When people ask me about what the difference is between low tiers and high tiers, there is one thing which comes to mind, one thing that matters, one thing that, by itself, represents a huge shift in design philosophy from the first tier to the last. This thing is the ratio of DPM-to-health. It is why low tier play is fast-paced and high tier play is slow-paced. It is why low tier play is dominated by strong individuals and high tier play is dominated by unified teams. The difference in this ratio between the low tiers and high tiers has allowed for two wildly different games to exist within the same framework, and it just so happens that the low tier side of things is far and away better than high tiers in this defining aspect.
The ratio of DPM-to-health is a measure of how fast you can expect things to die over a long period of time. In other words, given how much damage something can do in a minute and the health of the targets being destroyed, the ratio expresses how many targets will die in one minute. Divide this number into 60 and you get how many seconds it takes for one thing to die. Higher ratios mean destroying more stuff in the same time. It should be somewhat apparent to anyone who's spent time in WoT across the tiers that this ratio is highest at the lower tiers and lowest at the higher tiers. Similarly, reload times tend to increase by climbing tiers. It's not as though low tiers have a high ratio because they have high tier reloads and alpha that strongly overmatches every tank in the tier.
This combination of low reload and high DPM-to-health ratio result in two major things, the first of which is fast and active gameplay. Weapons are much more "live" in low tiers without the long reloads that act as safety periods for enemies to move around safely. Autocannons could be seen as an exception to this, but if you compare low tier autocannons to high tier autoloaders, you'll often find the autocannons reload faster, empty faster, and do a greater percentage of an enemy's health in damage. Some can even reload faster than some standard cannons, and for those cannons which reload faster, they often don't do nearly as much damage percentagewise to their tier's average health as autocannons will do. This nature of low tier tanks means that engagements always lead to shots being fired, and the DPM-to-health ratio means that results are determined very quickly, either through the knockout of one player or their retreat. This is in contrast to the common nature of high tiers to sit behind hard cover and poke out after a 5-15 second reload or the close range engagements where winners can be easily determined with math, but reloads draw out the engagement for an extra 10-30 seconds. Low tiers used to have some degree of slowness during the vision meta, but a large reason for this meta existing was the sudden death players would experience from exposing themselves. Still, when the fights would happen, they would be far more dynamic than those in higher tiers. The new lower tier maps favor closer engagements and use of autocannons, which helps make these engagements far more common without the lull of camping.
The second thing a high DPM-to-health ratio enables is great individual agency. This is helped further by differences in ammo count and average potential damage versus average enemy team health pool. One low tier tank is often capable of doing enough damage to exceed the enemy team's health pool, whereas high tier tanks would often run out of ammo before managing this. Even if they had enough ammo for doing the damage, by factoring travel time to engagements and time spent corner poking and camping, DPM is often too low to pull this off. Low tier tanks, on the other hand, have so much excess DPM that long periods of time can be spent camping or moving around with plenty of time left to destroy the enemy team. Overall, this means that if you play a low tier match and your teammates all fail to contribute damage, winning remains possible. As you go up the tiers, this becomes much tougher to do and eventually becomes mathematically impossible. If you play a high tier game with people teammates that don't do damage, it will not be possible to win through elimination. I've said before that the cost-benefit analysis sucks. If I really believe myself to be a highly skilled player relative to my peers, it makes little sense opting to make myself less capable of controlling the game in comparison, which is exactly what happens every time the choice is made to play a tank of a higher tier.
Related to the last point, it is actually in higher tiers that you will find a greater demand for individual responsibility. Everyone on a high tier team must chip in damage if victory by elimination is desired. Unica can certainly pick up a lot of slack, but they can't win of their own accord. They need their teammates to do damage, which is why you'll often see high tier unica talking about creating opportunities for their teammates to deal damage, because a loss will likely come if they don't.
More on that later. For now, let me put forward some data to demonstrate this shift in DPM-to-health ratio. Linked here will be an Excel doc of information I pulled from tanks.gg based on 9.14.1 data on March 29th, 2016. The data may grabbed may have some imprecision, but it shouldn't be by much. To the stats grabbed for each tank, I have added columns for DPM to tank health, average health for tier and class and DPM in comparison, average health for tier and DPM in comparison, and ratio of DPM-to-health of tiers above and below as they apply for that tank's matchmaking. These averages of tier health weigh each tank with the same chance to show up in battle, which isn't how things actually are, but is a close enough approximation to make some general statements. Extra info was taken from vbaddict to get a better idea of tank frequency. The top gun as selected by tanks.gg was used, which may not be the "best" gun (for instance, M2 LT top gun is not autocannon even though that's what everyone uses), but should be close enough. Rammers were equipped where possible under the assumption that if you can equip a rammer on a tank, you will. Vents were not added where possible as this equipment is not so obvious an autoinclude. The data is there for all of the tiers, but I'm just going to cover tiers 2, 5, 8, and 10 to give a general idea of how things change.
To reiterate, the DPM-to-health ratio measures damage over time compared to target health. It roughly translates into kills per minute. Keep that in mind as you continue.
