Opening Moves: Before the Gates Open

In any game of strategy, the opening moves are often the most crucial. A good opening can help a player or team establish a strong board position, providing protection for key units or perhaps putting early pressure on an opponent. Opening moves in strategy games like Go and Chess have been studied extensively for hundreds of years, and a wealth of knowledge can be easily accessed by those eager to learn. Though esports are relatively new when compared to these ancient games, there is still much to be learned about the deep strategies involved at the highest levels of play. As such, we’ve teamed up with professional World of Warcraft esports players to discuss the opening moves and strategies that they employ in 3v3 Arena.

In World of Warcraft Arena, two teams of three players clash in heated battles to the death. Each match is a constant struggle to deal damage, disrupt opponents, and protect allies. But the opening moves of each match begin 60 seconds before combat starts—in the cramped staging area, where hearty gladiators choose what mount they’ll ride into battle upon . . . as well as iron out their strategy.

“It’s way easier to go into the match with a game plan than to try and figure it out on the fly.”

During the 60-second pre-match phase, each team can see their opponents’ character classes and specializations, which is just enough info to help form an initial strategy and make any necessary talent changes.

“The more experience you have playing against different matchups, the better you’ll get at deciding how to approach them," said Jason “Pika” Smith, member of Tempo Storm and one of the most famous Rogue players in the world. “Take what you’ve learned in your previous games—wins and losses—and apply it to the next match. Before the game starts, figure out if you’ll need to play aggressively or defensively, based on your experience against the current matchup, and pick a target to open on.”

“What kind of comp are you running, and what are you trying to achieve?”

One of the most important things to establish before your match begins is clarity of purpose. But in addition to aligning on your team’s game plan, it’s important to think about your opponents’ strategy as well.

“Understand how the enemy wins and play around that to deny their win condition," said Alex "Alec" Sheldrick, team captain of the 2017 World of Warcraft Arena World Champion team, ABC. “For example, if you’re playing as a healer and you’re facing a Rogue comp, you know you’ll be blinded. One of their win conditions is to draw early cooldowns from you, [so] don’t play into their strategy.”

Once your game plan is all ironed out, it’s time to think about how you’ll strike fear into the hearts of your opponents as you charge into battle. First impressions are everything, so Pika prefers to ride out upon his Crimson Deathcharger, or his daunting yet noble Magic Rooster. Alec sticks to the classics: either an Amani War Bear or an early Nether Drake from The Burning Crusade to remind his foes that he’s been at this for a long time.

Come back tomorrow as we open the gates on part two of our weeklong #OpeningMoves series for World of Warcraft Arena.