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  • Making the best decisions

    Original article by @precambrian

    Many people have said that the difference between a good player and a great one is the quality of their decisions. It’s very hard, however, for many players on the cusp of a breakthrough to understand how to make the best decision possible. In this article, I’ll try to give you some background on how to improve your decision making, and provide an easy mnemonic to help you remember what to do in-game.

    There are two fundamental principles that you should understand before we proceed:

    1. You will have to make decisions with imperfect information. When you are contemplating your next move, you will be limited to a few sources of information: usually, what your minimap tells you, what you can see on your screen, and anything your teammates might type in chat. Make sure you consider all the information that is available to you! You can usually fill in any blanks with reasonable guesses.

    2. There is more than one way to win a game. There is no single “correct” response to any situation- many paths lead to a victory! Your goal is simply to come up with the most optimal plan that you can think of. The most important thing is to be decisive; hesitation loses games.

    Without further ado, then, I give you three easy steps to tanking success!

    The APE Method

    Any action you carry out in game can be broken down into three critical components:

    1. Assess the situation
    2. Plan your next move
    3. Execute your plan

    This easy to remember acronym, APE, is fairly robust: it can be used to come to any decision, large or small, from deciding where to go at the start of a match to figuring out if/when to flex, or even choosing whether or not to peek around a corner. Let’s take a closer look at each step!

    Assess the situation

    The first step to deciding what to do is figuring out what exactly is going on. When doing this, the minimap is your lover, your scripture, and the air you breathe. Frequently checking your minimap is the most important step in maintaining situational awareness- a good rule of thumb is to check your minimap between reloads when you’re engaging enemy tanks. You should basically focus most of your attention on the minimap when you’re driving or sitting in a position waiting for something to happen. Here are some examples of questions you want to ask yourself:

    • Early deployment: What is my team composition, and what is the enemy team composition? What area of the map can I best influence, and what enemy tanks am I likely to encounter there? What area of the map will I be able to shoot at, and what can shoot at me? Where are my friendly tanks going? Is there artillery, and if so, how will I avoid it?
    • When corner fighting: Which way is the enemy tank facing? Can I trade positively (i.e. higher alpha, or trading two shots for one)? Does he have friendlies behind him that will shoot me if I poke out? Is he reloading?
    • When deciding to push: How many hitpoints do the remaining enemy tanks have? Do we have numerical superiority? What tanks am I pushing into? Which direction can I push from to conserve my hitpoints? Does the base need help?
    • When deciding to change positions: Does another flank need help? Can the tanks on my flank take care of the remaining enemy tanks? Is there a new position I could move to that would set up a crossfire and break open my flank? Is the base in trouble? Is there a defensive enemy position that I’d like to avoid (i.e. sidescraping E-100, 183 staring my way, etc.)?

    Learning to assess the situation is an invaluable skill in decision making.

    Plan your next move

    Once you’ve taken stock of the situation, you need to figure out your response. Here are some general guidelines:

    •  Early deployment: In a medium tank, try to find a location of the map that gives you many lanes of fire, and allows you to influence a wide area, or take a tactically important position and hold it until friendly support arrives. In a heavy tank, find a portion of the map where a large brawl or engagement is going to take place, and break that flank open. In an autoloader or tank destroyer, find a second-line support position, preferably with open lanes of fire, and focus on outputting important early damage to swing the engagement in your team’s favor. Never try to take or hold a flank on your own- you will inevitably lose it, and do little or nothing to slow down the opposing team. It is usually better to break open the lemming flank than try to speedbump the opposition.
    • When corner fighting: Take a look at your minimap, and figure out what tanks have been spotted. If the tank you are facing off against is isolated, and you can take more of his hitpoints than he will take of yours, it is usually a good idea to peek around the corner. Be mindful of the fact that not all enemy tanks will be spotted at any given time! Don’t assume that a tank is on his own, only to watch the unspotted 183 evaporate your tank. You can make an educated guess on this, however- for example, on Fisherman’s Bay, you don’t typically expect a T95 to push up to the middle town, so if he’s the only tank unspotted, you can feel free to engage the enemy mediums, while keeping the buildings between you and the 1-2 snipers. If you’re a heavy, brutish tank, don’t be afraid to go out and take damage, as long as you can trade positively. Nothing is more aggravating than seeing an E-100 refuse to push around on an IS-7 while you sit there twiddling your thumbs in your T-62A.
    • When deciding to push: Don’t throw away your hitpoints unnecessarily! It is usually a good idea to soften up the opposition through corner fights before pushing, unless the numerical advantage is decisively in your favor. Be reasonably certain that your teammates will accompany you, else your sacrifice will be naught. If you’re in a soft tank, feel free to ask your teammates to do something- tone goes a long way. Typing “PUSH YOU IDGITS” will have much less success than “Why don’t we just push this tank? He’s isolated!” If the teammates are inert, though, or you are the tank with the most hitpoints, sometimes the only way to break open the flank is to move forward and hope for the best.
    • When deciding to change positions: Think carefully about what you are going to gain by moving to your new position. Make sure you plan out your route from point A to B- try to maintain as much cover as possible and minimize your exposure time, or avoid enemy guns entirely. When you approach a corner, it’s not a bad idea to slow down as you peek around it instead of crossing pell-mell- this allows you to back up if you run into something nasty, and escape with your tank intact, even if you lose some hitpoints.