- Average health for the tier sits just below 160. Lights are slightly above this and mediums are near 190. TDs drag it down with a 120 average. The most common tanks in the tier average just above 160.
- DPM is anywhere between mid-800s and 1400 for most non-TDs. I-Go is an outlier with 2k DPM.
- Ratio against same tier ranges from 5.3 to 9, kills against full health targets take 7 to 12 seconds.
- Against tier below, ratio ranges from 7.7 to 13, kills take 5 to 8 seconds.
- Against tier above, ratio ranges from 3.8 to 6, kills take 10 to 16 seconds.
- Autocannons are rampant and bursty. Only Pz models don't have enough to regularly clip out tanks. Of the ones that can clip out enemies, the fastest ones reload in 8 to 10 seconds.
- Average health for the tier sits just below 500. Mediums are very close to this average. TDs are around 360, lights around 450, and heavies up around 675. Two of the eight most common tanks are heavies. The four most common tanks together are around the tier average, but next most common tanks begin to skew the average downwards.
- DPM is in the 1.6k to 2.6k range.
- Ratio against the same tier ranges from 3 to 5, kills take 12 to 20 seconds.
- Against two tiers below, ratio ranges from 5 to 13, kills take 5 to 12 seconds.
- Against one tier below, ratio ranges from 3.5 to 9, kills take 7 to 17 seconds.
- Against one tier above, ratio ranges from 1.6 to 4, kills take 15 to 37 seconds.
- Against two tiers above, ratio ranges from 1 to 2.6, kills take 23 to 60 seconds!
- The only autocannon is found on the Leopard and isn't even good enough to clip most tanks. Two clips would take over half a minute to reload and use, so that's less than two kills a minute at best against the same tier. Similar autocannons exist in neighboring tiers 4 and 6 with similar results.
- Average health for the tier is slightly below 1400. Mediums are very close to this average. Heavies average around 1550, lights and TDs are both below 1200. IS-3 is currently dominant in representation with T34 behind it, both skewing average to 1500. Next three most common have 1100 each, but aren't as frequent together as T30. Next four most common have 1400-1600 each and further skew average upwards. All-in-all, it seems to approach the tier average.
- DPM ranges from 1.7k to 3.2k. T-44 is a minor outlier at 1.4k.
- Ratio against same tier from 1 to 2.3, kills take 26 to 60 seconds!
- Against two tiers below, ratio ranges from just below 2 to 4.3, kills take 14 to 32 seconds.
- Against one tier below, ratio ranges from 1.3 to just below 3, kills take 20 to 46 seconds.
- Against one tier above, ratio ranges from 0.8 to 1.8, kills take 33 to 75 seconds!!
- Against two tiers above, ratio ranges from 0.7 to 1.5, kills take 40 to 90 seconds!!
- AMX 50 100 can clip most tanks in the tier, but usage and reload take over a minute to get through. AMX 13 90 clip does only about the tier's average health every ~55 seconds. T69 can two-clip all tanks in the tier, but usage and reload again take over a minute to get through.
- Average health is slightly below 2100. TDs and mediums are about 150 below this average, heavies are above it by 300. IS-7 is the most common tank, slightly above the tier's average health. The next five most common tanks together are slightly above the average.
- DPM ranges from 2.3k to 3.6k.
- Ratio against the same tier ranges from just above 1 to 1.7, kills take 35 to 60 seconds!
- Against one tier below, ratio ranges from 1.3 to 2, kills take 30 to 46 seconds.
- Against two tiers below, ratio ranges from 1.6 to 2.6, kills take 23 to 37 seconds.
- Autoloaders are about as common as autocannons in tier 2. WTF E-100 can kill most anything in 9 seconds, but takes long enough to reload that it just barely manages to get one kill in under a minute each. TVP clips out nothing, but two-clipping gives it a similar story to WTF E-100, though it only has enough ammo for 12 clips. Foch performs similar again to WTF E-100 except that it comes up short against some heavies and only has enough ammo for 10 clips. Batchat clip comes up below tier's average health, two clips take almost a minute and a half to reload and use, and the tank only carries enough ammo for 6 clips. T57 Heavy performs similar to TVP, but only with the ammo for 9 clips. AMX 50B is the same story, but with ammo for 14 clips.
The shift in the numbers is remarkable. From tiers 2 to 10, DPM nearly triples while health becomes over ten times greater. The worst performing tank in tier 2 against the average tier 3 target will still be capable of scoring a kill faster than the best performing tier 10 against the average tier 8 target. The numbers for the tiers I haven't covered are as you might expect. Ratios for tier 9 are somewhere between those for 8 and 10. Ratios for tiers 3 and 4 are somewhere between those for tiers 2 and 5. Ratios for tier 1 are even better than those for tier 2, though without the advantage of any tiers below them. And really, anyone who has played WoT through the tiers should have already noticed this shift. The data provides a sense of scale for how much of a difference there is.
