This is part three of my “Team Ranked in SWTOR: Player Perspective and Insights” series of articles. The content of this series is divided into five parts which will be released successively over the next few weeks leading up to the start of season 7. Thank you to all of the players interviewed (full list in the link above) and to all of the streamers who have unknowingly helped me write this article.
Team Ranked Communication
“If you have two teams of equal skill the one with the better communication will always win.” – Gladias
Let me start by saying that from the streams I have watched it is clear that there is a direct correlation between miscommunications and a team’s win/loss ratio. Let me give you one example of what I have observed.
Example 1: The case of the long lost carbonize
A double PT team starts out with the upper hand, pushing their opponents into a defensive playstyle. Without any warning PT no. 1 call out “carbonizing, follow up” (mistake no. 1). PT no. 2 says “I’m mezzed, can’t carbo yet” (mistake no. 2). After the mezz is over PT no. 2 carbonizes anyway, sure they lost a little momentum by that failed double carbo but they will get the next one. They keep up really good play and by the time PT no. 1’s carbo is back up again they are almost close to a kill. “Carbonizing, follow up” says PT no. 1 again without warning (mistake no. 3). PT no. 2 says in frustration “Dude, my carbo isn’t up yet”. They lose their second double carbo window and start becoming pressured by the other team who has recovered health and is now playing aggressively. The players of the team with the failed carbos becomes overwhelmed and start exhausting their defensive cooldowns after which they are forced to use their next carbos defensively to survive. The moral of this story is nicely expressed as the team with the failed carbos lose the round to a team of a lot less experienced players than themselves.
Mistake no. 1 – Prepare your team in advance for important moments like carbonizes or switches by saying “I’m going to carbonize in a second, you ready?”
Mistake no. 2 – Call out when you’re mezzed
Mistake no. 3 = Mistake no. 1
This is a very clear example of miscommunication affecting the win/loss ratio of team ranked. Next I will briefly go into the basics of communication theory and how it relates to team ranked. If you don’t want to understand the why’s but simply want to know what to do and what not to do then you can jump ahead to “Communicating effectively with your team”.
Communication always fails!
Finnish scholar Osmo Antero Wiio coined 8 laws commonly referred to as “Wiio’s laws”. These are humoristically formulated serious observations about how human communication always fails – except rare occasion when it might succeed by accident. Though Wiio’s laws are entertainingly pessimistic there’s undeniable truth behind them. There are so many more ways a sentence or even a word can be interpreted than you and I comprehend when we say it out loud. We always assume that people understand what we are saying in the way that we intended them to.
Miscommunication happen all the time, especially online. Even when both parties are nodding excitedly saying “exactly!”, happy to find someone who finally gets them, odds are they are misunderstanding each other. The reasons for these miscommunications are many and varied. There are language differences meaning our native tongue is affecting how we speak and interpret other languages we speak. Needless to say, this is a big factor in a game like SWTOR. There are also cultural differences. On the Internet, this virtually guarantees you will be misunderstood. What you think of as a neutral matter of fact will be interpreted by someone else as something foreign and strange, maybe even distasteful. Personal differences is another possible cause for misinterpretation. Or perhaps the listener just isn’t paying attention at a critical moment and this is what leads to the misunderstanding. These are just a fraction of all the things that lead to us misinterpreting the message someone sends us.
When it comes to communication succeeding the statistics are really against us. Let’s take for an example a simple sentence where communication can fail only for twenty different reasons (which is a huge understatement for most sentences). For this to be communicated 100% successfully you would need a situation where none of these twenty things happens. To make the matter worse, most conversations don’t just end with the whole message concluded after one sentence. This way, the more we express the more likely it is that the two people communicating are misunderstanding each other (which is funnily enough Wiio’s 4th law!). If you know some arithmetics, you can see that the odds are really against you.
Currently studying PR and communication at university I have gotten to terms with the idea that communication always fails. Now for team ranked the question becomes how does one minimize the misunderstandings and optimise the communication channel in such a way that we can be as functional as possible in our team? To answer that let’s have a look at the concept of “noise”.