    Remember that sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing, and let things develop a little further. Play conservatively until you have enough information to make a good decision. This is different from playing passively, however- you should be actively watching your minimap and monitoring your screen, lest you miss an opportunity when it crops up suddenly.

    Execute your plan

    You’ve come this far- it’s time to put your plan into action! When carrying out your plan, always be evaluating the situation. Has the situation changed? Perhaps there are more tanks in an area than you realized, or when peek-a-booming you realize that the enemy tank was not alone. Perhaps your friendlies on the other flank have folded more quickly than you anticipated, and you need to break off your push and trust your remaining teammates to finish the job. Don’t allow yourself to lapse into tunnel vision!

    Practicing your decision making

    To get good at this, an interesting exercise you can carry out is to watch another player’s replay and apply the APE method at each stage of the game. If you just watch a skilled tanker play in real-time, they make the game look effortless- you think, “I could easily do that!” However, you fall short when you try to do the same, because you haven’t actually learned anything! Instead, try this: pause the replay, assess the situation, and decide what you would do, then play it and see what that player does. If it differs, figure out why that player did what they did.

    Here is a replay of mine for you to practice this on! I’ve taken screenshots of what I feel are the salient junctures: underneath each screenshot, you’ll find my thought process. Before you read it, I encourage you to figure out what you would do, then compare it to what I did and see what the differences are, and why.

    AMX 50B Malinovka
    Click for large

    I load into Malinovka in my brand-new AMX 50 B. The enemy team composition is extremely slow, with only a single artillery piece. The WZ-131 seems prepared to make an early field light, which should theoretically allow me to output a full clip of early damage. I choose to back up so that the enemy T71 won’t light me, but remain in base and snipe across the field.

    AMX 50B Climbing hill
    Click for large

    The WZ-131 runs into the enemy T71 right off the bat and fails to be of much use, only lighting a single Centurion, whom we promptly take out. Now both teams have lost their early eyes; it is time to leave base and fight for the hill. As I move out, I notice that a large portion of the team is accompanying me, so I do not lack for support! Because the enemy team is comprised of slow tanks, despite my late start, I should be able to beat them up the hill. I am therefore emboldened to take a forward position, up by the windmill, and hug the red line on the way up to minimize the risk of being spotted.

    AMX 50B king of the hill
    Click for large

    However, en route, I am lit by the enemy T110E4, so I wait at the windmill to become unspotted, and then move forward in case the M53/55 decides to blindshot near the windmill to splash my rear.

    Pushing down the hill
    Click for large

    Friendly tanks make it up the hill with me, and spot the enemy tanks as they move up the hill to engage us. With double bush cover in front of me, I should be able to take shots without being spotted, and so I decide to try to pump out as many clips of damage as I can.

    Waiting up top
    Click for large

    My execution here is pretty shoddy- I rush several shots and bounce, and take a few blind shots when I should have waited for the enemy to relight. However, we’ve taken control of the hill, and the enemy tanks have backed off. Pushing forward now is a risky play- it exposes us to artillery, as well as snipers at the base of the hill, so I decide to move to another position. By taking the waterside road, I will be able to set up a crossfire on the defenders at the backside of the slope, and should be able to break open the flank.

    AMX 50B swimming
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    On my way, I spot an ST-I camping at the base. He has the stock turret, and I’m over 380 meters away, so I should be able to shoot him without lighting. After dumping a clip into his side, I continue on my merry way.

    Click for large

    From the waterside road, I am able to shoot the T110E5 in the rear once he is spotted. I engage, as do my teammates, and we are able to wipe him out. The way is now clear for my teammates to come down! I decide to pull up to hopefully spot some tanks.

    Assaulting base
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    As I pull up, I take a couple of shots of damage, so I start to back away. However, the T34 pulls up between myself and the enemy, so I dump my clip into the T28 Proto.

    Click for large

    And now, it’s simply clean-up time. I’m reluctant to drive straight down because of the enemy Waffentrager, so I keep my distance and wait for the friendly tanks to spot the base campers. Once they do so, I make sure I’m out of their spotting range, and then fire with impunity. Now, all that’s left is the Waffentrager, and since he hasn’t yet been lit, he is probably behind a rock on the far side of the enemy base. While reloading my clip, I should move forward, so that once he is lit, I can take him out.

    Click for large

    And just like that, the game ends! [replay file]




    Closing Notes

    To many of you, the idea of APE probably seems trivial: it’s self-evident that before you come to a decision, you should think about what you’re doing. However, in the heat of the moment,  all of us often fail to maintain situational awareness. Even a single lapse can be extremely costly. Thinking to yourself “Assess! Plan! Execute!” will help you internalize the need to evaluate the situation before making your decisions. Next time you take to the field, or watch the replay of someone else doing the same, let out your inner APE, and watch your tanking performance go bananas!

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