One point worth highlighting is the danger of a low DPM-to-health ratio. Some tanks have ratios below one, and even many tanks with ratios higher than but close to one will experience the same problems as those tanks for reasons given earlier - travel time, missed shots, bounces, and overkill. If you choose to play one of these tanks, you are wholly dependent on your teammates to do damage if you expect to win by knockout. This is a problem for me and a problem I have with many high tier players who have the 1v29 mentality. If you feel that you are a capable and responsible player and, more importantly, that your teammates are very often not as such, why would you strip yourself of the agency given to you in the lower tiers by moving up the ladder and into tanks where your success is in the hands of people you don't trust to perform well? Even if you had teammates you could trust, like platoon mates or your clan, why still would you choose to play a part of the game that doesn't give you or your teammates as much freedom to influence the match in a big way of their own accord?
There is another danger of the low DPM-to-health ratio that comes as a result of first exposure to the high DPM-to-health ratio environment of the low tiers. Suppose you have a new player in the low tiers of the game. They may not play very well in the game, but because they are in low tiers, that does not matter too much. The rest of their team can still have the firepower and means to win the game. In fact, the weakest and least effective players often are used as sacrificial pawns by the more capable for scouting, distraction, and soaking damage. It is more important that the weakest be used to facilitate the strong, and thus achieve a game win. This is how low tiers have always been. The dark side to this is that it breeds a culture of players who don't see the need to improve because they have teammates who can pick up all their slack. Eventually, this player fails their way to the top where their contribution is not merely helpful, but necessary for their team's success, and yet they've failed to get sufficient motivation from the game to become a real asset. Much the opposite, they now believe that having a unicum on their team to carry them to success is still a winning strategy. It isn't, and it leads to the better players of the high tiers suffering from the lessons these new players learned in the low tiers and the game not putting enough "git gud" barriers in the way from reaching higher tiers.
Perhaps WoT is backwards. There are two environments that random matches support right now, that of the fast-paced, fast death, fast kills, individual focus in low tiers and that of the slow-paced, slow death, slow kills, team focus in high tiers. Which of these is better for the new player? Do people new to the game want to see things blow up very easily at the cost of being blown up easily, or do they want to have to take their time in killing something with the upside of also being very tough to kill? The same thing could be asked of experienced players, whether it is better to stick them in an environment where dying is a slow affair or a fast one. If you think that the fast play of low tiers is too tough for new players and is instead what experienced players should be drawn towards, then WoT is this topsy-turvy mess where low tiers are the premier gameplay mode and high tiers are a tutorial that's way too far out of reach. I wouldn't say this is the case, but I would definitely say that the gameplay offered by high tiers is nothing like what a new player would be interested in. I expect that new players want to see things that they shoot blow up, and if it means they blow up pretty often themselves, that's fine, because they can just exit to garage and pick another of the half-dozen tanks that are freely available to them and go again.
Should WoT continue to have these two different kinds of games within the same game mode, or do things need to homogenize, and in what direction? There's an audience out there for both types of gameplay, so one can't be lost without losing a significant audience, but at the same time, neither mode funnels into the other particularly well. Here's where the tinfoil hat goes on and I start talking about WoT 2.0. Armored Warfare apparently has bombed and Obsidian is scrambling to do something to keep the game alive. At the very least, the game has shown WG that a game about modern tanks would be interesting to people, so they've decided to make one. When they do, they'll have to decide how progression in their game is going to work, which means having the opportunity to do something different from how things are now. What they do there may signal an intention to change things in WoT if their changes prove successful. I think there is reason to believe that they will do something similar to what exists now. Low tiers are the hook that gets players interested in the game and high tiers are the distant goal for players to grind out, and each tier is a carrot encouraging players to move forward. Low tiers bring the people, high tiers bring the money. If players really started out playing with high tier gameplay, they would not last. They need to start out in low tiers where they have much more opportunity to contribute, and only after they've sunk money and time into climbing up tiers and experienced a totally different kind of game do they become trapped into a sunk cost fallacy, pumping further time and money into a game they've already lost heart in playing.
Or, they could not do that and just stick with playing tier 2. You don't need to sink money or time into grinding, you aren't beholden to the abilities of the unproven or provably bad, you have a great chance to affect the game, and you can take on the whole damn world if you're good enough. I've been saying since the beginning that if WoT is really your thing, then you should play tier 2 and really not much more. Tier 1 would be great if it had more variety and tier 3 would be okay if the MM wasn't so terrible, but even with just tier 2 to play, you can really get all you need out of the game. You won't find the fast pace of battle in high tiers like you find it in low tiers, and you won't be able to reclaim the agency stripped away by design of each tank's base stats. But you can get the slow paced, strategy-styled play of high tier battles in many low tier endgame scenarios where enemy positions aren't known, and you can manifest the responsibility demanded by high tiers into a drive to become most influential force on the battlefield in an environment that properly accommodates it. By not climbing tiers, you really only miss out on the opportunity to play strongholds, clan wars, and most tournaments, but this can be phrased more truthfully: you're missing out on a worse part of the game. That's not so bad.