This is the Shannon–Weaver model showing the communication channel between two people. The information source is the person speaking. He encodes his message into words which are known as the “transmitter”. These words are sent through a channel, maybe over a phone call, over TS3 or in person. The noise source is the potential interference this message might run into which will make it more difficult for the receiver to decode the message. One example in team ranked would be a weak internet connection which results in you not hearing the other person on TS very clearly. The bad connection is in this case the noise. Another example could be you being distracted by this ninja dog that someone sent you and you’re not listening to your teammate. The ninja dog is in this instance the noise. There is always some kind of noise that the message needs to be filtered through, the challenge is to try to minimize the noise so that the receiver can have the best possible chance of decoding your message effectively. After the message is decoded (how it is decoded depends on so many things, some examples being language, cultural and personal differences such as mentioned before) it reaches it’s destination within the mind of the person who received the message. Feedback is our only hope of understanding how accurately this message was decoded – and god knows feedback too can be misinterpreted.
So what is Noise? Anything and everything which makes it more difficult for a message to be interpreted the intended way = noise. For a ranked team this means that a situation such as described in Example 1 is more likely to happen when there is a lot of noise present. Now let’s jump back to the team ranked interviews and see if we can draw some parallels to what we’ve been talking about.
Communicating effectively with your team
On the topic of noise it can be interesting to have a look at the differences between 8v8 ranked and arena ranked. Although the idea of ranked 8v8 is nothing more than a dream to most avid SWTOR PvPers today, the differences in the communication required from back in those days portray some differences that are useful to understand.
8v8 vs arena ranked
In my interviews with Dakaru and Gerikke, GMs of old <Nostrum Dolus> and <Drama>, I asked them both how they would compare the communication required for an 8v8 match vs an arena. What are the differences in terms of communication? Both players point out the distinction between having four players instead of eight which brings very clear changes to the communication needed.
“Back in those days you had to be even more careful with not saying anything unnecessary. Everyone has to be very clear and very strict with what they say because it’s eight people communicating. If a node guard gets attacked it has to be clear, we have to hear it so if someone else is overwhelming the communication channel we might lose the game because of it.” – Gerikke
In arenas of four players there is more space for each individual to communicate very specific things. Because of this we are able to synchronize our gameplay on a very micromechanical level. Well communicated, organised and detailed gameplay is what will win you the game in an arena. If you were to communicate as sparingly as you should do in an 8v8 ranked game you will simply not be competitive.
“In 8v8 you’re really looking at the broader picture since it’s more people. So you’re obviously focusing on target calling objectives. There’s a huge difference between playing for objectives and playing for kills, obviously. There are some warzones where you are focused solely on killing people but generally it’s really objective focused. Certain cooldowns you will call out. Let’s say you’re using guarded by the force for example, you should call that out in 8v8 as well as 4v4. But you can’t call out every single cooldown. Everything about the communication was just broader. You were more focused on the bigger picture than the smaller details.” – Dakaru
Like Molra pointed out in my interview with him; you have to have a level of skill before you can even engage fully in the communication needed to be successful in team ranked. Once you’ve gotten to the point where you have an understanding of the dynamics of the different roles and classes as well as the tactics; the problem becomes communicating effectively with your team. Not only does your team need agree on a setup and strategy, you also need to create an open dialog with a communication flow which functions even under pressured situations. One of the problems you will encounter when trying to achieve anything with a new group is that you do not yet have a common language.
“Good communication is something you have to develop over time. If you have any members with previous team ranked experience on your team discuss what they expect you to call and how they expect you to respond to their calls. You don’t want to realize midgame that you don’t know what ‘derp derp’ is supposed to mean and nobody wants to watch their dps get stunlocked and die because they didn’t call their breaker.” – Jaq’n
An easy way to identify key differences between teams with experience of playing together and players all new to each other is by watching streams. Even a casual look is enough to reveal misunderstandings in the attempted communication between people who are not used to playing together. This will make target calling and the synchronisation of stuns and cooldowns more challenging in the start. As a group of individuals spend more time playing team ranked together, the amount of communication required to be successful decreases. Certain things will always remain vital to communicate but the more familiar you are with each others language and playstyle the more things can be taken for granted and expected. This is what makes being a good replacement so difficult. Many can play well with competent teams that they are used to but not many excel when being placed into a new group. One player who stands out when it comes to this is Terrikus. He is a player who is not only adaptable in the number of classes and specs he can play competently. He is also a very skilled communicator. This makes him a useful addition to any team where he quickly can become the rock that less experienced players can rely on.
Good communication in team ranked = ?
So what do we want from a good team ranked communicator? First and foremost we want him to be calm, clear, constructive and precise.
