization, and talent choices. Offensive cooldowns can increase a player’s burst-damage output, while defensive cooldowns save lives by greatly reducing damage taken, allowing players to stay in the fight. These cooldowns are only available every one to two minutes, however, so timing is key.

It’s important to think about cooldowns collectively: what’s available to your team, and what’s available to your opponents? As your team gains more experience, you’ll begin to realize what you’re capable of in terms of dealing and taking damage, and how to best rotate your cooldowns.

Why Cooldown Management Matters

To learn why cooldown management is so important, we asked Jason “Pika” Smith, one of the most infamous Rogue players in the World of Warcraft Arena scene, to describe his worst-case scenarios for a match opening.

“If you try to all-in someone by popping all your offensive cooldowns, and you don’t even draw out a defensive cooldown, the other team will have the upper hand,” said Jason “Pika” Smith. “Inversely, if another team opens up on you and forces all your team’s defensive cooldowns, you’re pretty much guaranteed to die.”

In both of these scenarios, the “cooldown equation” between the competing teams becomes quickly imbalanced. “A common mistake that teams make is panicking and overlapping cooldowns unnecessarily, which puts them behind for the rest of the match”, Pika added. Be sure to communicate with your team to avoid using two cooldowns where one would have sufficed!

One of your most useful tools in making the right decision in these cases is game knowledge. The better you understand your opponents’ cooldowns, the more efficiently your team can theirs. “Many cooldowns and abilities have very schematic responses,” Alex “Alec” Sheldrick observed. “For example, if a Mage casts Icy Veins, a Death Knight should trade their Anti-Magic Zone to protect their team because those two abilities have similar cooldown lengths.”



Keep Them Guessing

However, not every decision you make should be automatic, Alec says. “I try to make my opponents less comfortable by playing in ways they might not expect. For example, many Mages use Invisibility for a stronger opening; however, I use it as a defensive ability so that my team can play to win by attrition—not by brute force.”

“Most people use their abilities in the same way, but I encourage you to ‘break the meta’ and experiment. Grow your own comfort zone, and focus on putting your enemies out of theirs.” – Alec

Though complex, cooldown management isn’t quite calculus, so keep practicing, keep experimenting, and stay tuned for the next entry into our Opening Moves series, where we’ll discuss reacting to the moment with professional World of Warcraft Arena players to help level up your play.


Blizzard LogoOpening Moves #4 (source)

his 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.

Previous installments:

#1 - Before the Gates Open
#2 - Preparing the Front

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My opening move is to not queue for PVP in WoW and play a game that's designed around PVP instead.


Works really, really well. I advise everyone to do it.

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