Don’t panic. When you get yourself all worked up and stressed out you will play badly and communicate with your team even worse. For an example, a very common communication problem I see for healers and target callers is the loud and frequent repetition of a word to signal urgency. The target caller will start shouting out “HEALER, HEALER, HEALER, HEALER!” when encountering an opportunity to make a switch that might lead to a kill. This is also an especially common communication habit for healers. In order to caution their team members to focus on defensive play healers often start to desperately shout out the name of the player in danger over and over. This is a problem because it drowns out necessary feedback from other members of the team for a significant amount of time. This means that we have created a situation where during this period of time any and all communication is a lot more likely to be miscommunicated. The call from this healer to caution the rest of the team becomes noise disrupting the communication flow rather than effective communication as it was intended. (For those who skipped the part about communication theory: Noise = anything and everything which makes it more difficult for a message to be interpreted the intended way.)
Be clear and precise!
“What is important is that you’re precise and to the point. Make sure that you’re not clogging up the communication channel with unnecessary information. It’s really easy to get into bad habits and start sharing information that’s not important, frustration when things are not going your way for an example.” – Dakaru
When it comes to communication, especially in competitive gaming, it really is about quality, not quantity. Remember what Wiio said, communication always fails! The less you say the less can be misinterpreted. Myzran unknowingly gives me a perfect example of this in his interview to me when he says:
“The good tanks just say ‘cleanse’ when they want to be cleansed, nothing more, nothing less. They know what debuff that is on them and whether or not it can be cleansed by the healer. It makes it a lot easier for the healer, especially in the case of new healers.” – Myzran
There are many ways to ensure that your team’s communication is not just reactive but also proactive. For an example, like Gladias points out in his interview, it’s important to have a proactive dialog regarding what cooldowns have already been used by the players in your team. This will amongst other things help your tank make more informed decision about who to guard. Another example is preparing your team for important moments to avoid mistakes such as in Example 1. This is something that Larsson also emphasises in his interview. He says we always need to prepare the rest of the team for what we are about to do.
“Suddenly announcing ‘I’m carbonizing’ is bad, especially for new teams. It’s really bad. The rest of your team has to know who you are carbonizing and they need to get ready for what comes next.” – Larsson
Another way to be proactive in your communication with your team is to have a set rotation within your team for situations where you want to interrupt enemy targets or break when you are under pressure. Two players breaking at the same time is always a mistake and can easily be avoided this way. Two people overlapping each other with interrupting the healer is an unnecessary waste of time. Terrikus says in his interview that according to him one of the main differences between a decent team and the best teams is the communication around interrupts.
“Try to practice communicating this through having one DPS always on the healer interrupting and calling out for others to interrupt when needed. Ideally decide before going into the arena in what order you will be interrupting the enemy healer.” – Terrikus
One thing to try to take into account when you’re starting up a team is how often and how serious the other players wants to be about team ranked. If this ambition is not compatible then odds are your team will not last for long. Because of the low population of players interested in team ranked in SWTOR it can be hard to find three other players who want to play. It might not be possible to take the compatibility of the personalities into account since the choices are few. You might end up having to play with players who are not your favourite people in the game since they might be your only chance to play SWTOR competitively. It is important to remember that different personalities have different distinct effects on the communication in your team. Be aware of your differences or similarities. For an example if you have two very headstrong personalities in the team make sure that before you start playing everyone knows who will be the one target calling and who will be following. Both are equally important.
What to say in an arena
From the interviews this is the information I have gathered regarding what these players consider effective to communicate in a ranked arena match.
Make sure to clearly and precisely call out the following:
- CCs and mezzes
- Call “cleanse” when you are effected by a stun or CC which you know your teammates can cleanse
- Major defensive cooldowns
- Mass Taunts
- Burst teams: Call targets!
- Tanks, healers especially: Call when you are stunned or mezzed
- Healers: Announce where you put down your AoE heal incase your team is scattered and call out burst heal on low targets to help your tank prioritize whom to guard.
- Tanks: Call your guard swaps
Note that the value of the things you communicate depends on the strategy and set up you are running as well as the in-game circumstances. This balance is something that can only really be understood through trial and error.
Next up we will be looking at the fourth part of this series dealing with what not to do in team ranked. We will have a look at another example of team ranked miscommunication, explore the concept of effective criticism and how our state of mind effect our rating. If you have any questions, suggestions or tips feel free to express them below.